New Delhi: In the run up to the centenary year of the infamous Moplah rebellion (1921-22), an almost forgotten chapter of Indian history, a major ideological debate is brewing following the announcement in June of a Malayalam movie on the issue.
Variyamkunnan is set to be a biopic on Variyamkunnath Kunjahammed Haji, one of the key controversial figures in the rebellion. The movie, expected to be released in the centenary year of Moplah rebellion in 2021, will be directed by Aashiq Abu, with actor Prithviraj in the titular role.
It promises to portray a positive image of Haji but not everyone is buying it.
Criticising the attempt “to glorify Haji” and by extension the Moplah rebellion, J. Nandakumar, a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) pracharak and national convenor of the Prajna Pravah, an organisation that works among intellectuals, said the rebellion was nothing but Hindu genocide.
“The protagonist of this Islamist project, Kunjahammed Haji, belonged to a rabidly iconoclastic family. His father was earlier deported to Mecca for engineering a slew of communal riots,” Nandakumar said.
“He spearheaded the Hindu genocide of 1921, which led to the massacre of thousands of Hindus, forcible conversions, rape of Hindu women and children and destruction of Hindu properties and places of worship.
“Reportedly, in the biopic, Kunjahammed is projected as a paragon of communal harmony and Hindus as villains who sided with the British. And that his ‘valiant efforts’ led to the flight of the British from that part of the country and he established an independent Malayala Nadu (land of Malayalis) for a few months,” he added.
“In reality, what he established was Al-Daula (Islamic State) where he imposed jizya (religious tax) on the Hindus of his territory.”
The violence in the region began at Tirurangadi in Kerala’s South Malabar on 20 August, 1921, and lasted for over four months, resulting in the imposition of martial law in six out of 10 taluks in the then Malabar district. More than a lakh Hindus were displaced.
“It was the Marxist historians who first appropriated the communal pogrom as a peasant uprising to suit their ideological narratives and requirements and win over a large organised vote-bank for the Left parties,” Nandakumar said.
This peasant uprising theory has been constantly challenged and in the run up to the centenary year of this event, the debate is likely to get back on the national agenda.
The rebellion that united Savarkar, Ambedkar & Annie Besant
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was one of the first ones to describe the Moplah rebellion as an anti-Hindu genocide through his semi-fictional novel Moplah, which became hugely popular when it was published in 1924.
According to another book, The Moplah Rebellion, 1921, Haji was an outlaw who played a key role in the rebellion. The book, published in 1923, and put together by the then deputy collector of the area, C. Gopalan Nair, is considered to be one of the most authentic accounts of the event.
“Murders, dacoities, forced conversions and outrages on Hindu women became order of the day,” recorded Nair in his book.’
Even Dr. B.R. Ambedkar has provided a detailed account on the rebellion in Pakistan or The Parition of India’ (Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, Writings and Speeches, Volume 8, P.163), and it isn’t a glowing one.
“Beginning with the year 1920 there occurred in that year in Malabar what is known as the Mopla Rebellion. It was the result of the agitation carried out by two Muslim organisations, the Khuddam-i-Kaba (servants of the Mecca Shrine) and the Central Khilafat Committee,” Ambedkar wrote.
“Agitators actually preached the doctrine that India under the British Government was Dar-ul-Harab and that the Muslims must fight against it and if they could not, they must carry out the alternative principle of Hijrat. The Moplas were suddenly carried off their feet by this agitation. The outbreak was essentially a rebellion against the British government. The aim was to establish the kingdom of Islam by overthrowing the British government.”
Dr. Ambedkar further noted that the forces behind the rebellion declared Khilafat kingdoms.
“As a rebellion against the British Government it was quite understandable. But what baffled most was the treatment accorded by the Moplas to the Hindus of Malabar,” he wrote.
“The Hindus were visited by a dire fate at the hands of the Moplas. Massacres, forcible conversions, desecration of temples, foul outrages upon women, such as ripping open pregnant women, pillage, arson and destruction— in short, all the accompaniments of brutal and unrestrained barbarism, were perpetrated freely by the Moplas upon the Hindus until such time as troops could be hurried to the task of restoring order through a difficult and extensive tract of the country.
“This was not a Hindu-Moslem riot. This was just a Bartholomew. The number of Hindus who were killed, wounded or converted, is not known. But the number must have been enormous.”
It took more than four months for the British to control the rebellion. The official records show 2,266 killed, 1,615 wounded, 5,688 captured, while 38,256 surrendered during military engagements.
Theosophist and one of the most respected figures in India’s struggle for freedom during the 20th century, Annie Besant, who had presided over the first ‘Reform Conference’ in Malabar in the spring of 1921, also wrote in detail about the event.
“The fourfold programme was begun formally on August 1, 1920; Swaraj was to be attained in a year, and on August 1, 1921, the first step was taken in the Malabar Rebellion; the Musalmans (Moplas) of that district after three weeks of preparing weapons, rose over a definite area in revolt, believing, as they had been told, that British Rule had ceased, and they were free,” she wrote in The Future of Indian Politics (Theosophical Publishing House,1922, p. 252).
“They established the Khilafat Raj, crowned a King, murdered and plundered abundantly, and killed or drove away all Hindus who would not apostatise. Somewhere about a lakh people were driven from their homes with nothing but the clothes they had on, stripped of everything,” she added.
(The writer is associated with the RSS. He is research director at the Delhi-based think-tank ‘Vichar Vinimay Kendra’)
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