The controversy around Malabar Rebellion or Moplah Rebellion refuses to die down even at the centenary year of the uprising, which erupted against British rule in the Malabar region of Kerala in 1921.
Recently, Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR)’s move to remove the names of Malabar rebellion leaders from the list of freedom fighters. A three-member subcommittee of the ICHR, under the Ministry of Education, has submitted a report to remove names of 387 Moplah martyrs from the ‘Dictionary of Martyrs of India’s Freedom Struggle. The list includes prominent rebel leaders such as Variamkunnath Kunhamed Haji and Ali Musliyar.
The decision has sparked criticism from many quarters and political parties have also waded into the controversy. Earlier, senior BJP leader Ram Madhav said that the rebellion was ‘one of the first manifestations of the Taliban mindset in India’. Kerala government in 1971 has recognized the rebel leaders as freedom fighters.
The revolt was a pogrom against Hindus, says Union Minister of State for External Affairs, V Muraleedharan. Speaking to Outlook, Muraleedharan said that though the Kerala government initially recognized them as martyrs, it backtracked later in 1975.
“Why would ICHR recognize them as freedom fighters when the state government hasn’t done it? In 1975, a book released by the Kerala government “Who is who of freedom fighters in Kerala’, did not include Variamkunnath Kunhamed Haji as a freedom fighter. The book's forward was written by then Chief Minister C Achuta Menon,” he said.
The nature of the 'Malabar rebellion' has been a topic of debate for a long time. While some call the rebellion an upheaval against the colonial government and most interpretations see it as an agrarian revolt against local landlords and the British government’s unfair laws. However, the religious aspect of the upheaval has also been widely debated. Muraleedharan said that the ‘Malabar rebellion’ was a communal riot where only Hindus were massacred and forcibly converted.
“Why were only Hindus killed in thousands in the riot? It was a well-planned Hindu genocide. Independence struggle is fighting the British, not killing Indians. They have killed poor and hapless Hindus,” he says.
He also contested claims of Muslims also being killed in the violence. “There may be one or two Muslims killed in the riot. That doesn’t make the numbers equal,” he said.
“The rioters have also established Sharia courts in many taluks and forcibly converted Hindus to Islam. Those who resisted were killed and thrown into wells,” he adds.
He also pointed out that even Mahatma Gandhi condemned the violence and the killings. “Gandhi said that he was pained about the killing of Hindus. EMS Namboodiripad criticized it then. Now the CPI (M) is trying to gain political advantage,” he said.
The Minister also said that the riot was about establishing the kingdom of Islam and it had nothing to do with fighting the British.
Though there are many interpretations of ‘Malabar Rebellion’ by historians and scholars, Muraleedharan said that one should go by the literature written immediately after the incident.
“After 100 years, anyone can come up with their own interpretations. It is important to examine the literature that came out immediately after the incident. We need to look at the material and books that were available during that period,” said Muraleedharan.