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Life beyond Moplah


Muslims and Hindus here want peace. Threat comes from jehadis on the fringe, says M Rajasekhara Panicker
TSI | Issue Dated: January 4, 2009
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Life beyond Moplah Though Kerala's Muslims and Hindus have co-existed peacefully for centuries, their relations down the years have seen numerous twists and turns. History is replete with stories of their successes and reverses. A good year to start from is 1921, when the Moplah uprising pitted the two communities violently against each other. The Muslims' agrarian revolt against Hindu landlords and British rule is, even today, perceived by many as an anti-Hindu pogrom. And in some quarters, this continues to create bad blood between them.

 Marxist ideologues like EM Sankaran Namboodiripad view the rebellion as a continuing clash between Muslim have-nots and affluent Hindus. Others, particularly conservative Hindus, insist it was nothing short of a Muslim conspiracy to smoke them out of the region.  The revolt was promptly crushed by the British, whose army rounded up well over 120 protesters and herded them inside a goods train. By the time it reached Bellari jail from Tirur railway station, 64 of them had died of suffocation. Many innocent Hindus also perished.

The Tirur Wagon Tragedy Memorial in the Town Hall of Malppuram is darkly reminiscent of that gory death dance. But historians are generally agreed that this was merely an aberration that vested interests have played up to serve narrow sectarian ends. The fact, they say, is that Kerala's Muslims have much more to remember than that dreadful, polarising year. Few are aware that the first Indian mosque was built at Kodungallur in Kerala. Or that the patriotic Reformation Movement led by stalwarts like Vakkom Abdul Khader Moulavi was among the first to promote liberal educational values and social harmony in the South's hottest melting pot. It is a legacy that has contributed not a little in empowering the state's Muslims, who constitute precisely 24.7 per cent of its population.

It is largely due to these contributions that liberating movement made that the Muslim League has become so popular. A few fanatics, like the notorious Madani, cannot possibly take the sheen away from subsequent mainstream reformist movements. Even the Moplah uprising has failed to dampen Hindu-Muslim amity. Dr M Gangadharan, retired professor of history, University of Calicut, and author of "The Malabar Rebellion", says:  "The Moplah struggle was essentially anti-British. I do not call it a freedom struggle. But certainly the Moplahs desired liberation from the British." Life beyond Moplah Freedom fighter K Madhavan Nair, the first Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president, and a witness to the rebellion, details in his book "Malabar Kalapam" instances of Hindus being beheaded and thrown into a well at Thoovoor. But it should be noted that when Mahatma Gandhi led the non-cooperation movement and backed the Khilafat Movement, some Malabar Moplahs used this to try and establish Khilafat rule in Malabar. It was only later that the anti-British rebellion derailed, and the Hindus' persecution gathered speed. All this drove a wedge between Hindus and Muslims, and the values instilled by the Indian freedom struggle was briefly forgotten. The Khilafat Movement leadership in Malabar slipped from Congress hands and became prisoner in the hands of communal elements, so that blood spilled freely. And ever since, efforts to unite the two communities have been repeatedly punctuated with misgivings, and historical injustices cited to perpetuate this mistrust.  

The fragile peace and harmony that developed was shattered when three of a Hindu family and their cook were butchered by Muslim fanatics on August 2, 1947.

"The lower court convicted nine people, including Nanath Kunhalavi and Mottengadan Moidutty, who went in for appeal and were released." The Narasimha Temple was destroyed, and this terrified Hindus once again," says to CP Janardanan, prominent Sangh Parivar leader. Also frequently cited is the Marad incident that claimed 14 lives in that coastal village of Kozhikode district on January 4, 2002 and May 2, 2003. A judicial commission found that a minor incident on the Marad beach during New Year celebrations flared up into full-blown riots on January 4, 2002. And the flames were fanned by CPI (M), Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and BJP/RSS activists who, very probably, were acting independently of their leaderships.

But on other occasions senior politicos have stirred controversy – when it was felt they were trying to favour their constituencies.  For instance, formation of a district normally won't invite people's ire. But when the EMS Namboodiripad Ministry decided to constitute a Muslim-majority Malappuram district, there was a virtual furore – though the district was finally formed amidst protests on June 16, 1969. The state government's move to grant freedom fighter pensions to Moplah rioters, similarly, sparked unease.  

But it was Abdul Nazar Madani who gave Mulsim politics its ugliest modern twist. His Islamic Sevak Sangh and People's Democratic Party became a rallying point for vested interests; and his alleged involvement in the Coimbatore serial blasts, as also his prolonged prison term, caused his followers to shift allegiance to the National Development Front.

Then again, all four youths whom the security forces in Jammu and Kashmir recently caught, as they were trying to cross over to Pak Occupied Kashmir (PoK), were from the Malabar area or close to it. And when it was reported that a terrorist recruiting agency had been operating under the name of Tadiyantavide Nazeer alias Ummmer Haji and Sabir alias Ayub and Sainudheen – both of whom had undergone LeT training in PoK – the unrest grew. The links to the banned ISS and SIMI further exacerbated the situation.  "While a repeat of 1921 is highly unlikely, the long coastal belt continues to be a haven for sea-borne terrorists," points out KK Radhakrishnan, BJP national council member and a former municipal councilor. It is said jihadi elements are alive and well. And since there is almost no scope for jihad in Malappuram, terror is being exported to Coimbatore, Mumbai and Kashmir. The saving factor, however, is that there remains a strong urge for peace among all communities. For after Jammu &Kashmir, Kerala's Muslims have the highest social and political stakes. They are educated and well off, and many have flourished. So they want no confrontation with the majority community.
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017