The turbulent history of the Moplahs of Malabar reveals yet another facet of the complexities of the Indian situation - the way in which religious fanatics has served as the outward form for the expression of anti landlord and anti-foreign discontent.
A bitter anti-white temper had developed among sections of the Malabar Muslims ever since the Portuguese had come in 1498 to capture the spice trade and seek to extend Christianity by fire and sword. British rule with its insistence on landlord rights had re-established and vastly enhanced the position of the Hindu upper caste Namboodri and Nair jenmis (many of whom had been driven out by Tipu Sultan), and correspondingly worsened the condition of the largely Muslim leaseholders (kanamdars) and cultivators (verumpattamdars); locally known as Moplahs.
An immediate consequence was a strengthening of communal solidarity, with the number of mosques in Malabar going up from 637 in 1831 to 1058 by 1851, and with the Tangals of Mambram near Tirurangadi (Sayyid Alawi followed by his son Sayyid Fadl who was exiled by the British in 1852) becoming increasingly prominent as the religious cum-political heads of Moplah society. There was also large-scale conversion of untouchable Cherumars to a religion which promised a degree of equality and some social ascent.
Revolt became practically endemic in the Ernad and Walluvanad talukas of south Malabar, with 22 recorded between 1836 and 1854, and more risings in 1882-85 and again in 1896. It took the form of attacks on jenmi property and desecration of temples, by small bands of Moplahs, who then committed what was practically a kind of collective suicide in the face of police bullets, courting death in the firm belief that as shahids they would go straight to heaven. The number of activists was rather small, 349 in all in the 28 outbreaks recorded between 1836 and 1919, for collective mass resistance was difficult in south Malabar with its poor communications and scattered homesteads. The Moplah outbreaks were thus a peculiar form of rural terrorism which was probably the most effective means of curbing the enhanced power of the jenmi, for the earthly benefit of Moplahs who themselves did not become participants. 62 out of 82 victims of Moplah attacks down to 1919 were high caste Hindus (22 Namboodri and 4 Nair); while of the 70 whose class background can be traced, 58 were jenmis and/or moneylenders.
The roots of Moplah discontent were clearly agrarian - there was a 244% increase in rent suits and a 441% increase in eviction decrees between 1862 and l880 in the talukas of south Malabar.
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