SIgnboards with the ‘Al’ prefix are the second indicator that you are in Mappila (Kerala Muslim) country, the first, of course, being a sartorial style that you cannot miss. This is Malappuram district in north Kerala. Once considered a basket case for its economic, educational and social backwardness, the landscape now bristles with confidence, one that only prosperity, political prowess and education can bring. Malappuram, with over 60 per cent Muslims, was carved out from the districts of Kozhikode and Palakkad way back in 1969 by the then chief minister, the Communist E.M.S. Namboodiripad. It was a political move to appease the Left government’s coalition partner—the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML)—who had demanded a district for the Muslims. Interestingly, it was a first time for the IUML in government. Today, its clout in the Congress-led UDF regime has jumped manifold. With five ministers and crucial portfolios, the IUML can even claim they are in charge of the ‘Kerala sarkar’.
But beyond the sleepy boundaries of Malappuram, there are other forces at play now. A new brand of nationalism seeks to divide rather than unite, one where patriotism hinges on one’s religious identity. Questions have also been asked of Malappuram—is it a “mini Pakistan”, is there a rise in religious fundamentalism there? The district authorities says Malappuram is a peaceful district, that there is absolute communal harmony. But one has just to trawl the net to see the fear-mongering being drummed up—reports of the Hindu minority’s struggle to exist here and further, about the love jehadis roaming the streets of Malappuram on the lookout for Hindu girls to convert to Islam. A website (www.hinduexistence.org) even harks back to 1921 and the Mappila rebellion to remind people of the “devastating revolts and massacres”—described as “killing lakhs of innocent Hindus overnight”.
In order to verify this “account of history”, we travel further north from Malappuram town to Parappanangadi. We cross the angry, muddy Kadalundi river in full spate and zig-zag through roads lined with giant ‘Gulf houses’, each trying to garishly outdo the other (some six lakh people from the district work in the Gulf today.) We pass the historical town of Tirurangadi known for its major revolts against the British and arrive in Parappanangadi to meet with historian M. Gangadharan, who’s authored a book on the revolts of the region, The Malabar Rebellion. Gangadharan, 80, refutes the argument that the Mappila rebellion was any sort of vendetta against the Hindus. He says, “The Mappila resistance was against the British political set-up that had imposed high taxes and empowered the janmis (usually from the Hindu high castes) to exploit the Mappila tenants. They did not attack the Hindus indiscriminately but the violence did frighten them and many did leave the area.”
The Muslim grievances and the revolts were successfully harnessed by Gandhiji during the freedom struggle. Says Gangadharan, “In the second decade of the 20th century, when the Mappilas organised themselves, they received support from the nationalist movement that cleverly linked this rebellion to the Khilafat agitation.... Trade ties between India and the Arab countries meant that the Khilafat movement affected Kerala’s Mappilas. Initially, the movement wasn’t violent but the British oppression and tortures forced the hand of Mappilas. Today, the Hindu fundamentalists are trying to change the narrative to suit their own needs.” On a personal level, Gangadharan says he’s never felt insecure living in a Muslim-dominated area.
This predilection for protests is seen even today. In Parappanangadi town, we witness a silent procession of schoolchildren marching against the Israel attacks in Gaza. K.T. Jaleel, independent MLA (Left-backed) from Thavanur, says Malappuram partakes of Kerala’s anti-imperialistic streak, “We saw protests when Saddam Hussein was killed and we continue to see protests against imperialistic powers. But we are not communal, even post-Babri Masjid there were no clashes here. The Muslims in Malappuram are secular and progressive and have merged with the mainstream.” At the same time, a sullen withdrawal has often been ascribed to them too, as is a tendency to adopt the visible gestures and cues of a modern pan-Islamism, especially in response to inimical global and domestic politics.
Photograph by Sivaram V.
There is an underlying, historical delicacy too. Many Muslim political leaders of Malabar had supported the Partition, crowding out nationalist Muslims who didn’t—their grievance was that India’s mainstream leaders did not come to their aid during the Mappila rebellion. So the creation of a district for Muslims was always viewed with some diffidence by non-Muslims. There are few complaints in the district itself though. “They are secular and progressive,” says Manamboor Rajan Babu, who’s lived in Kuttinangadi for the past 39 years. Rajan Babu is an ex-policeman, novelist and editor of Innu, an inland magazine. “I live in the midst of three Mohammeds,” he jokes. “The neighbours are caring folks. I settled here because of my Muslim friends. The majority do not accept the fundamentalist views of the fringe elements, which is why it doesn’t get much traction in Malappuram.” And anyway, the IUML is in the political business here and they won’t allow the fringe to grow, he feels.
The delimitation based on area population after the 2011 census gave a further boost to the IUML. Most districts in Kerala showed negative growth, but Malappuram registered a decadal population growth of 13.45 per cent since the census. The number of legislative constituencies was increased in the district from 12 to 16 in the last polls. “The Muslim-dominated areas of Kozhikode, Kannur and Palakkad also benefited with an increase in one seat while the Christian-dominated belt of Kottayam, Thrissur and Pathanamthitta lost four seats due to a decline in population,” says Jayashankar. In the 2011 assembly polls, the IUML took 12 of the 16 seats in Malappuram and became the third largest party in the state after the Congress and CPI(M) with 20 seats.
Historian M. Gangadharan at home. (Photograph by Sivaram V.)
Kerala’s coalition politics depends on a delicate sharing of spoils, and competition is intense. The recent muscle-flexing by the IUML has not gone down well with the state’s other major religious lobbies. Again and again, the references return to an obsession with population figures and what is seen as increasing control over power stakes. Says political watcher P. Rajan: “Creating a district based on religion was not a wise decision. A district should be created for topographical and geographical reasons. The League benefited politically from the differential in population figures too. But to demand a fifth ministerial berth in the UDF government was not a good move. The Nairs and the SNDP have been highly insecure and the ramifications were seen in the Neyyatinkara byelection, with the BJP coming a close third. In the next state elections, the BJP will be a force to reckon with if the IUML continues with its brazen ways. The Congress has been nervous ever since the Lok Sabha polls. Their voteshare has dipped in many of the Thiruvananthapuram assembly seats.”
Jaleel, who left the IUML and supports the Left, says, “I left the IUML because it’s very corrupt. I questioned the use of funds that they had raised for various issues. The people of Malappuram aren’t always faithful to the IUML. In the 2006 assembly polls, the CPI(M) and the IUML got five (of the 12) seats each, some of the IUML ministers even lost by huge margins. This event can’t be underestimated...people here a more progressive lot.”
Indeed, in the midst of all the fear of growing radicalism, of non-native signs like the skull cap and the burqa, the Malappuram Muslim has been changing—yes, somewhat radically—in other ways too. It’s no longer the backwaters. Decades of remittances have created a more globalised second generation. The number of educational institutions has increased. It has caught up with the rest of Kerala; even rank-holders have emerged from the district. S. Irudayarajan of the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, says, “About 25 years ago, Malappuram was Kerala’s most backward district. Between 1990 to 2000, unskilled workers came from Malappuram, from 2000 to 2010 there was a rise of semi-skilled workers; 2010 on, even high-skilled workers have been migrating from there.” The natural corollary of swelling remittances—it gets the largest share—ensures that, whichever coalition governs the state, its political fortunes will depend quite a bit on the electorate of Malappuram.
Shamshad at an LGBT rally in Kochi. (Photograph by Sivaram V.)
Biwi Come Later
The real minorities in the district are not the religious groups but the women and the LGBT community. Feminist writer Shamshad Hussain, whose book In Between Gender and Minority deals with Muslim women, says, “I think the feminist framework cannot accommodate the Muslim woman. People ask me if I can be both Muslim and a feminist. Feminism is not about the veil and in Malappuram, though I am accepted and asked to speak at forums, there is a lot yet to be done.” Meanwhile, a good sign is that Muslim women are increasingly enrolling in professional colleges and are also working. Says Gracy T.A., principal of St Gemma’s Girls Higher Secondary School, “Though we haven’t been able to dissuade the girls from marrying early, they continue with their studies even after. But the average age of a woman becoming a grandmother here is still around 35-36.”
The piece on Muslim majority district Malappuram in Kerala (The Mappila Songs) is just another attempt to falsify history. Even Ambedkar called the Mappila massacres of Hindus “unrestrained barbarism”.
Deepak Kumar, Chennai
What changed the face of Malappuram was the priority given to education. Even girls are now enrolling in professional courses and have become career-oriented.
V.N.K. Murti, Pattambi
" Initially, the movement wasn’t violent but the British oppression and tortures forced the hand of Mappilas"
Succus show a lot of imagination in finding reasons to justify/excuse muslim atrocities. Very commendable thinking power.
>> Malappuram, with over 60 per cent Muslims, was carved out from the districts of Kozhikode and Palakkad way back in 1969 by the then chief minister, the Communist E.M.S. Namboodiripad. It was a political move to appease the Left government’s coalition partner—the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML)—who had demanded a district for the Muslims
To me it looks strikigly similar to the demand of "secular" Muslims like Iqbal and Jinnah to carve out Muslim area. Last checked, there is a hellhole called Pakistan in those areas today. If these are really so secular muslims, why did they need a separate district? WHat is wrong with Hindu Rashtra on this argument.
Where is sage of Dallas?
>> Trade ties between India and the Arab countries meant that the Khilafat movement affected Kerala’s Mappilas
Really? And they got so agitated with trade losses that they went on rampage to kill and rape Hindus? Wow! Must be die hard traders!
>> There is an underlying, historical delicacy too. Many Muslim political leaders of Malabar had supported the Partition, crowding out nationalist Muslims who didn’t—their grievance was that India’s mainstream leaders did not come to their aid during the Mappila rebellion.
>> The delimitation based on area population after the 2011 census gave a further boost to the IUML. Most districts in Kerala showed negative growth, but Malappuram registered a decadal population growth of 13.45 per cent since the census. The number of legislative constituencies was increased in the district from 12 to 16 in the last polls
Looks like the Islamic plot is firing on all cylinders. Traditional support for partition, migration to gulf to fund fundamentalism and conversions and breeding like rabbits to get more seats and raise the number of Muslims.
Someone told me Kerala had high HDI and with education and economic upliftment, it will be an ideal society. Does not seem like the case with Muslims who continue to breed like rabbits, true Islamic style!
God save Nairs, Hindus and Christians of Kerala!
I knew that Outlook India will not show the true secularism in Kerala. And I didn't get disappointed either. The truth is, Hindus have no voice in Malapuram. Every Hindu family having girls get scared if their daughters are bit late.
Being a comunist Historian I don't expect any truth from Mr. Gangadharan, who hates Hindus,. So no wonder why he praises the Mahpila violence as independent movements. One should ask why the Muslim population has increased tremendeously since 1930s? Did the author of this article bother to go through the English articles on Mahpila violence? My great grandmother said told me once that all the males from her uncle's family were butched and females were taken and converted into Islam. One can hear such stories from Hindus of North and Middle Kerala.
Somebody who says IUML is a secular party is saying moon is white and sun is dark. Outlook closed its ears and eyes who was behind Marad incidents. 8-10 innocent fishemen were hacked to death by IUML cadres, and under the infuence of state govt, the case against IUML weakened and killers free now. Selective secularism by a commie magazine. What else can I expect from this mag!
VNK Murti >> What changed the face of Malappuram was
the priority to education. The girls are now enrolling to
professional studies and has become career oriented.
All Fine sir, but where are the jobs in kerala to keep the ladies (be it Muslim or Christian or Hindu) employed?
Kerala is living in a bubble called West Asian remittance economy..
It is said that by 2030, Saudi Arabai will stop exporting Oil.. since it wont be economical.. USA is likely to take its place with its shale oil discovery... now 2030 is not far off, just 16 years from now...
As per our own Petroleum Ministry data, we are no longer the biggest importers of Saudi Arabian Oil, these days we are importing from places as far as Venezuela or Argentina or Nigeria...
The dynamics of oil economies of West Asia is such that many countries are increasingly investing in other things like UAE trying to create dubai like Singapore. In such a situation, the need for malayalee blue collar labourers will further dwindle..
Once Remittance economy fades, where will they all go? Sadly Keralites invested all their savings in Real estate (in own home state) and gold and so they are not financially prepared..
The Muslim League or CPM or CPI wont have any means to help either...
The Day Malappuram elects a Non Muslim (say a Christian or Hindu) as its MP will be the day when we can call this region secular. Is that the case now ? No way..
Malappuram is Mini Pakistan ? Nope, Pakistan is what Malappuram would be if the forces that dominate the polilty of Malappuram and Kerala are allowed to grow without any restraint.
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