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Book Review

Beyond Rampage: An Autopsy of 1921 and Malabar

WebdeskAug 03, 2021, 11:46 AM IST

Beyond Rampage: An Autopsy of 1921 and Malabar

G Sreedathan

With unassailable proofs, author B S Harishankar tears apart the theory promoted by Left historians and Islamists that 1921 Khilafat rebellion in Malabar was not spearheaded by poor peasants but wealthy Muslim timber traders


Historians observed that Muslims in the sixteenth century Malabar, who then compromised a minority of the population, enjoyed many commercial, political and religious privileges. It was also contemplated by Mahmood Kooria that, “all the merchants and sailors of Malabar, who traded on the seas are Muslims”.  The Samutiris, the rulers of Kozhikkode, patronised Muslims  who were an immensely rich economic community in Malabar. Mahmood Kooria is one among such contemporary historians on maritime India , and Islamic intellectual pasts


This aspect has been hardly discussed or debated by historians and intellectuals who question India’s inclusive potential and tolerance in contemporary history. The new work Beyond Rampage West Asian Contacts of Malabar and Khilafat by B S Harishankar, as the title highlights, focuses on multiple issues such as the socio-economic structure of Malabar, Portuguese and French colonialism, Mysorean invasions, British rule, Khilafat movement and violent upheavals in 1921, which have been hitherto kept clandestine and marginalized by historians, especially those in the left and religious circuits. The book demolish their arguments that, Mappilas in Malabar were tenants, landless laborers, petty traders and fishermen, who were suppressed and exploited under the Hindu landlords and Colonial state, and 1921 Khilafat was an uprising by the have-nots and landless.


The author presents ecosystem, climate, and historical records, to construct his argument that the Muslims in Malabar were an efficient mercantile community with extensive maritime networks in west Asia. Eminent historians such as Genevieve Bouchon, Michael Mann, Sanjay Subrahmanyam, M N Pearson, S Arasaratnam, Ashin Das Gupta and Rolland Miller have exclusively discussed the role of Muslim mercantile communities in Malabar who dominated the trade owning majority of the ships in the region and controlling international trade of spices, especially pepper and ginger. The interactions and engagements between Islamic Arab traders and Malabar on the western coast of India gave rise to the unique Muslim community, the Mappilas. M G S Narayanan refers to leading Muslim trading groups in Kozhikode, the rich Arabs who traded with Egypt, Arabia, Turkey and Iran in West Asia and local converts to Islam known as Mappilas, and both maintained fine relations with the Hindu community, before the invasions of Hyder Ali and Tipu from Mysore.


It was Mappila business magnets such as Chovakkaran Moosa, his maternal uncle and rich spice merchant Combem Aluppi, and commercial tycoons such as Balia Hassan, Abu Baker Ali, Khwaja Shamsudin Giloni, Ali Raja Kunhi Amsi, Condutti Babchi, Haji Yusuf, Mohammad Marakkar, to name a few, who virtually controlled land and maritime trade in Malabar. The Left historians have framed and presented them as penniless and impoverished who rose in rebellion in 1921 against the Hindu landlords and Colonial state.


From the fourteenth century, Malabar developed trade links with West Asia in which the port of Jeddah, the gateway to the city of Mecca and main seaport of contemporary Saudi Arabia was important. The arrival of the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean and three centuries of religious and commercial conflict with the Portuguese, had bequeathed to the entire Mappila community a heritage of religious militancy and the ideology of jihad with a zealous belief in martyrdom. .Harishankar discusses these aspects in the context of jihadi texts in Malabar such as Manqus, Tahreel, Muin, Tuhfa, Irshad, Mubeen, Qutubat and Qasida. These texts and its jihad constructs were launched by the Ulama educated in religious centres of Mecca and Cairo, which emerged fundamental to the historiographical narratives of the Mappila community as discussed by the author.


The author contends that the relation of Malabar with Ottoman Turkey was not a Khilafat phenomenon. With the establishment of the Ottomans in Egypt in 1516-17, followed by the extension of their power on the shores of the Red sea involved the Ottomans more intimately in Asian affairs.


Harishankar puts forward the assessment of historians, on encounters of Portuguese with Mappila commercial interests, many Mappilas, in search of new economic opportunities moved interior of Malabar carrying the fervor of Islam, sharpened with intensity of conflict with Portuguese .


The author puts forward historical records on Mysore Sultans and Malabar that has been hitherto suppressed and cornered by left historians. Malabar was invaded by the Mysore Sultans Hyder Ali and Tipu, due to its political vulnerability, abundant forest resources such as timber and sandal and proximity to the sea such as Mahé which was made in 1725 a French settlement . The Mysore Sultans aligned with the French since for the Turkish Caliph, the French had been the most highly favored power , as they were the first to conclude a commercial treaty with the Turks, and French businessmen invested heavily in the Ottoman Empire . The Jacobin Club of Mysore was founded in 1794 by French Republican officers with the support of Tipu Sultan, who declared himself Citizen Tipoo, planting a Liberty Tree at the club.


The discussion exposes Left and liberal historians, who portray the Sultans as warriors against colonialism. But colonialism does not meant British Colonialism alone, but entire European colonialism.The author discusses convincingly how the Mysore sultans allied with the French colonialism against British colonialism.


The Mysorean invasion had a repercussion on the pepper cultivation and on the trade of Malabar, which declined considerably in the international market. Presenting census records the author convincingly argue how large Hindu exodus took place from numerous sites in Malappuram, Kozhikkode, Wynadu and Kannur districts in north Malabar and Palakkad and Thrishur districts in south Malabar .He also presents in tables extensive looting and destruction of Hindu temples and also Christian churches in various taluks and districts of Malabar.


Harishankar presents numerous documents and records to argue that, with large scale Hindu exodus after Mysorean invasions, Mappila Kanamdars became the principal land holders in South Malabar in the Eranadu and Valluvanadu taluks.


These taluks, as the author highlights, became the prime zones of Mappilla outrages from 1836 to 1921. Malabar opened the corridor of disharmony between Mappilas and Hindus that never existed before, such as regular outbreak of disturbances creating a frozen turbulence in the region .Placing historical evidences, the author highlights that the fierce encounters that took place such as Eranadu and Valluvanad are forest/timber zones associated with Hindu aristocracies who managed such forest lands and those who marshaled the riots were wealthy Mappila families .


The importance of forests, especially fine timber resources in the Eranadu and Valluvanadu taluks, which are not much fertile in agriculture has been either neglected or conveniently suppressed by left historians. The British understood the importance of teak and how Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan used teak timber for shipbuilding purposes and exported teak to Arab Countries and earned money . The timber trade along Malabar coast was organized by two groups, jungle merchants and coastal merchants who comprised mostly Mappilas. Besides Bayon Chacooty and Chacora Moussa, some of the native timber companies in Malabar during this period include the Khan Bahadur Arakkal Koyatty Haji, Khan Sahib Unnikkammu Sahib, Kamantakath Kunjahammed Koya, Jifri and Company and Baramies who were the noted teak merchants of that period. After British annexed Malabar, Kunjalikutty Haji of Pandalur was one of the leading man power suppliers for British estates. During the Colonial Period, timber merchant companies by Mappilas emerged in Malabar. They made contract with the British Railway authorities to construct several railway tracts using timber.


Harishankar points out how the economic vacuum created by the ruin of international pepper trade and suffered by Mappila traders demanded an alternative resource as compensation. The alternative was identified in timber which was much demanded in Europe at the time and abundant in Malabar forests. in private forests, trees are felled by Mappilla merchants on payment of kuttikanam or stump fee to the owner and there were major timber depots in south Malabar, which were major outlets involved in international timber commerce for several decades.


When East India Company annexed Malabar, they set up a committee in 1805 for a detailed survey of all accessible timber resources. Joseph Watson was appointed as conservator of forests unified the provinces of Kanara and Malabar in the forest department to facilitate centralized timber trade for British. Henceforth timber was supposed to be delivered to the company officials at fixed price, keeping away rich Mappila timber traders. This generated much animosity of the Mappila timber lobbies towards the forest land owners who were Hindu landlords, which has been discussed by the author using wide references and tables.


It was the appropriation of timber trade from Hindu landlords directly by British administration that resulted in outbreaks and riots, and agrarian grievances have nothing to do with such turbulence as dubiously interpreted by leftists. H V Conolly, District Collector, who initiated 1848, teak plantations in Malabar was murdered by Mappila criminals who escaped from prison.


The Central Khilafat Committee was constituted in 1919 at Mumbai with Mian Mohammad Haji Jan Mohammad Chotani (1873-1932) trader and premier timber merchant.


The most important feature of these two taluks in south Malabar is garden cultivation but they are not widely cultivated regions as in North Malabar. These two taluks are extensively rich in forest resources, especially timber which were exported to international markets in West Asia and Europe. The author argues on the basis of records how these extensive tracts of forests in south Malabar managed by temples , were suspicious and also hostile to Mappilas after the Mysorean interlude.


The author discusses how the traditional relationship of the landlord to the land was abolished in Malabar, and a new system lenient towards colonial rule and protected with the force of law was established .But this was not confined to the Malabar region, as it emerged in Kanara and Tamil regions. But the outbreaks and violent uprising can be identified exclusively in Malabar region.


Agricultural peasants in Malabar, especially Ernad and Walluvanad were not Mappilas, but drawn from a castes such as Cheruma and Pulaya, the agricultural labour castes, who had professional expertise in agricultural operations such as manuring, ploughing, sowing, transplanting, harrowing, reaping and threshing is much important in the south Indian context.


Harishankar also highlights how the periods from 1865 to 1900 witnessed unprecedented and very heavy floods in almost all rivers in Malabar. It was in the midst of such famines and floods there was an outbreak of dacoity and violence which has been interpreted as peasant rebellion by Left historians and certain religious lobbies.


The author also refer to scholars such as David Long, M.N.Pearson, and Michael Law who have presented the increasing numbers of Indian pilgrims traveling to Mecca, including rising populations of indigent pilgrims and Indian Muslims living and working throughout the region, which culminated in the development of a nascent Pan-Islamic bond between Mecca and Muslims in British India. The author comprehensively discusses the growth of Pan Islamic movement in north and north western India, and its strong influence in the growth of Khilafat movement. He also narrates how the dream of pan-Islamism and the 'universal’ Khilafat, was virtually crippled by the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Government in June 1916, under Sharif Hussein of Mecca.


Harishankar discusses how Ottomans have a history of coalition with Britain, such as the military alliance in 1798 against France. He also narrates the role of various Islamic organizations in Malabar, as in other parts of India which actively supported the British government during the First World War getting an assurance for protecting Turkish Caliphate. As in Russia, various Islamic sects in India declared their undeviating allegiance to the Crown, and in September 1914, Muslim leaders of Malabar congregated at Himayathul Islam Sabha Hall in Kozhikode and appealed Mappilas to support Britain and make prayers by offering Fathihah in each mosque for their victory. It was the annexation of Turkish Caliphate by allies that they turned hostile against Britain, and which subsequently turned the Indian Khilafat against British regime.


Harishankar also examines the ideological and political alliance of Communism and Islam in Russia, where the communists called on Muslims to engage in a ‘holy war’ against Western imperialism giving rise to a new alliance between communism and political Islam. In September 1920, the First Congress of the Peoples of the East at Baku, capital of Soviet Azerbaijan, it was declared there was no contradiction between Islam and Communism. The author presents the beginning of Islamic Socialism. In 1921, a Communist University of the Toilers of the East (KUTV) was established.


The author reviews the importance of Sayyids or Thangals in inciting violence against Hindus before the uprising and also in 1921.He discusses their affinity and links with the rich Mappila community. Syed Fazl Tangal of Mamburam has been accused as the prime inciter of Mappila riots who was deported to Arabia in 1852. Fazal Thangal thrice went to Constantinople (Istanbul), where he settled as a Government guest. Thus much before the Khilafat Movement, Malabar had a religious and political connection with Ottoman empire.


In the outbreaks such as in 1852, 1857, 1880, 1884, 1885, 1896 and 1915, in Ernad and Walluvanad, lowest strata of Hindus were targeted, for these were apostates who had reneged on their previous commitment to Islam. The killing of lower caste Hindus was a peculiar feature of these riots in Malabar. The Dalit Hindus were primarily targeted by radical Sunni Mappilas in all these rampage and killings.


Harishankar highlights as a peculiar feature of the 1921 uprisings, the attack on Christians .The Christian community was attacked as in Kodakkal, in south Malabar, where five were butchered and nearly a thousand Christians, on October 2, 1921, resorted to mass exodus to nearby Kozhikode and Palakkad regions a fact hardly discussed by Left historians in the context of Mappila uprisings.


The author also analyses an issue neglected by Left historians. Hagia Sophia Cathedral which since the fall of Constantinople in 1453 had been converted as a Mosque of Aya Sofya was a major issue of the 1921 Malabar uprising. In England, St. Sophia Redemption Committee was formed with its manifesto published in 1919. It created much discontent among Indian Muslims, and raised animosity among them against British rule. The reclaim of Hagia Sophia Cathredal in Europe, especially Britain raised much discontent among Indian Khilafat Committee , as it stood as a symbol of victory by Islam over Christianity.


Similarly, the Sunni lobby who organized the Malabar riots was hostile towards the Shia Muslims in Malabar, who were also attacked .The Sunnis had much hostility towards Shiites, but it did not surface much in Malabar due to the marginal presence of the latter. The author has comprehensively discussed these aspects which have been left out by Left historians.


Harishankar logically examines the post-1921 scenario of Kerala. The 1921 rampage clearly changed the social and cultural texture of Kerala. The Mappila outbreaks launched from 1836 and the huge rampage of 1921 are still continuing, regrouped, reorganised and renamed with much more vigor. A new school of Islamo-Leftism has emerged in Kerala. They have acquired new dimensions with ideological stimulus and funding from west Asia, which are presented by the author using numerous evidences.


Painstakingly researched with 25 tables, 10 maps, notes and references for all the seven chapters, the work breaks conventional premises of Left theoretical interpretation of Mappila riots as peasant uprising against feudalism and colonialism. Communal attacks by a section of wealthy Sunnis aligned with the clergy against Hindus, Christians and Shias cannot be branded as peasant rebellion. It also focuses on rise of Wahabism, Salafism and a new brand of jihadi terror aligned with the Left and funded by west Asian terror outfits such as IS in Kerala.


At the centenary of Khilafat and Mappila riots of 1921, the Bharatheeya Vichara Kendram and its Director R Sanjayan deserves all credits for publishing such a meticulous work.




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on Aug 04 2021 11:31:40

I am interested in purchasing this book Beyond Rampage Where is it available and the cost Professor Venkata Raghotham Pondicherry

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