The Moplah Rebellion (also called Mappilah revolt) is a contentious episode of India’s colonial history. As 2021 is the centenary of the Moplah rebellion, controversy has erupted over the character of the riots. The topic is important both from prelims and mains point of view.
In news: Moplah rioters are not freedom fighters according to a recent report.
Placing it in syllabus: Rebellion
- What is the Moplah rebellion?
- Landowning structure in Malabar
- Khilafat- non cooperation movement effect on Moplah peasants
- Is moplah rebellion a communal riot or a national movement
Is moplah rebellion a communal riot or a national movement?
Though multiple factors like economic distress, anger against foreign rule and the tenancy laws contributed to the movement, in true nature it was an agrarian revolt that simultaneously took on the garb of anti-colonialism and religious fanaticism.
Modern historians tend to treat the revolts as religious outbreaks or expressions of agrarian discontent. People of secular and nationalist persuasions see it as a major instance of resistance to British colonial rule. But people of the Hindutva persuasion portray it as ingrained Muslim hatred against Hindus.
A report submitted to the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) in 2016 had recommended the delisting of Wagon Tragedy victims and Malabar Rebellion leaders from a book on martyrs of India’s freedom struggle. The report had sought the removal of names of 387 ‘Moplah rioters’ from the list.
The review report noted that almost all the Moplah outrages were communal. They were against the Hindu society and done out of sheer intolerance. The British convicted the rioters after proper trial. These dead were never recognised as freedom fighters elsewhere.
What is the Moplah rebellion?
- The Malabar rebellion in 1921 started as resistance against the British colonial rule, the prevailing feudal system, and in favour of the Khilafat Movement in South Malabar.
- However it ended in communal violence against Hindus.
- A series of clashes took place between the Mappila peasantry and their landlords, supported by the British, throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.
- The Mappilas attacked and took control of police stations, British government offices, courts and government treasuries.
- Sometimes Nambudiris, Nairs and Thiyyas also acted as leaders in many parts of Valluvanad of Malabar region.
Landowning structure in Malabar:
- The pre-British relations between landlords and tenants were based on a code that provided the tenants a decent share of the produce.
- Malabar’s agricultural system was historically based on a hierarchy of privileges, rights and obligations for all principal social groups described as a joint proprietorship of each of the principal land right holders.
- The Jenmi, consisting mainly of the Namboothiri Brahmins and Nair chieftains were the highest level of the hierarchy and a class of people given hereditary land grants by the Naduvazhis or rulers.
- As the jenmis could neither cultivate nor supervise the land due to their ritual status as priests, they provided a grant of kanam to a kanakkaran in return for a fixed share of the crops produced.
- The Verumpattakkarar generally Thiyya and Mappila classes cultivated the land but were also its part-proprietors under the kanakkarar.
- These classes were given a Verum Pattam (Simple Lease) of the land that was typically valid for one year and they were also entitled to one-third or an equal share of the net produce.
- The system ensured that no Jenmi could evict tenants under him except for non-payment of rent.
- This land tenure system was generally referred to as the janmi-kana-maryada (customary practices).
Khilafat- non cooperation movement effect on Moplah peasants:
The immediate trigger of the Mappila uprising was the Non-Cooperation Movement launched by the Congress in 1920 in tandem with the Khilafat agitation.
The British had introduced new tenancy laws that tremendously favoured the landlords and instituted a far more exploitative system than before. The new laws deprived the peasants of all guaranteed rights to the land and its produce and in effect rendered them landless.
In Malabar Congress many of the leaders were Nairs who formed an intermediate grouping of well-off peasants with their own economic and social grudges against the Namboodiri landlords but largely unsympathetic to the economic travails of the Mapillahs.
The anti-British sentiment fuelled by these agitations found fertile ground among the Muslim Mapillahs living in economic misery mainly due to British policies.
The fiery speeches by Muslim religious leaders added to the religious fervour of desperate peasantry and fuelled their ire against the British and the Hindu landlords. This led to the atrocities committed by a segment of the mobilised Mapillahs against Hindus regardless of caste.