Hindustani Social Club


35 Portree Street
London, E14 0HT
United Kingdom
179 High Street Poplar
London, E15 2NE
United Kingdom
Date began: 
01 Jan 1934
Precise date began unknown: 

Like the Hindustan Community House, the main purpose of the Hindustani Social Club was to do social and educational work among seamen and pedlars in the East End. A key figure in the HSC was Surat Alley, a political activist whose main concern and area of activism was the working conditions of Indian seamen. The Club also served as a social centre for Indians in the East End. In 1939, Alley organized a charity performance by the Indian dancer Ram Gopal and his troupe for the entertainment of the Club’s members (L/PJ/12/630, p. 60).

The Club also functioned as a political meeting place and as a forum where Indian activists could educate and mobilize working-class Indians against British colonial rule. Alley issued to its members news bulletins in Urdu and Bengali on the British Government’s oppression of Indian workers and peasants, and in 1942 the Club hosted an ‘Indian Independence Day’ meeting, attended by Mulk Raj Anand as well as numerous well-known activists (L/PJ/12/454, pp. 13-16). Further, with Surat Alley as its Honorary Secretary, it inevitably had links with the Colonial Seamen’s Association as well as with other organizations for lascars, and, according to a government surveillance report, in 1939 it served as a meeting place for striking lascars (L/PJ/12/630, p. 25). In the eyes of the Government, Surat Alley’s association with the Club made it particularly suspect; in 1940, its premises (also Alley’s home at the time) were searched because of Alley’s links with Udham Singh (ibid., p. 81). 

Key individuals: 
Key Individuals' Details: 

Surat Alley (Honorary Secretary), Said Amir Shah (Secretary).


Mulk Raj Anand (attended meetings), Dr D. N. Dutt (attended meetings), May Dutt (wife of Dr D. N. Dutt, Treasurer of publicity committee for charity performance given by Ram Gopal), Ram Gopal and company, Tahsil Miah (shared lodgings with Surat Alley at the HSC), Kundal Lal Jalie, Sahibdad Khan (attended meetings), Ghulam Mohammed (attended meetings), Shah Abdul Majid Qureshi (attended meetings), Sarah Reder (Alley’s ‘mistress’, attended meetings), John Kartar Singh (attended meetings), Dr C. B. Vakil (attended meetings).

Involved in events details: 

Performance of Ram Gopal and company, 1939

‘Indian Independence Day’ meeting, 1942

Secondary works: 

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


Extract from New Scotland Yard Report No. 156, 13 December 1939, L/PJ/12/630, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras, p. 60


This Indian Political Intelligence file, titled ‘Indian Seamen: Unrest and Welfare’, includes numerous government surveillance and police reports on the activities of lascars in Britain in the 1930s and 1940s, focusing in particular on their strikes and other forms of activism against their pay and conditions.


A short time ago Ramzan alias Surat ALI was able to secure the services of the well known Indian dancer, Ram GOPAL and his company, for a charity performance in order to mitigate the distress caused by the war among Indian seamen and pedlars, and a special matinee was arranged for Friday 1st December, 1939, at the Vaudeville Theatre, Strand W.C., the proceeds of which were to be given to the Hindustani Social Club.

Although ALI did his utmost to boost the matinee and a special committee of the Hindustani Social Club was formed to organise publicity, with Mrs. May DUTT (wife of D.N. DUTT) of 160 Highlever Road, W.10 as its honorary treasurer, the performance had to be postponed owing to lack of support. There is no doubt that ALI’s failure was due to the fact that the London Indian Community has no faith in him and suspected that he would use the proceeds for his own ends. 


This extract demonstrates the presence of South Asian culture – in the form of dance – at the heart of the imperial metropolis and in a key cultural venue. Moreover, the fact that this performance, which did eventually take place,  was attended by working-class Indians from the HSC locates this disadvantaged sector of the community within this central London space, albeit briefly. That middle-class Indians (such as the Dutts) were concerned for the welfare of their working-class counterparts is suggestive of the sense of community which was developing among South Asians in Britain during this period, which evidently traversed boundaries of class. The involvement of Surat Alley, who was better known for his political activism on behalf of the lascars, with this cultural production points to the intersection of the cultural, social and political for Indians in Britain.

Archive source: 

Flyer, Tower Hamlets Archives Collection

L/PJ/12/454, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

L/PJ/12/630, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras