The Real Story of The Moplah Violence of 1921 (Part I)

A forgotten chapter in the history of Bharat that is full of bloodshed and gruesome killing of Hindus is The Moplah Violence of 1921. This violence took place in the year 1921 in south Bharat’s state of Kerala. This was a torture on Hindus by fanatical Muslims in the garb of Khilafat Movement. Somehow, it is a reminder from history that how demography change led to cold blooded murders of thousands of Hindu men, women and kids.

Diwan Bahadur C. Gopalan Nair, then retired Deputy Collector from Calicut, Kerala, had penned down the facts and whole series of gruesome events that took place in a book called ‘The Moplah Rebellion, 1921.’ This book was printed in the year 1923. This article series has been drawn from that book.

Demography in 1921

In 1921, the present day Kerala had a district of Malabar that consisted of 10 Taluks namely,

  1. Chirakkal,
  2. Kottayam,
  3. Kurumbranad,
  4. Wynad,
  5. Calicut,
  6. Ernad,
  7. Walluvanad,
  8. Ponnani,
  9. Palghat, and
  10. British Cochin

Martial Law was proclaimed in Ernad, Walluvanad, Ponani, Calicut, Kurumbranad and Wynad. However, disturbances actually took place in the first four Taluks. Let us look at the demography of these four Taluks in that period:

Taluk Area (in sq. miles) Population of Muslims Population of Hindus Population of Christians No. of villages affected
Ernad                   966              237,402              163,328                       371 There were disturbances in each of the 94 villages of the Taluk
Calicut                   379                 88,393              196,435                   5,763 There were disturbances in 23 out of 65 villages of the Taluk
Walluvanad                   880              133,919              259,979                       619 There were disturbances in 68 out of 118 villages of the Taluk
Ponani                   426              229,016              281,155                 23,081 There were disturbances in 35 out of 121 villages of the Taluk

Who is a Moplah?

The Nambudiri Brahmins used to carry on the administration until they realised that it is impossible to maintain the Government. Thus they brought Military Governors, known as Perumal from the adjoining countries. A succession of Governors reigned in Kerala, and, the last incumbent was known as Cheraman Perumal.

By that time, Muslims had already gained strong presence in the Malabar region because of commercial trade with Arabia. A party of 15 Islamic missionaries, with, Malik-lbn-Dinar as their leader, landed at Cranganore, and obtained permission from the rulers of the country. He built ten mosques at 10 different stations in Malabar and South Canara and commenced proselytism. This resulted in the creation of the race known as Moplah.

The change in demography and forced conversions

The Moplah race increased rapidly in numbers from natural causes, as also from conversions. When Sheik-Ibn-Batuta of Tangiers visited Malabar (1342-47 CE), he found that Muslim merchants had houses in most parts of the district and were greatly respected.

Further, Muhammadanism was then tolerated and under certain circumstances even encouraged.

“The Zamorin of Calicut, who was one of the chief patrons of Arab trade, definitely encouraged conversion in order to man the Arab Ships on which he depended for his aggrandizement and he decreed that, in every family of fishermen, one or more of the male members should be brought up as a Muhammadan.” (District Gazetteer).

Forcible Conversions

It was during the Mysorean conquest that forcible conversions were initiated under the orders of Tipu Sultan.

In March, 1789, a Mysorean force of 19,000 men, with 46 field-pieces, surrounded 2,000 Nayars with their families in an old fort at Kuttipuram, the head-quarters of the Kadathanad Raja’s family which the besieged defended for several days.

“At last, finding it untenable, they submitted to Tippu’s terms which were a voluntary profession of the Muhammadan faith or a forcible conversion with deportation from their native land. The unhappy captives gave a forced assent, and on the next day, the rite of circumcision was performed on all the males, every individual of both sexes being compelled to close the ceremony by eating beef. This achievement was held out as an example to the other detachments of the army. Christian and Pagan women were forcibly married to Muhammadans.” (Malabar Manual)

Tipu had made repeated vows to convert whole of Malabar into a Muslim country and he would have been successful, but for the treaty dated 18th March, 1792. Under that treaty Tipu was forced to yield Malabar to the East India Company.

‘Religious Frenzy’ Moplahs

After the treaty, numerous Hindus who had taken refuge in Travancore returned to their homes. However, their troubles did not end.

“Troubles arose in course of time and, from the records available, we find that for some reason or for no reason, Moplahs in Ernad and Walluvanad now and then started on a career of Hal Ilakam (religious frenzy) and killed Hindus, desecrated temples and also forcibly converted the people to the Moslem faith.

The Hindus, in the parts where the outbreaks have been most frequent, stand in such fear of the moplahs as mostly do not to dare to press for their rights against them, and there is many a moplah tenant who does not pay his rent, and cannot, so imminent are the risks, be evicted. Other injuries are also put up with, uncomplained of.” (Malabar Manual).

Moplah-rebellion-1921-conversion

The Moplah Rebellion

The 1921 rebellion is said to have begun as a reaction against a heavy-handed crackdown on the Khilafat Movement, a campaign in defense of the Ottoman Caliphate, by the British Authorities. But it is strange to notice that merciless killing of the kaffirs was also a hidden propaganda.

As per the excerpts from brief descriptions by the eminent judges presiding over the Special Tribunal, Calicut:

For the last hundred, years at least, the Moplah community has been disgraced from time to time by murderous outrages…… They generally blazed out in the Ernad, Taluk, where the Moplahs were for the most part proselytes drawn from the dregs of the Hindu population……, their untutored minds, were particularly susceptible to the inflammatory teaching that Paradise was to be gained by killing Kaffirs, and the servants of Kaffirs.

They would go out on the war-path, killing Hindus, no matter whom, and would be joined by other fanatics, and then seek death in hand-to-hand conflict with the troops. In some cases, they may have been inspired by hatred of a particular land-lord, but no grievance seems to have been really necessary to start them on their wild, careers.

The Moplahs of Ernad and Walluvanad Taluks have been described as a barbarous and a savage race, and, unhappily, the description seems appropriate at the present day.

The Moplahs were fully agreeable to the Swaraj idea but they had their motive behind it. They wanted a ‘Muslim Swaraj‘ fait accompli. And now that the Hindus had also joined them, the accomplishment of the object seemed easy enough by violence. Khilafat associations were formed and Swaraj ideas began to spread.

Hindus, as per their basic nature, showed solidarity with their Muslim ‘brothers’. Nambudiri, the most orthodox and the most conservative Hindus in Malabar had also joined hands with Muslims in favour of the Khilafat.

District Magistrate received information that Khilafat supporters were contemplating to hold a series of meetings in Ernad Taluk. There was an immediate danger that the feelings of the more ignorant Moplahs would thereby be inflamed against the Government as also against the Hindus. Thus, orders were issued on 5th February, 1921, prohibiting all public meetings in Ernad Taluk.

On 30th March, 1921, there was a meeting at which one Abdulla Kutti Musaliar of Vayakkad lectured on Khilafat, in Kizhakoth Amsom (village), Calicut Taluk. And at the second meeting held the next day at Pannur Mosque, there was some unpleasantness between the Moplahs on one side, and Nayars and Tiyyars, who resented the Khilafat meeting, on the other.

As a result, Moplahs mustered strong and proceeded to attack the Matom (place of worship) belonging to the Hindu headman of the village. The disturbance caused was so intense that the Divisional Magistrate had to order the application of Section 144 of IPC Act. As per the excerpt from the order dated 8th May 1921:

“…….in my jurisdiction the dissemination of Khilafat and Non co-operation propaganda has resulted in the past and is likely to result hereafter, in riots directed by Mussalmans against Hindus as is witnessed by the fact that a case arising out of this self-same agitation is now under trial before me in which certain Moplahs are charged with having formed with thousand other Moplahs an unlawful assembly and caused damage to the Matom (a place of worship) and Kolapura in Kizhakoth Amsom and polluted the tank attached and thereby offended the religious sentiments of the Hindus of that locality……”

During a rally of MK Gandhi, in support of non-cooperation movement in Kerala, Hindu-Muslims united. It looked as if there is no animosity or hatred. But it was all a delusion.

The Hindus believed in Hindu-Muslim unity and never dreamed of a day when the Muslim would turn against them but the Moplahs had no such delusion. All they wanted was ‘Muslim Swaraj.’ They were ready for anything that it takes to make their dream come true. The idea of swaraj was supposed to be getting independence from the British, but for them it shifted towards swaraj from native Hindus also. Public offices were looted, buildings burned, residences of Hindus pillaged; Hindus were either murdered or forcibly converted and many other such crimes took place about which there was no information available in official records.

Moplah-rebellion-1921-public-property-destroyed

The Hindus took refuge in various neighbouring states and wandered through hills and jungles to save themselves from the lust and savagery of the Moplahs.

The question is that when Hindus supported the Khilafat Movement, why did Muslims not show the same brotherhood towards Hindus? The Muslims deemed it to be the moral duty of Hindus to foster that support towards them while they were under no obligation to reflect the same.

There were a few (very few) instances at individual levels wherein Moplahs had helped Hindus to escape but a few exceptions do not show the real, larger picture that was full of forcing Hindus to choose either Islam or death. Hindus learnt a lesson that once the Moplah is the master of the situation, they care for no one. Their religious frenzy crosses all limits.

Moplah-rebellion-1921-attack

The army troops were sent to control the rebellion. However, it wasn’t an easy task. There were arrests of the Moplah leaders like Ali Musaliar. However, Hindus suffered for no reason. Malabar Hindus laid helpless at the feet of Moplah rebels and it was a common situation that was faced by every Hindu family. Their temples, homes were destroyed along with destruction of public buildings.

On one Friday, Moplahs decided to arrange ‘salvation’ for the kaffir Hindus in Ernad. It was decided that after the prayer, all Hindus in Manjeri and neighbouring villages should be brought into mosques and converted into Islam. The caps, jackets, dresses were all kept ready for distributing to the newly converts.

As per a report published in Madras Mail on November 18th, 1921,

In point of magnitude, organisation, and the atrocities committed by the rebels, this rising in the Moplah country is unparelleled in the history of Malabar, or for the matter of that in the history of the whole of India.

The details of atrocities committed by the Moplahs on the Hindus cannot be described in few words, rather it would fill a volume. There was hardly any Hindu who did not suffer from such atrocities.

As per the excerpt of a memorial submitted by the women of Malabar to H.E. The Countess of Reading :

“….. many wells and tanks filled up with the mutilated, but often only half dead bodies of our nearest and dearest ones who refused to abandon the faith of our Fathers; of pregnant women cut to pieces and left on the roadside and in the jungles, with the unborn lube protruding from the mangled corpse; of our innocent and helpless children torn from our arms and done to death before our eyes and of our husbands and fathers tortured, flayed and burnt alive; of our helpless sisters forcibly carried away from the midst of kith and kin and subjected to every shame and outrage which the vile and brutal imagination of these inhuman hell hounds could conceive of; of thousands of our homesteads reduced to cinder mounds out of sheer savagery and a wanton spirit of destruction; of our places of worship desecrated and destroyed and of the images of the deity shamefully insulted by putting the entrails of slaughtered cows where flower garlands used to lie, or else smashed to pieces; of the wholesale looting of hard earned wealth of generations, reducing many who were formerly rich and prosperous to publicly beg for a piece or two in the streets of Calicut to buy chilly or betel-leaf, rice being mercifully provided by the various relief agencies. These are not fables.

The wells full of rotting skeleton, the ruins which once were our dear homes, the heaps of stones which once were our places of worship-they are still here to attest to the truth. The cries of our murdered children in their death agonies are still ringing in our ears and will continue to haunt our memory till death brings us peace. We remember how driven out of our native hamlets we wandered starving and naked in the jungles and forests ; we remember how we choked and stifled our babies cries lest the sound should betray our hiding places to bur relentless pursuers. We still vividly realise the moral and spiritual agony that thousands of us passed through when we were forcibly converted into the faith professed by these bloodthirsty miscreants ; we still have before us the sight of the unendurable and life-long misery of those fortunately few of our most unhappy sisters who born and brought up in respectable families have been forcibly converted and then married to convict coolies. For five long months not a day has passed without its dread tale of horror to unfold.”

(To be continued….)

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