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Uneen ‘Ramasimhan' Saheb’s story

Posted by Maddy Labels: , ,


Some years ago, Nidheesh introduced this story to history enthusiasts. It was certainly a sad tale, and a classic case where bigotry and fanaticism were at a peak in Eranad. The exact details are still shrouded in a bit of mystery but I thought it would be interesting to revisit the area and retell the events leading up to the macabre incident, consolidating details gleaned from Abdurahiman KP’s thesis (for which I extend my thanks to him) covering Mappila heritage and the court ruling.

The characters of this story come to the fore at the British rubber estates at Palipilly near Trichur which one Kiliyamannil Moideen helped manage. Over the years, Moideen, hailing from Chemmankadavu near Kodur in Malappuram, made a bit of money and acquired land and properties (mainly rubber estates and coconut farms), leaving behind all of this immense wealth to his son Uneen when he passed. It is said that Moideen was honored with a Khan Bahadur (as a tax paying landlord) title by the British, though I could find no corroboration to that. Nevertheless it is one of those rare cases where a Moplah had acquired wealth and properties in Malabar by dint of his own means.

It appears that Uneen Saheb as he was known for his wealth, charitable disposition and high status, was also titled Khan Bahadur. More importantly he gave back large amounts during holy months to the public by way of gifts and feasts and was well regarded by the common man. He was also quite a philanthropist, maintaining many a local mosque and a madrasa. In a nutshell he was a great provider to the otherwise poor community of Eranad Moplahs. He was also a regular family man, having married the daughter of Khan Bahadur Kalladi Unnikannu a timber merchant from Mannarghat and the father of three sons and a daughter. Not only did he have a home at Chemmankadavu but also a large rubber estate and residence near Angadipuram called the Malapparamba or Malaramba bungalow. It is not clear if he owned the 600 acre Malaramba estate, for it is also mentioned that he had actually leased it for 90 years from the Kundrackal Nair family who were the erstwhile landlords of the area, and had renamed it the KM Mohithu Rubber Estate some time at the turn of the twentieth Century. The Moidu brothers managed it together, legally.

The stately Uneen Saheb would be seen now and then on the mud tracks or the so called road, driving his American Ford car, a sight which was to behold. His brothers Ali Bappu and Kunjahmed were also doing well and highly regarded. Now, Angadipuram was not like it is today with snarling traffic and in those days, these area was thickly forested and life, quite hard for the common man. One may wonder which period we are in, well it was not that far back, it was in the decades between the Moplah revolt of 1921 and before independence of 1947.

The relations between the peoples of Malappuram and Perinthalmanna in Valluwanad were still very tense. The Hindus were wary of the Moplahs who they no longer trusted, especially the volatile Eranad Moplah. The Moplahs were equally angry at the seemingly haughty Hindu landlords. The situation was kept warm by strident Friday sermons at various mosques. Uneen Saheb the lone wealthy Moplah landlord, had wisely armed himself with a few guns for personal safety.

1944 proved to be the decisive year. After some mysterious events which we will get into shortly, Uneen Sahib felt that he had enough of his religion and decided to convert to Hinduism (some say it was in 1945). It was as you can infer a very rare event and required the support and efforts of the Arya Samaj at Calicut and seemingly the ministrations of the popular people’s lawyer Manjeri Rama Ayyar. The Arya Samaj was at that time winding down its efforts after all the reconversions activities, handling the issues of many forcefully converted Hindus, during the 1921 years.

Rama Ayyar was supportive of the disaffected Moplah during the riots of 1921 and I had written earlier about his grouse about the way in which trials were conducted after the riots. During the period we are talking about, I recall him as being in the service as the Dewan of the Nilambur Raja and practicing Buddhism after having been ostracized by his own family. I am not entirely sure therefore that he took Uneen Saheb to the Arya Samaj at Calicut, but it appears that he was supportive of Uneen Saheb’s initiative. Soon Uneen was back as a new man, with his new holy book, Dayanand Saraswathi’s ‘Satyarth Prakash’ proudly held in his hand, after having been purified through an Agnihotra puja and renamed ‘Ramasimhan’. The news was splashed on various dailies printed for the area and the Ft St George register/gazette.

Questions were asked as to why he did all this. It appears that Uneen had a terrible stomach ailment which was finally cured by a Hindu ascetic who as I could understand, pointed out that his problems were due to his misappropriation and wrongful use of some stones from the ruins of the nearby Mattummel Narasimha temple. Some others opine that he happened to find the idol of Naramsimha belonging to a temple located at a corner of his estate and this made him believe firmly in this deity. 

Anyway it is said that he embraced his new religion and started to follow the strict rules of a Brahmin, by becoming a vegetarian, employing a Brahmin cook named Raju (or ramu) from Trichur. His home, once a place where Muslim clerics met and gave sermons from, now was lined with Hindu idols and echoed with the sounds of Vedic chanting facilitated by a new live in priest and guide. .

His brothers also converted with Ali Bappu now renamed as Dayasimhan. I understand that Ramasimhan additionally requested that Dayasimhan be initiated into the ways of a Namboodiri Brahmin and with that, his name was changed to Narasimhan Namboodiri.

The Muslim clergy were incensed, not only due to this sudden turn of events involving one of their most prominent sponsors and supporters, but also at his embrace of a religion they had detested, all these years. They were insistent that heresy Uneen had committed. Determined and organized efforts were made by many clerics and old friends to point out to Uneen about the wrong path he was now taking and to direct him back to the Islamic way of living, but all of that met with dismal failure. 

Frustrated by this turn of events, they now spread a rumor that Uneen Sahib had gone insane. Under the influence of the powerful Muslim clergy, Uneen Sahib‘s father-in-law, the wealthy Unnikammu now took away his daughter stating that she was reluctant to join the Hindu fold and his granddaughter (other accounts state that he had divorced her after his conversion, infuriating his father in law). Uneen’s sons were then sent to Birla College of Delhi for higher studies in Hinduism. They were after conversion, initially named Fateh Singh and Zorawar Singh respectively but later known as Udaya Simhan and Satya Simhan. All in all this was a rare case, and raised the eyebrows of both Hindus and Muslims of Malabar, to say the least.

Uneen Saheb, now staunchly in the fold of Hinduism, retorted to his questioners that he had not committed any error, stating that his grandmother who, upon being captured by Muslims, mahy ayear ago, had committed the fault of converting to Islam. He clarified that he was just re-converting to Hinduism to rectify the previous error and atone for the sins of his grandmother. Perhaps he was alluding to the 1921 period or maybe it occurred during one of the smaller revolts preceding the 1921 revolt, but we can’t be sure of all this.

During the days and months following his conversion, Ramasimhan was an ardent follower of Hinduism, dressed like a typical Brahmin. The small mosque which once existed in front of his Bungalow had been converted into visitor's room for Hindu saints and priests while Brahmin priests came regularly to his house and performed various homas and pujas. Some say that he even refused entry to his old Muslim friends and clerics to his home in the following months.  He started contributing to Hindu temples and relief of needy Brahmins, stopping of course all those massive contributions to the Muslim establishments he once patronized. Ramasimhan as I read, also surrendered 4 of his 5 guns, which he had kept for personal safety, to the police, on the ground that as he was a Hindu he believed in Ahimsa.

After Uneen had been converted from Islam to Hinduism, he diverted the large sums of money that he was accustomed to contribute to Muslim charities & spent them on Hindu charities. In particular, he renovated the Mattummal temple we mentioned earlier, located in his estate and was responsible for ensuring poojas and regular worship there. He began a diligent, study of the Hindu scriptures & was studying the Bhaghavad Gita, and had perpetually with him, a Nambudiri, to teach mantrams.

In 1946, matters started to take a new direction when Kunjahmed, the youngest brother who converted with Uneen, decided to revert back to Islam and became intent on persuading his elder brother also to return to the Islamic fold. A meeting was convened at the bungalow for this purpose and this meeting was attended by some 50 Mappilas accompanied by eminent Musliyars. A serious debate on religion took place and Ramsimhan who had thoroughly studied Hinduism by that time debated with the Musliyars on the correctness of his path. All the attempts of Musliyars in convincing Ramasimhan were in vain. In the end the Musaliyars announced that Ramsimhan was possessed with evil spirits (Kafir Jinn) and that he should consume 14 oranges which had been ritually blessed. Accordingly these 14 oranges were given to him, but Ramasimhan remained who he was, still converted and in the Hindu fold.

Matters took a turn to the worse when Dayasimhan after his upanayaman (holy thread) ceremony decided to get married to a 15 year old Nambuthiri Anthrjanam named Kamala, daughter of Mangalath Manakkal Narayanan Namboothiri. Narasimhan Namboothiri went on to become a priest at the nearby Mattummal temple and lived with his wife at the bungalow, while Ramasimhan lived at his old mansion at Chemmankadavu. But to look after his brother and his estate matters, he occasionally visited the Malaparamabu bungalow.

The failure of the reconversion discussions increased the wrath of Mappilas. A few of them convened to conduct a secret meeting during which the Musliyars sentenced Ramasimhan an apostate and stated that the punishment ascribed per Sharia laws, i.e. capital punishment of death should be inflicted on him. It was thus that Izzatul Islam, an organization to help the neo-converts to Islam, took up the matter and selected a murder squad. Seven persons, mostly hailing from Pookotur, held a meeting at Kottappadi maidaan. They were Parambarn Mammed, Kunyat Kalathial Moideen kutty, Pulian Muhammed, Muttaylkkaran Ayamutty, Muttayikkaran Ayamu, Kalathingal Kunhamu and Illikkappadi Ayamutti. These persons later assembled in the estate of Abu Baker Haji after formal prayers on an appointed day (or a later opportune day as it appears) armed with a gun and 20 bullets.

While the communal tensions up in the north were at a fever pitch and soon starting to boil over in a frenzy, the macabre event which rocked our sleepy hamlet of Angadipuram took place on the night of August 2nd 1947 and the morning of the 3rd. For a while nobody hard much about all this, in the furor of India’s independence announcement on the 15th August, but matters came to light when the case was taken up in the courts of Calicut and later appealed at the Madras high court.

Let’s now look summarily at what happened from the Madras high court files. According to the story narrated by the persons who were in that bungalow on the night of the offence and the murderous assault by the seven member hit team, the first inkling that any strangers were trying to enter came from a banging on the front door. Although there were three bolts, only the bolt on the top had been secured and so when the door was shaken, the bolt fell and the door opened. The cook Raju Iyer before passing away in the hospital, deposed that a little after midnight (2 a.m. was that time generally agreed upon), he heard a sound of a battering of the front door. A man kicked open the door, flashed the torch in his face and immediately began to attack him. The attack at varipous members of the hpousehold continued and later he saw a number of persons running away after attacking Narasimhan.

Ramasimhan it seems came rushing out saying "Who is it, Eda" and then cried out to his brother Narasimhan "Boy, I am cheated". Ramu later saw somebody cutting up Ramsimhan with a weapon about a cubit long. He was able to see what was happening not only by the moonlight shining through the door, but by the light of a torch which was being directed by the assailant. Narasimhan then came running and flashed a torch to see what was happening. Raju then saw this person chasing Narasimhan, but is unable to say whether or not that person was the same man who had attacked Ramasimhan. A little later, when things had become a little quieter, he made his escape but somebody fired at him with a gun and wounded him in the hip. He was actually mortally wounded by then (whether from the bullet wound or slashes is not clear).

A driver sleeping in Ramasimhan’s Ford car in a shed that had been erected against the southern wall of the bungalow, escaped when some of the assailants arrived there and started to set fire to the car. All he could say was that he could make out from the accent of the assailants that they were Moplahs.

It was also soon clear that the ring leader was a leather merchant and head of the Izzatul Islam organization, which was set up to relieve needy Muslims and to send converted men to Ponnani for training while the other accused were small timers such as shop keepers, cart drivers, laborers and tea shop owners. Seven days later, Kunjahmed, the youngest brother of Ramasimhan, his father in law Kutti Ali and one Haneefa were arrested by the police team headed by Keshava Menon. It appears there were many bloodstained footprints in the bungalow and these matched the foot size of Haneefa. Two months later, a special investigator was appointed to look into the case. More arrests were made after discovering broken glass and blood stains at the bungalow and cross matching them to somewhat recent scars on a couple of other suspects. A piece of cloth found in a well was connected to a torn short of one of the assailants.

An approver gave additional information that the conspiracy was hatched a week or two before the event. These persons who plotted and teamed up later left in ones and twos apparently agreeing to meet at Abu Baker Haji's rubber estate at 10 p.m. or thereabouts. They had with them some unlicensed guns and as agreed amongst themselves, each one of them had a knife. They then proceeded to the Malaparamba bungalow and while the witness kept watch, the others went inside into the compound after clambering over the southern wall.

Briefly this is what happened – After rattling the door open, they reached through the corridor in the southern room where Narasimhan and his newly wedded wife had been sleeping. First they struck Kamalam the young lady, and seeing this Narasimhan ran away. Two or three assailants chased him and struck him from back. Meanwhile the other four reached the room of Ramasimhan and slashed him up with their knives. He tried to resist with his pillow but a hard slash from the back put an end to Ramaslmha’s sad life. The cook Ramu Iyer was shot and seriously wounded and died in the hospital, but after providing definitive statements.

About ten minutes later, all the seven accused fled the scene. The approver stated that he had fired a shot at Raju Iyer the cook who was running away. The team then proceeded towards a tank about four miles away to wash off the blood on their persons and dispose their weapons and blood stained clothes. They were later discovered at the muthalakot pond in Kulathoor by the police.
In the days which followed the bungalow was ransacked and the temple and its surroundings were apparently pillaged and destroyed.

The sessions court at Palghat and the district court at Calicut convicted all seven accused based on Police Constable Kesava Menon’s painstaking efforts at unraveling of the conspiracy, sentencing them first to death and later life imprisonment, but they appealed and it went to the Madras high court in Jan 1949 with Judges LC Horwill and Rajagopalan, presiding.

The high court noted in the judgement that the planning and conspiracy was all very open and blatant, and that the lawlessness of the event was stark. But there were some discrepancies in the approvers statements provided earlier, especially relating to the timing of a previous failed attempt due to the absence of Ramasimhan at the Bungalow. The high court was also skeptical about the foot print examination and conclusions. The scars on the persons of the others accused were also inspected by a doctor well after they had healed and so it was not quite possible to date them to the day of the murder. The high court Judge stated that it was unfortunate that such a grave crime has not been detected; pointing out also the failure of the prosecution to prove fully the offence against the appellants. 

They also pointed out that no attempt was made to make evidence, where none was naturally, forthcoming, and if the police were unable to obtain more evidence it was because the Moplah community largely succeeded in maintaining secrecy. The judge mentioned that it was almost impossible without their (Moplah) cooperation for the police to obtain any more evidence relating to the crime. It was surprising to me that the gun, the bullet wound on Raju Iyer and the approver’s confirmation of firing it never came up in the court files. All the accused were let free after ‘obtaining the benefit of doubt’. Public opinion was that the tainted judgement was either due to bribery of Congress officials or a desire to avoid communal strife.

Lionel Horwill, the last British judge in India, was later knighted and after Indian independence retired to Australia. Horwill writing about the laws of India stated his general difficulties - So anxious were the British not to interfere with the religious practices and customs of the people, that they crystallized rules laid down early in the Christian era and made it difficult, because, of the force of precedents, for Hindus and Muhammedans, without legislation to adapt their religious customs and laws to the needs of modern society; and legislation was difficult because of the opposition of orthodox religious leaders, who had great influence amongst the rank and file of their coreligionists, especially the less enlightened.

Ramasimhan’s sons Fateh Singh and Zorawar Singh (Udaya Simhan and Satya Simhan) were brought back from the Birla College, Delhi by their relatives and reverted to Islam. Their progeny it appears did well and maintain the affluence and status once exhibited by their forefathers.

A medical college was constructed in the estate and on the lands where the bungalow was once situated. The 90 year lease expired in 1995, and the Kerala government apparently took over the land. The Mattummal temple was reconstructed some years later. The application (or uselessness) of footprint investigations, expert witnesses and their usefulness in detective work referring to this particular event, became a textbook issue. All in all, it was a terrible incident where a group of illiterate miscreants took law into their own hands and sentenced a bunch of innocent people to death in the name of religion. Just imagine, what cause would have benefited from the murder of that poor 15 year old girl Kamala, who been just married off to this Narasimhan? The court’s decision also looked quite ad-hoc and flawed, but I guess the evidence did not quite stack up for a conviction, though the conspiracy and the murder was evident for all to see.

Eric Stracey who headed the MSP mentioned the case in his memoirs and suggests that both sides shared the blame in the events leading to the conversion and the murder. This is all not to show that the Moplahs were proud about what happened. R E Miller maintains that this subject was debated extensively and the case brought consternation to Moplahs themselves and hastened the conviction of leaders in the community that Mappilas should no longer be identified with such actions and that the effort to bring change must be accelerated.

References
“Mappila heritage: A study in their social and cultural life” Thesis. Department of History, University of Calicut, 2004 - Abdurahiman.K.P
Madras High Court - Paramban Mammadu and Ors. vs The King on 19 January, 1949 Equivalent citations: (1949) 2 MLJ 544 - Author: Horwill
Janmabhumi report – TS Neelambaran 3/7/2011
Scientific evidence - expert witnesses - R. Zafer, Journal of the Indian law institute 1972
Saga of Ramasimhan & Mattumal Narasimha Temple - V Sundaram, News Today
Mappila Muslims of Malabar – Roland E miller
A handbook of Kerala – Ed T Madhava Menon
Odd man in – Eric Stracey


Uneen Saheb pic - Courtesy News today