Tram fare hike and Communist violence in Calcutta: twenty-nine trams were damaged (1953)

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On June 27, a joint statement by the leaders of the opposition parties, including the CPI, Praja Socialist Party (PSP), Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), Socialist Unity Centre (SUC), Forward Bloc, etc, opposed
the government moves to increase the fare. The same evening witnessed the formation of the Tram and Bus Fare Enhancement Resistance Committee comprising leaders of these political parties. Veteran Forward Bloc leader Hemanta Basu was its president, while Jyoti Basu (CPI), Subodh Banerjee (SUC), Suresh Banerjee (PSP) and Satya Priya Banerjee (Marxist Forward Bloc) were the members.

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Fare Hike and Urban Protest Calcutta Crowd in 1953

Siddhartha Guha Roy

Riots and insurrections have been part of Calcutta’s history and one of the interesting features of crowd action in the city, before and since independence, is the attack on tramcars by frenzied mobs. This paper attempts to capture the urban disturbance and mob violence that erupted in Calcutta in 1953 in the wake of a sudden rise in second-class tram fares and studies the tramwaymen’s attitude towards people’s protest as also the reaction of the West Bengal government to the episode.

CALCUTTA, as a city, has a long history
of riots and insurrections mob frenzy and
mass violence The city population, particularly its poorer section, often resorted to
the practice attacking the locus of political
power which affected their lives. They frequently indulged in riots or insurrections or
otherwise exerted direct pressure on the
authorities operating within their range. One
of the interesting features of crowd action
in Calcutta, during both colonial and postcolonial periods, was the attack on tramcars
by frenzied mobs. One of the earliest instances took place as far back as October
1907. Police repression on a Swadeshi rally
triggered off a serious outbreak of mob
violence in Calcutta and trams were the “ready victims”.1

According to an estimate, at least twenty-nine trams were damaged in the first two days of violence.2
Dennis Gill, a British tramcar specialist, wrote in this connection,
Because they are easily accessible, tramcars
have frequently been targets for attack by
unruly elements. In some disturbances heavy
damage has been inflicted on them by violent
mobs bent on destroying everything in their
path. Nowhere this has been more prevalent
than in Calcutta.3

Eric Hobsbawm had also observed that of all forms of urban transport in Calcutta, the tramways, in particular, were “usually convenient for rioters”. He saw two reasons behind this. He described a fare hike in any public transport system as a “natural precipitant of trouble” which tended to affect the poorer section of the city On the other hand, the rioters could help themselves by blocking the streets and disrupting traffic with the burnt or overturned large and track bound vehicles.4

Urban disturbance and mob violence erupted in Calcutta in 1953, in the wake of a sudden rise in the second-class tram fares. It is instructive to have a look at the tramwaymen’s attitude towards people’s protest and at the same time the reaction of the West Bengal government to the entire episode The
Calcutta Tramways Company was a Britishowned concern registered in London. Even after the transfer of power in 1947, British ownership continued. Before going into the details of the movement against the fare hike in 1953, it is essential to look into the background.

The first instance of fare rise took place
in early 1922. The labour unrest in the
Calcutta Tramways throughout 1921 had
compelled the company to give certain concessions to its employees. But this did not
make any dent in its profits, as it took an
immediate decision to raise the tram fares.
The burden of the additional labour cost fell
on commuters, who by and large represented
the poorer sections of the city population.5
The decision to increase tram fares caused
disgruntlement among the people of
Calcutta. The Employees’ Association,
representing white collar employees of
several concerns of Calcutta, articulated
their protest in Karmi, the mouthpiece of the
Bengali middle class.6

But this protest in the early 20s remained a mere intellectual exercise, in the form of writing articles. Immediately after the transfer of power in August 1947, the tram company was once more seized with the idea of raising the fare. But this time people from all walks of life threatened not to pay the enhanced fares and to boycott trams.7

The government in apprehension of people’s protest, immediately appointed a commission, under the chairmanship of justice Das of the Calcutta High Court, to examine the pros and cons of the situation relating to the proposed enhancement of tramfare. In a written statement before the commission, the CTWU criticised the decision of fare rise by the company. In support of its statement, the CTWU .
categorically mentioned two things: the wartime abolition of cheap midday ticket,
all-day ticket, etc, which were not still reintroduced, as well as the subsequent abolition
of the surplus profit tax by the government
had already led to an enormous increase in
the profits of the company.8

Purnendu Sekhar Basu, a councillor of the Calcutta Corporation, therefore asked the commission not to support the company’s decision to raise the fares. His statement was furnish*
ed with figures indicating the steady increase
in the company’s profit since May 1947.9
Naren Sen, representing the CTWU, told the
commission that the people of Calcutta were
already digruntled over the proposed fare
rise and that such fare rise would hinder the
smooth running of tramcars in the city.10
After going through all relevant documents,
justice Das came to the conclusion that the
rise in fare at that particular stage was not
at all essential, as the company “almost
doubled its profit” from the level of 1935,
which he took as the base year.11

In 1949,the Calcutta Tramways Company arbitrarily raised only the first class tram fare People of Calcutta protested, but not so vehemently.12 The much-talked-of resistance and boycott did not actually take place, as only those who travelled by first class were affected. But the incidents of 1953 did not reflect
a similar story. In the middle of June, a news item appearing in the press announced the possibility of raising the second class fare in Calcutta trams. On June 22, the Calcutta
district committee of the CPI, opposing the
move to increase fares, exposed the “hidden
hands of the West Bengal government
behind this move” and appealed to the
Calcut tans to resist this “fresh attack on the
interest of the common people”.13

On June 25, 1953 the company announced its decision to increase second class fares
from the July 1, 1953. The decision was supported by the government of West Bengal14
A section of the political forces operating
in West Bengal suspected that, in view of the
opposition of the private bus owners and to
placate the people’s reaction to the move, the
government “deferred for the time being, its
plan to increase bus fares”.15

On June 27, a joint statement by the leaders of the opposition parties, including the CPI, Praja Socialist Party (PSP), Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), Socialist Unity Centre (SUC), Forward Bloc, etc, opposed
the government moves to increase the fare. The same evening witnessed the formation of the Tram and Bus Fare Enhancement Resistance Committee comprising leaders of these political parties. Veteran Forward Bloc leader Hemanta Basu was its president, while Jyoti Basu (CPI), Subodh Banerjee (SUC), Suresh Banerjee (PSP) and Satya Priya Banerjee (Marxist Forward Bloc) were the members.

Eventually this committee
came to be known popularly as Resistance
Committee or Pratirodh Committee.16
Meanwhile the CTWU registered its
vociferous protest at the decision of raising
second class tram fare. It organised several
rallies and processions through the Calcutta
streets to mobilise public opinion against the
proposed fare rise.17

It published detailed
facts and figures in the daily Swadhinata,
then the Bengali organ of the CPI, showing
how the fare hike was “absloutety uncalled
for” in view of the “swelling profits of the
company”. The CTWU also expressed utter
disbelief in the statement of the company
that the increase was essential to meet the
additional expenses for replacing and improving the tramcars, as the company still
had a huge reserve fund and a massive
Economic and Political Weekly December 29, 1990 2863
Fare Hike and Urban Protest
Calcutta Crowd in 1953
balance in its renewal and replacement
fund. “

On June 29, the Resistance Committee
asked people to refuse to pay the enhanced
fare. Accordingly posters appeared with such
appeals in each and every corner of the

But all such protests went unheeded,
as the British company stuck to its earlier
decision. The West Bengal Government also
went on Supporting the proposed fare rise.
The agitation against fare rise started in
full force from the very first day of the fare
hike, i e, July 1. Hundreds of Resistance
Committee volunteers, mostly young men,
in their respective areas, called upon the people to refuse to pay the increased fare. They
themselves boarded the trams and offered
old fares. As the conductors were not
authorised to accept the old amount, they
rode free. With the approach of the office
hours, the trams began to be filled up and
the shouting of slogans turned the ”condition inside the cars unbearable”.20
agitators were numerically reinforced at
every stop, as fresh elements got in. The
agitation was taken up rather hesitantly in
the early morning. But by the afternoon, the
people themselves had taken it up and enthusiastic crowds boarded the trams refusing to pay the enhanced fare.21

On July 2 also the same tense situation prevailed in the
city as free rides and slogan shouting inside
the cars continued, causing enormous loss
to the Calcutta Tramways Company. The
agitators adopted a new form of struggle.
They boarded the trams, armed with plenty
of coins of various denominations so that
the passengers, willing to pay the old fare
might be able to tender the exact amount
rather than giving any chance to the conductors to return them change after deducting
the new fares.22

On the evening of July 2, the then West Bengal chief minister, B C Roy, defended the increase of fare in unequivocal terms. In a press note, he claimed that the fare structure for second class travellers, after the proposed increase, was perhaps the lowest in the world. In defence of the increase, the press note stated that the expenses of running the tram cars had “mounted tremendously” in the recent past and the government was compelled to support the proposed fare rise according to the provisions of the Calcutta
Tramways Act of 1951. In his statement, the chief minister gave a clear hint of government “offensive to-combat violence”, when he categorically commented that any case of default to pay the fare was punishable under law, and the government could not “sit idle in the face of such lawlessness on the part
of the picketers”.23

July 3 turned out to be an eventful day, when the Congress government of West Bengal unleashed a “reign of terror” deploying its entire police force, including the reserves. This, however, could not stop the
Resistance ‘ Committee volunteers from picketing, demonstrating and appealing for not paying the increased fare. Consequently there followed “police action to curb tension”.24

The overall situation became so
tense as a result of all this that the city’s tram
services on all but five of its sections were
withdrawn in the afternoon of July 3 and
by 6.30 p m all cars were back in their respective sheds.25
Faced with heavy losses for the preceding
two days, the tram company decided to
“enforce new fares with the help of the
police”. As the people refused to pay the new
fare, they were arrested. This brought the
“forces of law and order under direct attack”
by the people. This incidentally resulted in
turbulent clashes in different areas of the
city. Being hindered by the police in their
“free sway” in the cars, a section of the
agitators resorted to more “violent” means
of voicing their disapproval of the new fares.
Barricades were erected across the tram
tracks at Baghbazar-Chit pore Road,
Harrison Road, Rashbehari Avenue and the
Lower and Upper Circular Roads—but they
were all removed by the police. In
Ballygunge, Kalighat, Bhowanipur and
Syambazar, police tried to keep the crowd
in check. Lathi and teargas charges and even
scattered firing by the police, in some “sensitive” zones of the city, failed to curb tension. Al l this resulted only in violent clashes
between the agitators and the police. At least
six hundred people, including leaders of the
CPI and other non-Congress parties, were
imprisoned. Among the arrested leaders
were Jyoti Basu and Ganesh Ghosh, both
of CPI, Subodh Banerjee, of the SUC, and
Jyotish Joardar of the Socialist Republican
Party. All of them were members of the
Bengal legislative assembly. The Resistance
Committee, in protest against the arrest and
other types of “police atrocities”, gave a call
for a general strike on July 4. 26

The hartal (general strike) seriously disrupted life in the city and its surrounding areas. Shops and markets remained closed. Dams and buses were off the road. Train services in Sealdah were badly dislocated and
” taxis and private-cars were obstructed by the agitators. Police fired several rounds throughout the city “to disperse the defiant crowd”.27

On July 5, the Resistance Committee organised a meeting at Subodh Mullick Square in which they appealed to the people to boycott the tram cars.28 On the same evening, B C Roy, on the eve of his departure for Europe, strongly condemned the movement and stated that a government “can never accept the position that rowdy elements should control the city affairs”.29

The comment of the chief minister invited
vociferous protest from different sections of
the people of Calcutta. Reacting sharply to
it, the Crossroads editorially commented:
“Describing the peoples’ leaders as rowdies,
the present chief minister of West Bengal is
walking closely in the footsteps of its British

Only July 6, the agitation against the fare
rise took a new and more ‘serious’ turn. It
was then that the demonstrators attempted
to enforce a boycott of tram travel in place
of the non-payment of the fares. Instead of
crowding into second class trams and appealing to the people not to pay the enhanced rates, the agitators stayed outside;
shouted boycott slogans and appealed to the
public not to travel by tram.51
Another new
aspect of the movement was mass participation of the students of Calcutta. A Calcutta daily reported that “in fact, it was they [students], who caused the police the greatest worry”.52 The intervention of the police and arrests of several students gave the demonstration a more violent turn. To make things worse; a police contingent entered the Asutosh College building in south Calcutta and resorted to “severe torture”.53

This added fuel to the fire and students
throughout the city erected barricades over
tram tracks, improvised with dustbins and
bullock-carts. As the police set itself to the
task of removing the barricades, it faced stiff
resistance from the demonstrators, resulting
in severe disturbances in Hazra, Kalighat,
Chitpore and Bowbazar.54
The call for boycotting the trams by the
Resistance Committee met with “surprising
response” in Calcutta and Howrah from July
7 and (he busy streets of Calcutta witnessed almost empty trams running from one
depot to the other.55
This told heavily on
the earnings of the company, which even
made it think of a closure of its business in
Calcutta. AC T Blease, the then agent of
the Calcutta Tram Company, in a press interview did not rule out the “possibility of
suspending tram services” in the trouble-torn
city. He added that the company was losing
money daily and when “a business is unable
to meet its bills, it has to close down”.36
On July 7, the students and citizens put
up a massive demonstration before the head
office of the company at Mango Lane.57
Five Resistance Committee leaders, including Jyoti Basu (who was freed on bail
on the 5th), met Blease and asked him “to
revert to the old second class tariff”.
Although Blease gave an assurance that he
would forward their demand to the board
of directors in London as well as to the West
Bengal government, he refused to recommend such a proposal. The Resistance
Committee then stuck to the decision of continuing their agitation. The same evening the
Calcutta police, anticipating a more violent
turn of the movement arrested at least five
hundred citizens, including Jyoti Basu,
under the Preventive Detention Act.58
The police action was strongly condemned and on July 8, six members of parliament, who also happened to be residents of
Calcutta, in a telegram urged the prime
minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, to intervene in the indiscriminate application of
the Preventive Detention Act against the
“leaders and participants in . the peaceful
movement of persuading the people to
refrain from travelling in the tram can in
protest against arbitrary increase of fares”.
In course of a statement, they urged the West
Bengal government to “cease the policy of
repression which it has launched” and requested it to advise the tram company “to
2864 Economic aad Political Weekly December 29. 1990
rescind the increase in fares, which has
roused such widespread opposition”.
Meghnad Sana, the eminent scientist, and
Hiren Mukherjee, the famous historian, were
among these MPs who had signed the

Meanwhile another factor played a vital
role in precipitating the crisis, viz the police
firing in Burnpur, an industrial township in
West Bengal. Police let loose terror when if
opened Tire on the striking workers there on
July 5, killing at least seven and injuring
The public wrath was at its height
and the entire working class of West Bengal
protested “against the anti-people policies
of the Congress Raj”.41
On the initiative of
the BPTUC, several trade union organisations, excluding the Congress-affiliated
INTUC, got together with a view to chalking
out plans for facing the new ‘threats’.42
On July 8, a Joint Strike Committee was
formed, comprising the representatives of
the BPTUC, UTUC and HMS. With them
also were several middle class employees’
federations, not affiliated to any central
organisation. The Joint Strike Committee
issued an appeal to the people of West
Bengal to observe a general strike on July 15,
as a protest against enhancement of second
class tram fare, rise in the prices of essential commodities, retrenchment in different
industrial sectors and, particularly, against
government “repression in Burnpur and

At this stage, the West Bengal state committee of the CPI, with a view to “echo the sentiment of masses” and “canalise peoples’ discontent in a correct direction”, raised the demand that the Congress ministry in West Bengal should resign and seek a fresh mandate of the people.44 The call for a general strike unnerved the government. A high-powered bureaucrat, describing the new programme of people’s
agitation, commented, “amateurs have retired and professionals have taken over”.45
Under the new circumstances, the ruling
party also could no longer remain passive.
On July 21, the West Bengal Provincial Congress Committee met at Congress Bhavan
and decided to make all-out effort to “resist
goondaism being committed in the name of
Fare Increase Resistance Committee”.46
Atulya Ghosh, president of the Provincial
Congress Committee, in a statement assured
‘protection’ from ‘hooliganism’ with the aid
of the Congress volunteers to all those who
would not join the general strike on the 15th.47

The Provincial Congress Committee
also held a public meeting on July 14,’ just
on the eve of the proposed general strike.
After the meeting a very thinly attended
‘anti-hooliganism’ procession, organised by
the Congress, paraded the streets and
shouted slogans denouncing the general

When the procession came in front
of a massive pro-strike demonstration near
Esplanade, the handful of Congress
volunteers however staged ‘a hasty retreat’
under police protection.49
In this connection, mention may be made of a story circulating in the city. In the aforesaid Congress rally, a placard reading “Goondaism
won’t be tolerated” was in the hands of Tinu,
a well known anti-social element of north

The mass meeting or the subsequent procession organised by the Congress failed to make any impact. A popular Bengali daily commented: “the antics of the Congress only helped to strengthen the determination of the people”.51

On July 15, West Bengal saw one of its biggest and most successful general strikes in its history. About ten lakh people struck work, affecting practically every industry, including jute mills, collieries, engineering
works, bus transport and offices. Shops and markets remained closed even in the Congress strongholds like Burrabazar area dominated by Marwari business magnates. Bandh was observed in many of the rural
districts as well.52

A series of clashes took place between the people and the police throughout the day. The police repeatedly resorted to lathi charge, teargas and firing in ‘ many places53 as a result of which a
worker of a small factory in Jadavpur, named Sannyasi Sardar, died of gunshot.54 But the general strike was marred by one lacuna. The city’s tramwaymen “who had so long been regarded as the traditional leaders of any general strike in Calcutta” did not participate in this strike.55

This aspect, will be
dealt with later.
The situation did not improve even on the
16th, as fierce clashes between the police and
the people continued. Peoples protest
against the increase of tram fares went to
such dizzy heights that the West Bengal
government was compelled to clamp Section
144 of the Indian Penal Code, which prohibited assembly of five or more persons
anywhere within the town and suburbs of

On the evening of July 16,troops were called out.57 From July 16 to 18, police and military cracked down on different localities of Calcutta. Numerous firings by the police and military turned the situation worse. A sixty-year-old school teacher was beaten to death
by the police, while the army killed an
eighteen year-old student. In different areas,
barricades were set up by local youth to
block the mobility of the forces of law and
order, “spontaneously turning the paras into
fortresses”. Another new technique was
adopted by the local youth, in face of severe
repression by the military and police forces.
They would smash the bulbs of the street
lamps or cut the electric wires and thereby
plunge the whole area into darkness, making
it difficult for the police and army to move

Police and army atrocities
throughout Calcutta were condemned
everywhere. Manik Bandyopadhyay, the
famous Bengali writer, disturbed at the
police and army actions in the city on July
15 and 16, wrote his famous Chhara which
was published in Swadhinata on July 17.59

But the final blow at this stage came from the tramworkers of Calcutta. The tramwaymen, with a view to breaking their isolation from “the main current of democratic movement” decided to join the struggle
launched by the Resistance Committee, The CTWU formed a joint strike committee along with another union of the tramworkers, the Calcutta Tram Mazdoor Panchayat. The Joint Strike Committee decided to launch an indefinite strike from July 17 in support of the demands raised by the Resistance committee.60

The decision of the tram workers to withdraw themselves from their duties meant a signal blow to the
British company as well as their ‘protector’, the West Bengal government. The entire press, excepting the Britishowned Statesman and the Congress organ Janasevak, sharply criticised the government activities. The Jugantar and the Ananda Bazar Pathka editorially supported the peoples’ reaction against fare rise.61

But the Statesman in its editorial took a different
stand. It was professedly sympathetic to
those who were “genuinely upset by the increase in second class fare” and, at the same
time, was convinced that the “people have
a right to expect a fall and not a rise in the
cost of living.” Yet it branded the protest
against the fare rise as ‘unscrupulous’.62

Puzzled at the increasing intensity of the
agitation and tramwaymen’s decision of
launching an indefinite strike on the one
hand and reeling before the attack of the
press on the other, the government sought
the advice of the Press Advisory Council for
a way out to defuse the crisis. The Press
Advisory Council, consisting of the editors
of important newspapers, made three recommendations: (I) referring the question of fare
to a tribunal, (2) withdrawal of Section 144
of Indian Penal Code from the city, and
(3) release of all prisoners arrested in connection with fare increase resistance movement.63
Similar advice was given by a committee of prominent citizens, headed by
Radha Binode Pal, the noted jurist.64
On July 9 the West Bengal government
seemed to beat a retreat from its erstwhile
rigid stand, when it announced that the tram
fare issue would be referred to a tribunal,
pending which the old rate would be

But the government persisted with imposition of Section 144 in the city and, at the same time, refused to release the thousands of detenus arrested in connection with the resistance movement.66 The Resistance Committee, with a view to violating Section 144, decided to organise a mass meeting at Calcutta Maidan on July 22. Defying Section 144, thousands of Catcuttans assembled at the Maidan. Police atrocities broke out to disrupt the meeting, but with no result. Failing in its mission to bring about a disruption in the meeting, the police made the press reporters their Special target—’you have already taken enough of
our photographs”—and smashed their cameras. En masse protest of the pressmen only helped to invite police attack on them.69

This assault on the pressmen
became an “international scandal blackening the face of West Bengal government”.70
The Indian Journalists’ Association sent a
telegram to the prime minister of India,
seeking protection against “the savage
assault on the pressmen”. The telegram also
Economic and Political Weekly December 29, 1990 2865
stated that the recent attack on the press
reporters of Calcutta represented a “reprisal
for the exposure of the police excesses”.71
Public indignation was at its height in the
wake of this incident and the demand for
the resignation of the acting chief minister,
Prafulla Chandra Sen, and home minister,
Kalipada Mukherjee, was echoed by the
people, the press and even by a ‘section of

The government on July 26 hastily
withdrew Section 144 from the city and
released five leaders of the Resistance Committee including Jyoti Basu, Hemanta Basu
and Ganesh Ghosh. But the rank and file
of the agitators who were jailed were not

On July 29, the prisoners in
Presidency Jail, arrested in connection with
the agitation, went on a continuous hunger
strike, demanding their classification as
political prisoners. On July 31 the prisoners
of the Dum Dum Central Jail joined

As the situation in Calcutta grew worse and efforts of the government to establish an ordered life failed, Bidhan Chandra Roy, the chief minister of West Bengal, had to cut short his European tour and return home rather hastily.

On July 31, B C Roy assured the leaders of the Resistance Committee that all their demands would be accepted. The Committee then decided to withdraw its agitation. The Joint Strike Committee of the
tram workers also called off the strike “in deference to the wishes of the travelling public” of Calcutta on the same day.75

On August 2, 1953, Roy agreed to release
all prisoners and also to allow bail to those
prosecuted for acts of violence. Relating to
the tram fare, he gave a written statement
that even if the tribunal advised increase, he
would consult public opinion before agreeing to it. He also agreed to provide governmental relief to the injured and to the families of those killed during the clash with police. He also announced a judicial enquiry into the attack on the pressmen.76 People accepted the announcements with jubiliation.

Now let us look into the attitude of the
tram workers towards this agitation at its different phases. Despite their glorious tradition of struggle against the management and
their long history of responsive reaction
towards significant political issues, they for
the first time experienced a movement launched primarily against their management,
the leadership of which did not rest with
them. We have noted in course of our discussion that in 1948 the representatives of the
CTWU spoke against the raising of fare
before the Das Commission.

This time also, in June 1953, the CTWU tried to mobilise public opinion against the proposed rise in
the second class fare. Due to their sympathetic attitude towards the Resistance Committee, the Calcutta tram workers fell prey to police attacks from the very beginning of the resistance movement. On the
evening of July 1, for example, the police assault on the workers began with the raid on the tram workers’ mess in Belgachhia and manhandling of a number of them.77

During the first few days of the movement, the agitators were tremendously aided by the tram workers. During that particular stage of the agitation, when the demonstrators and the people refused to pay the enhanced fare, the tram workers “helped the movement by their sympathy and generally by not pressing for the increased fares and in many other ways”78

Not a single instance of clash
between the demonstrators and the workers
had been reported. On the 4th, when the
Resistance Committee gave the call for a
‘bandh’, the tramwaymen “refused to bring
out the trams, with help of the police”.79
What was then the factor that temporarily
prevented the tram workers from joining the
central strike of July 15, the call for which
was given by the Central Trade Union
and the CPI?

No evidence is at all available for answering this intriguing question. Newspaper sources, CPI pamphlets and official papers, fail to throw any light on the issue. Contemporary communist leaders or the leaders of
the Calcutta tramwaymen did not open their lips in spelling out the cause of the nonparticipation in the general strike of July 15.80

Hence we are forced to have recourse
to a plausible assumption During the first
few days of the agitation, the tramwaymen
despite their ‘help’ and ‘sympathy’ towards
the agitators, possibly received some
maltreatment from them. It was nothing
unusual, as in the preliminary stage of the
struggle, the main participants came from
the petty bourgeois sections of the people
and possibly also anti-social elements.
Hence, the men on duty being harassed by
some of the demonstrators became temporarily alienated towards the fare increase
resistance movement and thus did not respond to the general strike call of July 15.
However realising their mistake, they soon
joined hands with the people and decided
to launch a continuous strike.

In fact, this decision brought about a qualitative change in the entire situation. Being alarmed at the
new development, the government decided to step down from its, early rigidity and announced that the decision of fare rise would be examined by a tribunal. It appears that
only the participation of the most organised
section of the working class.could decisively
influence the peoples’ movement at this
stage and “save it from being wrecked on the
shoals of petty bourgeois revolutionism”.81
Thus the Calcutta trams played a leading
role in generating a mass movement in
Calcutta. An apparently small economic
issue of fare rise was made the basis of a
large-scale challenge to the forces of law and
order. The fight against fare rise was essentially a struggle against British capital. But
the entire tide of mass indignation finally
went also against the Congress regime of
West Bengal, which posed as the most
trusted ally of British capital.82

The episode also discredited the Congress as a political party in the eyes of the people throughout

Even the capitalists did not take the ultimate surrender of the Congress government to the people’s pressure with good grace. The Eastern Economist of the Birlas described the entire incident as an “ignominious surrender”. by the West Bengal government. It wrote:

It is a signal blow to the Congress Government; and every blow to a Congress Government of this magnitude is a blow to the Congress organisation and to its President.94 The crowd action of Calcutta in 1953 stands out as a glorious instance of protest against the whimsical decision of the authorities that meant an economic strain for the poorer section of the city population.

The crowd was violent, impulsive, easily swayed by rumour and quick to panic—but it would be a mistake to paint them as fickle and peculiarly irrational elements. The Calcutta crowd of 1953 was in fact George
Rude’s Crowd in History, which reacted sharply to a specific historical situation. Hence, to dismiss the crowd behaviour of Calcutta as a mysterious, vague and haphazard phenomenon, composed of social misfits, would be overdrawn, tendentious and misleading.


1 Suranjan Das, ‘The Crowd in Calcutta
Violence’ in Basudcb Chattopadhyay and
others (ed). Dissent and Consensus: Social
Protest in Pre-lndustrial Societies, Calcutta,
1989, p 234.
2 Ibid.
3 Dennis Gill, Tramcar Treasury, London,
1963, p 100.
4 E Hobsbawm, ‘Cities and Insurrections* in
Revolutionaries, London, 1982, p 221.
5 Karmi'(Bengali version), Magh 1328 (BS),
Vol I , No 6, p 113.
6 Karmi (Bengali version), Chaitra 1328 (BS),.
Vol I , No 8, p 143.
7 Ananda Bazar Patrika, January 14, 1948.
8 Ananda Bazar Patrika, February 15, 1948.
9 Ananda Bazar Patrika, March 4, 1948.
10 Ananda Bazar Patrika, March 11, 1948.
11 Ananda Bazar Patrika, February 25 and
March 25, 1948.
12 Crossroads, Vol V, No 2, July 12, 1953.
13 Ibid.
14 Ananda Bazar Patrika, June 26, 1953.
15 New Age (monthly), November 1953, p 73.
16 Ananda Bazar Patrika, June 28, 1953.
17 New Age, November 1953, p 73.
18 Ibid.
19 Ibid.
20 The Statesman, July 2, 1953.
21 New Age, November 1953, p 73.
22 The Statesman, July 3, 1953.
23 The Statesman, July 3, 1953.
24 The Statesman, July 4, 1953.
25 The Statesman, July 4, 1953.
26 The Statesman, July 4,1953; also New Age,
November 1953, p 74.
27 The Statesman, July 5, f953.
28 The Statesman, July 6, 1953.
29 New Age, November 1953, p 74.
30 Crossroads, July 12, 1953,
31 The Statesman, July 7, 1953.
32 Ibid.
33 Crossroads, July 12, 1953.
34 The Statesman, July 7, 1953.
35 New Age, November 1953, p 74.
2866 Economic and Political Weekly December 29, 1990
36 The Statesman. July 10, 1953.
37 New Age, November p 74,
38 The Statesman, July 8, 1953.
39 The Statesman, July 9, 1953.
40 Ananda Bazar Patrtya, July 6, 1953, and
also New Age, November 1953, p 74.
41 New Age, November 1953, pp 74-75.
42 New Age, November 1953, pp 7475.
43 Ibid, p 75.
44 Ibid.
45 The Statesman, July 9, 1953.
46 The Statesman, July 13, 1953.
47 New Age, November 1953, p 75.
48 Crossroads, July 26, 1953.
49 New Age, November 1953, p 75.
50 Crossroads, July 26, 1953.
51 Ananda Bazar Patrika, July 15, 1953
52 New Age, November 1953, p 75.
53 Ibid.
54 The Statesman, July 16, 1953.
55 New Age, November 1953, p 75.
56 Ibid, p 76. The Statesman, July 17, 1953.
57 New Age,, November 1953, p 76.
58 New Age, November 1953, p 76,
59 Swadhinata, July 17, 1953.
60 The Statesman, July 17, 1953, and also New
Age, November 1953, p 76. The quote is
from the latter source.
61 Ananda Bazar Patrika, July 10, 1953 and
also Jugantar, July 9, 1953.
62 The Statesman, July 4, 1953.
63 New Age, November 1953, p 77.
64 Ibid.
65 The Statesman, July 20, 1953.
66 Ibid; New Age, November 1953. p 77.
67 Ibid.
68 Ananda Bazar Patrika, July 23, 1953.
69 Crossroads, July 26, 1953,
70 New Age, November 1953, p 77.
71 Crossroads, July 26, 1953.
72 New Age, November 1953, p 77.
73 Ananda Bazar Patrika, July 27, 1953; New
Age, November 1953, p 77.
74 New Age, November 1953, p 77.
75 Ibid; The Statesman, August 1, 1953.
76 The Statesman, August 3,1953; New Age,
November 1953, p 77.
77 Crossroads, July 12, 1953.
78 New Age, November 1953, p 73.
79 Crossroads, July 12, 1953.
80 Gopal Acharya, Dhiren Majumdar, etc, the
veteran CTWU leaders, refrained from
making any comment about this affair.
81 New Age,, November 1953, p 79.
82 New Age., August 1953, p 6.
83 Ibid.
84 Eastern Economist, July 24, 1953.

SOURCE: Economic and Political Weekly December 29, 1990

Home Forums Tram fare hike and Communist violence in Calcutta: twenty-nine trams were damaged (1953)

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      On June 27, a joint statement by the leaders of the opposition parties, including the CPI, Praja Socialist Party (PSP), Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), Socialist Unity Centre (SUC), Forward Bloc, etc, opposed
      the government moves to increase the fare. The same evening witnessed the formation of the Tram and Bus Fare Enhancement Resistance Committee comprising leaders of these political parties. Veteran Forward Bloc leader Hemanta Basu was its president, while Jyoti Basu (CPI), Subodh Banerjee (SUC), Suresh Banerjee (PSP) and Satya Priya Banerjee (Marxist Forward Bloc) were the members.

      [See the full post at: Tram fare hike and Communist violence in Calcutta: twenty-nine trams were damaged (1953)]

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