The Railways has removed a painting depicting the 1921 Wagon Tragedy at Tirur station in Kerala’s Malappuram district after the BJP complained that the painting would outrage religious sentiments of Hindus. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has said the Railways’s decision amounted to insulting an important chapter in the freedom struggle.
As part of the ongoing beautification, the wall near the ticket counter at Tirur station was painted to depict the Wagon Tragedy, a tragic chapter in the Mappila (Muslim) rebellion in Malabar against British rulers and Hindu landlords. In 1921, 90 Muslim rebels were arrested by the British government and sent to Podanur prison in Coimbatore in a windowless freight wagon. At least 60 of them suffocated to death in transit.
BJP Tirur mandal committee K P Pradeep said, “Railways has painted pictures of certain persons who have been widely considered controversial. Such persons had been involved in massacre of Hindus during the Mappila riot. It is highly objectionable and outrages the sentiments of Hindus. If such paintings are allowed, it would shatter the secular fabric of the region. Hence, we complained to railway authorities.”
However, Railways offered explanations that did not seem to be in sync with each other.
Southern Railway said the painting did not adhere to a policy on beautification issued by Railways Ministry. “The theme of paintings was not representing guidelines of (Railway) Board for beautification of stations with mural paintings reflecting culture of the region. The misrepresentation was corrected soon after it was noticed,” a Southern Railway spokesman said.
Railway Board sources said that general guideline on station beautification issued last year only ask stations to employ local artists to highlight local culture and does not put any restrictions on themes. “Divisional Railway Managers are free to decide, accept or reject any kind of theme they deem fit,” said a senior Railways Ministry official.
Divisional Railway Manager of Palghat Division, under which Tirur station falls, said a painting depicting the Wagon Tragedy is already installed on platform one. “A junior staff employed some artist who decided to copy that same painting on a wall in concourse area. I got feedback from officials that such a theme depicting deaths, tragedy and murder is not suitable for concourse area. So it is being replaced with another painting,” DRM Palghat Pratap Singh Shami said.
In a Facebook post, Vijayan described Railways’s decision as “heinous”. “Wagon Tragedy is an important chapter of our freedom struggle. The decision amounts to insulting the struggle in 1921. It is not difficult to understand the Opposition from Sangh Parivar towards the painting. RSS is in general allergic to the memories of the Indian Independence Struggle. By capitalising on their power in the Centre and the State Governments, they are now on a history rewriting spree. It is unbecoming of a public institution like the Railways to succumb to such demands.”