(Last Updated on : 22/06/2015)
The Moplahs are a band of fanatic Muslims who have descended from the Arabs who settled in the Malabar Coast in about the 8th or 9th century A.D and married mostly Indian wives. They had over the years acquired an unenviable notoriety for crimes perpetuated under the impulse of religious frenzy. They were responsible for 35 minor outbreaks during the British rule, the most terrible being the one that took place in August 1921. The Moplah rebellion also known as Mopla riots was a British-Muslim and Hindu-Muslim conflict in Kerala
that occurred in 1921. During the early months of 1921, multiple events including the Khilafat movement and the Karachi resolution fueled the fires of rebellion. A rumour spread amongst the Moplahs that the British rule had ended and the Islamic Caliphate had been re-established at Delhi.
According to one view, the reasons for the Moplah rebellion were religious revivalism among the Muslim Moplahs, and dissatisfaction of the land-owning Hindu Nair community and the British administration that without doubt supported the latter. Because of lack of Support from any Muslim ruler and leader from any of the Muslim countries, the movement had lost its raison d'etre in 1921. But in Kerala, some extra-zealous Muslim fanatics had circulated rumours that the Khilafat movement was crowned with success and that the British regime had come to an end.
The Mullahs and Maulvis soon appointed Mohammed Haji as their Caliph and gave a call of Jehad (holy war) against the British. The passions of the local Muslims-Moplas-were in flamed and they started riots on an unprecedented scale. The British authorities suppressed these with an iron hand and killed the rioters numbering 226, wounded 1615, captured 5688, and 38656 surrendered. The Caliph Haji Mohammed and his associate fell in to British hands. They were court marshaled and hanged. 150 Moplas who were carried from Calicut to Madras in a goods train under the scorching sun, were all in a precarious condition, 66 of them had actually died on the way.
Rebellion and Response
During the early months of 1921, excitement spread speedily from mosque to mosque, village to village. The violent speeches of the Ali brothers, the early approach of Swaraj as foretold in the non-cooperating press, the July resolutions of the Khilafat Conference all added fuel to the fire. All through July and August Khilafat meetings were held in which the Karachi resolution was fervently endorsed. Knives, swords etc were secretly manufactured and preparations were made to the proclaim of the coming of the kingdom of Islam. On Aug 20, the District Magistrate of Calicut with the help of troops attempted to arrest certain leaders who were in the possession of arms at Tirurangadi, a severe encounter took place, which was the a signal for an immediate rebellion throughout the whole locality. On Aug 20, the first incident of the rebellion occurred at Tirurangadi when the District Magistrate of Calicut with the help of troops attempted to arrest a few Moplah leaders who were in the possession of arms, resulting in clashes.
Government property was destroyed. Europeans who did not succeed in escaping were murdered. As soon as the administration was paralyzed, the Moplahs declared that Swaraj had been established. A certain Ali Musliar was proclaimed Raja, Khilafat flags were flown, Ernad and Walluvanad were declared Khilafat kingdoms. The main brunt of the Moplah ferocity was borne, not by the govt but by the Hindus was constituted the majority of the population. Massacres, forcible conversions, desecration of temples, foul outrages upon woman were perpetuated freely till troops could arrive to restore order.Arsonists took to the street, burning and destroying government property. The initial focus was on the British, but when the limited presence of the British was eliminated, Moplahs turned their full attention on the Hindus. One Mohommed Haji was proclaimed the Caliph of the Moplah Khilafat and flags of Islamic Caliphate were flown. Ernad and Walluvanad were declared Khilafat kingdoms.
In the end of 1921 the situation was brought back under control. The British administration raised a special quasi-military (or Armed Police) battalion, the Malabar Special Police (MSP). The British Indian Army trained these police recruits, which were non-Muslims. The MSP attacked the rioters with an iron hand, and the rioters were downcast. Arrested Muslim rioters were to be transferred to the Central Prison in Pothanur (near Coimbatore). They were bundled into a Goods/Freight wagon, and the train started its journey. At Pothanur it was found out that the jail was full to its maximum capacity, and were ordered to take the prisoners back. During this time, 66 of the 100 or so rioters had suffocated to death in the closed iron wagon.
According to official records, the government lost 43 troops with 126 wounded while the Moplahs lost 3,000 (with Moplah accounts putting the number at over 10,000). Though this was an act of courage against British rule, it was also an act of savagery against the Hindus. Due to this, it is also considered as a jihad against all non-Muslims (Hindu and British) to impose Islamic rule in the area.
It is important to note that the Moplah riots came just after the all-India Khilafat agitation supported by Muslim leaders and Mahatma Gandhi
to avoid the elimination of the Islamic Caliphate. Mustafa Kemal Attaturk the dictator, strongman and father of Modern Turkey eventually established The Islamic caliphate in 1924. He "pulled out the rug" from the whole Khilifat movement. This offers a strong indication that a large section of the Moplahs also saw the affair as a jihad or holy war against the British. But Hindus (kafirs) were target and killed. Nearly 30,000 Hindus were killed, thousands of innocent Hindu women were raped and thousands converted forcibly.
The reduction of the Moplah rebellion to only a farmers vs. landlords issue is a leftist/communist interpretation of history that gives every human conflict the colour of a class struggle, oppressed peasants and workers revolting against the parasitic landlords and industrialists, while refusing to recognize any other motive like religion, ethnicity or racialism.
Gandhi tried to conciliate Hindu opinion by various explanations, denials and censure of the authorities, which resulted in the following resolution, passed by the Congress at Ahmedabad
. " The Congress expresses its firm conviction that the Moplah disturbance was not due to the Non-Cooperation or the Khilafat Movements, specially as preachers of these movements were denied access to the affected parts by the District authorities for six months before the disturbance, but is due to causes wholly unconnected with the two movements, and that the outbreak would not have occurred had the message of non-violence been allowed to reach them.
Nevertheless the Congress deplores the acts done by certain Moplahs by way of forcible conversions and destruction of life and property, and is of the opinion that prolongation of the disturbance in Malabar could have been prevented by the Govt of Madras accepting the proffered assistance of Maulana Yakub Hassan and allowing Gandhi to proceed to Malabar, and is further of opinion that the treatment of Moplah prisoners as evidenced by the asphyxiation incident was an act of inhumanity unheard of in modern times and unworthy of a Government that calls itself civilized".
In describing the Moplah action as a religious war against the British
, Hazrarbhai regards it as a political movement, which cannot be disassociated from the Khilafat agitation. His justification of the Moplah atrocities is not only puerile in the extreme but is contrary to facts. He ignores that most of the looting of Hindu houses happened on 21, 22, 23 Augusts, before the military had arrived in the affected areas i.e. long before the Moplahs had taken to the jungles.
At the annual session of the Khilafat Conference in 1923, Shaukat Ali, President of the session praised the Moplahs while conceding some Hindus had suffered at their hands, he said the while chapter was a closed book since they had a duty to the brave Moplahs. He announced that he and his brother Muhammad Ali would provide for the maintenance of one Moplah orphan. One looks in vain on the part of the Congress or Hindu leaders to help the victims of the Muslim outrage. May be they would be called communal if they had done so, their minds being so well conditioned by the Brits that helping fellow Hindus was a crime. There was a silver lining, however. The Arya Samajis through their Suddhi Movement converted over 2000 Hindus who had been converted to Islam by the Moplahs.