The British themselves considered 13th April, 1919 as a dark day in the history of
their rule in India, to the extent that during her official visit in 1997 to India,
Queen Elizabeth II visited Jallianwala Bagh at Amritsar. Evidently, the butchery of some
hundreds of innocent lives, with the help of 1650 rounds of rifle firing by the
soldiers of Brigadier Dyer, sits uneasy on the British conscience.
This British blot pales into insignificance when remembered in
comparison with the Moplah riots in the Malabar area of, what is now, Kerala, during 1921.
In the words of historian R.C.Majumdar, With the Moplah outrages the Conggess forfeited
its moral right to criticize the action of the British authorities in respect of the
outrages in thePunjab. The enormity of the episode can be gauged from the fact that
the casualities suffered by the British Indian soldiers in their endeavour to put down the
riots were 43 killed and 126 wounded. The number of policemen who lost their lives ran
into hundreds.The culprit Moplahs themselves were eventually estimated to have suffered
The massacre of Hindus, their forcible conversions, the outrages upon women, the
desecration of temples and the burning of houses was unspeakable. The following is a quote
from a memorial submitted by the women ot Malabar soon after the riots to theVicereina
Lady Reading: 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 sisters
forcibly carried away front 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 deity shamefully insulted by putting the entrails of slaughtered where
flower garlands used to lie or else smashed to pieces.
The distinguished British theosophist and former President of the
Congress Party, 1916, Annie Besant, visited Malabar and had the following to say: It
would be well if Mr Gandhi could be taken into Malabar to see with his own eyes the
ghastly horrors which have been created by the preaching of himself and his loved
brothers, Mohammed and Shaukat Ali. Men who consider it religious to murder, rape, loot,
to kill women and little children, cutting down whole families, have to be put under
restaint in any civilized society.
Annie Besant attributed the Moplah riots to the conviction amongst the
Muslims that swaraj would be attained by 1 August 1921. Incidentally, their
understanding of swaraj was of a rule dominated by Islam. When rioting began,
they drove away all Hindus who would not apostatise. Somewhere about a lakh (100,000) of
people were driven from their homes with nothing but the clothes they had on, stripped of
everything. The Khilafat preachers have the greatest share of the guilt; the Congressmen,
with their violent abuse of the government, their lawlessness, their declarations that
they were out to destroy the government, were at war with the government, a large share.
The Government of India report on the riots was a detailed one. Quoted
now are some of the lines from that document: Such Europeans as did not succeed in
escaping- and they were fortunately few - were murdered with bestial savagery. As
soon as the administration had been paralysed, the Moplahs declared that Swaraj was
established. A certain Ali Musaliar was proclaimed Raja, Khilafat flags were flown, and
Ernad and Walluvanad were declared Khilafat kingdoms. The main brunt of Moplah ferocity
was borne, not by government but the luckless Hindus who constituted the majority of the
population. Massacres, forcible conversions, desecration of temples, foul outrages upon
women, pillage, arson and destruction - in short, all the accompaniments of brutal and
unrestrained barbarism were perpetrated freely.
The official resolution of the Congress Party passed at its plenary
session at Ahmedabad during the same year was, by contrast, a whitewash: The Congress
expresses its firm conviction that the Moplah disturbance was not due to the
non-cooperation or the Khilafat Movement, specially as the non-cooperation and the
Khilafat preachers were denied access to the affected parts by the district authorities
for six months before the disturbance, but is due to causes wholly unconnected with
the two movements, and that the outbreak would not have occurred had the message of
non-violence been allowed to reach them. Nevertheless, this Congress deplores the acts
done by certain Moplahs by way of forcible conversions and destruction of life and
The reason why it is being called a whitewash is a statement signed by the Secretary
and the Treasurer of the Kerala Provincial Congress Committee, Secretary, Calicut District
Congress Committee and Secretary, Ernad Khilafat Committee and K.V.Gopala Menon. It reads:
Their wanton and unprovoked attack on the Hindus, the all but wholesale looting of their
houses in Ernad, and parts of Valluvanad, Ponnani and Calicut taluqs; the forcible
conversion of Hindus in a few places in the beginning of the rebellion and the wholesale
conversion of those who stuck to their homes in later stages, the brutal murder of
inoffensive Hindus, men, women and children, in cold blood without the slightest reason
except that they are kafirs or belong to the same race as the policemen who insulted their
Tangals or entered their mosques, desecration and burning of Hinds tomple, the outrage on
Hindu women and their forcible conversion and marriage by Moplahs.
The Congress whitewash, however, was not a patch on what Mahatma
Gandhi himself tried to do in order to cover up Moplah crimes. To quote him: The brave
God fearing Moplahs who were fighting for what they consider as religion, and in a manner
which they consider as religious. The Hindus must have the courage and the faith to feel
that they can protect their religion in spite of such fanatical erupttions.
In the light of what Gandhiji had to say, it is not surprising what
Shaukat Ali, the President of the 1923 Khilafat Conference, at Cocanada, now Kakinada, had
to say: Thousands of Moplahs had been martyred but they owed a duty, both on religious
and humanitarian grounds, to these brave Moplahs. He went on to announce that he and
his brother, Maulana Muhammad Ali, would each provide for the maintenance of one Moplah
orphan. Hasrat Mohani, President of the Muslim League in 1923, characterized the Moplah
action as a religious war against the British. It was a political movement which could not
be dissociated from the khilafat agitation.
This contention should be no surprise if one recalls the impression that Gandhi had
conveyed to his Muslim colleagues on the Khilafat committee as to what constituted swaraj
or freedom. It is best to quote the Mahatma himself: To the Musalmans swaraj means,
as it must, India's ability to deal effectively with the Khilafat question. It is
impossible not to sympathise with this attitude... I would gladly ask the postponement of
the swaraj activity if we could advance the interest of the Khilafat.
Sir Sankaran Nair, who was a member of the Viceroy's Executive Council,
wrote about the Moplah riots in 1922. Himself hailing from Malabar, the pain the local
people must have felt is reflected in what he wrote. He said: For sheer brutality on
women, I do not remember anything in history to match the Malabar (Moplah) rebellion ...
The atrocities committed more particularly on women are so horrible and unmentionable that
I do not propose to refer to them in this book.
Sir Sankaran has analysed the root cause of the Moplah riots as Gandhiji's lack of
understanding of the Muslim psyche. It is impossible to believe that Gandhi and his
adherents are not aware that this claim of the Mahomedans to be judged only by the law of
the Qoran, is a claim which is the funs et origo of all Khilafat claims of whatever kind. He
subsequently quotes Hasrat Mohani's speech at the Karachi session of the Khilafat
Conference wherein he pointed out that Islam is opposed to non violence and, as
he said in the course of one of his speeches, theMussalmans accepted it on the promise of
(Maulana) Mahomed Ali to secure swaraj within a year. It was a legitimate move therefore
to proclaim a rebellion. He pointed out another difference in principle which is
productive of frightful consequences and mus alienate Hindus from Mahomedans. The All
Brothers had already said that if the Afghans invaded India to wage a holy war the Indian
Mahomedans are not only bound to fight them but also to fight the Hindus if they refuse to
cooperate with them.
Sir William Vincent, member of the Legislative Assembly in New Delhi,
spoke on 18 January 1922. I do not put it that Mr Gandhi is responsible for this
directly, but I do say that his supporters - his Muhammadan supporters - were the cause of
this terrible loss of life. Indeed you have only got to read Mr Hasrat Mohani's speech to
see what the character of the rising was.
Those not familiar with Malabar may be curious to know who the Moplahs
were? They were descendants of Arab traders who settled down on the Malabar coast during
the 9th century. They married local women and multiplied their race into large numbers.