Malabar rebellion

the Mappila revolution
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The Malabar rebellion of 1921 (also known by the names Moplah riots, Mappila riots) started as resistance against the British colonial rule in Malabar region of Kerala. The popular uprising was also against the prevailing feudal system controlled by elite Hindus and in favour of the Khilafat Movement. The British had appointed high caste Hindus in positions of authority to get their support, this led to the protest turning against the Hindus.


  • The blood-curdling atrocities committed by the Moplas in Malabar against the Hindus were indescribable. All over Southern India, a wave of horrified feeling had spread among the Hindus of every shade of opinion, which was intensified when certain Khilafat leaders were so misguided as to pass resolutions of " congratulations to the Moplas on the brave fight they were conducting for the sake of religion". Any person could have said that this was too heavy a price for Hindu-Moslem unity. But Mr. Gandhi was so much obsessed by the necessity of establishing Hindu-Moslem unity that he was prepared to make light of the doings of the Moplas and the Khilafats who were congratulating them. He spoke of the Moplas as the " brave God-fearing Moplas who were fighting for what they consider as religion and in a manner which they consider as religious ". Speaking of the Muslim silence over the Mopla atrocities Mr. Gandhi told the Hindus:
    " The Hindus must have the courage and the faith to feel that they can protect their religion in spite of such fanatical eruptions. A verbal disapproval by the Mussalmans of Mopla madness is no test of Mussalman friendship. The Mussalmans must naturally feel the shame and humiliation of the Mopla conduct about forcible conversions and looting, and they must work away so silently and effectively that such a thing might become impossible even on the part of the most fanatical among them. My belief is that the Hindus as a body have received the Mopla madness with equanimity and that the cultured Mussalmans are sincerely sorry of the Mopla's perversion of the teaching of the Prophet"
  • Beginning with the year 1920 there occurred in that year in Malabar what is known as the Mopla Rebellion. It was the result of the agitation carried out by two Muslim organizations, the Khuddam-i-Kaba (servants of the Mecca Shrine) and the Central Khilafat Committee. Agitators actually preached the doctrine that India under the British Government was Dar-ul-Harab and that the Muslims must fight against it and if they could not, they must carry out the alternative principle of Hijrat. The Moplas were suddenly carried off their feet by this agitation. The outbreak was essentially a rebellion against the British Government The aim was to establish the kingdom of Islam by overthrowing the British Government. Knives, swords and spears were secretly manufactured, bands of desperadoes collected for an attack on British authority.... But what baffled most was the treatment accorded by the Moplas to the Hindus of Malabar. The Hindus were visited by a dire fate at the hands of the Moplas. Massacres, forcible conversions, desecration of temples, foul outrages upon women, such as ripping open pregnant women, pillage, arson and destruction— in short, all the accompaniments of brutal and unrestrained barbarism, were perpetrated freely by the Moplas upon the Hindus until such time as troops could be hurried to the task of restoring order through a difficult and extensive tract of the country. This was not a Hindu-Moslem riot. This was just a Bartholomew. The number of Hindus who were killed, wounded or converted, is not known. But the number must have been enormous.
  • They murdered and plundered abundantly, and killed or drove away all Hindus who would not apostatize. Somewhere about a lakh of people were driven from their homes with nothing but the clothes they had on, stripped of everything. Malabar has taught us what Islamic rule still means, and we do not want to see another specimen of the Khilafat Raj in India.
    • Besant, Annie. The Future of Indian Politics: A Contribution To The Understanding Of Present-Day Problems P252. Kessinger Publishing, LLC. ISBN 1428626050.
  • "It would be well if Mr. Gandhi be taken into Malabar to see with his own eyes the ghastly horror which have been created by his preaching and of his “loved brothers” Mohammed and Shaukal Ali. Mr. Gandhi asked the Moderates to compel the Government to suspend hostilities, i.e. to let loose the wolves to destroy what lives are left. The Murderers, the looters, the ravishers have put into practice the teachings of paralyzing the Government by making war on the Government in their own way. How does Mr. Gandhi like the Mopla spirit, as shown by one of the prisoners in the hospital, who was dying from the results of asphyxiation? He asked the surgeon, if he was going to die and the surgeon answered that he feared he would not recover. “Well, I am glad that I killed 14 infidels” said the ‘Brave, God-fearing Mopla’, whom Mr. Gandhi so much admires who “are fighting for what they consider” as religion, and in a manner they consider as religious”. Men who consider it “religious” to murder, rape, loot, to kill women and little children, cutting down whole families, have to be put under restraint in any civilized society. Mr. Gandhi was shocked when some Parsi ladies had their saris torn on, and very properly, yet the God fearing hooligans had been taught that it was sinful to wear foreign cloth, and doubtless felt they were doing a religious act; can he not feel a little sympathy for thousands of women left with only rage, driven from home, for little children born of the dying mothers on roads in refugee camps ? The misery is beyond description. Girl wives, pretty and sweet, with eyes half blind with weeping, distraught with terror, women who have seen their husbands backed to pieces before their eyes, in the way “Moplas consider as religious”, old women tottering, whose faces become written with anguish and who cry at a gentle touch and a kind look waking out of a stupor of misery only to weep, men who have lost all – hopeless, crushed, desperate. I have walked among thousands of them in the refuge camps, and some times heavy eyes would lift as a cloth was laid gently on the bare shoulder and a faint watery smile of surprise would make the face even more piteous than the stupor. Eyes full of appeal, of agonized despair, of hopeless entreaty, of helpless anguish, thousands of them camp after camp, “Shameful inhumanity proceeding in Malabar “says Mr. Gandhi Shameful inhumanity indeed. Wrought by the Moplas, and where are the victims, saved from extermination by British and India swords. For be it remembered the Moplas began the whole home business; the Government intervened to save their victims and these thousands have been saved. Mr. Gandhi would have hostility suspended – so that the Moplas may sweep down on the refugee camps, and finish their work”. Let me finish within beautiful story told to me. Two Pulayas the lowest of the submerged classes, were captured with others and given the choice between Islam and Death. These, the outcast of Hinduism, the untouchables, so loved the Hinduism which had been so unkind a step-mother to them, that they chose to die Hindus rather than to live Muslim. May the God of both, Muslim and Hindus send his messengers to these heroic souls, and give them rebirth into the faith for which they died.”
    • Annie Besant: Malabar’s Agony – Annie Besant writes on Gandhiji’s ‘Mappila brothers’ – New India, 29 November 1921
  • You are aware of a Muslim group in Kerala called the Moplahs. The only contribution of these people in the Freedom movement was that, during the Khilafat agitation of 1921, they carried out a brutal massacre of Hindus in Malabar. They plundered thousands of Hindu homes and burnt Hindu villages, they raped Hindu women and destroyed Hindu temples. But you know what? Such of those Moplahs as are still alive are honoured by the Governmnt of India as 'freedom fighters' and given monthly pension on that basis!
    • A. Chatterjee, Hindu nation, quoted in Elst, Koenraad (2001). Decolonizing the Hindu mind: Ideological development of Hindu revivalism. New Delhi: Rupa. p.561
  • Shortly after the worst of all riots between Moslems and Hindus, when the Moplah Mohammedans butchered hundreds of unarmed Hindus and offered their prepuces as a covenant to Allah, these same Moslems were stricken with famine; Gandhi collected funds for them from all India, and, with no regard for the best precedents, forwarded every anna, without deduction for "overhead," to the starving enemy.
  • In August 1921, exactly a year after the start of Non-Cooperation, time for which Gandhi had promised results, the Moplah Muslim community of Kerala installed its own version of home-rule, viz. Khilafat rule. A Khilafat kingdom was declared under one Ali Musaliar. It took the British several months to suppress this rebellion, and meanwhile pogroms were conducted against the local Hindus, involving murder, rape and forcible conversion to Islam... We may add, at this point, a more recent comment (1993) on the Moplah Rebellion and its political digestion by Gandhi’s Congress, by a Hindu historian. In his book Aryan Invasion Theory and Indian Nationalism, Shrikant G. Talageri insists that ‘Halfway through, the Khilafat agitation was converted into a jihad against Hindus. (…) If the Khilafat agitation was ghastly and horrifying, the secularist response to it was a hundred times more ghastly and horrifying. (…) The Congress suppressed all reports about the atrocities perpetrated by the Moplahs against the Hindus, and Congress leaders condemned the British authorities for taking measures to quell the rioters.’ Further, he insists that ‘the Mahatma went out of his way to refer to the Moplah murderers as “my brave Moplahs”, and expressed admiration for their religious fervour. After 1947, Moplah rioters were classified as freedom fighters and made eligible for pensions paid by the Government of Independent India. And every year, to this very day, the Khilafat Movement is commemorated by a massive procession in Bombay, in which many Leftists and secularists participate along with Muslims.’
    • Elst, Koenraad (2018). Why I killed the Mahatma: Uncovering Godse's defence. New Delhi : Rupa, 2018., quoting Talageri, S.
  • Soon after, [Mahatma Gandhi] did something much worse; he praised the 'brave' Moplah butchers of Hindus in Malabar for "being true to their religion as they understood it", and denounced the British Government of India for putting down the gangsters. (Moplahs who got killed by the British are now being hailed as freedom fighters!)
    • S.R.Goel, Preface, in Goel, Sita Ram (ed.) (1998). Freedom of expression: Secular theocracy versus liberal democracy.
  • Honoured Editor, I request you to publish the following facts in your paper. According to the Press reports from Malabar which you will have got, Hindu-Muslim Unity in Malabar has thoroughly ceased to exist. It appears that the report that Hindus are forcibly converted (by my men) is entirely untrue. Such conversions were done by the Government Party and Reserve Police men in mufti mingling themselves with the rebels (masquerading as rebels.) Moreover, because some Hindu brethren, aiding the military, handed over to the military innocent (Moplahs) who were hiding themselves from the military, a few Hindus have been put to some trouble. Besides, the Nambudiri, who is the cause of this rising, has also similarly suffered. Now, the chief military commander (of Government) is causing Hindus to evacuate from these Taluks. Innocent women and children of Islam, who have done nothing and possess nothing, are not permitted to leave the place. The Hindus are compulsorily impressed for military service. Therefore, several Hindus seek protection in my Hill. Several Moplahs, too, have sought my protection. For the last one month and a half, except for the seizure and punishment of the innocent, no purpose has been achieved. Let all the people in the world know this. Let Mahatma Gandhi and Moulana know it. If this letter is not seen published, I will ask your explanation at one time.
  • "The first warning was sounded when the question of condemning the Moplas for their atrocities on Hindus came up in the Subjects Committee. The original resolution condemned the Moplas wholesale for the killing of Hindus and burning of Hindu homes and the forcible conversion to Islam. The Hindu members themselves proposed amendments till it was reduced to condemning only certain individuals who had been guilty of the above crimes. But some of the Moslem leaders could not bear this even. Maulana Fakir and other Maulanas, of course, opposed the resolution and there was no wonder. But I was surprised, an out-and-out Nationalist like Maulana Hasrat Mohani opposed the resolution on the ground that the Mopla country no longer remained Dar-ul-Aman but became Dar-ul-Harab and they suspected the Hindus of collusion with the British enemies of the Moplas. Therefore, the Moplas were right in presenting the Quran or sword to the Hindus. And if the Hindus became Mussalmans to save themselves from death, it was a voluntary change of faith and not forcible conversion—Well, even the harmless resolution condemning some of the Moplas was not unanimously passed but had to be accepted by a majority of votes only. There were other indications also, showing that the Mussalmans considered the Congress to be existing on their sufferance and if there was the least attempt to ignore their idiosyncracies the superficial unity would be scrapped asunder."
    • Swami Shraddhanand in the Liberator of 26 August 1926. Shraddanand, Swami (26 August 1926). "The Liberator". quoted in B.R. Ambedkar, Pakistan or The Partition of India (1946)
  • But it is possible that your Ladyship is not fully apprised of all the horrors and atrocities perpetrated by the fiendish rebels; of the many wells and tanks filled up with the mutilated, but often only half dead bodies of our nearest and dearest ones who refused to abandon the faith of our fathers;of pregnant women cut to pieces and left on the roadsides and in the jungles,with the unborn babe protruding from the mangled corpse; of our innocent and helpless children torn from our arms and done to death before our eyes and of our husbands and fathers tortured, flayed and burnt alive; of our hapless sisters forcibly carried away from the midst of kith and kin and subjected to every shame and outrage which the vile and brutal imagination of these inhuman hell-hounds could conceive of; of thousands of our homesteads reduced to cinder-mounds out of sheer savagery and a wanton spirit of destruction; of our places of worship desecrated and destroyed and of the images of the deity shamefully insulted by putting the entrails of slaughtered cows where flower garlands used to lie or else smashed to pieces; of the wholesale looting of hard-earned wealth of generations reducing many who were formerly rich and prosperous to publicly beg for a piece or two in the streets of Calicut, to buy salt or chilly or betel-leaf - rice being mercifully provided by the various relief agencies.
    • The Rani of Nilambur in a petition to Lady Reading in Gopalan Nair, Diwan Bahadur (1922). Moplah Rebellion , 1921.
  • The first considerable religious riot in India under British rule was the so-called Mopla rebellion of 1921 which occurred in Malabar as an offshoot of the Khilafat Movement. The Moplas burst into unprecedented violence against the British, following upon the Khilafat Committee’s call for the same addressed to the believing population of Malabar. As it turned out, most of the casualties in this jihãd were Hindus rather than the British. Hundreds of Hindu women jumped into wells to save their honour, others being ravished and slaughtered with absolute indifference by blood-thirsty mujãhids. Hundreds of corpses of Hindu women as well as children were recovered from the wells after the end of the riots. The call for this jihãd had been pronounced by the Ali Brothers, Hasrat Mohani, and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Mahatma Gandhi himself acknowledged these atrocities as part of Islam’s holy war. He referred to the mujãhids as “God-fearing Moplas” and said: “They were fighting for what they consider as religion and in a manner which they consider as religious.” Needless to say, such manner of fighting for such a cause is the essence of an Islamic jihãd. It should be mentioned that leaders like Azad gave the call for jihãd against the British rather than the Hindus, but it is not known how they intended to confine the war against a single class of infidels.
    • Majumadāra, S. (2001). Jihād: The Islamic doctrine of permanent war. ch. 10
  • There is no doubt regarding the genesis of the rebellion in 1921. It was born out of police repression. Its chief cause was the excessive violence used by the authorities to suppress the Khilafat Movement, and not any Jenmi-Kudiyan conflict, or dispute regarding the mosque. When police atrocities became unbearable, they gave up the vow of non-violence, and decided to meet the violence (by the British police) with violence itself.
  • "The communal Mappila outrage of 1921 in Malabar could be easily traced to the forcible mass conversion and related Islamic atrocities of Tipu Sultan during his cruel military regime from 1783 to 1792. It is doubtful whether the Hindus of Kerala had ever suffered so much devastation and atrocities since the reclamation of Kerala by the mythological Lord Parasurama in a previous Era. Many thousands of Hindus were forcibly converted into Muhammadan faith."
    • K. Madhava Nair, on page 14 of his famous book, Malabar Kalapam (Mappila outrage). Quoted in Goel S.R. (Ed.) Tipu Sultan: Villain or hero? : an anthology. (1993).
  • Sankaran Nair points out to several other tortures like skinning Hindus alive and making them dig their own graves before their slaughter. The Congress leaders disbelieved the stories from Malabar initially and Gandhi himself spoke of the ‘brave God-fearing Moplahs’ whom he described as patriots who were ‘fighting for what they consider as religion, and in a manner which they consider as religious’. He went on to add: ‘Hindus must find the causes of Moplah fanaticism. They will find that they are not without blame. They have hitherto not cared for the Moplah. It is no use now becoming angry with the Moplahs or Mussalmans in general.’ Ironically, his allies, the Khilafatists, passed resolutions congratulating the Moplahs for their heroism.
    • Vikram Sampath - Savarkar, Echoes from a Forgotten Past, 1883–1924 (2019)
  • Dr. Munje said in another part of his report that, eight hundred years ago, the Hindu king of Malabar (now Kerala) on the advice of his Brahmin ministers, made big favor to the Arab Muslim to settle in his kingdom. Even he appeased the Arab Muslims by converting the Hindus to Islam to an extent to making law for compulsory conversion of a member of each Hindu fisherman family in to Islam. Those, whose nature is to practice idiocy rather than common sense, never can enjoy freedom even if they are in the throne. They turn the hour of action in to a night of merriment. That’s why they are always struck by the ghost at the middle of the day.”.... “The king of Malabar once gave away his throne to idiocy. That idiocy is still ruling Malabar from a Hindu throne. That’s why the Hindus are still being beaten and saying that God is there, turning the faces towards the sky. Throughout India we allowed idiocy to rule and surrender ourselves to it. That kingdom of idiocy – the fatal lack of commonsense – was continuously invaded by the Pathans, sometimes by the Mughols and sometimes by the British. From outside we can only see the torture done by them, but they are only the tools of torture, not really the cause. The real reason of the torture is our lack of common sense and our idiocy, which is responsible for our sufferings. So we have to fight this idiocy that divided the Hindus and imposed slavery on us……..If we only think about the torture we will not find any solution. But if we can get rid of our idiocy, the tyrants will surrender to us.”
    • R. Tagore, ’Samasya,’ (The Problem), Agrahayan, 1330 Bangabda, in “Kalantar”.
  • During the past one hundred years not fewer than 51 outbreaks of Moplahz fanaticism have been recorded. The West Coast Spectator3 of July 6, 1922, prints part of a song which is sung by Moplah braves. It describes in detail the loveliness of the houris (virgins) that wait with caparisoned horses to take straight to heaven all those faithful that die in battle, and it is said that every Moplah on the warpath carried with him a copy of this song.
    ... The nature of these outbreaks has been well summed up in a decision of the three judges that sat on the Special Tribunal, Calicut, to try some of the principal offenders. They say in part,
    For the last hundred years at least, the Moplah community has been disgraced from time to time by murderous outrages. In the past these have been due to fanaticism. They generally blazed out in the Ernad Taluk (county), where the Moplahs were ... their untutored minds were particularly susceptible to the inflammatory teachings that Paradise was to be gained by killing Kafirs. They would go out on the warpath, killing Hindus, no matter whom ... no grievance seems to have been necessary to start them on their wild careers.... Their intention was, absurd as it may seem, to subvert the British Government, and substitute a Khalifate Government by force of arms.
    ... In the rebellion of 1921 it was certainly not agrarian troubles that started them on their mad career. The evidence now clearly shows that the Khalifate and Non-Cooperation agitation must be given credit for having inflamed the minds of the Moplahs with a vain hope of swaraj (self-rule) and eternal bliss.... There are no doubt agrarian difficulties in Malabar as there are serious tenancy difficulties, but from personal observation, I would say that the Hindu coolies of the Mohammedan tenants of the Brahmin and Nair landlords are worse off than their employers.
    ... [T]he Hindu population fell easy prey to their (i.e., the Molpah) rage and the atrocities committed defy description.... The tale of atrocities committed makes sad reading indeed. A memorial submitted by women of Malabar to Her Excellency the Countess of Reading mentions such crimes as wells filled with mutilated bodies, pregnant women cut to pieces, children torn from mother's arms and killed, husbands and fathers tortured, flayed, and burned alive before the eyes of their wives and daughters; women forcibly carried off and outraged; homes destroyed; temples desecrated ... not less than 100 Hindu temples were destroyed or desecrated; cattle slaughtered in temples and their entrails placed around the necks of the idols in place of garlands of flowers; and wholesale looting. No fiendish act seems to have been too vile for them to perpetrate.
    ... There were, during the rebellion, many cases of forced conversion from Hinduism to Mohammedanism. There was a double difficulty about restoring these people to their old faith. In the first place there is a severe penalty resting on any Mohammedan that perverts ... and in the second place there is really no door save birth into Hinduism."
    • J. J. Banninga, "The Moplah Rebellion of 1921," Moslem World 13 (1923): 379-87, excerpts from pp. 379-80, 382-84, 386. quoted in Bostom, A. G. M. D., & Bostom, A. G. (2010). The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims. Amherst: Prometheus.

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