Indian Seamen's Welfare League


66 Christian Street
London, E1 1RT
United Kingdom
Other names: 

Indian Seamen’s Union

Date began: 
09 May 1943

The Indian Seamen’s Welfare League offered membership to all Indian seamen resident in Britain on the payment of an annual subscription of one shilling. Its main aim was ‘to look after the economic, social and cultural interests of Indian seamen, to provide them with recreation in Great Britain and to communicate with their relatives in India in the event of any misfortunes befalling them’ (L/PJ/12/630, p. 140). Inaugurated by the former seamen Ayub Ali and Shah Abdul Majid Qureshi, it held its first meeting on Commercial Road in July 1943. This attracted approximately 100 people, including a dozen Europeans among the Bengali seamen who made up the bulk of the audience.

The organization described itself as social rather than political. Indeed it changed its name from the Indian Seamen’s Union precisely because it feared the political connotations of the word ‘union’ would alienate ship owners and attract the attention of the police. However, records of meetings suggest that there were tensions between those who espoused this non-political position and those who considered the concerns of the organization to be inextricable from an anti-colonial politics. Further, surveillance reports warn that the organization attempted to dissuade Indian seamen from risking their lives bringing food to Britain when the Government was responsible for famine in India, and that its ‘extreme elements’ wished thereby to sabotage the war effort.

Key Individuals' Details: 

Ajman Ali (assistant secretary), Ayub Ali (co-founder, secretary and treasurer), Masharaf Ali (vice-president), Rashid Ali (assistant secretary), Surat Alley (on executive committee), Tarapada Basu (on executive committee), Mrs Haidri Bhattacharji (on executive committee), B. B. Ray Chaudhuri (on executive committee), Abdul Hamid (participated in inaugural meeting), N. Datta Majumdar (on executive committee), M. A. Mullick (on executive committee), Shah Abdul Majid Qureshi (co-founder and president), Said Amir Shah (on executive committee) C. B. Vakil (on executive committee).


Homi Bode (attended inaugural meeting), Kundan Lal Jalie (claimed he was the originator of the organization), V. K. Krishna Menon (disapproved of the organization because he believed it would clash with the India-based Indian Seamen’s Union), John Kartar Singh (attended inaugural meeting). 

Involved in events details: 

Inaugural meeting, King’s Hall, Commercial Road, E1, 14 July 1943

Secondary works: 

Adams, Caroline (ed.) Across Seven Seas and Thirteen Rivers (London: THAP, 1987)

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


L/PJ/12/630, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras, pp. 141-2


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.


These four speakers made it plain that Indians joined the Merchant Navy, not from any desire to assist this country’s war effort, but were driven to it for economic reasons – empty stomachs and hungry relatives made them undertake this dangerous work. According to them, so long as India remained under foreign domination, any organisation set up for the protection of the rights of Indian seamen had to be prepared to fight against the deliberate attempt to exploit them.

N. Datta MAJUMDAR…complained bitterly that there was no complete list of Indian seamen lost at sea and of the utter disregard for their dependents and relatives. The crux of the whole problem was that India was under foreign domination and while this continued, the British Government would treat its subject Indian seamen and their dependents with such callousness. This state of affairs had to be remedied, and it devolved on the Welfare League to probe the Government and demand immediate redress.

Homi BODE complained that the position of the average Indian seamen was disgraceful, and it was hypocracy (stet.) to say that an organisation aiming to remedy their grievances could be non-political.


This extract is from a report on the inaugural meeting of the Indian Seamen’s Welfare League held on 7 July 1943. The four speakers referred to here are C. B. Vakil and B. B. Ray Chaudhuri in addition to Majumdar and Bose. All served on the executive committee of the organization. The extract underlines the plight of working-class Indians in Britain and the way they were silently sacrificed in the ‘war effort’, as well as the impossibility of extricating concerns with the welfare of Indians in Britain from a wider anti-colonial politics and the links between a local (i.e., East End) and transnational politics. The League is further evidence of the strong sense of community developing among East End Indians in the 1940s, as well as their ability to mobilize for their rights as minority workers in Britain. Further, the presence of the middle-class Chaudhuri and Vakil on the executive committee of a workers’ organization suggest that South Asian activity and activism in Britain did transgress boundaries of class to some extent.

Archive source: 

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

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