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Variyamkunnath Kunjahammed Haji

  • 23 Jun 2020
  • 7 min read

Why in News

The year 2021 will mark the 100th year anniversary of the Malabar/Moplah uprising of 1921.

  • The freedom fighter Variyamkunnath Kunjahammed Haji led the Moplah uprising against the British in Kerala’s Malabar region.

Key Points

  • Variyamkunnath Kunjahammed Haji was born into an affluent Muslim family sometime in the 1870s (the exact date is not confirmed) and grew up hearing stories of the torture and injustice done by the British.
  • His father, Moideenkutty Haji, was deported and jailed in the Andaman Islands for his participation in a rebellion against the British.
  • Kunjahammed Haji was very much fascinated by the traditional music-based art forms like Daffumutt and poems like ‘Malappuram Padappattu’ and ‘Badr Padappattu’ and he used them as an instrument to rally the locals against the British.
    • These poems were on the exploitation of the peasants by feudal lords under the British so these were banned later on by the British.
    • Kunjahammed Haji simultaneously challenged the British and ignited sentiments against them among the local population.
  • Haji was respected for his scholarship and knowledge in Urdu, Arabic and English.
  • Leaders of the Khilafat movement and the INC introduced him to the Khilafat cause and he promised to join them against the atrocities of the British and the landlords.
  • Haji decided to take arms against the British and took the leadership of the Khilafat and was mostly heard all over Calicut and south Malabar.
  • Haji ensured that the movement had a secular character as he was aware of the strength of Hindu-Muslim unity and ensured people of other faiths were given adequate security.
    • Britishers cast him as a religious fanatic to create divisions within the movement and there was a possibility of the movement losing direction and perhaps even resulting in a communal riot.
  • As the rebellion spread across the Ernad and Valluvanad taluks of erstwhile Malabar district, Britishers and their loyal escaped, leaving vast territory under the control of the local rebels.
  • The territory was declared an ‘independent state’ in August 1921 with Haji as its undisputed ruler.
    • For nearly six months, Haji ran a parallel Khilafat regime headquartered in Nilambur, with its own separate passport, currency and system of taxation.
    • An extensive army with the participation of Hindu men was built with the aim of thwarting any attempt by the British to overthrow the Khilafat rule.
    • Tenants were granted the power over the lands they cultivated along with tax incentives.
  • In January 1922, under the guise of a treaty, the British betrayed Haji through his close friend Unyan Musaliyar and arrested him. He was sentenced to death along with his compatriots.
  • The bodies were cremated fearing that the grave may become an inspiration for the rebels and all the records connected with the Khilafat raj were burnt in order to make the people forget the Mappila khilafat rule of six months.

Malabar/Moplah Rebellion of 1921

  • The Malabar rebellion, also known as the Moplah rebellion, was an armed revolt staged by the Mappila Muslims of Kerala in 1921.
  • In August 1920, Gandhi along with Shaukat Ali (the leader of the Khilafat movement in India) visited Calicut to spread the combined message of non-cooperation and Khilafat among the residents of Malabar.
  • In response to Gandhi’s call, a Khilafat committee was formed in Malabar and the Mappilas, under their religious head Mahadum Tangal of Ponnani who pledged support to the non-cooperation movement.
  • During the same time, the agrarian situation in Malabar was worsening with the low-class tenants suffering under the oppressive measures of the landlords who were patronised by the British.
  • In this situation, the Indian National Congress (INC) reached out to the Mappila cultivators to actively support both the agrarian reforms and independence.
  • The Moplah tenants agitated against the Hindu landlords (locally referred to as janmi) and the British government.
    • Most of their grievances were related to the security of tenure, high rents, renewal fees and other unfair exactions of the landlords.
  • The British government responded with much aggression, bringing in Gurkha regiments to suppress it and imposing martial law.
    • Wagon Tragedy: A noteworthy event of the British suppression was the wagon tragedy when approximately 60 Mappila prisoners on their way to prison, were suffocated to death in a closed railway goods wagon.
  • The six-month-long rebellion is often perceived to be one of the first cases of nationalist uprisings in Southern India.
    • However, the real motive of the revolt still remains a highly debated topic among historians.
    • There are some who call it a case of religious fanaticism, there are others who look at it as an instance of struggle against British authority and then there are others who perceive the Malabar rebellion to be a peasant revolt against unfair practices of the landlords.

Source: IE

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