You know, when you look at the situation today, you will despair somewhat, for large numbers of Muslims are going militant over some misguided idiot’s making of a movie or perhaps just a very offensive youtube clip. But then again, you wonder, why so much of focus on religion or so many issues in the name of religion? There is so much to do, to improve ourselves and our standards of living and those of our children. Instead of focusing on all that, people spend their time fighting over matters of smaller consequence, typically cases mixing politics with religion, where people whip up the emotions of others, and exhort them to commit violence. The Moplah rebellion was also one such case, when our own senior politicians did exactly that, mixing Khilafat, quickly becoming a lost cause, with the Indian independence movement. Life I guess continues on, without any change, nobody has learnt anything, wasting time, money, valuable resources and eventually, lives.
I wrote in the Andaman blog about the presence of a Nambudiri and four Nairs among the first batch of Moplah convicts who were supposed to be transported to the Andamans. I was initially under the impression that they were transported for life, but it was not so. Let’s take a look at those interesting persons. It is interesting to note that some of these people at the fore of the Khilafat movement were Hindus. There were many others like KP Keshava Menon etc on the fringes, but let’s focus on those who were in the midst, for now.
One of the Hindus in the midst was MP Narayayana Menon, who is covered well in the MPS Menon book, another was Brahmadattan Nambudiri who himself wrote his memoirs about the events. I am not too sure who the third and the fourth Nayars were, perhaps Elaya Nair, Kesavan or maybe Kelu Nayar. Perhaps there was Parambote Achutankutty Menon in this mix. Let us take a look at a couple of those Hindu leaders and figure out why & how they were involved in what was primarily a Moplah revolt.
First a few quick words about the Khilafat movement and the start of the revolt, in the Wikipedia words
In the First World War, the Sultan of Turkey, who was also the spiritual leader (Khalifa) of world Muslims, sided with Germany against Britain. This helped to align the Indian Muslim population against Britain, which started protesting against the British war against Turkey. To assuage their feelings, the Indian Viceroy, representing the British parliament, repeatedly announced that the war was only against the Turkish Government and not against the Caliphate (Khilafat), and promised that Muslim holy places and the Khalifa would be protected. But this promise was broken after the war, the Turkish Empire was broken apart, and the Khalifa was reduced to a puppet ruler as per the Paris accord. Indian Muslims started a protest movement requesting the restoration of the powers of the Caliphate, and the Khilafat Conference conducted on 30 June, 1920, at Allahabad announced non-violent non-co-operation against the British Government. Indian National Congress, led by Mahatma Gandhi, also offered its support to this movement, though key leaders like Motilal Nehru and Annie Besant opposed it.
In August, 1920, Mahatma Gandhi, Rajagopalachari and Maulana Naushad Ali visited Malabar as part of a campaign to support Khilafat movement, and this invigorated Khilafat-Congress committees across Malabar. The Khilafat Committee in Malabar was led by Kunji Koya Thangal, Hassan Koya Mulla, Melekkandi Moideen Koya, U. Gopala Menon, M P Narayana Menon, K Madhavan Nair, Kattilasseri Muhammad Musaliar, Variyam Kunnath Kunju Muhammad Haji, Edarakkunnam Ali Musaliar, and Muhammad Abdul Rahman Sahib. On 30 January, 1921, the Congress committee met in Kozhikode and decided to set up Congress Khilafat committees in South Malabar. In response to this, the district collector banned Khilafat meetings, but Khilafat movement gained strength in spite of the ban and various suppressive measures.
On February 16, 1921, British police arrested the leaders Yakoob Hassan, Madhavan Nair, Gopala Menon and Moitheen Koya, and clamped curfew on Valluvanad and Eranad taluks. This led to simmering tension. In August 17, 1921, a major reception was given to Gopala Menon and Madhavan Nair who were released from jail, and it was attended by people from all parts of Malabar. In response, the government conducted an Army flag march from Parappanangadi to Thirurangadi. On 20th August, police surrounded East Mosque and houses of many Khilafat workers, raided the mosque and Khilafat committee office, and arrested three people.
And that was the start of a period of mayhem and revolt…Soon the revolt spread,but that is a long and complicated story. It was a time when the Independence movement mingled with the problems faced by the poorer working class or the Kudiyans. It was a time when the English had reestablished themselves after defeating the Mysore Sultans. It was a time when the Moplahs who had savored their independence from the erstwhile Jenmis under the Mysore rulers suddenly found the situation reversed in the 19th century when the English established status quo (reestablishment of the old land tenure system or Janmam Kanam Maryada) to what it was in the old Malabar. The Jenmis where tougher after their return from Travancore, the matters were taking a rougher turn for the Moplah working classes. As the situation was simmering, a lawyer came to their assistance in Ernad, at Angadipuram to be precise, and his name was MP Narayana Menon.
His story is certainly a sad one, for he wasa person who was selfless in his actions, steadfast in his thought and what a leader should be, not afraid of the consequences, as he fought for a cause, the uplifting of the state of the poor Moplahs of Ernad. He did not support their militancy or any kind of violence, but just wanted them to have a better life, he wanted the men to be treated fairly by the Jenmis, he wanted their wives or the Ummas to be better off, working and independent and all ‘ummachikuttikal’ as he termed them, or small children to better educated to handle the future. He lived and worked among them, got ostracized in return, was termed a mlecha by his own family for consorting with the Moplahs and roundly criticized by all and sundry, including other leaders of the time and ironically, by many a Muslim leader. Thankless, that was his situation, in that atmosphere fraught with political tension where people were jockeying for their own legacies, be it Rajaji or Gandhiji or Keshava Menon. In the middle of all this came the strident clamor for a split of the country, and locally, even talk of cordoning off a Moplistan in the middle of Malabar.
MPN Menon started his career as a lawyer and soon became the Kerala Pradesh Congress secretary. Since then his aim was to take the message to the Moplahs of Ernad, change their ways and to build up Hindu Muslim solidarity against the British. Later he became the Khilafat secretary of Ernad where he formed Khilafat cells with his friends Kattisseri Mohammed Muslaiyar, Ali Musaliyar, Pareekutty Musaliyar and KM Moulawi sahib. While their efforts unfortunately showed results as a few days of uncontrollable violence in 1921, the end result was establishment of agrarian reforms that made life easier for the Moplah after independence. Gandhian in his support for non violence, his efforts were torn apart by other vested interests but to revisit the Moplah rebellion would take many pages of text, so I will stick to the individual for now. It is a pity that people who covered the rebellion after that hardly mentioned this great man, barring a few like EMS and KN Panicker. MPN was the person who was once called ‘The Abu Talib of Malabar’.
When the problems in Malabar started and became worse, there was no further support from the Congress leaders, in fact there was apathy, and the mayhem became worse. Nobody came to support MPN Menon and after the fracas, when he was sentenced to 14 years of rigorous imprisonment, nobody really bothered (Gandhiji suggested that efforts from Sir CP be sought to argue his case!). After he came out, he accepted no honors, or anything to assuage his feelings and slipped out of public life, to work for the troubled to look after his ailing wife.
It must have been difficult for Narayana Menon, since the days when he decided to wear a lungi at home (today it is the main dress of a malayali at home, but in those days only Moplahs wore it – the chequered one) and play with Moplah boys - getting chastised often. Like many other boys from prominent families, Menon was educated to become a lawyer at Presidency College Madras. MPN then moved on to MCC Madras, learning political science under Prof Hogg. Returning, he established practice at Perinthalmanna and his days were spent fighting tenure & eviction cases for Moplah pattakars or farmers. It was to earn him many enemies from his caste, many being landowners. Soon he was instrumental in creating Kudiyan sangams trying to fight for their causes, while the congress concentrated on recruiting the richer and more prominent people for a visible fight against the British.
It was now 1918 and MPN had become a family man, father to four children. But life was to change and affect the young family, for the worse…In two years their world was to be torn apart and the father imprisoned, and the mother and children fleeing to Udumalpet, outside the British martial law zone.
In the meantime, far away in the west, at the locale where Asia met Europe, the allies were slowly laying claim on various parts of the remaining Ottoman Empire. Mustafa Kemal Pasha or Ataturk was the person who decided to take the reins of the resistance movement which was to continue through into 1922. Kemal Ataturk was very busy with the problems of his own country and was certainly not in support of having any kind of Caliph in power. Meanwhile, in India, the Khilafat movement was being spearheaded with vigor by the congress, but what Gandhiji and other leaders did not explain to the Moplahs was that Kemal Ataturk himself was slowly moving away from the Khilafat principles. It was around this time (Aug 1921) that Gandhiji and Shoukat Ali came and asked the Moplahs to fight for the movement. MP Narayana Menon explained to Gandhiji whom he met that it was not a very good idea. He explained that they are simple people and for them a fight is with weapons and their hands, not with nonviolence which the layman would never understand. So unless proper training is given to them, the call for revolt would result in disaster. Well, as events would prove, that was exactly what happened.
As revolt spread in Malabar and emotions got worked up, the Khilafat movement got mixed up with the agrarian struggle; they directed their ire at the landlords and the British in various forms of violence. MPN had no chance anymore; his ideals were lost in the violent melee of desperate rebels. Interestingly Gangadhara Menon writes in his book (probably an erroneous mention if you look at the words of MPN’s speech) that the MPN had his interest mainly focused on Moplah tenancy rights (and the desire to have M Krishnan Nair elected) and was not aligned to the Khilafat or nationalist movement. The revolt spread and MPN who tried to exhort the Moplahs against armed revolt could do little against the strident religious overtones whipped up by their own leaders, but following a speech
As the court records show
The rule of the white man had come to an end. Moplahs have been known to be brave men.
They alone drove the white men from Tiruvengadi. If we all unite and stand together we will accomplish our cause. White men have only a few soldiers. If we withstand them for a few days we will get help from outside. I believe you will do it. Those who work against Khilafat are our enemies. They should not be spared…or words to this effect.
where he told the masses to rise against the British, was soon imprisoned in 1921 and sentenced to transportation to the Andamans. The Pookottur and Nilambur Kovilakom stories, as well as many others are all well documented, so I will not get into them today. Somewhere around this time, the Moplahs were led to believe that the Hindu leaders and the Congress no longer had any interest in the Khilafat and were actually supporting the British. With this the revolt took a communal direction. But the person who could explain to them, MPN, was behind bars, the public launched a signature drive and a petition for his pardon was submitted to the British since the judgment was erroneous and fixed by the police and the witnesses, as MPN sided with the Moplahs. He was told that he would be pardoned if he agreed to stay away from Malabar for 2 years, but MPN would have nothing to do with such an idea. Soon he was put into solitary confinement in Coimbatore and later transferred to Egmore jail where he spent the next decade.
After release in 1934 he tried to get his lawyers license back, but the court turned his request down. He then indulged in Moplah rehabilitation programs and the Quit India movement, was imprisoned again in 1942 and sent to Vellore. Here he taught prisoners and also became their barber, shaving and cutting their hair.
After he was released in 1946, he worked briefly in Madras, but was a reticent man, and by 1955 had slipped out of public life seeing the direction the politics of Free India was taking. He lost heart eventually, mentally and physically and left this world in 1966.
Ask anybody in Kerala or Ernad if they remember MPN. You will, most probably not see anybody or hear any kind of reaction. Regretfully, today there is nobody like him who tries to build firm and wide bridges between the communities, or exhorting that religion should not be the reason for any kind of separation. But then again, Malabar fortunately has more amity than enmity, as I wrote some months ago.
And with that we come to the next in line, Brahmadattan Nambudiri – Strange is his case, for I will start first with impressions of him by MPN which are not flattering actually. Nambudiri was involved in verbal attacks against the British in Aug 1921 and imprisoned. Briefly he met MPN at the Coimbatore jail and asked him to help him avoid the hangman’s noose. MPN castigated Namboothri for his fears and scoffed as to why he got involved if he was so scared.
Namboothiri incidentally was the Cherplasseri Pradesh congress secretary who led efforts against the British. He was a Gandhian who slipped into the British dragnet unlike MPN who worked for the Moplahs. When Gandhiji told the masses that they have to support their brethren in the Khilafat struggle, Mozhikunnath Bhramadattan was the one to take it up at Cherplasseri. When Bhrahmadattan a spoke at the temple rally (it was Tilak’s death anniversary), he as actually getting right into the middle of British crosshairs. Soon the revolt turned to mayhem and after the resulting losses in death and property and the eventual lull, the police arrested many, Brahmadattan included.
Narayanan Somayaji his father would have like him to become a Vedic scholar, but who was to know that this person would enter the violent scenes that swept the region, end up in jail and get excommunicated from his Nambudiri society. Well that was Nambudiri’s story.
As Nambudiri writes, it was a time when two revolts were running the same course, the agrarian and the Khilafat – nationalist struggle. When by chance religious animosity was thrown into the cauldron, the resulting mix was an uncontrollable explosive. As expected it blew up when the British police unleashed their atrocities against them and the resulting fires lasted some 4-6 months killing many, maiming many, destroying families and property, inciting the British against the locals even more, and ended with thousands in jails and many transported to the Andamans.
Nambudiri was eventually sentenced to transportation, but this was later reduced to imprisonment and he was interned at Bellary. His experiences can be read in his book which is very much available in stores, so I won’t get into those details. As you read it you will come across a simple man who followed his ideals, his bravery was in his heart and not mind or body. He suffered like a common man, not unflinching or anything like that, but crying and wailing like a commoner he was. His story after his return, his excommunication due to his lower standing in society is all only too revealing of the many different types of people who got jailed.
These two books about Narayana Menon and Brahmadattan Nambudiri tell us quite a bit about the events and the people involved but many others have written their own versions about the revolts, but there is one person who is not talked about much in those books. That is an individual named Mannarghat Kochunni Elaya Nayar, and so let us see what we can mine about him from the treasure trove of archived resources.
We saw what happened at Perinthalmanna and Angadipuram where Narayana Menon took the lead, Nambudiri was the spearhead at Cherplasseri and the person who took the reins at Mannarghat was one Elaya Kochunni Nair . He had associated himself with Seethi Koya Thangal and marshaled the support of the traders and trading Moplahs of Palghat. It appears that he was also a junior member from the local Janmi family. His case is not like the former, he was supposedly one of those who ended up in the middle of it all, partaking also in some of the atrocities.
Mooppil nayar and the Elaya nayar were congressmen who exhorted rebellion against the British but were not supported by Moidutty who was a local timber merchant with many Moplahs working for him. However a few others like Thonnikara Ayamu, the karyasthan for Moidutty supported the Khilafat and joined the nayars, for which he was dismissed from service. Later he was shot dead while leading a gang in Nilambur. Elaya nayar was the leader, supposedly involved in attacks against government property like bridges, attacking police stations, having others collecting money in his name for making swords, and aligning himself with Seethi Koya Tangal. The mob then attacked Moiduty’s granaries and property, demanding money. Moidutty fled to Pollachi, fearing further violence.
One disturbing fact that you will come across while reading all the records is that there were some gangs who systematically came into troubled areas, searched for and destroyed land records, which you can see was a ploy to take over land from the jenmis. Even in the case of Mannarghat, as the problems were underway, gangs came in from Angadipuram and destroyed the sub registrar’s office. But it turned out later that Elaya nayar was implicated in the whole thing by Khan Saheb Kalladi Moidutty (apparently there were long ongoing litigations and quarrel between the Muppil Nayar and the Elaya Nayar and Moidutty the timber merchant was allied with the Moopil Nayar). The basis was a letter written by Nayar to one Keshava Panickkar asking him to hand over all their guns to the Moplahs.
After he was arrested in Sept, he had Srinivasa Iyengar representing him at the court who argued for his release successfully on a technicality which was that Palghat was outside the martial law limits. So he was released. The case story is interesting; those interested can read it here. http://indiankanoon.org/doc/1279021/
All these stories form small parts of the large canvass called the 1921 Moplah rebellion. It is not very easy to understand or explain, unless you are somewhat neutral in your thoughts and today with a collection of first hand reports from the archives, the story becomes clearer than the duller versions published previously.
Anyway the rebellion ran its course, many were put to trial and imprisoned or transported, and finally Britain’s waning grip on the Jewel of the Crown were soon loosened. I wrote about the other end, the kalapani or the Andamans in my history blogs, covering both the Indian and the CBI angles.
But what happened to the Khilafat? Things were to take a different turn in Turkey. An Indian was to figure in it in a very interesting but tragic way and hardly a soul in India knows about it today. So I will cover that soon, in another article. As far as Ataturk the founder of modern Turkey was concerned, the old caliph Abdul Hamid had been deposed, and his interest were rightly with his country and its development, not some age old sentimentalist ideas of a Caliph or global protector. The caliphate as Querishi writes, was no longer a potent instrument of Turkish foreign policy. The Ali brothers tried hard to persuade Mustafa Kemal asking him to become the caliph, but he would have none of it. The movement as well as the concept of Moplistan that was bandied about died, though the quit India movement quickly took over.
The Turkish Ottoman Caliph, Adulhamid eventually retired with a small monthly allowance provided, ironically by the Nizam of Hyderabad. Nilufer, the last Ottoman princess, what a lovely lass she was, married the Nizam’s son and moved to Hyderabad. Her story is well, yet another of those interesting stories…
MP Narayana Menon a forgotten pioneer – Dr MPS Menon
Khilafat Smaranakal – Brahmadattan Nambudiri
Malabar rebellion – M Gangadhara Menon
Peasant revolt in Malabar – RH Hitchcock
Pan-Islam in British Indian Politics: A Study of the Khilafat Movement - M. Naeem Qureshi
Pics - from books by MPN and Brahmadattan, acknowldged with thanks