The Mappila Rebellion is a contentious episode of India’s colonial history. The Rebellion was a part of the Khilafat Movement, which demanded that British preserve the Ottoman Sultan as the Caliph of Islam. Whether it is Muslim invasion in India or the Mysore invasion to Kerala or the Mappila Rebellion of Malabar, the motive and modus operandi seem to be the same. Ahead of non-cooperation movement, Mahatma Gandhi had entered in to an alliance with the Khilafat Movement, which had the ability to mobilize large number of Muslims. It is quite interesting to trace the major changes that occurred in the polity and society of Malabar during the post-Rebellion period. The rebellion affected all the further social and political life of entire Kerala during the post rebellion period and resulted in tensions in the Hindu-Muslim relations. The changes that occurred in Malabar in the post-rebellion period can be assessed on nationalist perspective, community based perspective and socio economic perspective
The Mappila Rebellion is a contentious episode of India’s colonial history. The Rebellion was a part of the Khilafat Movement, which demanded that British preserve the Ottoman Sultan as the Caliph of Islam. The revolt ultimately took place on realizing that the developments were not conducive to attain the goal. It took place in Kerala’s Malabar area and involved the Mappila muslims of the region. It all started as an anti colonial uprising against British and later on turned into a widespread violent communal riot. In the beginning it was an expression of long standing agrarian discontent, intensified by the religious and ethnic identity of the Mappilas in Malabar area. The Rebellion is reckoned as a turning point in the history of Kerala
Muslim Invasion in India
Whether it is the Muslim invasions in India or the Mysore invasion to Kerala or the Mappila Rebellion of Malabar, the motive and modus operandi seem to be the same. Plundering the properties and valuables of the persecuted people, destroying their religious institutions, desecration of temples, killing people who resist the rebellion or invasion, forcible conversion of Hindus, abduction of women and forcible marriage with Muslim men, forcing the native people to flee to forests and distant places, mass scale exodus of people to far and wide as refugees and destitute.
As per the Commission of enquiry by the English soon after the death of Tipu Sultan, it has been highlighted and documented that during his rule tens of thousands of Nairs (Hindus) besides 30000 Brahmins and Christians fled Malabar to seek refuge in Tranvancore. Many Hindus belonging to lower castes accepted conversion to Islam for higher social status conferred for Muslims under the Mysore rule. However many others, especially the Thiyyas, fled to Tellicherry and Mahe.
According to Gangadharan there is evidence that many Hindus were forcefully converted to Islam. Local Hindus and Christians suffered from Mysore invasion. Almost a fourth of Nair population was wiped out and many were forcibly converted. About half the Hindu population of Malabar fled the country to forest or Tellicherry or Travancore. Plundering the property, killing the soldiers, forcible conversion and the consequent contamination of culture, seduction of women and children, atrocities inflicted up on the local people and tribes, renaming places as part of Islamisation, destruction of religious institutions and places of worship’
A broad picture of the atrocities by Mysore army under Hyder Ali has been vividly described by a Muslim officer of Mysore army in his diary and as edited by Gulam Mohamad Sultan Sahib, the only surviving son of Tipu Sultan. In his book, Raja Ravi Varma depicted the story of mindless massacre of Mysore army without even sparing women and children. Hermen Gunddart in his Kerala Pazhama said that it is not possible to describe the cruel atrocities perpetrated by Tipu Sultan in Kozhikode. William Logan gives in his Malabar Manual a long list of temples desecrated by Tipu Sultan and his army. Elamkulam Kunjan Pillai has recorded the situation in Malabar. Women and children were not spared, men folk escaped to forest, population of Muslim increased many fold due to forced conversion and for enhanced social status.
Atrocities committed in Malabar during the days of Tipu Sultan have been described in great detail in the works of many reputed authors. Notable among them are Travancore State Manual of T.K.Velu Pillai and Kerala Sahitya Charitam of Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer.
Role of Khilafat Movement
Ahead of non-cooperation movement, Mahatma Gandhi had entered in to an alliance with the Khilafat Movement, which had mustered the ability to mobilize large number of Muslims. Through this the Mappila peasantry grasped the pan-islamic appeal of the Khilafat Movement and the Indian nationalist facet of non-cooperation
Later Congress working committee in September 1921 expressed a sense of deep regret over the deeds of violence done by Mappilas in certain areas of Malabar through a resolution. Gandhi wrote extensively about this violence and blamed Mappilas for not remaining strictly non-violent and also raised voice against compulsory conversions under the cover of Khilafat.
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, who saw Gandhi’s support for the Khilafat Movement as a way to get Muslim support in order to make the congress a power in the country, even though it finally backfired on Gandhi and Congress.
Malabar’s landlords under the British were almost exclusively Hindus. Throughout the nineteenth century, the Mappilas revolted against this order, attacking Hindu landlords and European bureaucrats.
Reports, Reactions and Rhetorics
Marxists, true to their colour and culture, tended to ignore the religious fanaticism of Mappila Rebellion, seeing it purely an anti imperialist, anti-landlord agrarian peasant campaign – “the greatest manifestation of spontaneous mass upheaval in the first quarter of the century, against British imperialism” Soumyendranath Tagore, the founder of Revolutionary Communist Party of India.
There are attempts to give a sympathetic view of the Rebellion of 1921. E.M. Sankaran Namboodiripad and K.M. Panikkar tried to explain the Rebellion on the basis of religious and economic factors. E.M.S also found Mappila Rebellion as a fine example of an agrarian political mass movement, but raised doubts as to why the oppressed Hindu peasants excluded. He also questioned as to why the movement was confined to areas of Mappila majority. He also reiterated that forced conversions cannot by any stretch of imagination be explained away as part of a purely agrarian movement.
According to EMS the Rebellion was not purely a peasant uprising against janmis, although the role of agrarian discontent in the uprising cannot be denied. The question is mainly about the involvement of Mappilas alone in the Rebellion ……. The oppression and exploitation by the janmi and officials are as bad for the Hindu peasants as it was for their Mappila comrades. EMS also agreed that certain number of forced conversions had taken place during the Rebellion ( EMS Namboodiripad, A short History of the Peasant Movement in Kerala, in Selected writings Vol II Calcutta 1985).
K.N.Panikkar also notes the phenomenal increase in Mappila population in the 19th and 20th centuries through conversions from lower castes of Hindu community.
Some of the religious leaders and Moulavis are of the opinion that the Rebellion was not a peasant revolt and according to them the majority of the Mappilas of Tirurangadi, from where the Rebellion broke out did not suffer from the oppressive janmi system
The then Superintendent of Police, Mr. Hich Cocks is of the opinion that the Mappilas started the Rebellion with a religious view. It was a series of reckless attacks on Hindus by the Mappilas as religious fanatics. (The History of Malabar Rebellion)
“It was an archaic form of protest and an attempt to establish an Islamic State. The violent faction of Khilafat led by Ali Musaliar was responsible for the outbreak of the Rebellion in August 1921. It was not a national movement, not a peasant revolt and not a modern political movement” – Stephen F. Dale, The Mappilas of Malabar). Dale was a British historian
The Moplah Rebellion 1921 written by C. Gopalan Nair, a retired officer of Government of Madras was considered as the first book on Mappila Rebellion. He was of the opinion that Rebellion was religious. Giving a detailed account of forcible conversions conducted by the Mappilas during the period of Rebellion he says Tirurangadi was one of the most breeding grounds of active fanaticism (Halilakkam)
M.N.Roy, in his book India in Transition (1922), discusses about the rural poverty in general and the perception that colonial government upheld the interests of the landlords as against those of the poor peasants. Reactions of the Mappilas against janmis and the spontaneous revolt of the peasants in Malabar against British imperialism also added fuel to the fire. The religious fanaticism also joined with peasant grievances.
Conrad Wood qualifies the Mappila Rebellion a major turning point in the history of Malabar. The unresolved grievances of Ernad Mappilas against their janmis and the Mappila Tenancy Act of 1930, which represented the first step to curb the tenancy power was the product of Mappila violence. (Mappila Rebellion and its Genesis, New Delhi 1987)
The immediate impact of the Rebellion, according to D.N. Dhanagare was forcible conversions. “the communal sentiments of fanaticism of Mappilas was only the symptom and not the disease” ( Agrarian Conflict – Religion and Politics – The Moplah Rebellion in Malabar, New Delhi 1989)
It is quite interesting to trace the major changes that occurred in the polity and society of Malabar during the post-Rebellion period. The rebellion affected all the further social and political life of entire Kerala during the post rebellion period and resulted in tensions in the Hindu-Muslim relations. The changes occurred in Malabar in the post-rebellion period can be assessed on nationalist perspective, community based perspective and socio economic perspective
According to Madhavan Nair, the most suffered one due to the Rebellion were the ordinary Muslims, who were not supporters of the rebellion. A minority of Muslims were involved in violence and compulsory conversions. The ordinary Muslims gained nothing except the trust deficiency in the society, inefficiency in their activities and non-contributory to public exchequer. The plundered property and looted money were shared by a few elite Muslim families
In the lighter vein we used to say that when we go to moon we would find a Muslim of Malabar selling tea on the roadside. Now we understand that majority of people who migrate to North India and abroad to gulf countries belong to Muslim community of the backward villages of Malabar and Malappuram. We see that even after fifty years of Mappila Rebellion, when Muslim community got separate district of their own, as a return of political support to Left ministry, their socio-economic conditions have not changed much
During the period of Portuguese and Europeans, Muslim community settled in coastal villages were wielding greater power in their business. They got social recognition and the support of Samorin of Calicut. But they lost the business acumen and activities by involving themselves in a lost fight of Mappila Rebellion. After the riots the entire Muslim community was isolated from the main stream society as militants.
The socio economic impact of the Rebellion can be analyzed through the prism of evolution of Kerala through centuries. It is the story of individual initiatives and invasions of external forces. The impact of Malabar invasions of Tippu Sultan and British made changes in the social structure, in land tenures and in taxation policies as they took place in the course of the subsequent century and a half. It is yet to be studied as to what benefit the ordinary Muslim, the Mappila, got to change his living condition through the invasion of Tippu. What socio economic impact it could make on an average Muslim by participating in Mappila Rebellion.
At the local level the Muslim community was making a comfortable living through agricultural activities and small business. They had the productive potential to keep those activities going and make themselves and their family happy and prosperous. Their participation in Mappila Rebellion turned out to be one what we call as throwing the baby along with bathtub. The riot ruined their capacity to produce and prosper where they lived with their traditional occupation.
In the post-rebellion period the Muslim community per se concentrated on increasing the number of their family members. Their attention was deliberately shifted to vote bank politics rather than economic development of their community. Even after seventy five year of independence, though the people of Malappuram register high score in literacy and education; their level of employability and emotional quotient and entrepreneurship remain poor when compared to the people of other district
The main focus of Mappila Rebellion was to plunder the properties of the Hindu Janmies and convert the Hindu people in to Islamic fold. In the post rebellion evaluation, it is seen that, they succeeded in both these aims. But what they failed to achieve was proper distribution of these plundered property and wealth for the benefit of the poor Muslims who participated in the riots expecting a revolutionary change in their socio economic conditions. The properties and wealth once effectively utilized and the Hindu human resources efficiently employed now remain idle even after hundred years of Rebellion, the so called freedom struggle, sufficiently rewarded by the government.
The rioters who were busy converting and marrying the beautiful Nair and Namboodiri women, but did nothing for the empowerment and employment of women power for socio economic development other than multiplying the number of children in the family. A recent report in a vernacular daily, though twisted, claim that Malappuram district has become a place of high ranking in respect of fastest growing city in the world. The report conveniently concealed the fact that this fast growth was registered in respect of population growth and not progress in living conditions or living standards. In the industrial and development map of India these riot-ridden places continue to be in the red. The industrial and commercial ventures are very few. The households survive on the single income of ordinary workers and very few families are running on the income of gulf people
North Malabar, especially, Malappuram district, still remains backward economically, socially and culturally. The rebellion has changed and impacted the living conditions, cultural festivals, food style, fashion and art and culture of north Malabar. The traditional art forms like Kathakali, koothu, Ottam thullal, Aksharaslokam, Carnatik music got less significance while Islamic art forms like Gazal, Oppana, Dubb Muttu gained currency. The traditional festivals like Onam and Vishu and the conventional marriage function including the temple festivals were influenced by non-religious art forms and unethical food habits. In this part of the country, unusually enough, the number of non-vegetarians have become very high, with the number of meat eaters on the rise and peaking. A cultural contamination is the net result of this rebellion.
In the post-rebellion evaluation the question remains as to why thousands of people butchered and temples desecrated and houses destroyed, Hindus converted into Islam, if it were an agitation against British. Doubt still remains as to whether it is an anti colonial uprising against British or a widespread communal riot? What was the role of Khilafat Movement and the Congress in the riots? What was the reason for Marxists to ignore the religious fanaticism of Mappila Rebellion? It remains a fact that the Rebellion affected the social and political life of entire Kerala in the post-rebellion period and resulted in tensions in the Hindu-Muslim relations.
The progressive people and politicians, who supported the Mappila Rebellion as a political movement and considered it as a freedom struggle against British, should answer for the present socio economic scenario of under utilization of resources and underdevelopment of the area, otherwise blessed with natural bounties.
1. Mahatma Gandhi, Mopla Outbreak, Navjivan, September 4,1921; Young India, October 20,1921
2. B.R. Ambedkar, Pakistan or Partition of India
3. Soumyedra Nath Tagore, Peasant Revolts in Malabar, Bombay 1937
4. E.M.S. Namboodiripad, A Short History of the Peasant Movement in Kerala, Calcutta 1985
5. K.N.Panickar, Against the Lord and the State
6. K.Madhavan Nair, Malabar Kalapam (Malayalam), Mathrubhumi Books, 2016
7. Hitch Cocks, The Secret History of Mopla Rebellion, 1921, Madras Government Press, 1925
8. Stephen F. Dale, The Mappilas of Malabar
9. C.Sankaran Nair, Gandhi and Anarchy, Chettoor Sankaran Nair foundation, 1922
10. M.N.Roy, India in Transition, 1922
11. Conrad Wood, Mappila Rebellion and its Genesis, New Delhi, 1987
12. Dhanagare D.N., The Mopla Rebellion in Malabar, Delhi, 1929
13. M.Gangadhara Menon, Malabar Rebellion 1921-22, Allahabad, 1989
14. T.C.Varghese, Agrarian Changes and Economic Consequences – Land Tenures in Kerala 1850-1950, Calcutta, 1970
15. Hermen Gunddart, Kerala Pazhama
16. William Logan, Malabar Manual
17. T.K.Velu Pillai, Travancore State Manual
18. Ulloor S.Parameswara Iyer, Kerala Sahitya Charitam
19. K.T.Jaleel, Malabar Rebellion a Re-reading (Malayalam), Chintha Publishers, 2015
20. Dhanajaya Keer, Dr. ambedkar – Life and Mission
21. K.C.Sudhir Babu, Dr. Ambedkar on Mopla Rebellion in Malabar, Organizer, April 14,2019
22. Ravilochanan G. Origin of Muslim Appeasement, Mahatma Gandhi and Mopla Rebellion, creative.sulekha.com
23. Comments: Elamkulam Kunjan Pillai, K.P.Kesava Menon, Koyatti Moulavi, Bipin Chandra, C.Gopala Menon etc
The Author is Professor Retired, School of Management Studies, CUSAT Kochi, Former Independent Director, HIL India Limited, New Delhi