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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Explained: Why does the 1921 Malabar rebellion still court controversy?

Friday, August 20, marks the centenary of the Malabar rebellion, which is also known as the Moplah (Muslim) riots.

Written by Shaju Philip , Edited by Explained Desk | Thiruvananthapuram |
Updated: August 27, 2021 2:23:19 pm
The Malabar rebellion was an armed revolt staged by the Mappila Muslims of Kerala against the British authorities and their Hindu allies in 1921. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Former BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav Thursday said the Moplah rebellion of 1921 was one of the first manifestations of the Taliban mindset in India, and claimed the LDF in Kerala was celebrating it as a communist revolution.

What is the Malabar rebellion of 1921?

Friday, August 20, marks the centenary of the Malabar rebellion, which is also known as the Moplah (Muslim) riots. It had been an uprising of Muslim tenants against British rulers and local Hindu landlords.

The uprising, which began on August 20, 1921, went on for several months marked by many bouts of bloodstained events. Some historical accounts state the uprising led to the loss of around 10,000 lives, including 2,339 rebels.

It has often been perceived as one of the first nationalist uprisings in southern India. It has even been described as a peasant revolt. In fact, in 1971, the then Kerala government had included the participants of the rebellion in the category of freedom fighters.

The incidents of the uprising took place in regions which are currently under the Malappuram district in north Kerala.

BJP wades into the debate

The riots, which had led to the deaths of hundreds of Hindus in the Malabar region, still remains a debated topic among historians.

Recently, the BJP waded into the debate by dubbing the rebellion the first “jihadi massacre of Hindus” in Kerala. It said history was distorted, and the uprising, which began as part of the Khilafat Movement, ended up with the massive killings of Hindus. The BJP also blamed the Congress for making the Khilafat Movement a part of the freedom struggle in the Malabar region, which at the time, was part of the Madras Presidency under the British regime.

The uprising had also led to largescale conversion of Hindus to Islam.

The BJP is of the opinion that depicting the “unprovoked massacre of Hindus as part of the Independence struggle is an insult to history as well as the majority community in Kerala”. The Sangh Parivar had often played to hilt this narrative as part of the BJP’s agenda of mobilising Hindu vote banks in Kerala. The Parivar version has also gained ground in tune with the emerging polarisation in the state.

In the run up to the events marking 100 years of the rebellion, the BJP highlighting the loss incurred to the Hindu side in the riot, pointing out that temples had been destroyed and thousands of people (Hindus) had been killed. The party is against glorifying the massacre as a freedom struggle, and is opposed to giving freedom fighters’ pensions to the participants. The BJP wants the relief to go to the dependents of the victims of the “jihadi massacre” instead.

Controversial film projects on the rebellion

In 1988, a Malayalam film titled ‘1921’ was made based on the theme. With superstar Mammootty in the lead role, the film, directed by I V Sasi, won laurels. The protagonist had been a member of the brigade of Variyamkunnath Kunjahammed Haji, a prominent Muslim leader of the uprising. However, last year, when young film director Aashiq Abu announced a new project based on the Haji, the Sangh Parivar felt it was glorifying a Muslim leader in the massacre of Hindus. The BJP wanted the film dropped as the party felt it was a “jihadi version” of history.

The Parivar side retorted with BJP leader and filmmaker Ali Akbar announcing another project, “to expose the true face of the uprising”. The BJP leader wanted to highlight the killing of Hindus, who were not ready to change religion.

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