Malabar Rebellion: A Gandhian Oversight in Retrospect

By Yash Sinha, TY BBA LLB Div. D

The book’s theme is centred on the Moplah Riots that took place during the Khilafat and Non-Cooperation movements in India during 1919-1924. I have read quite a few existing works of literature on this issue, including the writings of Baba Saheb Ambedkar and Veer Savarkar; however, after reading this book, I can conclude that this book gives proper justice to the perception of the Malabar Rebellion. I say this for a very simple reason, unlike other books, this book has not restricted itself to a few chapters on the Malabar Rebellion; instead, the theme and flow of the whole book is centred on determining the factors that led to Malabar Rebellion and its consequences in the society at large.

There have been varied perceptions on this part of history, where some historians still consider that the Khilafat Movement was a freedom movement that was conflated with the Non-Cooperation Movement in order to fight the British government. However, this book factually contends all such notions. The book starts by recapitulating events from the present to the past. Hence, the first two chapters are dedicated to linking imperialist Turkey with the Armenian Genocide that took place during the First World War.

Recently, in the year 2021 itself, the statue of Gandhiji was desecrated in Armenia because the protestors believed that during that post the Armenian Genocide, Gandhiji supported Turkey and not Armenia. This idea is also highlighted in this book where the author is trying to analyse two things, the first being how the imperialist identity of Turkey is fundamental to understand the Khilafat movement and the second being how Gandhiji did injustice to the Armenians. However, the author condemns the actions of the protestors.

I have also observed that our understanding of history is very confounding and to such an extent that we fail to distinguish between an invasion and a migration. The author goes one step ahead and terms it as aggression. This failure to make the distinction is also applicable to our understanding of the Mughal, Afghan or Arab rules. The author has also countered this in the fourth chapter of the book[1], which is on Tipu Sultan. The author has rebutted historians who praise Tipu as a secular and progressive ruler, and how his rule impacted the dynamics of Moplas and Hindus in Malabar.

The book also highlights the events that transpired when Gandhiji wanted to merge the Khilafat Movement and the Non-Cooperation Movement. There were many national leaders such as Rabindranath Tagore, Baba Saheb Ambedkar, Dr. Annie Beasant, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, and to my surprise, even Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who believed that it was a crime to mix politics and religion like Gandhi did.

The contentions were very specific to the Khilafat movement; the movement was to reinstitute the Khalifa of Turkey to the venereal position as he was before. The same paradox was, the people in Turkey wanted to convert Turkey into a republic and did not want a Khalifa, and hence they were having continuous protests there. However; in India, under the ambit of a freedom movement, we were having Khilafat movement to achieve precisely the opposite of what the people of Turkey wanted.

The book has contended that it was a mistake on the part of Gandhiji where he unified religion and politics by providing a national-level platform to the Khilafat Movement through combining it with the Non-Cooperation Movement. This had catastrophic consequences, and hundreds of people were killed, raped, converted, among other repercussions. The book has explained how the rebellion began in detail. Hence, the book has relied heavily on the works of Sir C. Sankaran Nair, a very eminent jurist and statesman, who was also in congress as president then.

The book has tried highlighting that to achieve Hindu-Muslim unity, Gandhiji started accepting all the demands of Khilafatists and to such an extent that when Khilafatists wrote a letter to the Amir of Afghanistan to invade India, Gandhi was one of the supporters of this proposition. This was also mentioned in Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s book ‘Pakistan or Partition of India’, where he quoted Gandhi, “I would, in a sense assist the Amir of Afghanistan if he waged war against the British Government. That is to say, I would openly tell my countrymen that it would be a crime to help a government which had lost the confidence of nation to remain in power.”[2]

In the view of Ambedkar, no sane individual would do this, and even in the author’s perspective, it was blatantly wrong on the part of Gandhiji to accept all the demands of Khilafatists to reach or achieve unity. The unfortunate ramification of this whole event was that there were riots in Malabar. After 1924, when the caliphate in Turkey was demolished, the tensions between Hindus and Muslims became prevalent in India. This eventually led to the demand for a separate country, and we witnessed the death of lakhs of people in Partition.

Many historians have contended that Malabar Rebellion was merely an economic rebellion by peasants and the Khilafat movement was a freedom movement. The author in the final chapter, has explained what a rebellion is and how religious outrage is not always a part of a rebellion. He has also quoted judgments during these riots, which effectively establish that it was not an economic rebellion but an effective religious rebellion. The intention was always to establish a Khilafat raj, and hence people were converted in groups or were killed if denied to convert.

I believe it is very important to pen down history in its truest essence for the future generation so that they can read and analyse the evolution of Bharat. It has been observed that there are various incidents in history, which do not have equal written representation from all sides and somewhere, they are leaning towards a false narrative. In this situation, it becomes imperative that one should, as an author, break such myths through facts, and hence this book does justice to the cause of the Malabar Rebellion.

[1] Tiger Footprint, Malabar Rebellion: A Gandhian Oversight in Retrospect, 2021.

[2] Pakistan or Partition of India, BR Ambedkar.

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