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Hans Raj - The British Approver

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And his role in the Amritsar Massacre

I spent a considerable amount of time reading various published accounts of the infamous Jallianwala Bagh massacre. A summary of the events that transpired and an accounting of some of the persons who attained notoriety from it was posted the other day. But there was one thread that I did not unravel in that article, for I thought it deserved a more studious effort. That related to the murky role played by a person of some consequence and mentioned in the various records of the event. Many Indians refused to agree that it was a minor role and some even went on to characterize his role as a part of a large conspiracy. Who was that person and was there a conspiracy? Let’s check out the involvement of the infamous local lad Hans Raj, in the Amritsar massacre of 13th April 1919.

Now Jallianwalla was once upon a time a home site belonging to the Jalhewalas who hailed from the Jalla village. You may not recall Pandit Jalla, the unpopular Brahmin deputy in Hira Singh’s court, the one who used to be remembered once upon a time by this couplet ‘Ooper alla, Talley Jalla, Jalla de sir tey khalla’ (in heaven lived Allah, in earth lived Jalla…may Allah give Jalla a shoe beating), well his name became immortalized with the events of 1919 when Col Dyer ordered the shooting of some 20,000-25,000 assembled in this 24,000 sqmts space, without any provocation.

Who exhorted the unfortunate masses to attend a meeting in this compound? It was largely due to the exertions of an energetic young man named Hans Raj. As records put it, Hans Raj, an aide to Dr. Kitchlew, announced on the 11th that a public protest meeting would be held at 16:30 the following day in the Jallianwala. People flocked to hear these speeches instead, as festivities (the cattle market fair was closed) had been banned by specific proclamations at the usual meeting places, by Col Dyer. Was Hans Raj such a popular figure to be heeded to, was he a real activist? Why did people follow him like pied piper to the Bagh? What happened to him at the ground? What was his relationship with Dr Satyapal and Dr Kitchlew the leaders who had been exiled a few days earlier? And who was the mysterious Bashir who was involved in the two days preceding the massacre, the one who was to speak and the one who never turned up? Let’s take a deeper look.

The first writer to provide some details of the character was Pt Peary Mohan, a vakil of the Lahore high court, writing his account in Dec 1919, just 8 months after the incident. The book’s opening page shows a man in the buff being whipped, setting store for the gory details of the massacre in the pages that follow.  The Hunter commission had been convened in October and Dyer had given his evidence in Nov. The British report was published in March 1920 and Mohan’s book itself was published in May 1920.

According to Mohan, HansRaj, son of a local prostitute Devi Ditta Mal Bedi aged 23, had passed his matriculation in 1911. His less than stellar background traversed many jobs until the 1919 event, and we see that his services had been terminated on many occasions, due to his dubious and shifty character. First he was a ticket examiner in the NWR where he had been dismissed for embezzlement, then he clerked for the municipal commissioner LH Shah, next as a clerk at the Union club, then with a banker Seva Singh and so on. During this period he tried to obtain employment in the police department and was on a waiting list, but was apparently allowed to act as a CID (more correctly as an informer, perhaps). During the events that transpired in 1919, he was a commission agent for printing and stationery. Until Feb 1919, he kept a low profile and suddenly began to appear at all kinds of public political meetings. Mohan argues that it was not fervent nationalism which made him do this, but the responsibility to report inside information to his police superiors. He also cultivated acquaintances with important public figures, expressing his ability and willingness to organize meetings, record and copy meeting minutes, print notices and so on.

By 8th April he was accorded a formal title, the Secretary of the Satyagraha Sabha. Thus he got closer to Dr Kitchlew and Dr Satyapal, the two leaders who had been banished days before the Amritsar event. In fact he was present as the two were deported and carried back copies of the deportation notices to inform their relatives (why did the police entrust him with this duty?). He then bound himself to the next in line Dr Bashir and many other activists who continued to rebel. Before we cast doubts on his character, let us see what he did next, for he certainly went on to stir the hornets’ nest. After leaving Satyapal and Horniman who were being carted off to Dharmasala in high secrecy, Hans Raj reported the deportations to the friendly press and snapped of a telegram to Gandhiji. He then went around town and informed the public of the happenings. It was following this that a crowd collected demanding details on their leaders and the mob violence as well as the event involving Sherwood of 10th April took place. For all practical purposes, Hans Raj was the instigator of the 10th April violence, though Hans Raj later implicated Dr Bashir for these events.

It was on the 12th evening that Hans Raj was involved again, in a meeting at Bashir’s house where Bashir was exhorting the people gathered to call off the agitation if the British promised no reprisals on the mob participants, but Has Raj would not agree stating that each and every one had to be aware that their leaders had been spirited away and that they should all take up individual leadership to continue the agitation. He then called for a meeting at Jallianwala Bagh the next day under the leadership of an elderly resident Lala Kanhiya Lal (who had no idea of all this!). The plan was to announce a hartal on 13th and suspend all businesses until their leaders were released. Gandhiji who had been released in the meantime addressed a meeting in Bombay stating there should be no demonstrations against any leader’s arrest, but that message never reached anybody in Amritsar.

From Draper’s accounts, we note the sequence of events as follows - On the 13th Hans Raj was busy preparing for the meeting at the Bagh. He arranged for a platform to be erected for the speakers and a batch of sweepers to clean up the area as much as possible, and organized for water carriers to carry water through any crowd that assembled. Meanwhile somebody noticed that Has Raj was in conversation on two occasions, with some undercover CID officers in the area. It appears that some people already knew of potential violence even before the event and stayed away from the Bagh or decided to go back. The meeting started and speakers talked about Kitchlew and Satyapal, later some poets recited poems. A plane flew overhead and some witnesses saw Hans Raj wave a handkerchief at it and while at the same time a few policeman in the crowd left the locale. As the sight of the plane triggered some panic, Hans Raj asked the people not to worry and the plane was quickly gone. The speakers continued and just about then, at 5:15 PM, the boots of Dyer’s troops could be heard pounding the entrance path. Again, witnesses noticed Hans Raj wave a handkerchief and the crowd chanted ‘they have come’. Hans Raj exhorted the speakers to sit down assuring them that the Sarkar would not fire. At that instant, Dyer shouted out his orders ‘Gurkhas right, 59th left fire’. Hans Raj shouted – they are only blanks – and it seems, he bolted. The soldiers knelt, loaded and fired, and fired and fired…all of 1650 of .303 Mark VI ammunition into the crowd, methodically, with Dyer directing the aim to the most crowded spots. Dyer and his troops then retreated as collective wails floated up from the walls of the Bagh.

Hans Raj by some accounts had vanished, but that part as well as his kerchief waving were perhaps exaggerations. Let’s now go on to see what Hans Raj did next, for he would reappear soon in the so called Amritsar leader’s case, which took place in June 1919.

The Jalianwala Bagh massacre (courtesy Indian Express)
Lala Jowahar Lal, a CID inspector who had been observed speaking to Hans Raj at the meeting and had left before Dyer arrived, was the first to pick up Hans Raj on the 21st, 8 days after the horrible event, and stated that Hans Raj wanted to confess and help the government, but that he did not have in possession the statements or notes made during pervious interrogation meetings as he had destroyed them. All other police officers speaking for the crown, had interestingly done the same thing. Fellow prisoners had noticed that Has Raj was being treated preferentially and seemed to be leading a jolly life in detention. Lal then took Hans Raj to A. Symour, the magistrate where he admitted that his confession was not being made under duress (though he was held in the British fort for 4 days preceding the confession), but curiously declined to make it under an oath. Thus Hans raj became the key witness for the prosecution, he had turned approver in exchange for full pardon, since he had also been charge sheeted.

The case was held ‘in camera’ though news of JP Ellis’s adhocism trickled out of the chambers. He went on to name each and everyone involved with a remarkably lucid memory and accuracy, and summarized the meetings before 13th to being not related to Satyagraha but as meetings cloaking a plan to agitate violently. He also told the court that Satyapal and Kitchlew had before leaving, asked him to incite the crowds in Amritsar in revenge. With this one statement, Hans Raj nailed the leaders to the board. During his examination, he also provided the court with hundreds of names, their exact statements, in other words, everything that was required by the court, in a way they wanted it, to make a judgment just as they wanted to. He confidently assured the people of the court that he was not committing perjury in exchange for pardon. Many of the onlookers were convinced that Hans Raj had been carefully coached for the narration. Everything he said was taken note of without corroboration or cross-examination and accepted as evidence even though he was the main culprit, the person who had organized and conducted the so called rebellious meeting. Instead all the others leaders who were absent, were convicted.

As the defense counsels were not provided any of the evidence beforehand, they could not take apart Hans Raj other than cast aspersions on his character and this obviously was not sufficient to dent the prosecution’s case. Another crown witness Brij Lal however mentioned that while in detention, Hans Raj worked with the police in forcing Lal to make a confession as they wanted.  Lal was also forced to memorize the content of his statement so that he could stick to it faithfully while in court. In addition, all the accused refuted the evidence given by Hans Raj, with Satyapal even going onto say that he would never have been involved with Hans Raj as the latter was on a much lower social scale! Bashir emphatically stated that he had not asked Hans Raj to organize the 13th meeting at the Bagh. But they were all of no avail.

The court as expected decided that that Punjab had been on the brink of a revolt, that a criminal conspiracy existed and that war had been waged on the 10th of April against the crown. They also mentioned that Has Raj, a person of little standing was ‘worthy of credence’ a statement made strangely without even a bit of corroboration! The record states - We have arrived at the conclusion that Hans Raj had endeavored to tell his story as fully as he was capable of doing and has not deliberately made any false statements. That he has been occasionally confused is apparent, but that is not surprising considering the numbers of persons he had to deal with (a good deal more than the accused in this case and we have given the accused concerned the fullest benefit of any such confusion of ideas, dates and names.

Kitchlew and Satyapal were to be transported and had all their property forfeited. Dr Bashir who was not even involved and who had actually treated some of the injured, was sentenced to death, for his involvement in the 10th April mob violence. Hans Raj was also used in another case to deliver identical results and even more people were sentenced to death on the weight of his evidence. However some of them including Dr Bashir were later acquitted on appeal.

Whatever happened to Hans Raj following the case? As some Indian leaders fumed and planned a retort, or wrote letters to the press, Hans Raj vanished. If he had been let go after the case, he would have been torn to pieces by the angry people of Amritsar. The British apparently rewarded him with a large sum of money and spirited him away to Mesopotamia. It is not clear if his hapless mother or sister accompanied him, perhaps not. The British, interestingly paid out about Rs 18 lakhs as compensation, a couple of years after the event, to families of many of the victims.

Many contemporaries such as Lala Hans Raj (a senior advocate) felt that Hans Raj was actually part of a larger conspiracy, in which Dyer planned in order to make an example of the British iron hand.  Jalianwala Bagh, was carefully chosen location to inflict maximum damage due to its being walled. They were also of the opinion that the Bagh firing was a retaliation for the mob actions of the 10th and that it was deliberately planned and executed by Dyer, not something that happened on the spur of the moment, as recounted by Dyer. But to date no proof exists or whatever existed have been carefully erased or vanished, like Hans Raj himself.

Dyer of course was confident all along that under no circumstance would the crown fail to support him, O’Dwyer certainly did support him to the end, but as events transpired, Dyer got castigated by the crown in the process, whereas O’Dwyer did not. VN Datta believes that both Kitchlew and Gandhiji preferred to remain silent on the Hans Raj issue and let the matter lie, for this was more on the side of national interest and presented a poor image of the crown’s handling of the law and India’s innocent.

Raja Ram in his analysis brings out a point that it was clear from records that O’Dwyer had all the time been gearing up for a major event on the 13th due to the Baisakhi celebrations, the influx of people into Amritsar, and that the event of the 10th happened by chance.  The 10th events provided an even more convenient excuse to announce that a rebellion was being staged, which is defined as ‘waging war’ under martial law. He also mentions of plans to carry out an aerial bombardment of Amritsar which was however called off to prevent damage to the Golden Temple.

Without doubt, what precipitated the disturbances was the unnecessary arrest of Kitchlew and Satyapal. They were the only two leaders who could have controlled the events of 10th April. Gandhiji stated - The police expected that the demonstrators would try to liberate the two leaders and precautions were taken, but 'there was no attempt at rescue'. The banishing of the leaders removed from Amritsar the two men who might have restrained the populace. 'Starting in anger at the action of the government in deporting the two local politicians,' reads the Hunter Report, a mob raged through the streets. That reckless decision by O’Dwyer was what led to Chettur Sankaran Nair’s statement and the court case we discussed in the previous article. In fact Gandhiji said later - The truth of the matter is that the wrong man was in the wrong box; the right man to have been in the box of the accused should certainly have been Sir Michael O'Dwyer. Had he not made inflammatory and irritating speeches, had he not belittled leaders, had he not in a most cruel manner flouted public opinion and had he not arrested Drs. Kitchlew and Satyapal, the history of the last two months would have been differently written.

Nick Lloyd’s book however presents Hans Raj’s relationship with Bashir in a different light based mostly on Hans Raj’s testimony and conflicts those provided by Draper, Mohan and Datta. Quoting Lloyd – ‘According to Hans Raj, Bashir was the man who pushed for the meeting and never turned up (Bashir was according to another account, watching the events as they transpired, from a nearby shop). He narrates that it was Bashir who ordered Hans Raj to organize a meeting at the Bagh. Conflicting Mohan’s notes, Lloyd mentions - When Hans Raj suggested that they should end the hartal, Bashir told him that he was ‘a child’ who did not understand ‘such matters’. He does not believe that Dyer was a premeditated murderer, but he did so due to the size and nature of the crowd he faced and since he had few troops had no option but to keep firing. Nigel Collett reviews Lloyd’s book and rebuts many of these comments in his article linked here.

It is also interesting to see how the judgement was reviewed at a later date in the House of Commons, especially the case of Dr Bashir. When asked by Col Yate why Bashir was released subsequently, Edwin Montagu, secretary of state for India replied “Dr. Muhammed Bashir was sentenced to death by a martial law commission in the Amritsar Leaders' case, which included the charge against him of inciting the mob in the attack on the National Bank. The sentence was reduced by Sir Edward Maclagan, Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab, to one of six years' rigorous imprisonment. The two High Court Judges appointed to examine cases tried by Martial Law Courts agreed that the part of the case against the doctor relating to the events at the National Bank rested on the, uncorroborated testimony of an approver; one judge was of the opinion that there was sufficient evidence to justify a conviction for waging war only, but the other judge would not admit the sufficiency of the evidence to justify a conviction at all. The Punjab Government, in the circumstances, recommended the release of Dr. Muhammed Bashir on certain conditions, and the Government of India accepted these recommendations.” This goes on to prove that much of what Hans Raj provided as testimony was upon detailed analysis, considered dubious and unworthy of merit or action.

It is now time to glance at a peculiar event that transpired after the massacre. Col Dyer and Maj Briggs were made honorary Sikhs by the elders of the Golden Temple. They thanked him for protecting the temple, not bombing it and for saving Amritsar from plunder by the mobs. Excused from growing a beard, Dyer did promise to cut his smoking at the rate of one cigarette a year. The Mahants then offered the services of 10,000 men to Dyer in order to fight the Afghans, which was declined. Anyway two years from then, the Akali Gurudwara reform movement would wrest power away from those powerful Mahants and turn it over to the SGPC.

Collett’s paper provides an aside that Dyer was perhaps fed with a good amount of misinformation by various vested interest groups when he landed up in Amritsar and this clouded his judgement and made him very nervous indeed. Kitchin told him that 200 armed Sikhs from the manja were about to raid Amritsar. The Superintendent of Police, Ashraf Khan had informed Dyer that the rebellion was being spread into the surrounding districts by agents from Amritsar and that large numbers were coming into the city to form a dandafauj (armed with sticks) and drive the British out.  Thus Dyer formed a belief that an army of the Punjabi insurgents would face him the next day and that he should stop it at any cost.

Collett concludes - Who were these Indian informants who had dripped such poison into the administration ears, why had they done so and why had the administration taken any notice of them?  All around these villages clustered the large houses of wealthy and locally powerful Sikh families, supporters, in the main, of the status quo. All were families whose stakes in land and property were threatened by the disorder in nearby Amritsar and who in all likelihood would have desired the British to act decisively before events got further out of hand. It is perhaps from such sources that Kitchin and Donald received the information which they passed on to Dyer. So, by default, the administration consulted its old sources and received advice that was less and less useful as time passed.

An unintended effect of all this was the overhearing of Dyer’s bombast by Jawaharlal Nehru who was lying down on an upper berth in a train compartment which had Dyer and his friends. The infuriated Nehru who was until then ambivalent about Satyagraha, decided to throw his weight into in the lead.
Years later, another Hans Raj, also a state approver, became prominent in the Bhagat Singh case. That is another story, for another day…..

Read Part 1 Dwyer, Dyer and Nair

An Imaginary rebellion and how it was suppressed – Pt Peary Mohan
The historiography of the Jalianwala Bagh Massacre - Savita Narain
The Butcher of Amritsar: General Reginald Dyer - Nigel Collett
Imperial Crime & Punishment – Helen Fein
Jalianwala Bagh Massacre - VN Datta, S Settar
The Jalianwala Bagh Massacre - Raja Ram
A Muse Abused: The Politicizing of the Amritsar Massacre - Nigel Collett
The O'Dwyer v. Nair Libel Case of 1924: New Evidence Concerning Indian Attitudes and British Intelligence During the 1919 Punjab Disturbances: Nigel Collett
British administration and the Amritsar Massacre – Horniman
The Amritsar Massacre – Nick Lloyd
Armies of the Raj: From the Mutiny to Independence, 1858-1947 - Byron Farwell
Jallianwala Bagh Commemoration volume – VN Datta
Amritsar – Alfred Draper

The Chalappuram Gang and the Ameen Lodge

Posted by Maddy Labels: , , , ,

Those turbulent years, Calicut (1920-34)

Calicut under British governance was a different place than you see it today. My own memories of childhood in Calicut take me to the days I spent with my aunt at Ambalakkat house, Chalappuram. I still remember the walk down the road from Ambalakkat towards Tali, turning right and going past the Chalappuram post office, past the gates of the Achutan Girls school and drifting to the Ganapati School, during my younger days in Calicut. And I recall the temple behind N Ambalakkat, the house of Karunakara Menon my grand uncle, Keshava Menon, Norman Achutan nair, the Anakara Vadakath people, and the homes of so many others who are going to be mentioned in this article, though they belonged to a bygone era. As I wrote in a previous article, it was a time when there were horse driven jutkas, cycle rickshaws and hand pulled rickshaws on the road. On those serene mornings, an odd Ex-servicemen bus roared by, scattering the people on the road hither and thither, and people were sometimes witness to a man (people held their noses as the wheelbarrow like cart with the galvanized iron pots passed by) held in much disgust, the ‘thotti’ who would trundle by, head hung low, pushing his night soil cart. Horns were hardly heard, the rickshaw drivers yelled ‘kooyi’ or rang a bell to get a right of way. The 30’s was still different, there was no electricity and the one person who gave a personal account and provided a vivid description of life in Calicut in the 1930’s is ARS Iyer.

Some miles away down the Chalappuram road was the Zamorin’s Padinjare Kovilakom in Mankavu, a place I heard about now and then when the elders talked. Across the road from our South Ambalakkat house was the residence and office of the ageing Advocate and freedom fighter Karaunakara Menon. It was said that he had been jailed often as a freedom fighter. My grandfather Gopala Menon, Karunakaramama’s brother, who used to be the sub registrar of Calicut had passed away before my birth.
KP Keshava Menon

But well, we are not going to talk about such mundane matters, we are instead going to talk about the people who got involved in governance, noncooperation, the independence movement, satyagraha’s, Quit India moves, regional politics and the nasty business of religious and caste divides. All of this came to the fore in a decade commencing in 1920 and ended with a muted crash in 1934 or thereabouts after which the political scene of the region and thence the state changed forever. In the process of generalizing the story, I will introduce to you the members of the Chalappuram gang and the Ameen Lodge, the very people whose dithering and bickering ways, which in reality had started after the 1921 Moplah revolt, culminated in a divide in the Congress organization of Malabar. Their acrimonious relationship held taut during the time when Muslim group called the Hindu Congressmen as Sunday Congress or the Chalappuram Gang, while the Hindu’s called the Muslim faction, the Ameen Lodge.

To get to these turbulent years, we have to touch upon the Khilafat days preceding the 1921 Moplah rebellion and I promise to be brief, as it has previously been covered in other articles. Indian nationalism was on the rise following the Jalianwala Bagh massacre in 1919 and the imposition of the Rowlett act. Emotions were running high and the desire to kick the butt of the British was omnipresent. In summary, the Khilafat movement was a pan-Islamic, political campaign launched by the Muslims in British India to influence the British and to protect the Ottoman Khalifa or Caliph following the aftermath of World War I. The effort won the support of Mahatma Gandhi, the Congress and was quickly embraced in Malabar.

1920 was a critical year in Calicut. Annie Besant, Gandhiji and Shaukat Ali came by, exhorting the masses against the British and to support the Khilafat movement. Of Gandhi’s visit to Calicut, the Moplah revolts and the Khilafat days, I had written articles referenced, which may be perused if interested.

Annie Besant chaired the Malabar District Political Conference held at Manjeri on April 28, 1920.  Various prominent leaders of Calicut such as K.P. Kesava Menon, Manjeri Ramayyar, M.P. Narayana Menon, K Madhavan Nair, Abdul Khader, P Moideen Koya, took part. A non-cooperation resolution was adopted. The meeting passed a resolution protecting the rights of the tenants of Malabar, which of course raised the ire of landlords and as a result of which they dissented and left the Congress. The Moplah outrage act was also discussed. The District Congress Committee was now reorganized as the Kerala Provincial Congress Committee. Keep in mind that while a District Congress Committee had already been formed in 1908 it was not until 1916 Palghat conference with the founding of the All India Home Rule League that Malabar began to awaken politically.

Various matters occupied the minds of our elders and activists in Malabar. On one hand the desire to oust the British was foremost, on the other hand, the local issues relating to the tenancy act, the urge to get out of the matrilineal society norms was on the other. Pressures were building from both the lower castes as well as the Moplahs regarding the tenancy aspects. The middle class Nair community was at gearing up for a formalization of inheritance norms, away from the matrilineal principles. The wealthy landlords were getting increasingly nervous and then there was the looming issue regarding the concept of marriage in the community. In all, it was a heady mix of local issues specific to Malabar and the pressures to support a larger national cause.

The original Malabar Congress was in reality a Hindu organization, dominated largely by Nair vakils
AV Kuttimalu Amma
(attorneys) from the kanamdar class. The Janmis were the Namboodiris, and the serfs or the Verumpattom holders mainly Moplahs, Tiyyas and Cherumans. With the arrival of the Khilafat, and its forged relations with the Gandhians, the social status of the educated Moplah lot were quickly elevated to the same category as the Nairs and many of them found seats and cemented relationships in various congress committees and working groups. Thus the non-cooperation activities in Calicut were taken forward in relative amity, hand in hand by the Hindus and Muslims. The Muslim activists and leaders who made their presence felt were Moidu Moulavi, Mohammed Aburahman, Hassan Koya Mulla, NP Abu, Nurudheen. It also had other supporters such as AC Raman, Keraleeyan (Kunhappa Nambiar), PC Koran etc.

In 1920 after Gandhiji had come and left, the Malabar DCC became the KPCC and was headquartered in Calicut. Madhavan Nair, Gopala Menon and Moideen Koya were soon arrested for dissent and with that the noncooperation movement started in Malabar. But it was quickly shadowed by the 1921 Moplah revolt.

The 1921 conflict is a very complex subject which I will not get into here, but suffice to say that for various reasons the Moplahs revolted and refused to pay taxes to the British. This snowballed into a violent conflict (starting at Tirurangadi) where religion was used to foment anger and retaliation by the British and some leaders, resulting in the Military being brought in and vicious repression which followed. The horrid tragedy continued for months. Thousands of Moplahs were killed, and wounded by troops, thousands of Hindus were butchered by the rebels, women subjected to shameful indignities, thousands forcibly converted and entire families burnt alive. It was a massive tragedy, the results of which we will now see.

The Congress-Khilafat movement formed by ‘interlocking the discontent of the Moplahs and the common interest of the people of Malabar’ (as EMS put it) ended up in the traumatic events of 1921. The Moplah leader’s cries to leave Hindus alone were not listened to as the bands became undisciplined and uncontrollably violent while the panic-stricken Hindus quickly withdrew their support to the Moplah’s and some even supported the British authorities.  A wedge had been firmly and deeply driven between the two communities as amity degenerated into animosity and eventually enmity.

AbduRahman Saheb
The eventual visible result in the Nair and upper Hindu classes was the edict ‘the Moplahs cannot be relied upon’. Thus there was a lot of nervousness post 1921 in Hindu minds, when it came to working with Moplahs, while at the same time, the Moplah leaders felt the same having seen some Hindus work with the British to protect themselves only during the riots and decry the Moplah leaders. 

Another complaint of the Moplah was that they observed many of the Hindu Congressmen appointed as members of the Hindu Mahasabha, supporting the Aryasabha in reconversions or working as members of the Nair Service society. The gulf between the two groups became so wide that though each claimed to be a group of congressmen, one could not cooperate with the other even in organizing the Congress day to day matters. KPK Menon concluded - Enmity towards the Congress was evident everywhere.... Some Hindu leaders accused the Congressmen of treason for not joining the Khilafatists.... The Muslims complained that those who had induced them to join the Congress, abandoned them when police oppression and firing by the troops started".

The Hindu congressmen who were vociferous in supporting the Khilafat Moplahs and who had lost their faces and voices, now went into a shell and the congress machine of Malabar ground to a complete halt. Who incidentally were these Hindu congressmen? Keshava Menon, U Gopala Menon, Madhavan Nair, MP Narayana Menon, Ambalakkat Karunakara Menon, AV Kuttimalu Amma and so on. Almost all these gentlemen and ladies resided in the aristocratic area of Chalappuram. As a result, their organization, working sometimes from the home of Madhavan Nair, was termed the Chalappuram congress or the Chalappuram Gang. Many of them were lawyers who had once left the service of the courts and worked fulltime with the noncooperation movement. Now with the turbulent situation, they had gone back to working in the cutcheri, working as lawyers on weekdays.

The British had succeeded in one aspect, planned or unplanned, they had by now managed to split the congress along communal lines in Malabar and arrested its workings, one that was now being touted as Khadi against Khaki.  On top of that they had classified the Moplah as a troublesome character and the situation was such that if a Moplah donned khadi he would be jailed.

It was at this juncture that two newspapers arrived on the scene, each to voice the concerns and objectives of these two leading religious communities, they were the Mathurbhumi started by the above group of lawyers and the Al Ameen (The voice of honesty) by the Moplah leaders. Papers like Malayala Manorama, Mithavadi and the Kerala Patrika were present at that time, but not considered nationalistic enough.

The Mathrubhumi was started by Keshava Menon and Madhavan Nair and had as directors Madhava Menon, Sundaram Iyer, A Karunakara Menon, AR Menon, P Achutan, AV Kuttimalu Amma etc. It commenced publishing thrice weekly from 1923. The paper was conceived as a tool to serve national movement for the attainment of freedom and not as a business for profit. Ramunni Menon and Karoor Neelakandhan Namboothiripad also worked for its promotion.

The Al Ameen was the brain child of Mohammed Abdurahman (Kunju Mohammed) from Kodungallur who had settled down at Calicut. Initially educated at the BEM (now MCC) college in Calicut, continuing his studies in Madras at the Muhammaden College and later the Presidency College. He left Presidency in 1920 following the boycott appeal of Gandhiji and joined the Aligarh University for his Honors degree. He arrived in Malabar in time for the Ottapalam conference, and was quickly thrust into the Congress-Khilafat movement, moving to Calicut, and later into the Moplah revolt at Eranad which he tried bring about some control, but could not. After the revolt, he was punished with a 2 year jail sentence at Bellary and Madras for disseminating false information about the government. When he arrived in Calicut after a rigorous sentence in 1923, he found the apathetic Hindu congressmen and the withdrawn Moplah congressmen doing nothing much for the cause of Indian freedom.

The Al Ameen ironically was started with the help of an appeal by Mathrubhumi to support Abdurahman’s effort. The founders and supporters lived at the Al Ameen lodge owned by Moidu Maulavi and that is the reason why they were called the Ameen lodge gang. The first issue came out in Oct 1924 and Mathrubhumi officially welcomed it with an article. In June 1930 it became a daily and was perpetually in debt. It is stated that the British dreaded many a provocative article published by it (e.g. the communist manifesto in Malayalam) and its support for the Muslim voice.

The 1927 provincial congress conference brought about a small amount of reconciliation. The Simon commission recommendations had to be protested against, boycotted and Swaraj had to be declared.The Malabar Tenancy act of 1929 was released and came in support of the kanamdars to provide them the required protections against eviction. But it also resulted in creating a new substrata of mini landlords. The divide now reduced from three to two and a semblance of haves and have-nots (the verum pattakars) an unbalanced situation which a younger groups of socialists led by Kelappan and EMS in the congress were soon to target. The lower classes were observing all this, lukewarm in supporting the congress which they believed were only favoring the landlords as mentioned earlier. A concept that there would be a congress for the rich and a congress for the poor was being bandied about by leaders like Krishna Pillai and the younger leaders.

The plan to start the next phase civil disobedience movement was debated for a while, and it was finally under the leadership of K Kelappan that the youth started their march for the Salt Satyagraha at Payannur joined by Abdurahman. Slowly Calicut caught on and a salt Satyagraha was organized in Calicut in May 1930 by Abdurahman, Krishnaswamy and Kelappan. Abdu Rahman was jailed again.

Meanwhile the two papers coexisted but were different in character. The Al Ameen paid no heed to authority, while the Mathrubhumi was cautious, desiring longevity. Al Ameen frequently decried Mathrubhumi’s silence on certain topics as a sign of its servitude to the British. But they were not too acrimonious and settled up usually, at the end of the day. It was on one such occasion that Abdurahman called the cautious Chalappuram members as the Chalappuram gang of Sunday Congressmen. The lawyers worked for the courts on weekdays and halfheartedly for the congress on Sundays, so said Al Ameen and the socialist cadre youngsters. It was in those days that the Hindu part of the KPCC exhibited the two stark factions, the upper caste Chalappuram gang and the so called Kelappan or Gandhian group.

The Guruvayoor Satyagraha was another event which made the upper caste Chalappuram gang stand apart. The fight to get entry for all Hindus into the temple heated up, with even Gandhiji involved and during this event, most of the Chalappuram congressmen sided with the trustees and the Zamorin in opposing it or by not protesting. This was something that further alienated it from some of the younger working class members of the congress led by Kelappan, EMS, Manjeri Ramayyar etc.

The Calicut Municipal Election in 1931 and the consequent developments which caused a loss of homogeneity and unity among Congressmen of Malabar is something to be briefly looked into, next. Abdurahaman was allotted the VI ward, where he had little chance of winning. Protesting, he got the VII ward from where he won handsomely. Regrettably, he did not get the nod due to a communal divide and Abdurahman stayed away from Congress activities for a while. The writings in the newspapers became acrimonious and Abdurahman did not lose the opportunity to attack the Chalappuram gang as often as he could. The rivalry continued into the 1934 elections where again Abdurahman was allotted Kelappan’s ward and got defeated, protested and left. Then came the CLA elections, where again Abdurahman lost to Sattar sait.

As squabbling was going on between the seniors, the younger group with socialist leftist views 
supporting the working classes strengthened with AKG, Krishna Pillai and EMS Namboothiripad. Very soon, they had occupied a position of popularity and control. The CSP and subsequently the Muslim league formation is yet another story, and we will get into that in the course of time. That was eventually to deal a death blow to the ageing rightist group, though anti British activities continued their course, though slightly dampened as Nehru was heard to remark once.

During and after the Salt Satyagraha, women increasingly enrolled themselves as volunteers. Many went to jail braving police harassment. Kuttimalu Amma was a classic character and was associated with the Chalappuram gang not only as the wife of K Madhava Menon, but as an activist in her own right. Many others can be listed, like Karthiyayani Amma, Narayanikutty Amma, Gracy Aron and Meena Ammaal.

As it is time to wind up, let us check what happened to all these people as time passed by. Abdurahman continued with the CSP faction, his Al Ameen folded in 1939 and Abdurahman soon drifted towards NSC Bose and the INA, getting jailed again. The Mathrubhumi thrived, but the Chalappuram gang aged and struggled with the internal left right rivalry and the rising young Turks of the CSP. Keshava Menon as you will recall went to Malaysia and Singapore, got involved with the IIL and INA. U Gopala Menon continued with his legal work and the bar association. Madhavan Nair passed away in 1933. Madhava Menon was imprisoned often but continued with Congress and Mathrubhumi administration at Calicut. Ambalakkat Karunakara Menon was also involved with administrative capacities and was arrested in the Satyagraha movement and Quit India movement, and eventually got to working for the Harijan Sevak Sangh. Kuttimalu Amma also went to jail fighting the British and continued with the KPCC for a long time. Many of those old aristocratic houses are not to be seen in Calicut anymore. I heard recently that Karunakara mamas North Ambalakkat house had been sold off. The South Ambalakkat house where I grew up is still there and I had seen it a couple of years ago, but I guess it is all a matter of time when these things will be just history.

It was in the course of these studies that I came across an interesting tidbit. During these troubling 20’s, we knew of course that covering the upper half of their bodies was neither the norm nor permitted for women of the lower classes. In fact men were also supposed to be bare bodied, as serfs. Only Nair’s and upper classes could wear shirts. As these freedom movements strengthened and took hold, all men took to wearing shirts and of course, the women too were clad in blouses. But there was another matter of interest. I read that only Nairs could sport a mustache in old Malabar and that it was during the freedom movement when many other classes took the opportunity and started sporting mustaches. It was a big thing, and to this day you will see most Malayalee’s continuing to sport mustaches, for it was not just something manly, it was perhaps a little act of protest and equality!

Well, those were different days when egos, ideology, religions, classes, castes and communities clashed. For a while the singular desire to be free from the British united everybody, and in that path to freedom, true character and grit was exposed. But as we all saw, those undercurrents continued to direct or misdirect many of the characters as days passed by, and as we know, they still do. It is true that each party had justifications for their actions, and the debates will continue on for ever. Maybe it will all change one day, when such petty aspects don’t matter anymore, maybe it won’t. Who knows???

Stealing Congresses’ thunder – Ronald J Herring, (When parties fail – ed. Kay Lawson, Peter H Merkl)
Congress and Kerala Politics – KS Nayar
History of the Communist movement in Kerala – Dr E Balakrishnan
Kerala society and politics – EMS Namboothirpad
Mohammed AbduRahman- NP Chekutty
How I became a communist - EMS Namboothirpad
Who’s who of Freedom fighters in Kerala – K Karunakaran Nair
Peasant Protest and Revolts in Malabar during the 19th and 20th Century - Dr. K. N. Panikkar
Political journalism and national movement in Malabar (Thesis) –Thilleri Vasu
Mobilisation against the State and not against the landlords: The Civil Disobedience Movement in Malabar – K Gopalankutty
The Task of Transforming the Congress: Malabar, 1934-40 – K Gopalankutty
Muhammed Abdurahiman: Pursuits and Perspectives of a Nationalist Muslim Thesis - Muhammed Poozhikuth

Ullal - An account

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And the Abakka Rani

To the north of Kasaragod, where the historical borders of Malabar ends, is Manjeshwar and a little north of it, but south of Mangalore, bordering the Netravati River and facing the Arabian Sea is the small municipality called Ullal (Ullala or Olala). At one point in Malabar’s history, it had a connection to the Zamorin’s of Calicut and with the Portuguese. It is the story of Ullala which we will fish out today, but with some detail and background, for most books just pass it off as a couple of sentences mentioning a minor queen named Abakka Devi or Tirumala Rani. There was more than that, as you can imagine.

We will start with the history of the region when the regional was centered at Puttige. The family which ruled the region was called the Chauta’s and we understand that the first recorded among the rulers was one Vikru Chauta ruling in the 14th century. They were connected with the Vijayanagara kings for a while and under the rule of the Chauta’s, Mudabhidre became a Jainist center (perhaps the Jain connections had started to the earliest of rumors that the Chauta lineage started when a Vijayanagara king had a Jain consort. There is also a purported connection between the Chautas and the Jain Chawdas of Gujarat who migrated after the Solanki clashes) and a few Basadis were built. Sanjay Subrahmanyam states - By all accounts, the control of Vijayanagar over the petty principalities along the west coast, such as Bangher, Ullal, Gangolli, Bhatkal and Gersoppa, was rather limited. These principalities were controlled by local rulers, who had hereditary claims over the local overlordship and paid tribute to Vijayanagar.

Somewhere in the 16th century, following Tirumalarasa Chauta’s rule, a parallel rule started at Southerly Ullala, perhaps by a split faction of the family, following the matrilineal (aliyasanthanam) system, also as prevalent in Malabar. It is around 1571 that the first mentions of queens ruling Ullal and Puttige come to the fore, with a Lokadevi at Puttige and Abakkadevi 1 at Ullala. Recall now that starting from the conquest in 1510, for the Portuguese had settled in Goa and were ruling the seas. 

Mangalore Fort
From this point a number of problems arose between Ullal, Malabar and the Portuguese. Much of the rice export to Malabar took place at the Ullal and from nearby ports using Malabar boats. These were stifled by the Portuguese, setting off intense rivalry and skirmishes. We see events reported as early as 1513 and 1525 when Moplah freight ships were captured and destroyed by the Portuguese.

In 1530 the Portuguese under the command of Nuno da Cunha had crossed the river of Mangalore, which flowed through the Ullal territory, and destroyed the stockade and the fortified positions with the purpose of punishing a rich merchant Shetty, who was in league with the King of Calicut, against them. In fact the Muslim merchants of Malabar had actually been attempting to subvert the blockade of Calicut by sending out the spices to Red sea port buyers using Mangalore ports such as Ullal. Until 1530 the Portuguese had not detected this method!

As the Portuguese became more and more powerful in Kanara, they started to subjugate the local chieftains and it appears that the first major brush the rulers of Ullala had with the Franks took place around 1555-58 when Dom Alvares sacked Ullala, as the Queen was found harboring Calicut vessels in her port. Not much more is known except that the Zamorin of Calicut intervened and helped her out of the trouble, but a latter event is much talked about, something that started with an argument between the neighboring principalities around 1568 as the Northern neighbor the Banghars established a treaty with the Portuguese which the Ullalas could not come to terms with. In the meanwhile, the Portuguese had other plans with Ullala. They planned to build a fort on the south bank to control the access through the river and the border with the Queen’s domain. 

The Viceroy Antao De Noronha decided on cornering the location to commence the building of the
fort, in 1568, but the queen was waiting with a large force in her own ramshackle fort, while the undisciplined Portuguese ended up torching their own tents in a night of revelry preceding the war. In the melee, the Queens forces attacked and a large number of Portuguese were killed. The following days of retaliation resulted in Ullala getting sacked. But after all this, the Portuguese decided against building a fort on the south bank and built their fort on the North bank, in the place allocated to them by the Bangar King Virasimha III.

The queen was named Abakka Devi and this famous attack of 1568 did not go unnoticed. Her courageous stance against the Portuguese was mentioned far and wide and it was at this point that the queen forged a formal relationship with the Calicut Zamorin, to work against the Portuguese in the future. The Portuguese on the other hand had different ideas as the Viceroy Luis de Ataide intervened personally and due to intense mediation, managed to get the queen of Ullala married to the King of Bangar.

An event in 1571 merits mention. The Queen who was friendly with the Zamorin and the Marakkars mentioned to her friends that the Mangalore fort could be taken easily. Kutti Poker, the Zamroin’s representative attacked the fortress following this tip and was clambering it but the servant in the fort threw out a silver chest in defense, knocking down the men scaling the fort using a ladder. Poker and his men ran with the silver but were tracked down by the Portuguese all the way to Cannanore and captured.

The queen also took advantage of the Adil Shah confederacy against the Portuguese in the 1570-74 period. It is also stated that like the Zamorin, she had many thousand Muslims in her fighting forces.The intervening years witnessed the death of the first heroic queen during a battle with the karkala’s, followed by the rule over Ullala by her brother and eventually succession by the second Abakka Devi or Tirumala Devi, her daughter, in the last decade of the sixteenth century, perhaps 1594.

During the last years of the Ullala kings reign, he built a fort in 1589 not far from the Portuguese fort, on the same bank across the river from Ullala. The Portuguese had no choice but to watch it being built by a huge team of over 30,000 men, during its construction, owing to the heavy rains and lack of fighting power. This fort became a huge bone of contention between the Bangas, the Ullala and the Portuguese. Coutinho was deputed later with three galleys and 30 ships to destroy it, late in Dec 1589. After fruitless negotiations, the Portuguese attacked and destroyed much of Ullala, once again. 

The fort however remained intact and the King of Portugal was furious that it had not been destroyed.
Abbakkadevi II renewed the hostile attitude with the Bangas. The fort on the opposite banks, under by the queen was always a threat to the Portuguese who remembered that fateful night of 1568 often and the new queen refused to destroy it. According to an instruction of the king, the viceroy of Goa sent Dorn A Azeveda to Ullala to raze the fortress to the ground and it was finally destroyed by Azeveda, in 1595 or thereafter.

A modern depicition
Abakka Devi
We also hear of her relations with the Kotakkal Marakkars late in 1599 and of support when Kunjali was blockaded, but I could not get too many details about it as yet. In her wars with Banga Raja of Managalore and against the Portuguese, Kunjali had assisted her with captains, ships and soldiers on many occasions. In 1600 however she signed a treaty with the Portuguese and eventually desisted from assisting Kunjali during his final days.

Abakka Devi a.k.a Thirumala devi continued with intrigues against the Portuguese, by siding with the Serra kingdom against the Bangas and by working with the Zamorin in Calicut as well as the Marakkars of Kotakkal. Their intense rivalry with the Bangas continued and it was in 1616 that the Bangars retaliated by attacking Ullala. The queen had no choice but to seek help from the Keladi Nayaks against the Bangas as the Bangas approached the Portuguese for help. Also to be noted here is that the Bangars but naturally, were supported by the Kolathiris of Cannanore. Historians have brought in much confusion between the two Abakka Devis and it is a bit difficult to figure out who is who at times. For example, we see from Vasantha Madhava’s comment - The common boundary between these two chiefs (the Bangar and the Chautas of Ullala) the mutual jealousy, and unhappy marriage of Vira Lakshmappa Banga IV and Abbakkadevi II of Ullala were probably the causes of the wars. At the same time, we have already seen earlier mentions that her mother was married to the Banga King. The Ullalas entered into an uneasy but relatively calm relationship with the Portuguese.

Dharma Raja and Dr Hebbar explain the intrigues and plotting by the Portuguese to work on the queen - The stunned Portuguese decided to bide for time. What could not be won on the battlefield, they knew could be won by treachery and larceny. Lakshmappa Arasa, the Banga king of Mangalore, Abbakka’s husband, was warned not to send any reinforcement to Ullal under the threat of burning his capital of Mangalore. His nephew, Kamaraya was secretly recruited to plot against his uncle, and usurp the throne at Mangalore. The conspiracy by his own nephew and the threat of a Portuguese invasion left Lakshmappa Banga-raja helpless and unable to aid his wife during the next offensive by the Portuguese. In 1567, when Abbakka Devi stopped paying tribute, there was another encounter with the rani, in which she was defeated and sued for peace. Yet, Abbakka remained a non-conformist and a rebel, which irritated the Portuguese to no end. The local legend also says that Rani Abbakka Devi was estranged from her husband, Lakshmappa Banga, who was said to have colluded with the Portuguese and fought against his wife. It is more probable that it was the nephew of her husband, Kamaraya III, who had fought against the queen. The sedition of Kamaraya III against his uncle had been supported by the Portuguese. Consequently he was able to supplant the king and rule Mangalore during the period when Abbakka Devi was opposing the Portuguese advances.

The last phase of her rule is marked by the entry of the powerful Venkatappa Nayaka into the quarrels between the Bangars and Ullalas and the role of the Portuguese in these intrigues. The Portuguese were being supplied with pepper by the powerful Ikkeri Nayak and so they had no plans to go against Venkatappa. But the Bangars had always been their friends and they could not let them down. The Banga king by now separated from Abakka, sulked at the lack of overt support from the Portuguese in going against the Ullalas and the Nayak, retreating often to Kasargod.  These events have been narrated in some detail in Sastry’s book and it is clear that the outright winner in all this was the powerful Ikkeri Nayak, for the Portuguese fortunes were by now, on the wane.

Following this, according to the Italian traveler Della Valle who visited Olala, the Banga king kidnapped his wife and later released her, but the furious queen decided to wage war against him with the help of Venakatappa. He also explains that the Portuguese fort in Mangalore was not really one, but just a house (this explains how many of these scribes spun great stories and tall tales in their memoirs making you conjure up fantastic visions). The Banga war which followed went in favor of the Nayaks and Ullala, but of course she had to pay huge tributes thenceforth to the Nayak. The queen was powerful and was rumored to have finished off her own son when he chose to plot against her, while Delle Valle insists that this is falsehood propagated by the Franks.

This was the situation as Della Valle arrived in the region and proceeded to Ullala. He had heard about the queens and wanted to see the reigning Abakka in person, and his descriptions of the region, Ullal and Abakka Devi, are invaluable visit reports.

Let’s see what he had to say….The Matrimony and good Friendship having lasted many years between the King of Banghel and the Queen, I know not upon what occasion discord arose between them, and such discord that the Queen divorced him, sending back to him, (as the custom is in such case) all the Jewels which he had given her as his Wife.

He reaches olala - The Bazar is fairly good, and, besides necessaries for provisions, affords abundance of white and striped linen cloth, which is made in Olala, but coarse, such as the people of that Country use. At the Town's end is a very pleasant Grove, and at the end thereof a great Temple, handsomely built for this Country and much esteemed. Olala is inhabited confusedly, both by Gentiles who burn themselves and also by Malabar Moors. About a mile off, Southwards, stands the Royal House, or Palace, amongst the aforesaid Groves, where the Queen resides when she comes hither sometimes. It is large, enclosed with a wall and trench, but of little moment.

Having landed, and going towards the Bazar to get a Lodging in some House, we beheld the Queen coming alone in the same way without any other Woman, on foot, accompanied only with four, or six, foot soldiers before her, who all were naked after their manner, saving that they had a cloth over their shame, and another like a sheet, worn across the shoulders like a belt; each of them had a Sword in his hand, or at most a Sword and Buckler; there were also as many behind her of the same sort, one of whom carried over her a very ordinary Umbrella made of Palm-leaves. Her Complexion was as black as that of a natural Ethiopian; she was corpulent and gross, but not heavy, for she seemed to walk nimbly enough; her Age may be about forty years, although the Portugals had described her to me as much older. She was clothed, or rather girded at the waist, with a plain piece of thick white Cotton, and bare-foot, which is the custom of the Indian Gentile Women, both high and low, in the house and abroad; and of Men too the most, and all the most ordinary, go unshod; some of the more grand wear Sandals, or Slippers; very few use whole Shoes covering all the Foot. From the waist upwards the Queen was naked, saving that she had a cloth tied round about her Head, and hanging a little down upon her Breast and Shoulders. In brief, her aspect and habit represented rather a dirty Kitchen-wench, or Laundress, than a delicate and noble Queen; whereupon I said within myself, Behold by whom are routed in India the Armies of the King of Spain, which in Europe is so great a matter! Yet the Queen showed her quality much more in speaking than by her presence; for her voice was very graceful in comparison with her Person, and she spoke like a prudent and judicious Woman. They had told me that she had no teeth, and therefore was wont to go with half her Face covered; yet I could not discover any such defect in her, either by my Eye, or by my Ear; and I rather believe that this covering of the Mouth, or half the Face, as she sometimes doth, is agreeable to the modest custom which I know to be common to almost all Women in the East. I will not omit to state that though she was so corpulent, as I have mentioned, yet she seems not deformed, but I imagine she was handsome in her Youth; and, indeed, the Report is that she hath been much of a Lady, of majestic beauty, though stern rather than gentle.

Her second son Saluva Rairu was living with her when Delle Valle visited her. He continues on explaining how the palace/house is built and furnished, stopping to explain the position held by the Ullala king, and the difficulties he had eating food, served ceremoniously to him. He then moves on to Manel where the queen had gone, to see the brave lady a second time. Their brief audience was again, conducted outdoors.

Accordingly I went and, drawing near, saw her standing in the field, with a few Servants about her, clad as at the other time, and talking to the Laborers that were digging the Trenches. When she saw us she sent to know wherefore I came, whether it were about any business? And the Messenger, being answered that it was only to visit her, brought me word again that it was late and time to go home, and therefore I should do so, and when she came home she would send for me.

But she never did and Delle Valle continued with other pursuits, disappointed. Later he goes to a Krishna temple and documents the visit in great detail. All very interesting original first person reports and invaluable to a Kanara historian.

And of course there are many legends and myths surrounding these queens, multiplying many fold these days with creative writers entering the fray. A comic book by Amar Chitra Katha also provides fodder. She is described as the fearless Abahaya rani, agile and dressed in a sari (we know that is not true), we can read of her relations with her husband who chose to support the Franks, of her ability to fire flaming arrows, of her taking refuge in a mosque and dying in the battlefield muttering – drive the firangis back and so on, but much of all that are just that, legends and myths. Nevertheless, she was a brave queen and revered by her subjects, and she collaborated, schemed and fought for them.

Queen Abakka (Buuka Devi Chauta) passed away around 1640, but it is not clear if she died in a battlefield as legends portray. Ullal once famous for its Jain temple, cotton, rice and cane cultivation, quietened down in history books and vanished leaving behind only the memory of a Jain queen who resisted the Portuguese. A few kings followed, but were not distinguishable in any way.

Political History of Kanara - Vasantha Madhava
Goa Kanara Portuguese relations 1498-1763 – BS Shastry
The Travels of Pietro Delle Valle in India, Vol 2- – Hakluyt society
Portuguese hegemony over Mangalore - Mohan Krishna Rai K.
Muslims in Dakshina Kannada – A Wahab Doddamane
The Aravidu Dynasty of Vijayanagara – Henry Heras
The Portuguese in South Kanara. By J. Gerson da Cunha, Journal of Asiatic society
Queen Abbakka Chowta of Ullal and Moodadbidri – Bipin Shah
The Intrepid Queen Rani Abbakka Devi of Ullal - Dr. Neria H. Hebbar

Pics – Della Valle’sAbakka, RS Naidu - Amar Chitra Katha for the modern depiction, Mangalore fort 1783 - Wikimedia

Conolly and the Calicut Canal

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The Canoli Canal of Calicut

The story of this Canal is quite engaging. Most people believe that the Elattur - Kallai canal as it was formally known was the brainchild of the man who lent his name to the project, the result of which was eventually called the Canoli Canal or more correctly the Conolly Canal. Well, the idea germinated well before that actually and what most people also do not know is that while Conolly lived to construct the canal, he also lost his life due to an argument over a simple monetary issue arising from this canal construction.

To get to the scene of the story, we have to go to a Calicut which was quite different from the bustling entrepot it once was many centuries ago. The Arab and Chinese traders had gone, the visitors from other nations had declined to a trickle and barring pepper, coir and timber, held little value to the outside world. The Zamorin was no longer in power and the new lords, the British, quickly flourished in other metropolises such as Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. Calicut which had once been their first port of entry had given way and was mostly forgotten, now home for some British and Anglo Indian residents amidst the local populace. Trade continued, a few factories struggled, but it remained simply the district headquarters of a locale abundant in natural resources, not anymore important from a strategic or military perspective, the Zamorin and other lords having been subjugated. It was quite different from the Calicut we see today, and mostly a ‘not happening’ place where the posting such as that of a collector could be viewed as a punishment or banishment. This was where Henry Valentine Conolly was posted to, in 1840. Calicut I understood, at that point of time had probably 20 Europeans living in the West Hill area. Burton pitied the Malabar expatriate’s life in September, during the monsoon; as he remarked “what a dreary life they must be leading, with no other sounds in their ears but the roaring wind, the pelting of the rain and the creaking of the palm trees.”

Calicut was naturally fortified, I suppose, for it was only accessible from the sea and through a few cart roads from inland. Beypore was a nearby port which provided landing facilities for deep sea ships and so if somebody wanted to come from afar, places such as Bombay, they sailed down to Beypore and then boarded a bullock cart to jerkily reach the capital of the Zamorins, where the bigwigs lived and where the big bazar was situated. Much later the first southerly terminus of the railway was also situated at Beypore. From Calicut they had a road to Ponnany and on to Palghat, and from Beypore to Nilambur and on to Ooty. There was also a road to Mahe, Cannanore and Tellicherry, but all these were traversed by carts or with palanquins if the journey was short. So but naturally the more comfortable trip was by sea.

The very concept of river navigation from the North to the South tip of Kerala was originally detailed by HS Graeme in his 1922 report, highlighting the fact that this was a perfect method during monsoons when seafaring was difficult and of course the roads potholed and treacherous. In his report he identified the continuity of a water passageway between Quilon and Calicut. He also mentioned that the two rivers, Korapuzha and Beypore River (Chaliyar) which bound the northern and the southern extremities of the Calicut taluk were convenient for transportation of firewood to the coast, and would be useful for conveying grain to the port of Calicut. Another reason was that pepper and other spices growing in the north-eastern parts of Wayanad hills were brought to the coast through Kuttiady River and Korapuzha. Hence the opening of a canal could facilitate commodity flow to Calicut and other ports.

Subsequent collectors and administrators worked on this concept, namely Conolly and Robinson, to create the canals and connect up the gaps in order to create such a network. But let’s take a look at the water passageways which existed.

As the eloquent gazetteers - Innes and Evans wrote - The river system of Malabar, in itself as simple as it is extensive, is complicated by the ramifications of a network of backwaters near the sea. Apart from the three great tributaries of the Cauvery, which drain the Attapadi Valley and nearly the whole of the Wynaad taluk, all the rivers of the district flow down from their watersheds in the Western Ghats to the Arabian Sea. With the single exception of the Ponnani River, none of them exceeds a hundred miles in length; and only when the south-west monsoon is blowing, and the rainfall on the ghats is measured in scores of inches, do they roll down in a heavy flood. For nine months in the year the majority are shallow streams and, unable to force their way through the sand banks formed along the coast by the persistent action of the littoral current, lose themselves in back waters and creeks and arms of the sea. Many of these backwaters have been linked up by artificial canals, forming important means of communication; and, in tie south of the district, there is an uninterrupted waterway from Tirur to Travancore.

So much for the river system in Malabar, and how it connected to the South. Now how about the North?

The Valarpattanam River in Chirakkal taluk, though not the longest river in Malabar, probably discharges into the sea the greatest volume of water. The wide and deep estuary of the river, which forms the port of Valarpattanam or Baliapatam, opens out on the north into a backwater, into which falls the Taliparamba River with the drainage water of the north-east of the taluk. The Sultan’s canal connects this backwater with the creeks and arms of the Mount Deli River, which again joins the Nileswaram River. The major portion of the last-named stream lies in South Canara, but for some miles it is the northern boundary of Malabar. So the first of the canals was the so called Sultantodu or Sultan Canal built by the Ali Raja (Ali Raja built it with Hyder’s approval) in 1766, a 2 mile long canal to link the lagoons of Madayi and Irukkur, thus enabling uninterrupted communications between Nileswaram and Kannur. This canal is believed to be the first known initiative to link inland water bodies. The Anjarakkandi and Mahe rivers, which drain the rich pepper country of Kottayam and northern Kurumbranad, are navigable for a few miles only front their mouths, and are unconnected with one another and with other streams. But the Kotta River in the center of the latter taluk, which takes its name from a fort, which commanded its entrance in the days when the Kottakkal pirates harried the shipping along the coast, opens up a long chain of inland waterways.

A short canal connects the river on the north with Badagara, the chief port of Kurumbranad; and the Payyoli and Conolly canals links it on the south with the Agalapuzha, Elattur, Kallayi and Beypore rivers and with Calicut, the capital of the district. The canal proper, which was constructed by HV Conolly, Collector in 1848, consists of a cutting about 3 miles in length running through Calicut city and connecting the Elattur or Korapula and Kallayi rivers. It thus forms part of the line of water communication from Badagara to Beypore.

Continuing on, the Beypore River or Chaliar, 96 miles long, famed of old Beypore for its auriferous sands, is the only river of Malabar which draws a great part of its waters from above the crest of the ghat ranges. It has three main branches, which unite a few miles above Nilambur. The three streams, reinforced by many large feeders, unite in the heart of the famous teak plantations in the middle of the Nilambur valley, and thence flow into the sea at Beypore, six miles south of Calicut, once the terminus of Madras Railway.

Now we get to know another purpose of the Conolly Canal, other than that of linking the river systems of the North to the Chaliyar. Vast quantities of timber are floated down from the Nilambur forests to Beypore, and thence through the Conolly canal to Kallayi, close to the Calicut bazaar, becoming one of the greatest timber ports in India.

The Kadalundi River, which is connected with the Beypore River by a creek, flows down through the Eranad and Walavanad taluks from the wilds of the Silent Valley, and empties itself into the sea at Kadalundi after a course of some 76 miles. An attempt, continued down to 1857, was made by several Collectors to complete an uninterrupted system of water communication from Badagara in Kurumbranad to Trivandrum in Travancore, by constructing a navigable canal from this river to one of the arms of the Ponnani river; but the cutting, though still in existence, is impassable except for the smallest boats at the height of the monsoon. The oily mud, which oozes up from below into the water of the canal, is the great obstacle to navigation. In rainy weather the Kadalundi River is navigable for small boats as far as Karuvarakkundu at the foot of the Ghats, but in the dry season they cannot ‘ascend higher than Puttur amsam in Ernad taluk. The Ponnani River, the longest of all the rivers traverses the taluks of Palghat and Ponnani, skirts the southern boundary of Waluvanad, and, after receiving between the railway stations of Pallippuram and Kuttipuram the drainage water of the last taluk from its great tributary, the Tutha River, discharges itself into the sea at the port of Ponnani. North of the town a wide reach of backwater stretches away to the railway system at Tirur, and to the south the river is linked by a canal with the Veliyanorod and Chettuvayi backwaters, and ultimately with the long line of waterways that ends only at Trivandrum.

Though somewhat boring to the lay reader, the foregoing paragraphs explain to you how the waters formed a river-sea-canal link from the North of Malabar all the way to Travancore, if not always, at least during the monsoon season when the rivers were full and upto the brim. The three canals which linked them all were the Sultan Canal in N Malabar and the Payyoli and Conolly Canals in Malabar and the Aleppey Canal.

In 1845, the detailed project report was submitted to the Madras government and received administrative sanction in 1846. In 1848, the Canal was commissioned. Though the extension work of Canal was stopped after the murder of Canolly in 1855, Robinson who took over, supported the completion of the project.

Now let’s look at the commercial reasons driving Conolly’s canal project. We discover that it was mainly due to teak wood requirements for ship construction. But well before all that started the appropriation of the forests by the British, step by step. In Malabar, as well as in some of the adjoining parts of Kanara, most of the land had from time immemorial been in the possession of large landlords, who claimed proprietary rights over the forests as well as over cultivated lands. Tippoo Sahib, the Sultan of Mysore, however, had, while he ruled these districts, in an arbitrary manner set aside these rights, particularly the right of felling timber, which he claimed as a Royal privilege. At first these districts were placed under the Government of Bombay and their wealth in timber attracted the attention of that Government. In August 1800 the Court of Directors authorized the Bombay Government, to assume the right of felling' timber on behalf of the East India Company.

It was in 1844 that HV Conolly, established Teak plantations in a large scale near Nilambur with a point of view "to replace those forests which had vanished from private carelessness and rapacity." 
Conolly determined to raise Teak forests on a large scale on Government account. After strenuous efforts, he obtained and selected an area of around 19,000 acres, where teak cultivation started, following a difficult phase with respect to getting the seeds to germinate.

Conolly commenced his experiments in 1842, and in 1844 he had raised 50,000 healthy seedlings. By 1878 the area planted up aggregated 3,436 acres, and the oldest compartments, which at that time were on an average 33 years old, were stocked with a dense wood of Teak poles nearly 100 feet high. These poles found a ready market at Calicut and so some areas were cleared and replanted, and soon a species of mahogany was also introduced as a mixture, a move in the right direction, for it was found that Teak thrives best when growing in company with other trees.

The justification continues - The selection if land was based on proximity to the river going towards the sea. Mr. Conolly had selected for his operations the valley of the Nilambur River, which runs into the sea at the port of Beypur. The rivers are navigable by rafts up to January, and below Mambat, the most westerly point of the Plantation, the navigation is so easy that the largest rafts can be managed by one man. The river which drains the valley empties itself into the sea at Beypore, and 4 miles from the mouth of the river a navigable canal communicates with another river which traverses the heart of the Calicut Bazaar, the best timber market on the west coast. This river is connected with the Calicut roadstead by a bar always open, so that the cost of conveying timber from the Plantations alongside ship may be regarded as at a minimum. That was the reason behind the construction of the Canal.

To construct the canal, a cut was made by Conolly through a high ground to connect the Ponnani and Kadalundi rivers. At that time, it was called the Calicut Canal. The Conolly canal passed through the amsams of Kasaba, Kottuli, Kachcheri, Edakkad, Karannur, Makkada and Elattur, and connected the Kallayi with the Elattur River. The British administration report of 1885 mentions plans to construct further canals to link the inland links all the way down south.

An extensive seaboard, with backwaters running parallel to it, affords easy means of transit; whilst the artificial canals made to connect these backwaters give a continuous water communication along the coast, of 77 miles from Cochin to the railway station of Tiroor, of 43 miles from Beypore to Badagara, and again of 22 miles from Belliapatam to the frontiers of South Canara. Records mention the following - The canals are on an average between 10 to 12 feet broad, and 1 or 2 to 3 and 4 feet deep at low water, and are intended only for small boats. None of them are in a state of efficiency at all times, and 8 miles of cutting are required to connect the Tanore Canal with the Kadalundy and Beypore rivers. It is, however, in contemplation to complete a good navigable canal from Tiroor to Cochin, and push the work on eventually from Badagara to Mahe, Tellicherry, and Cannanore.

The land acquisition for the project in Calicut did not prove to be a big issue for various landlords and the Zamorin gifted the land to Conolly. The owners of agricultural land of the neighborhood insisted that the canal be used supply them clean water for irrigation, and this was agreed to in principle, with the added condition that the EIC would also implement steps to block any ingress of salt water into the agricultural lands. The work started in right earnest and the wage (for the day workers) for the hard labor of excavation and digging was supposedly a big feast at the end of the day. A new mud bund or lock was created at the sea entrance and this was called Puthiya Chira (nowadays known as Puithiayara) to stop salt water ingress. Between conception in 1845 and completion in 1848, many people of Calicut were involved in its construction. As a researcher J Shinoy mentions - The plan and estimate of the canal was submitted in 1845 and got approval in 1846. The fast track way of completion and the opening of the canal in 1848 and the subsequent busy traffic experienced in the canal showed the momentousness of the absence of a water transport system inside the city till the day.

The Connolly canal also had an extension to the Valiyangadi or Big Bazaar which connected to the Kallayi River. This link, known as ‘Bazaar Canal’, was utilized for commodity movements from and to the Valiyangadi. A later collector, the famous William Logan was the person who decided the location of Calicut’s railway station (the Chaliyam railway station lost out in the bargain) upon what once was the route of the dried up Robinson canal or the Bazar canal. In fact he chose the site due to its proximity to the Robinson Canal which he thought could be utilized for bringing the construction materials to the site and it can also as a drainage for the proposed railway station. As per the settlement records a space known as Puzhavakku existed facilitating this. The field study mentioned by Shinoy, corroborated with the archival records identified and confirmed the huge drainage connecting Valiyangadi, which go further south by passing through the present railway colony premises, as the remnants of the old Bazaar canal.

Following the murder of Collector Conolly, further extension of the canal network and the last parts of the Elathur Kallayi canal project was stopped till Robinson decided to complete it, though not all the extensions. The canal was also used extensively for passenger and goods movement by small boats and a jetty was built at Eranhipalam, but in 1872 or thereabouts, major issues cropped up with damages to the banks and resulting flood of salt water into the fields. The EIC and the British government later washed its hands off such issues, stating that the canal was built for transport purposes and not irrigation. The Eranhipalam jetty stood next to the present road bridge and its upkeep was for a while taken care of by a contractor named Alikoya. The canal administrators levied a small toll of 1 anna on boats traversing it. Boats ferried back and forth with goods, mail and passengers. The canal was also busy with large paddy boats belonging to wealthy merchants of the city, thatched with a semi-circular roof of leaves, which carried 1 to 4 tons of cargo to Calicut port. 
By 1924, Canolly Canal had over 772 country boats and 2541 rafts plying through it. After the road transport system strengthened, the canal's glory diminished.

So much for the Canal itself. But how did Conolly’s murder which happened in 1855, have anything to do with the Canal? It goes back to the confession of one Malakel Mammu who harbored Conolly’s murderers on the days preceding the attack. Mammu actually had two houses situated some 70 yards apart in different compounds, both stood on an open space to the east of the canal, about three quarters of a mile due-east of Conolly’s house, which was nearly three miles due-north of the town of Calicut.

The Mappilas who murdered Connolly were escaped convicts from Calicut Jail (from the Town Jail, not the courthouse) called Valasseri Emalu, Puliyakunat Tenu, Chemban Moidin Kutti and Vellattadayatta Parambil Moidin. They had escaped from a prison working party on the 4th of August 1855, spent the following month on the run in various houses in the foothills of the Ghats. After a prayer at the Mambram Thangals shrine, they hid in Mammu’s house for several days, before taking vows at a Nercha ceremony where they sang a song called Moideen Mala Pattu. During this session, their war knives were passed through incense smoke.

Mammu had his own grudge with Conolly over a simple matter of unpaid arrears, and is explained as follows by the investigators - He (Mammu) had also had a good deal of intercourse with Mr. Conolly since the canal was begun. On account of his being in default for some work he undertook on the canal, Mr. Conolly was forced to bring a suit against him and obtained a judgment for the money (Rupees 156/-). As Mammu had little property, Mr. Connolly out of compassion recovered the sum (except interest which he forgave him) by keeping back the rent for the temporary Jail. Mammu in a petition in October 1854 demanded this rent which was refused by Conolly since Mammu himself owed money to Government, telling Mammu he should think himself lucky to be let off what he owed. Collett notes that this was the background of Mammu’s personal bad feeling towards Mr. Conolly.

You may now wonder what this temporary jail and its rent was all about – The investigator Collett hastens to explain - While the canal was being made, a number of prisoners were located in a shop. Mammu used to exert himself to procure security for those confined in default, and himself lately went security for a bad character from a distant taluk. I am satisfied from inquiries that the Calicut convicts have regular agents in different places about Calicut (usually shopmen in the neighborhood of their working places) to whom their relatives entrust money and provisions, and where, with the connivance of the Peons they communicate, with whomever they choose. Mammu was, Collect expects, one of these agents. So in summary, Conolly withheld a sum of Rs 156/- from Mammu for defaulting in his work in the Canal project by not paying him rent for jailing some coolies.

Such was his rage that Mammu got involved in the detailed planning of the next steps to murder Conolly.  He was also instrumental in ferrying the killers a few days before the murder across the river and also after the event. It became clear that Mammu (from the evidence provided by his wife and son) procured them food and shelter on the 6th September on their return. It was also established that he received a sword from one of them, and that he took infinite pains at a subsequent period to conceal two swords and a bayonet which were eventually discovered by the Police. He likewise displayed an extreme anxiety to remove evidence of his having communicated with the assassins, and together with his brother and another prisoner endeavored to suborn some of the witnesses to give false evidence.

On the evening of Tuesday, the 11th Sept 1855, the murderers hacked Conolly to death. I had covered the various aspects, motives and background in an earlier article, but as you saw above, Mammu (his wife Cunyachy and son Kungi Peri), who had profited initially from the Canal work, was a co-conspirator in the murder plot and its success. Malakel Mamu was transported to the Chicacole jail in Kalingapatanam - formerly in the Ganjam district and in today’s Andhra Pradesh (Srikakulam) where it appears he passed away. All his land and properties were attached by the Collector.

Urbanity and spatial processes – Jesinth Shinoy (with special thanks and acknowledgement for the original work)
Madras district gazetteers, Malabar - CA Innes, FB Evans
Transport and communications in India prior to steam locomotion Vol 2 – Jean Deloche
Indian Forestry - Sir Dietrich Brandis
Manual of the Administration of the Madras Presidency
A Statistical Atlas of the Madras Presidency
Malabar Paithrukavum Pratapavum – article on Canoli Canal by TB Seluraj.
Kozhikodinde Paithrukam – TB Seluraj

Pics – Conolly canal map – US Army map service, April 1959, Conolly Canal - By Vengolis - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0