Said Amir Shah


Said Amir Shah was a London-based silk merchant and warehouseman. He ran a business with his brother Fazal Shah on White Church Lane, and held a shop at 36 Montague Street. He also worked as a contractor for film companies, finding Indians (predominantly former lascars and hawkers) for crowd scenes, and in 1942 founded a company named Shah Film Corporation with John Kartar Singh and Herbert Bundy as his co-directors. A highly resourceful individual, during his time in Britain Shah was involved in a number of anti-colonial organizations and activities. Indeed, V. K. Krishna Menon reportedly cultivated Shah because of his connections, especially with working-class Indians in the East End of London.

Government officials first became aware of Shah through his involvement with the London branch of the Indian National Congress in the 1930s. After a brief period of involvement with the East End branch of Menon’s India League, he went on to become a prominent figure in the Committee of Indian Congressmen (led by Amiya Nath Bose and Pulin Behari Seal), under whose auspices he created an Indian National Muslim Committee which was strongly anti-Pakistan. He also aided lascars in their struggle for workers’ rights, acting as a court interpreter for those involved in criminal cases, and was an active member of the Hindustani Social Club.

In addition, Shah was a leading figure in the Jamiat-ul-Muslimin; in the 1940s he held the post of treasurer, and, according to government reports, he was responsible for opening various provincial branches of the organization in Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow. Shah campaigned for a mosque to serve the Muslim community in the East End of London, and was instrumental in the foundation of the East London Mosque in 1941. He made a speech at its inauguration ceremony, and played a leading role in its management and affairs subsquently. He was the main agitator on behalf of the Jamiat-ul-Muslimin in its struggle against the trustees for control over the mosque in 1943.


L/PJ/12/468, India Office Records, African and Asian Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras, pp. 278-80


This Indian Political Intelligence file comprises documentation and correspondence relating to Indian Muslim organizations and activity in Britain during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. It includes reports on the activities and establishment of mosques in London, including the Shah Jahan Mosque, the East London Mosque, and the Regent’s Park Mosque.


Ayub Ali (through East London Mosque), Surat Alley (through Hindustani Social Club), Mulk Raj Anand (through Hindustani Social Club), Tarapadu Basu (attended Jamiat protest meeting against ELM trustees), Amiya Nath Bose (through Committee of Indian Congressmen), G. S. Dara (accountant for Shah Bros), Dr Dutt (through India League), Sir Ernest Hotson (through East London Mosque), Kundan Lal Jalie (through East End connections), C. L. Katial (through India League), Kalundar Amirullah Khan (through Committee of Indian Congressmen), Sahibdad Khan (through East London Mosque, Jamiat-ul-Muslimin and Hindustani Social Club), V. K. Krishna Menon (through India League), Firoz Khan Noon (through East London Mosque), Hassan Nachat Pasha (Egyptian Ambassador – through East London Mosque), Ahmed Din Qureshi (through Hindustani Social Club), S. M. Sayeedulla (through East London Mosque), Pulin Behari Seal (through Committee of Indian Congressmen, Krishnarao Shelvankar (through Jamiat and ELM dispute), I. G. P. Singh (attended Jamiat protest meeting against ELM trustees), John Kartar Singh (formed Shah Film Corporation with Shah, and through Hindustani Social Club), Hassan Suhrawardy (through the East London Mosque), Sir Frederick Sykes (through East London Mosque), C. B. Vakil (through India League).

Shah Film Corporation

Precise DOB unknown: 

It is now clear that from 1941 onwards, SHAH has been trying to work himself up to a position of leadership in Moslem circles in this country. It is highly improbable that he has any religious motives in the matter, but desires to strengthen his hand as uncrowned king amongst Indian merchants, peddlers and seamen in the East End and in Provincial towns. In October 1941, when the East London Mosque was opened, he commented to the effect that it was not the Mosque he wanted, but it would have its uses. Shortly afterwards he was one of two members of the Jamiat-ul-Muslimin co-opted onto the Board of Trustees of the Mosque and the Mosque Fund, and thereafter campaigned strenuously to obtain control, through the Jamiat-ul-Muslimin, of the Mosque and the Fund.


First, this extract points to the fact that Muslim South Asians in Britain during the early twentieth century identified in terms of their religious faith as well as in terms of a broader Indian identity. Further, it suggests the presence of a burgeoning Muslim working-class community in the East End of London – a precursor to the significant Bangladeshi community that inhabits the area today. Finally, Shah’s connections with and leadership of ‘Indian merchants, peddlers and seamen’ coupled with his involvement with the Jamiat-ul-Muslimin and the East London Mosque suggest an intersection of the political and religious spheres for Muslims in 1940s Britain – and an attempt on Shah’s part to mobilize this community for the right to practise their faith within the public sphere.

Archive source: 

L/PJ/12/455, India Office Records, Asian and Afridan Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

L/PJ/12/468, 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

Involved in events: 

Inauguration of the East London Mosque, 1941

Dispute between the Jamiat-ul-Muslimin and the Board of Trustees of the East London Mosque, 1943

Opening of the East End branch of the India League, 1943

City of birth: 
Amritsar, Punjab
Country of birth: 


Montague Street
London, EC2Y 8BB
United Kingdom
51° 31' 3.3312" N, 0° 5' 52.818" W
White Church Lane
London, E1 7QR
United Kingdom
51° 30' 55.7388" N, 0° 4' 8.1732" W
Precise date of death unknown: 
Dates of time spent in Britain: 

1930s - 1940s

C. L. R. James


C. L. R. James was born in Caroni, Trinidad, to Robert Alexander James and Ida Elizabeth Rudder. The family moved to Tunapuna, where James' friend Malcolm Nurse (George Padmore) lived. After graduating from Queen’s Royal College he pursued a writing career, publishing the short story ‘La Divina Pastora’ in 1927. At a similar time, he befriended the cricketer Learie Constantine, who moved to England in 1929. On his arrival in England in early 1932 James stayed with Constantine in Nelson, Lancashire, before moving to London in 1933.

James' collection of essays written for the Port of Spain Gazette shortly after his arrival in Britain (published as Letters from London, 2003) indicate his position on the fringes of the Bloomsbury Group. In London, he was invited to join the Friends of India Society and to lecture on any subject connected with the West Indies at the Indian Students’ Central Association. James also attended several meetings of the India League. He began to read the work of Marx, Lenin, Engels and Trotsky and merged his interest in black politics with Marxist theory. He joined the League of Coloured Peoples, which also had a South Asian membership at this point, and wrote for their journal The Keys. He associated with other black anti-colonialists of the time, such as George Padmore, Amy Ashwood Garvey and Ras Makonnen. As a Trotskyist, James attracted the attention of the Metropolitan Police Special Branch. A 1937 Special Branch report shows that James was a regular visitor to Balkrishna Gupta, an Indian Trotskyist who was reportedly linked to Nehru. In 1938, James was living with Ajit Mookerjee (Ajit Roy), a Trotskyist law student at LSE and friend of Gupta, on Boundary Road, London. James and Mookerjee formed the Marxist Group in 1935 and later the Revolutionary Socialist League. In 1936, James' play Toussaint L’Ouverture was staged at the Westminster Theatre with Paul Robeson in the title role. James was also the cricket reporter for the Manchester Guardian from 1933 to 1935 and the Glasgow Herald in 1936. He was a fan of cricketer Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji and wrote about him both in his journalism and at length in his work Beyond a Boundary (1963).

In 1938, James left Britain for the United States where he stayed for the next fifteen years. In 1952, he was interned at Ellis Island for passport violations, and upon release in 1953 he went back to England before relocating to Trinidad in 1958. In 1962, he returned once again to England, settling in London for the majority of his remaining years. He died in his Brixton home on 31 May 1989.

Published works: 

(with Learie Nicholas Constantine) Cricket and I (London: Philip Allen, 1933)

The Life of Captain Cipriani: An Account of British Government in the West Indies (Nelson: Coulton & Co., Ltd, 1932)

The Case for West-Indian Self-Government (London: L. & V. Woolf, 1933)

Minty Alley: A Novel (London: M. Secker & Warburg, 1936)

World Revolution, 1917-1936: The Rise and Fall of the Communist International (London: M. Secker & Warburg, 1937)

The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (London: Secker & Warburg, 1938)

A History of Negro Revolt (London, 1938)

Mariners, Renegades and Castaways: The Story of Herman Melville and the World We Live In (New York: C. L. R. James, 1953)

Every Cook Can Govern: A Study of Democracy in Ancient Greece (Detroit: Correspondence Publishing, 1956)

Modern Politics (Port of Spain: printed by the P. N. M. Publishing Company, 1960)

Beyond a Boundary (London: Hutchinson, 1963)

Wilson Harris: A Philosophical Approach (Port-of-Spain: University of the West Indies, 1965)

C. L. R. James, etc. (Madison, Wisconsin, 1970)

(with F. Forest and Ria Stone) The Invading Socialist Society (Detroit: Bewick Editions, 1972)

(with Grace C. Lee, and Pierre Chaulieu) Facing Reality (Detroit: Bewick/Ed, [1958] 1974)

Toussaint L’Ouverture (1936). Published as The Black Jacobins in A Time and Season: 8 Caribbean Plays, ed. by Errol Hill (Trinidad: University of the West Indies Extra-Mural Unit, 1976)

The Future in the Present: Selected Writings (London: Allison & Busby, 1977)

Nkrumah and the Ghana Revolution (London: Allison & Busby, 1977)

(with George Breitman, Edgar Keemer and others) Fighting Racism in World War II (New York and London: Pathfinder, 1980)

Notes on Dialectics: Hegel, Marx, Lenin (London: Allison & Busby, 1980)

Spheres of Existence: Selected Writings (London: Allison & Busby, 1980)

At the Rendezvous of Victory: Selected Writings (London: Allison & Busby, 1984)

(with Margaret Busby and Darcus Howe) C. L. R. James’s 80th Birthday Lectures (London: Race Today, 1984)

(with Anna Grimshaw) Cricket (London: Allison & Busby, 1986)

(with Rana Dunayevskaya and Grace Lee) State Capitalism and World Revolution (Detroit: Facing Reality, 1969)

Walter Rodney and the Question of Power (London: Race Today, 1983)

(with Anna Grimshaw) The C. L. R. James Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992)

(with Anna Grimshaw and Keith Hart) American Civilization (Cambridge, MA, and Oxford: Blackwell, 1993)

(with Scott McLemee and Paul Le Blanc) C. L. R. James and Revolutionary Marxism: Selected Writings of C. L. R. James, 1939-1949 (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1994)

(with Scott McLemee) C. L. R. James on the 'Negro Question' (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1996)

(with Anna Grimshaw) Special Delivery: The Letters of C. L. R. James to Constance Webb, 1939-1948 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996)

(with Martin Glaberman) Marxism for Our Times: C. L. R. James on Revolutionary Organization (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1999)

Letters from London: Seven Essays by C. L. R. James (Port of Spain: Prospect Press, 2003; Oxford: Signal Books, 2003)

(with David Austin) You Don’t Play with Revolution: The Montreal Lectures of C. L. R. James (Edinburgh: AK, 2009)


Bornstein, Sam and Richardson, Al, Against the Stream: A History of the Trotskyist Movement in Britain, 1924-38 (London: Socialist Platform, 1986), p. 263

Date of birth: 
04 Jan 1901

Here, the authors quote Ajit Mookerjee Roy on James' political convictions and their personal relationship.

Contributions to periodicals: 

The Keys


I had rarely come across a finer political polemicist than C. L. R. James. His attacks on Stalinism were absolutely devastating. He was then thinking in terms of building an independent Trotskyist party. I joined him readily. There was no doubt in my mind that all we had to do was to start with a clean slate. We had the answer to all the problems, and that the few of us would grow in the course of time into a mighty party. Now when I think of my faith in those days, I feel very amused.

Secondary works: 

Bogues, Anthony, Black Nationalism and Socialism (London: Socialists Unlimited for Socialists Workers’ Party, 1979)

Bogues, Anthony, Caliban’s Freedom: The Early Political Thought of C. L. R. James (London: Pluto Press, 1997)

Bornstein, Sam and Richardson, Al, Against the Stream: A History of the Trotskyist Movement in Britain, 1924-38 (London: Socialist Platform, 1986)

Buhle, Paul, C. L. R. James: His Life and Work (London: Allison & Busby, 1986)

Buhle, Paul, C. L. R. James: The Artist as Revolutionary (London: Verso, 1988)

Cudjoe, Selwyn R. and Cain, William E., C. L. R. James: His Intellectual Legacies (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts, 1995)

Dhondy, Farrukh, C. L. R. James (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2001)

Ervin, Charles Wesley, 'Trotskyism in India: Part One: Origins Through World War Two (1935-45)', Revolutionary History 1.4 (Winter 1988-9), pp. 22-34

Farred, Grant, What’s My Name?: Black Vernacular Intellectuals (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2003)

Fryer, Peter, Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain (London: Pluto, 1984)

Grimshaw, Anna, The C. L. R. James Archive: A Reader's Guide (New York: C. L. R. James Institute and Cultural Correspondence, 1991)

Henry, Paget and Buhle, Paul, C. L. R. James's Caribbean (Durham: Duke University Press, 1992)

Howe, Stephen, 'James, Cyril Lionel Robert (1901-1989)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) []

Innes, C. L., A History of Black and Asian Writing in Britain, 2nd edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008)

King, Nicole, C. L. R. James and Creolization: Circles of Influence (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001)

McClendon, John H., C. L. R. James's Notes in Dialectics: Left Hegelianism or Marxism-Leninism? (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2005)

Needham, Anuradha Dingwaney, Using the Master's Tools: Resistance and the Literature of the South Asian Diasporas (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000)

Nielsen, Aldon Lynn, C. L. R. James: A Critical Introduction (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1997)

Nordquist, Joan, C. L. R. James: A Bibliography (Santa Cruz, CA: Reference and Research Services, 2001)

Ordaz, Martin, Home-Coming of a Famous Exile: C. L. R. James in Trinidad & Tobago (Trinidad & Tobago: Opus, 2003)

Ragoonath, Bishnu, Tribute to a Scholar: 'Appreciating C. L. R. James' (Kingston: Consortium Graduate School of Social Sciences, University of the West Indies, 1990)

Ramdin, Ron, The Making of the Black Working Class in Britain (Aldershot: Gower, 1987)

Renton, Dave, C. L. R. James: Cricket's Philosopher King (London: Has, 2007)

Rosengarten, Frank, Urbane Revolutionary: C. L. R. James and the Struggle for a New Society (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2008)

Samoiloff, Louise Cripps, C. L. R. James: Memories and Commentaries (New York and London: Cornwall Books, 1997)

Somerville, Erin D., 'James, C. L. R. (1901-1989)', in The Oxford Companion to Black British History, ed. by David Dabydeen, John Gilmore and Cecily Jones (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 232-4

Sancho, T. Anson, CLR: The Man and His Work (1976)

Scott, David, Conscripts of Modernity: The Tragedy of Colonial Enlightenment (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004)

Stephens, Michelle Ann, Black Empire: The Masculine Global Imaginary of Caribbean Intellectuals in the United States, 1914-1962 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005)

Worcester, Kent, C. L. R. James: A Political Biography (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996)

Young, James, The World of C. L. R. James: The Unfragmented Vision (Glasgow: Clydeside Press, 1999)


This excerpt highlights the friendship between James and Ajit Mookerjee Roy. It is suggestive of the way in which left-wing anti-colonal political convictions linked members of different minority groups in Britain across cultural and 'racial' boundaries.

Archive source: 

'Cyril Lionel Robert James', Metropolitan Police Special Branch file, KV 2/1824, National Archives, Kew

Correspondence and papers, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London

'C. L. R. James talks to Stuart Hall', Miras Productions, 30 April 1988, National Film and Television Archive, British Film Institute, London

'A Tribute to C. L. R. James, 1901-1989', Banding Productions, 21 June 1989, National Film and Television Archive, British Film Institute, London

Current footage affairs, National Film and Television Archive, British Film Institute, London

Documentary footage, National Film and Television Archive, British Film Institute, London

Documentary recording, National Sound Archive, British Library, London

City of birth: 
Country of birth: 
Other names: 

Cyril Lionel Robert James

Date of death: 
31 May 1989
Location of death: 
Brixton, London
Date of 1st arrival in Britain: 
18 Mar 1932
Dates of time spent in Britain: 

March 1932 - October 1938, 1953-8, 1962-89


Boundary Road, London

Indian Workers' Association


The Indian Workers’ Association had a dual aim: to raise consciousness of the struggle for Indian independence among working-class Indians in Britain, and to protect and enhance their welfare. While there was some overlap between the IWA and the India League, the former was a working-class organization whose membership was composed almost uniquely of Indians. The founders and protagonists of the organization were mainly Sikh and Muslim Punjabis who had turned to peddling on their arrival in Britain, later finding factory work or construction work at the aerodromes and militia camps that had sprung up in the Midlands during the Second World War. Meetings were conducted predominantly in Hindustani, which often excluded Bengali seamen and ex-seamen from participation, although there were also bi-monthly ‘open meetings’ conducted in English and with invited British speakers.

In the Indian Political Intelligence files, many of the Sikh pioneers of the IWA are described as having ‘Ghadr sympathies’, their main concern being to raise money for Ghadr Party initiatives such as the Desh Bhagat Parwar Sahaik Committee, which helped the dependents in India of ‘Sikh martyrs’, or the Udham Singh Defence Fund. Generally, the political activity and mobilization of working-class Indians was a source of grave concern to the India Office. IPI records reveal discussion of ways in which the organization’s leaders could be dispersed to different parts of the country where there were few Indians and less opportunity to stir up anti-British feeling among their fellow countrymen. Indeed, the IPI kept lists of IWA men who they considered particularly seditious and who should be interned in the event of an invasion during the war.

In terms of welfare work, the IWA leadership helped working-class Indians to avoid army conscription if they wished. It also provided a forum for discussion of employment grievances. Records of speeches at IWA meetings reveal the link between the oppression of Indians in Britain and their subjugation to the British in India; for example, Indian machinists in British factories are described as being reallocated to unskilled labouring jobs because of the fear that if they acquire the same skills as Englishmen they will return to India and teach their fellow countrymen the trade, thereby undermining the rationale for British rule.

Although it began as early as 1937, the IWA gained real momentum when Vellala Srikantaya Sastrya, an educated Madrassi, became secretary of the Birmingham branch in 1942. He gave the organization leadership and coherence. By 1944, however, signs of discord among the main players were evident, with Akbar Ali Khan relocating from Coventry to East London to open a rival IWA in the capital.

Published works: 

Indian Worker (bulletin in English and Hindustani, edited by Mohammed Fazal Hussein, published irregularly)

Azad Hind (bulletin in Urdu and Punjabi, edited by Vidya Parkash Hansrani and Kartar Singh Nagra, launched in 1945)

Mazdoor (‘Worker’) (bulletin in Urdu, edited by Chowdry Akbar Khan and Said Amir Shah and managed by Abdul Ghani, launched in1945)


Report on Indian Workers’ Union, 17 December 1942, L/PJ/12/645, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras, p. 65

Other names: 

Indian Workers’ Union

Hindustani Mazdur Sabha

Secondary works: 

Desai, Rashmi, Indian Immigrants in Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963)

Hiro, Dilip, Black British, White British (London: Paladin, 1992)

John, De Witt, Indian Workers’ Association in Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969)

Josephides, Sasha, Towards a History of the Indian Workers’ Association (Warwick University: ESCR, Research Paper in Ethnic Relations, No. 18, 1991)

Ram, Anant and Tatla, Darshan Singh, ‘This is our Home Now: Reminiscences of a Panjabi Migrant in Coventry’ (An interview with Anant Ram), Oral History, 21. 1 (Spring, 1993), pp.68-74.

Virdee, Pippa, Coming to Coventry: Stories from the South Asian Pioneers (Coventry: The Herbert, 2006)

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


This Indian Political Intelligence file documents the activities of the Indian Workers’ Association in the early 1940s. It includes records of meetings and events held, with key post-holders named and the content of speeches described, as well as memos listing the names of members considered to be particularly threatening to national security.

Date began: 
01 Jan 1937

[The Indian rank and file] work long hours and have much less time for politics than their self-appointed leaders…If the latter could be removed from the scene of their activities by being compelled to take up employment in areas where few or no Indians congregate, not only would the movement collapse but the Indian worker would be relieved of the unwelcome necessity of subscribing under pressure sums of money for purposes which he often dimly comprehends. The attendance at meetings held at Birmingham and Coventry is never so large as to indicate that the Indian community is strongly influenced by political feeling, however much a particular audience may be worked up to temporary excitement by inflammatory speeches. There is, of course, always the possibility that some unbalanced person may be encouraged to emulate the example of Udham Singh and seek martyrdom by committing some isolated outrage.

Precise date began unknown: 
Key Individuals' Details: 

Muhammad Amin Aziz (original secretary), Thakur Singh Basra (‘unofficial secretary’ and one of leaders), Charan Singh Chima (founding member, vice-president of Coventry branch in 1945), Vidya Parkash Hansrani (vice-president of Coventry branch, co-edited Azad Hind), Mohammed Tufail Hussain (elected chairman of the Bradford branch in 1942), Mohammed Fazal Hussein (secretary then president of Bradford branch, edited Indian Worker), Akbar Ali Khan (chairman of the central organization from 1942 at least, and president from 1944 at least; lived with Thakur Singh Basra in Coventry), Kartar Singh Nagra (founding member, one-time secretary, co-edited Azad Hind), Muhammad Hussain Noor (assistant secretary of Bradford branch), Ajit Singh Rai (treasurer of Bradford branch), G. D. Ramaswamy (editor of news-bulletin, student at Sheffield University), V. S. Sastrya (secretary from October 1941), Sardar Shah (treasurer of Birmingham branch), Gurbaksh Singh (key figure in Bradford branch), Karm Singh (member of central committee), Natha Singh (president of Bradford branch in 1945), Ujjagar Singh (first treasurer of Coventry branch).


The above extract reveals the extent of the surveillance of key members of the IWA and that they were considered to be a potential source of threat to national stability. The attitude towards uneducated working-class Indians (the ‘Indian rank and file’), apparently coerced by their leaders into subversive activity whose purpose they ‘dimly comprehend’, is condescending, divesting them of agency by portraying them as manipulated pawns, and undermining the validity of the political position that they espouse. Generally, the file is of interest because it gives evidence that political activism on the part of South Asians in Britain was not confined to middle-class migrants and students and that the working classes often chose to mobilize independently of their more educated and privileged counterparts (who were more likely to be active in the India League), suggesting a considerable degree of agency on their part. Contrary to what is stated in the above extract and despite the economic and social hardship these peddlers and labourers experienced in Britain, many of them were in fact able to look beyond their immediate concerns to the struggle for Indian independence, as well as being pioneers in the struggle for minority rights in Britain.


Surat Alley, Amiya Nath Bose, Fenner Brockway, W. G. Cove, Dr Ganguly, Mrs Kallandar Khan, Fred Longden, V. K. Krishna Menon, Dr D. R. Prem, Pulin Behari Seal, Dr Diwan Singh, Udham Singh, Vic Yates.

Archive source: 

File IOR: L/PJ/12/645, African and Asian Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

File IOR: L/PJ/12/646, African and Asian Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras


Birmingham, B8 1EE
United Kingdom
Bradford, BD5 0DX
United Kingdom
Coventry, CV1 2LP
United Kingdom
Involved in events details: 

Numerous meetings held at different branches concentrated mainly in the Midlands but extending throughout Britain

Celebrations of Indian Independence Day, commemorations of the Amritsar Massacre, ‘Quit India’ demonstrations

Agatha Harrison


Agatha Harrison was a welfare worker, pacifist and Quaker, and dedicated to the struggle for Indian independence. Her father was a Methodist minister, and her mother the daughter of a portrait painter. Born in Berkshire, the family moved to Jersey and then, on Agatha’s father’s death, to Bristol, where she attended Redland High School, helping out at the school in exchange for the waiving of her fees. From the age of 16, she taught and assisted at Kent College, Folkestone, where she received training for the Froebel teaching certificate by night. She then turned to welfare work at Boots Chemist in Nottingham, and at Dairycoates, a tin box factory in Hull, where her role was to protect the interests of the women who worked there, negotiating fair wages and better working conditions on their behalf. In 1917 she was appointed welfare tutor at the London School of Economics. Three years later she travelled to China to conduct welfare work in factories there and to undertake an industrial survey.

In 1928, Agatha Harrison began working with the Women’s International League, an organization whose concerns included the relationship between India and Britain and which, to that end, welcomed representative Indian women visiting London and sent British representatives to sessions of the All-India Women’s Conference. She also accompanied the Royal Commission on Labour, as Beryl Power’s assistant, on their international tour which included a visit to India to inspect their factories, workshops and villages. Back in the UK, she helped C. F. Andrews in his preparation for Gandhi’s visit to attend the Second Round Table Conference in 1931, eventually becoming Andrews’ assistant. Thus began an extensive correspondence and working relationship with Gandhi. She worked hard to spread his message in Britain and accompanied his party on visits to the poor in India. She also made various trips to India as part of the India Conciliation Group where she visited jails and attended meetings with prominent political figures.

Agatha Harrison attended numerous India League meetings, also speaking at some of them, and was kept under surveillance by the Indian Political Intelligence. In May 1946, her name was added to the ‘stop list’ of people who should not be permitted to enter India without prior consultation. She died of an unsuspected heart condition in May 1954. Speaking at a tribute to her in London, Krishna Menon said of Harrison: ‘she had no office or title, and no flags were lowered for her, but all over India people honour her name’ (Harrison, p. 131).


L/PJ/12/444, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras, pp. 2, 22

Date of birth: 
01 Jan 1885

1. Secret note on Agatha Harrison, 1932 (p. 2)

2. Secret note on Agatha Harrison, 17 September 1942 (p. 22)


Horace Alexander, L. S. Amery, C. F. Andrews, Mahadev Desai, Stafford Cripps, M. K. Gandhi, Lord Halifax, Carl Heath (Quaker), Edward Heath, Muriel Lester (accompanied Harrison on trip to India in 1934), V. K. Krishna Menon, Sarojini Naidu, Indira Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, Rajendra Prasad, Sasadhar Sinha.

Independent Labour Party, Indian Conciliation Group, Peace Pledge Union, Society of Friends, Women's International League, YWCA.

Precise DOB unknown: 

1. I understand her to be sentimental, well-intentioned and harmless. A friend of mine who knows her recently described her as 'not capable of doing any harm or good. She is a worthy sort of person who distresses herself quite unnecessarily about the state of affairs in India'.

2. Briefly she is a high-souled crank who with the best intentions continually makes a nuisance of herself to those responsible for law and order, by encouraging extreme Indian nationalists whom she regarded as the blameless victims of brutal British imperialism.

Secondary works: 

Harrison, Irene, Agatha Harrison: An Impression by her Sister (London: Allen & Unwin, 1957)


These descriptions of Agatha Harrison emphasize the role of gender in shaping discourses about political activists involved in the struggle for Indian independence. The mismatch between the dismissive and infantilizing tone of the official reports and the activities carried out by Harrison as well as her close links with Gandhi and Menon is particularly instructive in this regard. This also points to the unusualness of a woman involved in political activism. Harrison’s involvement with both the rights of working women in Britain and the mobilization for Indian independence highlights the connections between these different struggles.

Archive source: 

L/PJ/12/444, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

Involved in events: 

India League meetings

City of birth: 
Sandhurst, Berks
Country of birth: 
Date of death: 
10 May 1954
Location of death: 
Geneva, Switzerland

2 Cranbourne Court, Albert Bridge Road, London (1935)

Krishna Menon


V. K. Krishna Menon was an activist, councillor, diplomat, lawyer and editor. Born in Calicut, south India, he attended the Native High School there before studying for a BA at Presidency College, Madras, and attending Madras Law College. Encouraged by Annie Besant, he travelled to England in 1924, originally to take up a job at a Theosophists' school in Letchworth. In England, he continued studying law, and was called to the Bar in 1934. He also studied at the London School of Economics under Harold Laski, gaining a BSc and an MSc in politics as well as a teaching diploma.

Menon joined the Commonwealth of India League on his arrival in England, becoming joint secretary in 1928 and transforming the organization into the India League, with Indian self-rule as its stated goal. For the next two decades, he campaigned tirelessly for the India League alongside key British political figures such as Bertrand Russell, Harold Laski, Michael Foot and Fenner Brockway, as well as other Indians in Britain. Financing most of the activities himself, he held meetings, organized events, addressed groups, produced articles and pamphlets, and lobbied key Labour MPs. In 1932 he organized and, with Labour MPs, participated in a delegation to investigate social, economic and political conditions in India, publishing the findings one year later. The publication, Condition of India, with a preface by Russell and a cover by artist Eric Gill, was banned in India. Menon also enjoyed a close working relationship and friendship with Jawaharlal Nehru, helping to put forward Congress's position in Britain and coordinating Nehru's visit to England in 1935.

Krishna Menon edited the Twentieth Century Library series for the Bodley Head from 1932 to 1935, and became founding editor of Pelican Books, the non-fiction, educational imprint of Penguin Books, in 1935. A committed socialist, he was concerned with the plight of working-class Indians in Britain - supporting the lascar strikes of the late 1930s, for example - as well as that of their British counterparts. He was Labour councillor for the Borough of St Pancras from 1934 to 1939 and from 1944 to 1947, working alongside Barbara Castle, and an independent councillor from 1940 to 1944. In 1944 he established the St Pancras Arts and Civil Council, and in 1945 he was appointed chairman of the Education and Public Library Committee. In 1955, Menon was made a freeman of the Borough of St Pancras in recognition of his significant contribution. Menon came close to becoming a British Member of Parliament when he was pre-selected by the Labour Party for the safe seat of Dundee in 1939. His candidature was cancelled, however, because of his primary allegiance to India, and he resigned from the Labour Party in protest, rejoining again in 1944.

In 1947, Krishna Menon was appointed independent India's first High Commissioner in the UK. He held this post until 1952 when he returned to India to pursue his political and legal careers there. He died in Delhi in 1974.

Published works: 

Condition of India: Being the Report of the Delegation Sent to India by the India League in 1932 (London: Essential News, 1933)

Why Must India Fight? (London: India League, 1940)

Britain’s Prisoner (London: India League, 1941)

India, Britain and Freedom (London: India League, 1941)

The Situation in India (London, India League, 1943)

Unity with India against Fascism (London: India League, 1943)

Date of birth: 
03 May 1896
Contributions to periodicals: 

Daily Worker

Indian News

India Pictorial

Information Bulletin

Manchester Guardian

New Statesman

News India

Secondary works: 

Arora, K. C., V. K. Krishna Menon: A Biography (New Delhi: Sanchar Publishing House, 1998)

Chakravarty, Suhash, V. K. Krishna Menon and the India League, vols 1 and 2 (New Delhi: Har-Anand, 1997)

Chakravarty, Suhash, Crusader Extraordinary: Krishna Menon and the India League, 1932–6 (New Delhi: India Research Press, 2006)

George, T. G. S., Krishna Menon: A Biography (London: Jonathan Cape, 1964)

Lengyel, Emil, Krishna Menon (New York: Walker Books, 1962)

Ram, Janaki, Krishna Menon: A Personal Memoir (Delhi and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997)

Silverman, Julius, ‘The India League’, in A Centenary History of the Indian National Congress, 1885–1985 (New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1985)

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

Archive source: 

L/PJ/12/448-56, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

Krisha Menon Papers, Nehru Memorial Library and Museum, New Delhi

‘India League Collection with Handbills, 1941-1960’, Serial No. 439, Nehru Memorial Library and Museum, New Delhi

‘Documents Relating to the India League’, Miscellaneous Microform Collections, Centre of South Asian Studies, University of Cambridge

Involved in events: 

Delegation to investigate conditions in India, 1932

World Peace Congress in Brussels, 1936 (as nominee of Congress)

Second World War (air warden in St Pancras)

Indian Independence, 1947 (appointed High Commissioner in the UK)

City of birth: 
Country of birth: 
Other names: 

Vengalil Krishnan Krishna Menon

V. K. Krishna Menon


57 Camden Square
London, NW1 9XA
United Kingdom
51° 30' 26.5428" N, 0° 7' 41.4768" W
Date of death: 
06 Oct 1974
Location of death: 
New Delhi, India
Date of 1st arrival in Britain: 
01 Jun 1924
Precise 1st arrival date unknown: 
Dates of time spent in Britain: 


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