As mentioned earlier, Postal Service was started in 1766 and Railways and Telegraphs in 1854. Since these services were considered as utmost important to the running of the government, its security and communication needs, all the important and top posts were filled up only by British officers. Anglo-Indians and Indians were recruited for the lower posts only. British wanted to have complete control of these strategic sectors.

The discrimination between the rulers and the ruled was fully evident, whether in recruitment, postings and/or pay scales.  Higher scales for British officers, lower scales for Indians. Service conditions for Indians reminded the days of slavery. Brutal punishments, unending hours of job and no holidays at all. The ruled have no rights, only responsibilities. This was the sad condition of the P and T employees during the British days.

Formation of Unions

The First War of Independence of 1857 or Sepoy Mutiny as the British called it, was brutally crushed by their superior military power and clever strategy. Thousands of Sepoys, their leaders and those who supported the mutiny were mercilessly shot down or hanged and the bodies exhibited in public spaces as warning.  But all these could not extinguish the flames of Independence burning in the hearts of the people. It was only natural that the workers of Railways, P and T etc. also started thinking about independence of the country as also for a better deal for themselves.

A union by name ‘Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants in India’ was formed in Railways in 1854. British government actually treated their Indian employees as servants.  Hence the usages like ‘servants’, ‘yours most obedient servant’ etc. Even after India got Independence in 1947 such words were freely used. Till recently government employees were termed as ‘Government Servants’ – a legacy of the British Rule. Another example is that on all the Indian Planes, whether of government or private, the letters ‘V T’ can be seen even now. ‘V T‘means ‘Viceroy’s Territory’. To a question in Parliament, the concerned Minister stated that ‘we are examining it’!

Postmen in Pune struck work in 1880 raising their important demands. ‘Indian Telegraph Association’ as also ‘All India (including Burma) Post Office and RMS Association’ were formed in 1908 under the leadership of Henry Barton and Babu Tarapada Mukherji respectively. ‘All India Postmen and Lower Grade Staff Union’ was formed in 1919 under the leadership of V.G.Dalvi, Bar-at-Law.  Many all India struggles were organized by these unions.

When the first trade union in India, All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), was formed in 1921, some of the P and T union leaders were involved in the same. Many leaders of the P and T unions were well known TU leaders or Barristers etc. elected to ensure effective discussion with the government as also to evade victimization. (Most of the Presidents of the National Federation of P and T Employees (NFPTE) which was formed in 1954 were Members of Parliament.)

Leaders of various political parties including Congress, Socialist and Communist were leaders of AITUC. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, S.A.Dange, Lala Lajpat Rai, Dewan Chaman Lal and many others functioned in AITUC. The P and T Unions had close relation with AITUC.

In short, many unions representing the P and T employees were formed and functioned effectively, organized strike and struggles on their demands. The government was compelled to concede many demands.

All India Railwaymen’s Federation was formed in 1924. All India Audit and Accounts Association, Income Tax Employees Federation and All India Defence Employees Federation were also formed in the 1920s.

The formation of unions in the various departments of the Central Government and the struggles organized by them created an urge for united actions and solidarity with the Independence movement.  (To be continued ..)

-V.A.N.Namboodiri –