General Studies IHISTORYModern India

Moplah Rebellion/ Malabar Rebellion


Recently, the Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR) has deferred its decision on a recommendation to remove the 1921 Malabar Rebellion (Moplah riots) martyrs from the list of India’s freedom fighters.

Background of Moplah Rebellion

  • Muslims had arrived in Kerala in the 7th century AD as traders via the Arabian Sea even before north India was invaded by Muslim armies from the west.
  • They were given permission to carry on trade and settle by the native rulers. Many of them married local women and their descendants came to be called Moplahs (which means son-in-law in Malayalam).
  • Before Tipu Sultan’s attack on Malabar, in the traditional land system in Malabar, the Jenmi or the landlord held the land which was let out to others for farming. There were mainly three hierarchical levels of ownership including the cultivator, and each of them took a share of the produce.
  • The Moplahs were mostly cultivators of the land under this system and the Jenmis were upper-caste Hindus.
  • During Hyder Ali’s invasion of Malabar in the 18th century, many Hindu landlords fled Malabar to neighbouring areas to avoid persecution and forced conversions.
  • During this time, the Moplah tenants were accorded ownership rights to the lands.
  • After the death of Tipu Sultan in 1799 in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War, Malabar came under British authority as part of the Madras Presidency.
  • The British set out to restore ownership rights to the Jenmis who had earlier fled the region.
  • Jenmis were now given absolute ownership rights of the land which was not the case previously.
  • The peasants were now facing high rents and a lack of security of tenure.
  • This caused a series of riots by the Moplahs starting from 1836. Between 1836 and 1896, they killed many government officers and Hindu landlords.

The Course of the Moplah Rebellion

In 1919, the Khilafat Movement was started in 1919 demanding the restoration of the caliphate in Turkey. The Indian National Congress (INC) supported the cause of the Khilafat movement. The Khilafat meetings in Malabar were responsible for inciting the communal feelings among the Moplahs. Due to this, the Moplahs directed movement against the British and Hindu landlords of Malabar.

The course of the Moplah Rebellion began at Tirurangadi in Kerala’s South Malabar on 20 August 1921. The rebellion lasted for over four months. The martial law was imposed in six out of 10 taluks in the then Malabar district by British officers This led to large-scale violence with systematic persecution of Hindus and British officials. Many homes and temples were destroyed. This resulted in the displacement of more than a lakh Hindus.

The prominent leaders Ali Musaliyar and Variyankunnath Kunjahammed Haji took control of large parts of Malabar till August 1921. By the end of 1921, the British established the Malabar Special Force rebellion and crushed the rebellion. The crushing of the Moplah rebellion by the British resulted in Wagon Tragedy. In November 1921, the British killed 67 Moplah prisoners while transporting them to the Central Prison in Podanur. This event is famously known as Wagon Tragedy.

Impact of the Moplah Rebellion

  • The Moplah Rebellion was one of the first nationalist revolts against the British.
  • The Mappilas Rebellion was inspired by a conception and the religious ideology that intended to form an alternative system of administration. They demanded a Khilafat government which could be a blow to the nationalist movement in Malabar.
  • Due to the fanaticism of rebels and oppression by the British, the rebellion fostered a communal rift. Besides, it created enmity towards the Indian National Congress.
  • Mahatma Gandhi’s support to the Khilafat Movement was considered as one of the causes of the violence during the Moplah rebellion.
  • The rebellion spread a counter-campaign against the ‘fanaticism’ of Muslims in other parts of the country.
  • The rebellion also persuaded educated sections of the Muslim community in Malabar to get involved into the violence to save their community.
  • The moplah rebellion provided the thrust to the post-rebellion Muslim reform movement in Malabar.
  • Vinayak Damodar Savarkar: – Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was one of the first critics of the Moplah Rebellion. He described it as an anti-Hindu genocide.
  • Dr. B.R. Ambedkar: –In his work, Pakistan or The Partition of India’, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar provided details on the Moplah rebellion. He observed that Mopla Rebellion was the result of the agitation carried out by two Muslim organizations, the Khuddam-i-Kaba and the Central Khilafat Committee. Dr. Ambedkar observed that Moplas incited violence against the Hindus of Malabar.
  •  Annie Besant: – Annie Besant was one of the most respected theosophists in India’s struggle for freedom. She had presided over the first ‘Reform Conference’ in Malabar in the spring of 1921. In her work , The Future of Indian Politics, Annie Besant described the events in the Moplah rebellion.


  • A report by the ICHR-constituted committee (Indian Council of Historical Research) in 2016 has sought the removal of names of 387 ‘Moplah rioters’ (Including leaders Ali Musliyar and Variamkunnath Ahmad Haji) from the list of martyrs.
  • In the ‘Dictionary of Martyrs’, published by the Union Ministry of Culture in collaboration with the Indian Council of Historical Research, Variankunnath Kunhamad Haji and Ali Musliyar, the chief architects of the Moplah Massacre, were deemed to be martyrs. The book was published in 2019.
  • This is because the report describes Haji as the “notorious Moplah Riot leader” and a “hardcore criminal,” who “killed innumerable innocent Hindu men, women, and children during the 1921 Moplah Riot, and deposited their bodies in a well, locally known as Thoovoor Kinar”.
  • It also noted that almost all the Moplah outrages were communal. They were against Hindu society and done out of sheer intolerance.

Source: The Hindu



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