When, Kumaran Asan, one of the great poets of the renaissance era of Malayalam language and literature, published the DURAVASTHA in 7/9/1922, the first aesthetic reaction against the Mappila mutiny, soon after the culmination of the war in the name of god, waged against the British, the land lords and the Hindus by the militant Muslims of the Malabar region, then he was severally criticized both by the clergy and the leaders of the Muslim community. The critics alleged that he wrote derogatory and defamatory comments on a great religion observing the isolated violent actions of a few individuals who were ignorant of the essence of the great teachings of that religion, and ignoring the vast majority of people who practiced high order of morality and spirituality on the basis of the teachings of Islam. They argued that, aberrations in the practice of a great religion cannot be considered as the basis of generalizations and they further alleged that the poet wrote sweeping comments on the religion without taking into account of the facts which should not have been committed by a poet of his magnitude. Therefore, they demanded either to tender an apology or to delete those objectionable observations from the poem. But the poet refused either to tender an apology or to delete the remarks.
The Mappila mutiny of 1921 was not the only isolated conflict between the Muslims and the Hindus in the Malabar region. The invasion of the Malabar by Tipu sultan and his relentless efforts to convert the Hindus en masse to Islam triggered the protest of Hindus which culminated in the conflict between Hindus and Muslims. The 1921 mutiny was only the latest in the series of conflicts between the Hindus and the Muslims, occurred in the latter half of the nineteenth century and the earlier part of the twentieth century. The world war 1 shattered the dreams of establishing a pan Islamic kingdom in the universe (Darul Islam) cherished by Khalifa of Ottoman empire and the leaders of the Muslims all over the world, because, the winners of world war1 divided the Ottoman empire into three parts and only a small part was left for the Khalifa, as a consequence of the war. The Muslims all over the world, thereafter had been trying to get back the undivided Ottoman empire to the Khalifa. Maulana Abdul Bari and Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad were the two prominent Muslim leaders who fought for the cause of Khilafat in India and they could secure the support of Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress to the Khilafat movement. The Mappila mutiny was the direct outcome of the derailed khilafat movement. Gandhiji felt deep pain, sorrow, and shame on the cruelties of the Muslims and he consoled himself that “no sane Muslim approves what a few Mappilas have done”
Duravastha, a pretty long poem, narrates what the Mappilas had done and how it affected the life of the Hindus and the social fabrics of Kerala. Literally, the word Duravastha means the miserable state of affair of a person. The poet narrates the tragic state of affair of a Namboodiri brahmin lady, born and brought up as the only one daughter of a rich and affluent brahmin land lord who had been looted and brutally killed with his wife and dear and near to him by the Muslims, who had engaged in a religious war against the British and the Hindus. According to the poet, the jihad or the religious war was waged by the Muslims to attain the following ends: (1) to burn down the British and to remove them from the Malabar, (2) to physically eliminate the land lords and capture their land holdings and (3) to establish the authority of no god other than Allah in Malayalam, that is, to establish Muslim theocratic state in Malabar as a prelude to establish pan Islamic rule in India. (Malayalam means a piece of land where the people who speak Malayalam as their mother tongue resided, that is the modern Kerala.)
The ill-fate of Savitri, the lone person who could miraculously escape from the onslaught of the Muslim militants who brutally killed her father by chopping his head. Her mother was molested to death. Her relatives and servants who resided with them had been killed. Her palace was torched to ashes. Interestingly, the militants were led by Muslim servants and tenants who were the part of their family and that really shocked her. Somehow, she escaped and took asylum in the hut of Chathan, a Pulaya youth. Chathan and his caste had been treated as untouchables at that time and it was unbecoming from the part of a brahmin girl to seek asylum in the hut of an untouchable, whatever be the context, because a person belonging to untouchable was not expected even to be seen by a Brahmin, as such a sight itself had been treated as sinful act committed by both the untouchable and Brahmin alike. She had no other go but to seek shelter in the hut of an untouchable to save her life and she did it. This ill-fate of Savitri has been narrated as the miserable state of affair or DURAVASTHA by the poet.
The poet briefly narrates the tales of miseries experienced by his heroine and the Hindu people. The militant Muslims committed genocide of the Hindus by chopping their heads and occasionally using bullets as only a very few of the militants were properly trained to use guns. Most of them used swords, large seize knives and specially made sharp-knives in addition to guns and lathis. The militants committed genocide, rape, looting and forceful conversion at large scale. Though, it started as peaceful non-violent agitation at the command of Mahatma Gandhi against the British, it immediately turned to the violent Jihad declaring war against the Hindus apart from the British. The aim of Gandhi, when he endorsed the Khilafat movement, was to attract the Muslims to the peaceful, non-violent, and united struggle against the British by the Muslims and Hindus together. But in Malabar, it turned to the opposite direction and ended in the widened cleavage of the Muslims and the Hindus. It is to be noted that, only a few Muslims joined Indian National Congress after the Khilafat and majority of the Muslims went back to the Muslim League, a political outfit specifically formed to fight for the cause of the Muslims in India, in 1906. After independence, they joined in the Indian Union Muslim League which was the rechristened form of the Muslim League formed in 1906 and dissolved in 1947, August, 14 to get divided into three, after the partition of India, as Muslim League of Pakistan, Awami League of Bangladesh and Indian Union Muslim League of India. Mohamed Ali Jinnah was the source of inspiration at the time of formation of the party even after the birth of Pakistan and the leaders of the Indian Union Muslim League believed more in Jinnah than in Gandhi.
The poem narrates the inner struggles of the process of adaptation of Savitri to the changing context and illustrates the historical facts about the communal conflict occurred in 1921 in Malabar. The poet uses adjectives having negative connotations such as draconian Mohammedens who shed the blood of the Hindus, barbarous looters who forcefully converted Hindus to Islam, cruel minded and heinous people who raped the Hindu women etc. to qualify the Muslims. He even said that, the word Muslim generates bitterness in his mind as the reminiscences of the Islamic cruelties remains in his mind. The communal as well as the cultural leaders of the Muslim community of his times expressed serious concerns and objections against the poem and the poet demanding an apology from him. But he refused to do so because he was convinced of the atrocities done by the Islam against the Hindus in the name of god and religion. He placed it on record in the preface that, he wrote the poem to fulfill his moral obligation to respond to the injustice done against the Hindus on the basis of the inspiration of the great sense of righteousness, even ignoring its aesthetic brilliance. Hence, he could not be influenced by anyone to tender an apology or to delete the observations.
He was aware of the possibility of aesthetic deterioration of a work of art when one depends on the contemporary socio-cultural issues to write a poem. He admitted that, the poem was aesthetically a sub-standard work of art. But he was inspired by the socio-political commitments and convictions he had which, according to him, a responsible person had to keep during the times of trouble and turmoil in history. He sharply criticized the discrimination practiced by the Hindu community on the basis of caste, because the practice of such kind of discriminations was logically inconsistent with the non-dualism, the philosophic essence of Hinduism. He was incapable to accept the practice of sub-human atrocities against man and nature in the name of religion and god as any religion that endorses violence and discrimination was unacceptable to him.
He was a staunch opponent of religious conversion because the concept of religious conversion depends on the belief that one religion is better than the other. The comparative study of religions to find out the better one would lead to the theory that one’s own religion is the best when compared to the rest. Naturally, one would think that it would be his responsibility to provide others the opportunity to enjoy the best, that is, to convert the other to his religion. If every person in a society believes that his/her religion is better than the other and he/she has got the right to convert a person from one religion to the other, by consent or by force, then, it would be an unpardonable crime and sin. If one converts to other religion by consent then, it is sure that he is ignorant of the essence of both the religions as there is no difference between one religion and the other in spirituality which should be essence of religion. If, it is done by force then, it is to be admitted that everyone has gotten the right to apply force on the other to get him/her converted to one religion or the other. It need not be elaborated that; such competitions will create anarchy in society. The poet strongly believed that there cannot be any kind of difference between the spiritual content of one religion and the other. Hence, he opposed war in the name of god to kill the other and to convert the other to one’s own religion. Therefore, he had no other go but to write a poem, even ignoring its aesthetic value, against the cruelties practiced in the name of caste, god, and religion, as he was basically a poet.
There is a deliberate move from a section of the people of Islam in Kerala to white wash the cruelties of the Jihad, a holy war in the name of god, waged against the Hindus by a section of militant Muslims in the Malabar region during the period of Mappila mutiny. It is a fact, which cannot be either ignored or denied that, there is a deliberate move, even today, from the part of the Islamic religion to convert the people of the other religions to Islam as part of their religious duties. The holy Koran declares that a Muslim who converts a non-Muslim to Islamic religion would be ensured with prominent place in the heaven, after his death. The Koran also spreads the hatred in the minds of the children who get educated in the Madrasas as Madrasa education teaches that the people who belong to the other religions as Kafir who should be either converted to Islam or killed and it has been propagated as the easy way to heaven. It is a draconian attitude which violates the basic norms of democracy and humanism. Unlike the many modern poets and the so called intellectuals of Malayalam in the present context, Kumaran Asan was honest in his intellectual and aesthetic pursuits.
(Author is an an academic, writer and orator)