The ‘Threatened’ Constabulary Strikes of Early Twentieth-Century Bengal
This article is a study of a mode of protest devised by police constables in Bengal in the decades after World War I to negotiate better wages from the police department – ‘the strike-threat’. Existing studies of constabulary protest have worked with a linear framework. Here, reluctance to enlist and desertions are seen as ‘early’ forms of protest and unionisation and strike action as ‘mature’ ones. The phenomenon of issuing strike threats has remained occluded in its appearance as an incomplete form of mobilization. This article, through a study of a rich body of archival evidence culled from the Intelligence Branch of the Bengal Police on threatened strikes of constables in the post-World War I period, demonstrates how ‘strike-threats’ were a form of politics in their own right. Constables repeatedly prepared for strikes while seldom actually resorting to any. However, preparations were precisely the site where the real action lay. This article is an exploration of constables’ mobilizations for strike action and their social networks that propelled such activities. It argues that the strike threat was a carefully crafted tool that allowed constables to generate a spectre of police mutiny in official consciousness. This helped them tread a delicate path between overt rebellion and covert subversion, generating a mode of protest that both revealed and concealed itself. It ensured wage hikes, while keeping the map of protest perennially smudged.