Govt Panel Seeks Removal of 387 ‘Moplah Martyrs’ from History Book, Says Rebellion Was ‘Communal'

A report by the Indian Council of Historical Research asserts that the 1921 Malabar rebellion was “against the Hindu society”. Others dispute this claim, pointing to the anti-colonial aspects of the revolt.

Listen to this article:

New Delhi: A three-member committee of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), which submitted a review report of the names of “freedom fighters” in the 1921 rebellion in 2016, is said to have sought the removal of Wagon Tragedy victims and Malabar Rebellion leaders from a book on martyrs of India’s freedom struggle, The Hindu reported.

The book, Dictionary of Martyrs: India’s Freedom Struggle 1857-1947, was released by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2019. The ICHR, which comes under the Ministry of Education, reviewed the entries in the fifth volume of the book, and concluded that names of 387 “Moplah martyrs”, including Ali Musliyar, Variamkunnath Ahmad Haji, and the latter’s two brothers, be removed from the book.

According to an explainer in the Indian Express, the Malabar rebellion, which is also known as the Moplah revolt, began on August 20, 1921 by Muslim tenants against British rulers and local Hindu landlords. Some historical accounts state the uprising led to the loss of around 10,000 lives, including 2,339 rebels.

Historians regard it as one of the first nationalist uprisings in southern India. The incidents took place in various parts of Malappuram district in north Kerala. In the 1960s, the Kerala government had included the participants of the rebellion in the category of freedom fighters. It was even described as a peasant revolt.

Also read: Kerala: A Tale of Two Centenary Celebrations

C.I. Issac, an ICHR member, in the review report asserts that “almost all the Moplah outrages were communal. They were against the Hindu society and done out of sheer intolerance. Thus, the following names should be deleted from the yet-to-be published project.”

He further said: “None of those who died in the Wagon Tragedy were freedom fighters of India as they hoisted the Khilafat flag and established Khilafat and Khilafat courts for a brief period. They were arrested by the army for participating in riots. Around 10 Hindus who participated in the riots too are on the list of persons to be removed from the dictionary.”

The British convicted the rioters after “proper trial”, and these dead were never recognised as freedom fighters elsewhere, he added.

The committee said that the rebellion was an attempt to establish a “Caliphate”. It highlighted Haji’s role as a rioter who had established a Sharia court and beheaded a large number of Hindus.

The report accessed by the newspaper further noted: “The rioters did not even spare the secular Muslims. Those who died at the hands of the rioters were non-believers. A large number of ‘Moplah martyrs’, who were under-trial prisoners, died due to diseases such as cholera and natural causes. Hence, they cannot be treated as martyrs. Only a handful of them were executed by the government after court trial.”

Political ideology

On August 19, RSS leader Ram Madhav claimed that the Moplah rebellion of 1921 was one of the first manifestations of the “Taliban mindset” in India. He said the Left government in Kerala was allegedly trying to whitewash it by celebrating it as a communist revolution.

Communist Party of India general secretary D. Raja, in response to Madhav’s comments, said that the RSS pursues a communal ideology and it attempts to re-interpret history.

He explained, “As far as Moplah revolt is concerned, it was against feudal lords, against British rulers. That’s why those people were sent to cellular prisons.”

The Wagon Tragedy took place on November 21, 1921, in which those farmers [Moplah prisoners] who revolted against the Britishers were herded into a windowless wagon without food and water to be transported to the Coimbatore prison. As many as 70 farmers suffocated to death, while some of them survived by drinking urine.

It was called the ‘Jallianwala Bagh’ of the South. In 1972, the Kerala government called it the Wagon Tragedy.