The Kalikavu incident - 1915

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An attempt on Collector CA Innes’s life

Some articles ago, we studied the impact of the Turkish Khalifa, the Khilafat movement and its effects on the Malabar populace, culminating in the violence of 1921 and a terrible aftermath. We also studied about the discontentment amongst the Malabar Mappilas and the attempts of earlier British administration, especially HV Conolly in countering what was termed as the Mappila outrages resulting in the attempt at disarming the disaffected Mappila. As all these were progressing from phase to phase, many a foreign cleric entered the area to whip up the emotions of the relatively illiterate Eranad Mappilas. These have been well studied and recorded by various historians, forming three categories of texts, one by left leaning scribes attributing everything to land tenures and as the outburst of have nots, the British stories calling them revolts against the crown, to be dealt with a  firm hand and thirdly the events as seen by the Hindu aristocracy of Malabar. Two lesser known events from the earlier days are not quite well reported in any of these collections, one being an attempt to kill a British collector and secondly the British attempt at mainstreaming the Mappila’s desire to fight. I will detail the first now and then in a later article provide information on the second.

If you recall, a number of armed and violent acts took place in the early 19th century ending with the confiscation of the Mappila war knives and ending with the murder of HV Connolly in 1855. Logan was appointed to concentrate on the land tenure aspects, we studied his story as well. The administration did not quite accept his report and the general consensus was that the outbreaks were due to mixed motives, agrarian and fanatical. It was in this situation that Charles Alexander Innes was deputed to Malabar to enquire, as a settlement officer. He added his views to the above stating that poverty was a third cause, but that the overriding issue was fanaticism. He also concluded that the repressive orders of 1854 had a salutary effect and that things had largely been brought into a semblance of control.

Actually there were larger issues still at play and the Mahdis were seemingly at work, for in 1884 there was a major disturbance relating to the conversion and later reversion of a Tiyya man at Chembasseri. As the account reported by TL Strange stated, this man decided to revert back to Hinduism and the Chembasseri Mappilas, furious at the event, wounded the man, who complained to authorities and was compensated by the British administration. A Sudanese Mahdi or his Hungarian representative was considered to be the catalyst behind this and the British quickly sent in (perhaps the Dorset’s) troops from Bangalore who in a surprise swoop, promptly disarmed the whole Ernad taluk, taking away 9,000 firearms and 12,000 swords. Close to 8 years passed after that without any major issues.

In 1894 a terrible tragedy occurred, known as the Pandikkad event where some 32 Mappilas killed themselves in a fanatical outbreak and this was followed by an even more terrible event in 1896 when some 92 Mappilas of Chembaseri became martyrs at the Manjeri temple. Because they were mostly wanton acts with little by way of concrete reasons the Mappilas were placed in the backward class for educational purposes, by the British. But something positive was now being done, strategic roads were laid into Eranad and schools were started. The Mappilas were pulled into the mainstream with army employment, jobs in Singapore, Colombo and the rubber estates, the Kolar gold fields, timber depots at Kallayi and other locales. This resulted in relative peace until 1915. Hitchcock the other player in these stories had incidentally been deputed a few years earlier and was well placed in the Madras special police at Malappuram and heading the intelligence acquisition team. In addition the Pukoya Thangal had issued a pamphlet to his people, sternly denouncing outbreaks as acts opposed to true religion.

Two events were to cause the next set of disturbances, one being the disbandment of a Mappila army battalion (I will cover this in a later article) and the second being the start of the first world war, with Turkey and the Islamic Caliph on the side of the Axis powers. During the First World War, the Mappilas came to believe that Germany had accepted Islam and, with the entry of Turkey on its side, and that the defeat of the British and their allies had become inevitable. They believed that the Germans and the Turks would relieve them of the British and that all their rent, revenue demands and debts would thus be cancelled. Since 1911 (Turco-Italian war) the Mappilas had professed support for Turkey and a 40 day prayer was regularly conducted at the Perinthalmanna mosque in support of the Ottomans. Pilgrims returning from Mecca reaffirmed the rumors that the Turks and Germans were drubbing the British.

These wild rumors now spun into conclusions that the German army had landed in Bombay and with that the entire Ernad area was in a state of unrest. In Sept 1914, the German warship Emden shelled Madras and the news hit the region like a bolt from the blue. Soon the British needing the armymen elsewhere, replaced the regular army at the Malappuram barracks with a less experienced reserve battalion, manned by local recruits, with the result that the Ernad Mappilas now stepped on the gas, increasing dacoities and forced conversions (Wood 135-137). It was one such forced conversion that triggered the Innes event at Kalikavu.

Let’s now step back a bit and see how Charles Alexander Innes landed in the midst of all this. Born in 1874 in Secunderabad, Innes was educated at the Taylor Merchant School and later at St Johns College Oxford. He passed his ICS in 1897, and secured a posting in Madras, with his surgeon dad’s connections.  Initially he worked as a settlement officer and provided all the main inputs for the imperial gazetteer, and the Malabar gazetteer, on Malabar and Anjengo, living in Malabar. In 1910 he was appointed as acting collector and later in 1911 as Collector, and Chief Magistrate of Malabar.

The conversion complaint reached Innes in Jan 1915. Innes (Malabar gazetteer p84-85) reports that a Tiyya boy aged 10-12 was apparently, quite willingly converted to Islam. As Innes records - His brother who had neglected him, complained. The district magistrate (Innes) found the facts proved and fined the Mappila responsible, Rs 50/- on a technical charge of kidnapping. Outside the immediate area, this was magnified as an apostasy forced by the District magistrate and a plot seems to have been formed to murder both the magistrate and the boy, commence dacoities and to collect arms and followers for an outbreak. 

The claim that the boy was forcibly converted by one Seythali at Kalikavu was investigated by Innes. Seythali was nabbed and he admitted that he had directed the boy, who according him wanted to change religion, to the Musaliyar who did the needful. Innes traced out the boy and released him, who was stated to be underage by the examining doctor. According to custom only somebody above 15 could be converted. Since the boy was only 10-12, the conversion as deemed invalid, and the released boy was handed over to his brother. Seythali was fined Rs 50/- and the Musaliyar who did the conversion was spared by Innes, in the interest of communal harmony. What happened next was ‘the blown up reporting in the Calicut newspapers’ stating that the boy was definitely over 15 and that Innes had insulted Islam.

Most of the finer detail which follows comes from the fine work by Annie Jose, so with my thanks and appreciation, let me borrow some highlights from her paper so referred at the end, under references. Additional details come from the relevant sections of the Malappuram and Malabar Gazetteers.

Collectors as usual tour their districts and Innes was on the beat, at Melattur. Innes while resting at night on 25th Feb 1915, was informed by the retired adhikari, Kunjunni Earadi (accompanied by a couple of Mappilas) that an attempt was being planned on his life for having released the Tiyya boy, by one Thangayathil Alavi and his cohorts. The plan according to what Innes learned, was to draw him to Wandur or Nilambur and murder him.

These days, you would see the action which followed in a different light. There would be screaming sirens, police cars, teams of police in pursuit of the villains, much shooting and shouting and dramatic car chases. But what actually happened was nothing remotely close to that, and is an interesting study.

Innes contacted Hitchcock, the Police Superintendent at Mapalappuram and informed him of the developments. He was to come to Karuvarakkundu with the required backup. Innes had been told that Alavi was to be found at Karuvarakkundu some 32km NE of Manjeri. So he set out to nab him on 27th Feb, cycling from Melattur, all alone, in his bicycle. Along the jungle routes, was a hill, called Chuliot Mala. As Innes was cycling on the pathway, just beyond the stream, slowly up the hill, he heard the muted report of a gun.

In his own words, Innes reports “At first I did not realize what it was, then I looked over my shoulder and saw just above the road in the jungle, a Mappila with a smoking gun in his hand. The Cap had exploded, but the charge had not ignited either because it was damp or because it was not sufficiently rammed home. Thinking it was only one Mappila, I dismounted, but no sooner had I done so than I saw the movement of another Mappila in the bushes, and it suddenly stuck me that the outburst had begun and the plot to murder me in a lonely spot had materialized. Being unarmed and not knowing how many fanatics there was, I thought it would be foolish to linger any longer in so dangerous a neighborhood and I leaped on my cycle once again. The chain smashed immediately and leaving the useless bicycle on the road, I made a dash for a turn in the road about 50 yards, and I made my way as quickly as I could to Karuvarakundu police station”.

Hitchcock and his police team were notified, and they converged to Chuliot Mala in search of the perpetrators, who had escaped. Innes investigating the matter now discovered that some 5-8 people were involved in the plot and that they had now moved off to Kalikavu, and were in hiding.

The initial short report read thus - Five men ambushed Innes this morning. Gun missed fire. Innes had miraculous escape. Innes, Hitchcock and Elliot, pursued Mappillas all day in two parties without success. Number of rioters now reported to be eight with four guns.

The rebels then acquired another gun from one Kantodiyil Kuttan and were planning the next step when they were accosted by Sub Inspector Amoo who tried to get them to surrender. They shouted back at him that they would not, they had ‘taken care of the boy’, had shot the collector and that they were proceeding to the Ayyappankavu at Alanallur. They also told Amoo that he was welcome to bring in the white men (Vellaikar) or company (kompanikkar) i.e. MSP police to catch them. On the way they slashed at a Tiyyan with their sword (It is not clear however, if the converted boy was murdered by them). After reaching the temple, they barricaded themselves and planned their own death, to die as shahids.

SI Amoo informed Hitchcock, who proceeded to Alanallur with his RSP forces. Innes wanting to avoid bloodshed contacted the local Thangal and asked him to talk to the men barricaded in the temple. The Thangal tried telling them that they would be shot and that their bodies would be burnt. Meanwhile Hitchcock and his men had arrived and they took positions, cordoning off the temple, planning an assault for the morning hours. At dawn they charged and the Mappilas fired their guns from within, starting a brisk fusillade. It was as you can imagine, of little use and the British entered the temple soon after to see four of the plotters dead and one injured. The dead were Seythali (who had fired on Innes), Moideen Kutty, Kunjalan and Moideen. The injured person was the Tangayathil Alavi. To ensure no further issues, the dead were buried and not burnt as would have been the practice following police action.

Alavi and 7 others implicated in the plot were jailed or transported to other districts. Later on it was concluded that Pottayil Kunju Ahamed Musalliyar had initiated the whole thing during the Kappil nercha after stating that the boy was 15 years old. This musaliyar is believed to have nursed a grudge because his uncle had been deported during the 1880 outbreaks.

For the record, Innes summarized thus: As early as January 1915 there were signs of unrest in the "fanatical zone" manifested by an outbreak of both petty and grave crime. A Tiyya boy aged 10 or 12, apparently quite willingly, was taken into Islam. His brother who seems to have neglected him complained. The District Magistrate found ' the facts proved and fined the Mappilla responsible Rs. 50 on a technical charge of kidnapping. Outside the immediate area this was magnified into an apostasy forced by the District Magistrate and a plot seems to have been formed to murder both the Magistrate and the boy, commence dacoities and to collect arms and followers for an outbreak. The plot was discovered and the District Magistrate and District Superintendent of Police with a small force of police promptly went after the conspirators who "went out" in approved Sahid fashion. The District Magistrate (Mr. Innes) was ambushed on his way from Karuvarakundu to Pandikkad and narrowly escaped with his life. This was on 27th February. The reserve police special force and troops from Malappuram were brought into the threatened area (Manjeri-Pandalur-Pandikkad) and the five outlaws were eventually tracked down by a small party of police on 1st March and forced to take refuge in the Ayyappankavu temple at Alanallur. Police reinforcements with the District Magistrate and District Superintendent of Police arrived late that night. The necessary dispositions were made to prevent escape and the following morning the place was attacked. Four of the fanatics died fighting and one was captured severely wounded. Eight Mappillas including the wounded man were deported and kept either in jail or in other districts under Regulation II of 1819. Four Mappillas who had been arrested as a precautionary measure among them being the afterwards notorious Variankunnath Kunhamad HaJi and Potayil Ahamad Kutti Musaliyar were released, their apparent implication in the outbreak being, it was decided, an elaborate concoction of evidence by their enemies. The local Mappillas seem on the whole to have behaved well and gave substantial assistance in tracking down the outlaws.

Hitchcock was awarded the Kings Police Medal in 1916 ‘for heading off an uprising by the Mapillas’ which incidentally was this Kalikavu incident.

Charles did put in quite an attempt to study underlying causes. For example, he rightly states - “Tipu's brutal methods of obtaining converts to Islam, which drove the Rajas and thousands of their principal adherents out of their country broke up the social organism, and engendered a fierce and abiding hatred between Hindu and Muhammadan; and in 1792, when the British took over Malabar, this animosity had reached a dangerous height, and the foundations of law and order had been undermined”. He continued - The Mappila outbreak may be attributed to 3 main causes: poverty, agrarian discontent and fanaticism, of which the last is probably chief. Poverty is still extreme in the fanatic zone, and is no doubt still to some extent accentuated by the Mappila practice in the south of dividing up the property of the father among his wives, sons and daughters."

Charles Innes went on to submit an interesting study of various causes of agrarian discontent and suggest fixed terms for land tenure, but the government and his successor Evans disagreed.  He was, I presume, on account of all this, moved out to serve as director of industries and the controller of munitions and later as the foodstuffs commissioner, in Madras. He then served as a member in the (got knighted in 1924) Governor General’s council. Innes left India in 1927 to take the position of Governor of Burma until 1932 where his Mappila experience was to bear fruit. More on all that, another day.

Kalikavu was to figure prominently during the Aug 1921 revolt too, when some of the rioters burned forty houses belonging to other Mappilas who did not associate with the revolt. It was also Chembasseri Thangal’s headquarters for a while.  Later Stanley. P. Eaton, a planter of Pulleugude Estate, was murdered, when a large number of rioters entered Pullengode Estate, pursued Mr. Eaton, who was in his bungalow, and beheaded him. His bungalow was looted. His body was not recovered, but a bone which was found and believed to be that of Mr. Eaton was buried near the bridge. On Mr. Lescher's suggestion and with his help the Mappilas of Kalikavu seemingly erected a memorial to Mr. Eaton as their duty. During this revolt, the Chin-Kachin battalion from Burma was used to subdue the Mappilas of Kalikavu.

Later on in life and after Burma, CA Innes joined the board of the Mercantile Bank of India in 1933 and served as chairman of the bank from 1938 to 1952. The Mercantile Bank of Bombay, later Mercantile Bank of India went on to become part of the Hong Kong and Shanghai bank or HSBC in 1959, the same year CA Innes died. Innes was also the chairman of Mysore Gold Mining Company and was on the board of the Oriental Telephone and Electricity Company. He passed away on 28 June 1959. An interesting man, indeed.

The Kalikavu riot of 1915 (JOKS Vol8, 1981) – Annie Jose
Peasant revolt in Malabar – RH Hitchcock
The Mappila rebellion and its genesis – Conrad wood
Malabar Gazetteer Vol 1 – CA Innes


  1. Nothin

    I am amazed at your a ability to collecf so much rare information and distill in to a concise extremely readable form .

    Sir I want to know what action was taken by the kingdoms of Cochin and Travancore during the 1921 Malabar riots , I believe large numbers of refugees would have fled to Trichur district . Did the rioters cross the border and enter Trichur district which was part of Cochin state ? Did Cochin and Travancore send armed forces to help the British contain the violence .

  1. Maddy

    Thanks Soorya Narayan
    I do not have any specific answers to the questions in the second para, I have not seen any linkages between the 1921 or earlier events and the Cochin, Travancore kingdoms. It was contained within Malabar, as far as I know. Of course some landlords would have moved out to Palghat/Trichur etc, but would have returned later.

  1. Maxbinder

    Thank you Sir, this is really wonderful. May be you will someday publish a book. I have gone to all these places associated with this incident and I am amazed that so much history was buried in this green zone- since this area is in the foothills of western ghats it's very beautiful with forests and plantations. Pullenkode estate is still prominent among rubber plantations. Thanks.

  1. E K Bharat Bhushan

    The inputs available in Historical Alleys is most interesting and apparently the result of stupendous referencing. I have avidly read the information offered on the Moplah Rebellion and its main actors, both Indian and European. Having worked first as Sub Collector and then as Collector of Malappuram District in the 1980’s, I am familiar with many of the theatres where action took place in 1921-22. I had also seen some of the case files in the retributive proceedings instituted against the rebels. I can safely say that your analysis of the events and why they took place is spot on. While the true reasons were both fanaticism and economic deprivation, the effort on the part of the popular Govt. since 1970 to paint the rebellion as a heroic struggle for the national cause is myopic and condemnable
    I retired after serving for two years as the Chief Secretary of Kerala in 2015. I do visit Malappuram often when I have an opportunity. Beautiful land with honest, straight dealing people but at times vulnerable to manipulation by religious bigots.
    E K Bharat Bhushan
    24 June, 2020

  1. Maddy

    Thanks Bharat Bhushan.
    Nice to hear from you. Yes, much of the Moplah rebellion British archives are not easily accessible and quite a bit of the information bandied about in the media is based on myths and lore. I have tried to cover it in bits and pieces and some of them can be accessed clicking the link below.

    thanks again..

  1. Muz

    wonder why scholarly articles like this not published in our mathrubhumi or manorama or any medias, mostly we can only hear endless biased debates between leftists, islamists, right wing hindu organisations

    I have seen some of the land marks associated with events, Old british court (hajur kechery) is still existing in tirurangadi, there was a hourse stable of british officers and tomb of british officer killed in during 1921 events in premises, and the old mamburam mosque(power centre for mamburam thangals) existed in its original magnificent kerala architectural style till early 2000 s which was then demolished and renovated with minarets etc as a concrete building,there was bullet marks existing in its walls that occured as part of british attack

    except for MGS narayan sirs input true authentic historian perspective from deep studies are not available to public in newschannel debates

  1. Muz

    Onebthing that strike me was mappilas of malabar coast were inherently different from their north indian or even hyderabadi or arcot states in outlook, their clerics(thangals) were migrated from from yemen etc (part of ottomon empire) and they were very much inspired by international developments, but for common muslims from bihar or bengal may not even aware ottomon empire existed.

    Another thing is muslim-hindu relationship started deteriorated after
    16 th century after execution of kunjali marikkar in erst while calicut kingdom,and some felt they got a chance for revenge during tippoos invasion also muslim peasant masses of ernad, tirurangadi etc were primarily converted by yemeni origin missionaries mamburam thangals starting before tippoos arrival and continued there after with kondotty thangals etc(the oldest mosques in ernad or valluvanade were built in 17 th centuries like mamburam mosque etc where in calicut n ponnanis mosques were bulit in 14 th centuries), unlike early arab missionaries in calicut coast, they didnt had much loyalty or affection to zamorin of calicut(early muslims of calicut even held zamorin as their protector and despised mughals etc as unlike mugals zamorin protected calicut muslims from portugese attacks) so while muslims from calicut city or kannur etc were still didnt take khilafat cause seriously partly because for aristocratic rich muslims of calicut, hindu landlords and debits were not a concern like ernad, valluvanade thaluks and partly because their outlook though anti european but not that much anti british,but for ernat muslims they were thought it was injustice to work as slaves to landlords and also ive read some where about a incident in which nearby tirurangadi i guess, a hindu peasant women converted to islam started wearing proper dresses (which was prohibited for hindu lowclass) this instigated nair landlords who forcefully removed her dress in public, for avenging this act some muslim youth murdered men behind this, later those were executed, (while for the christian missionaries in travancore had open british support, situation in malabar was some thing like 'naadanillakalari')

    while the low cast peasant masses in travancore found some sort of educational upliftment, and economical support with christian missionaries, christian missionaries could influence british resident if any injustice done to christian peasants and take action against janmis, while in malabar this was not the case, this also partly was reason communist movement in kannur etc, mopla peasant movement got so intense in malabar,and for the relegious attrocities was not unpredictable in 18 th or 19 th century peasant uprising, a close match will be sikh warrior baba banda singh who abolished zamindari system and established a short sikh state during 1710-1711 as lots of zamindars were muslim sayeds in those times lots of muslims zamindar initially and later common muslims were massacred during that reign including women and children.

    Also ive notted the uppercaste hindus are few in number in southern malabar as compared to thiyyas,and harijansetc except in valluvanade ottapalam, shoranur, pattambi etc), may be as nairs fought mappilas during 'battle of tirurangadi' during tiploos invasion, they suffered in later mappila uprisings.

  1. Muz

    I believe der was no chance for migration except for uppersaste aristocratic families, the public movement was impossible due to curfews either by british or khilafat govt, and military forces in travancore and cochin were abolished during veluthambis uprisals, so they had only nair forces for ceremony purposes only, also unlike 1857 the british crown was incharge of british india including malabar state, and mighty empire was not in a need of vassals support for suppressing a small scale riot in malabar district.