100 years of Malabar Rebellion, What happened when?

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The Malabar rebellion has once again been revived to be scrutinized and cashed on its communal angle. Recently, a right wing group has shown opposition to a film project on one of the leaders of the rebellion, Variyan Kunnathu Kunjahammed Haji. The group said they will contest the attempt to “glorify” Haji with a month long campaign “to expose the atrocities committed on Hindus” during the rebellion.

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What happened in Malabar Rebellion?

The Malabar rebellion that started in August 1921 was a result of three major movements coming together against the colonial administration. The tenancy movement regarding the local agrarian grievances, the Khilafat movement against the British to reinstate the Caliph in Turkey, and the Non Cooperation movement combined, led to the rebellion which took a violent and communal turn over a period of time.

Considered a part of Khilafat agitation, the rebellion started in major Muslim taluks of Malabar, Eranad and Valluvanad. Initially the aggrieved peasants, majorly Muslims, also called Mapilla, were rebelling against the exclusively Hindu landlords who were in support of British Administration. In August 1920, Khilafat leader MaulanaShaukat Ali and Mahatma Gandhi visited Malabar which led to massive participation of Muslims in the Khilafat and Non Cooperation movements. The Mapillas had political, administrative, economic, and religious grievances against the British.

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By February 1921, British authorities started banning Khilafat meetings and arrested senior Congress-Khilafat leaders. These steps made the movement take a violent turn as local leaders started equipping themselves with arms against the British forces.

In August 1921, the British army and police allegedly raided the Tirurangadi Mosque which was an important religious centre headed by Ali Musaliyar. The incident initiated the armed rebellion in which nine Muslims and two British officers were killed. Ali Musaliyar later became the head of the rebels.

The rebellion went on for six months before getting crushed by British authorities as they raised a special battalion, the Malabar Special Force, against the rebels. By January 1922, they took back control of whole area that was taken in control of rebels. They also arrested all the key leaders and officially 2,339 rebels were killed. However, the unofficial number goes much higher.

Initially Hindus were also a part of the rebellion group, but as the agitation went on to become more violent, the number decreased overtime. What initially started as targeting the houses of British officials and Hindu landlords later began to target other non-landlord Hindus as well. It was followed by cases of attacks, loots and forced conversion to Islam.

The most highlighted tragedy of the rebellion was the ‘Wagon Tragedy.’ In November 1921, 67 out of 90 Mapilla prisoners (peasant rebels) who were being taken to Central Prison in Podanursuffocated to death in a closed railway goods wagon. The incident is one of the police atrocities that happened during the rebellion.

Though, this was not the only agitation by Muslim peasants of Malabar against British authorities. Through the 19th century, Malabar had witnessed over three dozen of revolts due to agrarian grievances, majorly between 1836 and 1896.

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Previous opposition by right wing groups

In 2017, BJP state chief of Kerala, KummanamRajasekharan said that the rebellion should not be celebrated citing the forced conversion of Hindus into Muslims and other related atrocities. In 2018, the Railways removed a painting related to riots from the station of Tirur town in Kerala’s Mallapuram as a consequence of Rajasekharan’s statement.

The announcement of the film project recently has revived the debate around the whole incident which took a communal angle. The viability of the incident being considered as a freedom struggle has come under scrutiny once again.

Written By Rashi, She is doing her Masters in Convergent Journalism from Jamia AJKMCRC, New Delhi.

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