Akbar Ali Khan

Other names: 

Chaudhri Akbar Ali Khan

Date of birth: 
01 Jan 1905
Precise DOB unknown: 
City of birth: 
Country of birth: 
Precise date of death unknown: 

London; Birmingham; Coventry.


Akbar Ali Khan came to Britain in the 1930s. He first stayed in London and found work as an extra in crowd scenes in empire films. He co-founded the Oriental Film Artistes’ Union with Surat Alley and acted as its President. In London, Akbar Ali Khan was involved with groups campaigning for Indian self-determination, such as the India League. He attended many meetings and spoke at the Indian independence rally at Conway Hall in January 1940.

He moved to Birmingham in 1940 and subsequently to Coventry, working as a labourer at the Daimler factory. Although his name suggests that he might be Muslim, the India Office thought that he might be Sikh. A memo on the Indian Workers' Union noted on 17 December 1942 that he ‘is...totally westernized and a Muhammedan in name only; he lives in a Sikh establishment’ (L/PJ/12/646). Khan was the president of the Indian Workers’ Association in Coventry. He was particularly interested in the political organization of Indians living in Britain and was instrumental in the Association’s expansion in the Midlands and northern England, helping to start up IWA branches in Wolverhampton, Newcastle and Manchester. He was also instrumental in helping to set up the IWA’s monthly bulletin, Indian Worker, published in Urdu.

Akbar Ali Khan actively campaigned against the compulsory conscription of Indians living in Britain during the Second World War. He resigned as President of the Central Committee of the Indian Workers' Association (Birmingham) in July 1943. The linking of the IWA and Swaraj House through the Federation of Indian Associations in Great Britain brought about the temporary retirement of Akbar Ali Khan from the political scene. He feared that the IWA might be taken over by Surat Alley. By 1945 Akbar Ali Khan was re-elected as IWA President and disengaged the IWA from the Federation of Indian Associations of Great Britain. He was also an active member of the Committee of Indian Congressmen and the Indian National Army Defence Committee.


Surat Alley, Thakur Singh Basra, Amiya Nath Bose, Fenner Brockway, Lal Chand, Fazul Hossain, Alexander Korda, Kartar Singh Nagra, Karim Singh Chima Overseer, Jagdish Rai, V. S. Sastrya, Pulin Behari Seal, Said Amir Shah, Sirdar Shah, Besant Singh, Diwan Singh, Vic Yates (India League, Birmingham Branch).

Secondary works: 

Visram, Rozina, Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History (London: Pluto, 2002)

Archive source: 

L/PJ/12/645, L/PJ12/646, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

MRC Mss 292/91/108, Trade Union Congress Papers, Modern Record Centre, University of Warwick