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Sunday, July 12, 2020

Salute to Śrīnāth Mohandās for providing A quick summary of 1,200 years' history of Malabar culminating in the Moplah Rebellion and Hindu genocide of 1921

A quick summary of 1,200 years' history of Malabar culminating in the Moplah Rebellion and Hindu genocide of 1921

I was in a conversation with someone on Moplah Rebellion of 1921 that butchered over ten thousand Hindus of Malabar and forcefully converted atleast half that number to Islam. At one point, we discussed the demography of the state and I enquired how he thought that a region that was the heartland of classical Hinduism, with innumerable ancient temples and illustrious families and lineages that preserved and propogated almost all branches of Sanātana Dharma and ancient systems of Knowledge till early 1800s, became a Hindu minority land in just about a century and half. The rate of decline of Hindu population in Malabar during this period was by no means natural and comparable when contrasted to the rest of Kerala. His reply was quick and simple! "Lower caste Hindus oppressed by the upper castes converted en-masse to an egalitarian Islam!" He said that triumphantly with the satisfaction of having solved a complex sociological issue with an irrefutable logic! Really?

The story of Islam in Kerala is unlike the rest of India where it forced itself through brutal invasions. Islam came to Kerala around 800 CE through Arab merchants who traded with Malabar through Kozhikode (Calicut) port. The kings of Malabar, the chief patrons of the trade, were pleased with the industriousness of these merchants and permitted many of them to settle down in the land, marry Hindu women and raise families. Their descendants came to be known as Moplahs (Māppiḷa / മാപ്പിള in Malayāḷam). It is interesting to note that even today the word Māppiḷa is commonly used in Tamil language to mean son-in-law!

Over the next few centuries Islam grew naturally and wove well into the cultural fabric of Malabar. We have accounts of the famous Moroccan explorer Ibn Batuta, who travelled much of the medieval world and visited Kozhikode (Calicut) between 1342-47 CE, that there was a decent population of Muslims in Malabar during the period. He attributes it to natural causes and observes that forced conversions to Islam was unknown to Malabar during the period. In the subsequent decades and centuries, the Hindu Kings of Malabar (Zamorins/ Sāmūtiri) made a state policy that one or more male members of every fishermen family should be brought up as Mohammedans! This was to further the trade interest with Arabia. By 1500s the Zamorin Navy was completely manned by the Moplahs. It needs to be said that they were extremely loyal to the King and the land, and fought fiercely against the Portuguese who infested the waters of the Indian Ocean during the times.

All of this would change in 1766 CE when Haiderālī (Hyder Ali), fresh from the sacking of the Wodeyar Kings of Mysore and assuming the title of Sultan reigning from one of the most sacred seats of Hindus in Southern India (Seringapatam/ Śrīraṅga-paṭṭiṇam), vowed to expand his Sultanate to Malabar through the Wayanad pass. What is known as the Mysore conquest in history was infact a series of brutal Islamist conquests of Malabar much in line with the Moghul and Persian invasions of northern Indian kingdoms. Devastation, plunder, rape, forced and mass conversions to Islam were the nature of these conquests. So much so that in the April of 1766 Zamorin Rājah set fire to his palace and immolated himself as the last resort to preserve his honour by denying the barbarian the chance to force him to Islam and disgrace the hereditary title of the Zamorin monarch (Sāmūtirippāḍ / സാമൂതിരിപ്പാട്).

The conquest lasted for 26 years, first under the leadership of Hyderālī and then under Tipu Sultan, and converted citizens in hordes to Islam at sword point. In August 1788, the Rājah of Parappanād was forced into Islam along with 200 Nambūtiri Brāhmaṇa-s under the direct orders of Tipu. In March 1789, the Kadathanād Rajah and his 2,000 Nair warriors (along with their family) resisted Tipu's 19,000 soldiers for days together at Kuttippuram. However, they were defeated and submitted to Tipu's terms, converted, circumcized and completed the ceremony by being force fed on beef. The exact number of civilians forcefully converted during the period is unknown. There are instances where Tipu's soldiers claim to have converted 1,00,000 (one lakh) Hindus to Islam and killed all those who refused, in a matter of one week! Needless to say that every citizen of Malabar was targeted irrespective of his caste and other social hierarchies. In 1790, Tipu Sultan made repeated vows that he will "honour Malabar by making it an Islamic state -- the Moplah country." He was poised indeed to succeed, but thankfully, in 1792, he had to cede Malabar to the British by the treaty of Seringapatam. It was followed by his death in May 1799. Malabar thus went into the hands of the British East India Company and remained with the British crown till August 15, 1947 when all of India became independent.

After the fall of Tipu, many converts to Islam came back to Hinduism by virtue of their lifestyle. However, they remained Muslim and were not accepted back into the Hindu fold as there was no provision for reconversion to Hinduism during those times! Thus they lost their religion forever. In the meantime, thousands who left Malabar seeking refuge in the neighbouring Hindu kingdoms of Tiru-Kochi (Cochin) and Tiruvitāmkūṛ (Travancore), returned. They reclaimed their land and property, mostly through litigations and at times by force, from the Moplahs who were in possession of them since the Hindu exodus. This triggered tensions between two communities who otherwise lived peacefully till the conquest of the Sultanate of Mysore. The legacy of Haiderālī and Tippu is that they radicalised peaceful and patriotic Moplahs of Malabar, added many forced converts to the community and blinded them with the ideas of jihad and an Islamic caliphite (Moplah-sthan).

Between 1792 and 1921 there were 132 documented instances of large and small aggressions on Hindus! While there have been attempts to paint these acts of violence, termed as Moplah outrages by the British, as agrarian discontent against the Hindu Janmī-s (landlords), a study of the primary evidences from the records make it amply clear of the religious nature of these conflicts. Many of these were sparked when Hindu converts to Islam relapsed to Hinduism at a later time. It must be noted that none of the Hindu communities (including landless communities) were excluded in these attacks. Pana, Pulaya, Nair, Nambūtiri, Cheruma, Tiyya, Iyer, Pisharody, Embrantiri, Moossadd..... every community bore the brunt. Desecration of the Hindu temples was also a feature of most of these conflicts.

For Islamists, the Moplah Rebellion of 1921 was the culmination of these events where they briefly achieved the dream of Tipu of a Moplah State in Malabar (August 22, 1921 to January 6, 1922). For the rest of Malabar and Kerala, it was the darkest chapter since the Tipu's conquest, and an early instance of Islamist terror in the last century. Any attempt to whitewash this episode and Hindu genocide as an agrarian revolt must be resisted with facts and evidence. For the sake of history, for the sake of justice for our Hindu ancestors of Malabar.

Śrīnāth Mohandās
July 7, 2020

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