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‘Moplah rioters’ not freedom fighters: report

7th September, 2020 History

Context: ICHR member Issac seeks removal of Malabar Rebellion leaders from martyrs list


  • A report submitted to the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) in 2016 had recommended the de-listing of Wagon Tragedy victims and Malabar Rebellion leaders Ali Musliyar, Variamkunnath Ahmad Haji, and the latter’s two brothers from a book on martyrs of India’s freedom struggle.
  • In all, the report had sought the removal of names of 387 ‘Moplah rioters’ from the list.

Martyrs from south India

  • ICHR report covering martyrs of freedom struggle from south India came up for review.
  • The report, describes Haji as the “notorious Moplah Riot leader” and a “hardcore criminal,” who “killed innumerable innocent Hindu men, women, and children during the 1921 Moplah Riot, and deposited their bodies in a well.”
  • The review report noted that “almost all the Moplah outrages were communal. They were against the Hindu society and done out of sheer intolerance. Thus the following names should be deleted from the yet-to-be published project,”
  • The British convicted the rioters after proper trial. Haji was arrested by the army. These dead were never recognised as freedom fighters elsewhere.

Why does the rebellion still stoke passions?

  • The Malabar Rebellion (also called the Mappila or Moplah Rebellion by the British) broke out in the southern taluks of Malabar in August 1921.
  • By the time the government troops captured Haji in January 1922, the rebellion had fizzled out.
  • It largely took the shape of guerrilla-type attacks on janmis (feudal landlords, who were mostly upper caste Hindus) and the police and troops.
  • Mappilas had been among the victims of oppressive agrarian relations protected by the British. However, the political mobilisation of Muslims in the region in the aftermath of the launch of the Khilafat agitation and Gandhi’s non-cooperation struggle served as an opportunity for an extremist section to invoke a religious idiom to express their suffering, while working for a change in the oppressive system of administration.
  • There were excesses on both sides — rebels and government troops.

How did Kunhamed Haji emerge as the leader?

  • Haji, who was one of the three most important rebel leaders, was the face of the rebellion.
  • British officers viewed him as the “most murderous”.
  • The Khilafat movement launched in 1919 provided a fresh stimulus to the grievances of Mappilas.
  • The sense of local injustice was linked with the pan-Islamic sentiments created in the aftermath of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire that rendered the Ottoman caliphate irrelevant.
  • Haji was among those in the Malabar region inspired by the zeal of the agitation.
  • During the rebellion, he led many attacks on individuals, including Muslims, who had been loyal to the British.

What was the impact of the protests?

  • The rebellion of Mappilas inspired by religious ideology and a conception of an alternative system of administration — a Khilafat government — dealt a blow to the nationalist movement in Malabar.
  • The exaggerated accounts of the rebellion engendered a counter campaign in other parts of the country against ‘fanaticism’ of Muslims.
  • The traumatic experience of the uprising also persuaded educated sections of the Muslim community in Malabar to chalk out ways to save the community. The community’s stagnation was attributed to religious orthodoxy and ignorance.
  • The thrust of the post-rebellion Muslim reform movement in Malabar was a rigorous campaign against orthodoxy.