Many times browsing through archives, especially the digital kind, leads you from one place to another. I was scanning the British Newspaper Archive for material related to the North-West Frontier of British India and ended up finding a small snippet in the Public Notices section of The Coventry Evening Telegraph on an Indian film, Padosi, hosted by the IWA at the Opera House in 1945.
The Indian Workers Association (IWA) was founded in 1938 in Coventry to mobilise for Indian independence amongst the small working-class Indian community living in the UK. Many of its early members were from Sikh and Muslim Punjabi backgrounds. Some of these members were sympathetic to and inspired by the Ghadr Party (est. 1913 in California). The British government naturally kept an eye on their activities; not only for their nationalist motivations but also for their leftist leanings. The extract below is taken from a document on the IWA, dated 14 April 1942.
The Hindi (or Hindustani) Mazdur Sabha, now more usually referred to as the Indian Workers’ Association (or union), has come gradually into being as a result of war conditions. In the two years preceding the outbreak of war a number of disaffected Sikhs – some of them with Ghadr Party contacts – who had come to the United Kingdom to work as pedlars decided to start, if possible, an organisation of Indians which should give all possible aid to the movement for Indian independence. At first the only practical step towards carrying out this decision were the secret collections and remittances to India of sums of money for payment to the dependents of political prisoners. The fund in India which received these sums of money was created by the Ghadr Party in California and there can be little doubt that the Indians in the UK who were chiefly interested in these collections were actuated by motives and by a long-range policy which were identical with these of the Ghadr Party. Some of them were in receipt of the “Hindustan Ghadr” until the close watch of the postal censorship succeeded in imposing an effective check on the entry of the paper into the UK. From the very beginning Coventry was the headquarters of the movement, for it so happened that the Indians chiefly interested were pedlars who sold their goods in the Coventry area. (File no. L/PJ/12/645)
Read further about the IWA:
Gill, Talvinder. “The Indian Workers’ Association Coventry 1938–1990: Political and Social Action.” South Asian History and Culture 4, no. 4 (2013): 554-573. DOI: 10.1080/19472498.2013.824683
Virdee, Pippa. Coming to Coventry: Stories from the South Asian Pioneers. The Herbert, 2006.
Communities in Action: the Indian Workers’ Association – Our Migration Story
Indian Workers’ Association – Making Britain
The film listed in the Public Notices snippet is “Parosi” (sic). This was a social drama directed by V. Shantaram and was set in the back drop of Hindu-Muslim unity. The Indian national movement was remarkably communalised in its last years, leading to unprecedented violence accompanying the end of British India. In 1941, it was unclear when and how this end would come. Alongside this rising tide of deteriorating inter-communal relations, there were progressive voices in the diversifying public sphere, now including cinema. One of these was the film’s legendary director, Shantaram, who pointedly got a Muslim actor to play a Hindu character and vice versa, to promote harmony between the communities. It is the type of film I imagine the IWA would want to show, as the organisation wished to emphasise class unity over communal politics in the battle against colonialism.
The Opera House in Coventry was opened in 1889. During World War II, the building was damaged by bombing but it was quickly repaired and transformed into a cinema when it re-opened in 1941. The Opera House closed in 1961 and, while there were plans to restore it to a live theatre venue, this never happened.
Read more about the former cinemas in Coventry.