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Moplah Riots : How the mission of establishing Islamic Caliphate transformed into gruesome Hindu genocide


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Moplah is the anglicized name of the Mappila Muslim community who were the oldest settled native community of Muslims in Kerala. Mappilas were one of the many Muslim communities that formed the Moplah population but gradually the entire Muslim population came to be known as the Moplahs.


Moplah community is found in the Malabar Coast of Kerala. They arrived in Kerala during 7th Century AD, from the Middle East;some were converts from the local population.


The Moplah community came in as traders from Middle East. During the 16th Century they were a community of wealthy traders. Gradually there were confrontational wars between the Mappilas and the Portuguese, sporadic conflicts rose between the two communities during the whole of 16th century. By the end of 16th century the Mappilas were economically crushed. They settled in South Malabar as manual workers, fishermen and landless laborers. In the 17th century the British entered into a pact with the Portuguese. There was a growing discontentment against the Portuguese for their forcible conversions and unlawful trade practices. The Portuguese were thrown out by the Dutch. However things changed during the 18th century under the rule of Haider Ali. He invaded Malabar with the help of Ali Raja who had been a local king overthrown by the Dutch with the help of Kollathiris. Ali raja was a man who unleashed the worst form of savagery marked by loot and massacre of Hindus whom he thought as infidels. Haider Ali gave the Muslims undue preference over Hindus. The Muslims occupied
important administrative positions; their economic condition improved making them acquire land. There was a great surge in their population expansion and large scale conversions took place. After Hyder Ali, his son attacked the Malabar with renewed vengeance in 1789- 90 Tipu was assisted but Kannur Bibi, wife of Ali Raja in his single minded agenda of Hindu Genocide. This however didn’t last long as TIpu
was defeated by the British in 1792. Tipu’s plunders and bigotry had left Malabar in shambles. Most of the wealthy Hindu zamindars had fled leaving the prosperous Malabar wrecked and deserted. The Mappilas who now came to be known as the Jungle Mappilas, as they scavenged through the left overs, were a big burden on the British. The British reorganized the Malabar dividing it into various regions. The entire 19th century saw a gruesome chapter in Malabar laced with dacoity, murder, rape, loot and
crime against the Hindus.



The Khilafat movement was introduced into Malabar district on 28 April 1920 by a resolution at the Malabar District Conference. The Khilafat Movement was a Pan Islamic effort to salvage the Ottoman caliph as a symbol of unity among the Muslim community in India during the British Raj. Gandhi strongly
advocated for the Khilafat movement and it joined hands with Gandhi’s Non Cooperation movement against the British. These were the defining moments when the seeds of definite religious animosity were sown. The Malabar region responded to the Khilafat Movement aggressively with around 1000 Khilafat Committees in the two main talks of Ernad and Ponnani. R.H.Hitchcock, District Superintendant of Police opined, “Far more important than the network of the Khilafat movement, however, was the traditional system of communication among the Mappilas, The few bazaars that exist are entirely Mappila and most Mappilas do congregate at least once a week for Friday prayers and often at other times in Mosques….. Except at very occasional festivals the Hindus have no such opportunity of meeting (A History of the Malabar Rebellion, R.H. Hitchcock, Government Press, Madras, 1921, p.3). The Moplahs had armed
themselves with a variety of weapons. These included swords about two feet long with horned handles, both single and double edged, pointed at the top; big shikar knives about one and a half feet long; ordinary Moplah knives, pig spears cut in the middle about three feet in length; lathis; Mammuthi and axe handles (The Mapilla Rebellion 1921-1922, G.R.F. Tottenham, Government Press, Madras, 1922, p. 36).
Dr B R Ambedkar made the following observation…“Beginning with the year 1920 there occurred in that year in Malabar what is known as the Mopla Rebellion. It was the result of the agitation carried out by two Muslim organizations, the Khuddam-i-Kaba “Agitators actually preached the doctrine that India under the British Government was Dar-ul-Harab and that the Muslims must fight against it and if they could not, they must carry out the alternative principle of Hijrat. The aim was to establish the kingdom of Islam by overthrowing the British government.”

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was the first person to term the Moplah rebellion as the Hindu Genocide in his novel Moplah in 1924. The purpose of the genocide was only to convert or annihilate those Hindus who refused to convert. Annie Beasant wrote“….. the Musalmans (Moplas) of that district after three weeks of preparing weapons, rose over a definite area in revolt, believing, as they had been told, that British Rule had ceased, and they were free,” she wrote in The Future of Indian Politics (Theosophical Publishing House,1922, p. 252). “They established the Khilafat Raj, crowned a King, murdered and
plundered abundantly, and killed or drove away all Hindus who would not apostatize. Somewhere about a lakh people were driven from their homes with nothing but the clothes they had on, stripped of everything,” she added. The Moplah massacre was at its peak from September 1921 to December 1921 where a total of 20,800 Hindus were killed and more than 4000 homeless. …. (Maharashtra Hindusabhechya karyacha itihas, Marathi, S.R. Date, Pune, 1975, pp.21, 22). The number of temples
destroyed or desecrated exceeded 1000 (Nair, ibid, p.88).


In an effort to dilute the genocide the leftist historians have recorded this as an uprising against the British and the wealthy landlords. This fact remains far removed from reality. The Hindus were selectively targeted as the Marxist historian. E.M.S. Namboodiripad, on one occasion blamed the religious fanatics “who believed killing or converting a kafir will take them to the steps leading to the threshold of heaven” for the, in his book, Kerala’s National Problem (Keralathinde Deesheeya Prashnam). Moreover had it only been a revolt of the poor against the rich the poor Hindus would not have been massacred and mauled, their women raped, their children mercilessly killed, their families stripped and paraded naked’ lakhs of them displaced and robbed of their property and dignity ! In his investigation report on Moplah outrages prior to the 1921 riots, T.L. Strange, Special Commissioner in Malabar, categorically dismissed
the allegation of oppression by Hindu landlords as the cause of communal problems. He writes: “It is apparent that in no instance can any outbreak or threat of outbreak that has risen be attributed to the
oppression of tenants by landlords…. He further states: “The Hindus in the parts where the outbreaks have been most frequent stand in fear of the Moplahs ..!

To Ambedkar’s horror, Gandhi laid the blame squarely on the Hindus. “Hindus,” said the Mahatma “must find out the causes of Moplah fanaticism. They will find that they are not without blame. They have
hitherto not cared for the Moplah. They have either treated him as a serf or dreaded him. They have not treated him as a friend and neighbor, to be reformed and respected. It is no use now becoming angry with the Moplahs or the Muslims in general.” Gandhi felt the Muslims were merely adhering to their religious preaching and Hindus on their part should follow the path of Dharma and bear all atrocities with grace and calm. The position taken by Gandhi angered many including Ambedkar. The moral preaching ground which Gandhi chose selectively for the Hindus only emboldened the rioters and fuelled the genocide to epic proportions.

In his book Text and Context, incumbent Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan writes: “The movement failed miserably as the Turks themselves abolished the Khilafat but it succeeded in introducing ‘religiosity’ as credible instrument of political mobilisation. What role this religiosity has played in shaping future politics, particularly the events of 1947 surely needs reappraisal”


The coming year marks the centenary of the Moplah riots, one of the most tragic chapters in the ethnic violence of Indian History; it’s time to view it in correct perspective. As its said “History, despite its
wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”

Maya Angelou


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