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Nature of Mapillah revolt – Religious or economic?

Nature of Mapillah revolt – Religious or economic?

UPSC CSE Mains Syllabus: GS-1- Modern Indian history from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- significant events, personalities, issues.

In news:

With the centenary of the Mapillah rebellion of 1921 fast approaching, controversy has erupted over Malayalam movie projects commemorating what was arguably the greatest challenge to British rule between the great uprising of 1857 and the Quit India movement of 1942.

Some sections have launched attacks on social media against the upcoming film Variyamkunnan that celebrates the life and exploits of Variyamkunnath Kunhahamed Haji, a leading figure in the Mapillah revolt against British rule.

No single narrative:

  • The controversy surrounding the Mapillah uprising demonstrates that in the case of most important historical eventsno single narrative is accepted by all sections of society.
  • There are multiple narrativespropounded by people of different ideological persuasions.
  • More often than not these divergent perspectives are shaped by the proponents’ current political projectsand their preferred visions of their societies’ future.
  • Frequently, it is not history that determines the present and the future but the political preferences of contemporary actorsthat dictates the reading of history at the popular level.
  • The Mapillah uprising is no exception to this rule.
  • On the one hand, people of secular and nationalist persuasions see it as a major instance of resistance to British colonial rule.
  • Others say it as an example of ingrained Muslim hatred against Hindus.
  • Both these perceptions are based on single-factor explanationsof a very complex phenomenon.
  • The rebellion can be understood only if one discards ideological blinkers.
  • It is an excellent example of the veracity of the assertion that important historical eventsalways have multiple causes and do not occur in a social, economic, and political vacuum.

British policies:

  • The British had introduced new tenancy lawsthat tremendously favoured the landlords and instituted a far more exploitative system than before.
  • The pre-British relations between landlords and tenants were based on a codethat provided the tenants a decent share of the produce.
  • The new lawsdeprived them of all guaranteed rights to the land and its produce and in effect rendered them landless.
  • This change created enormous resentmentamong the tenants against British rule.
  • The fact that most of the landlords were Namboodiri Brahminswhile most of the tenants were Mapillah Muslims compounded the problem.
  • The Nairs formed an intermediate grouping of well-off peasantrywith their own economic and social grudges against the Namboodiri landlords but largely unsympathetic to the economic travails of the Mapillahs.

In 1915, it was found, for instance, that one-fifth of the land revenue in Malabar came from 86 landlords, 84 of whom were Hindus. Muslim Mappilas were often tenants-at-will, easily turned out from the land they tilled, by superiors who, even in the best of times, could charge anywhere from 59-77% of the produce as rent.

  • All legal clauses privileged the owner—even when the landlord,such as the Zamorin in Kozhikode, wasn’t fully certain where his land began or ended.
  • This, naturally, left cultivators in a perpetually precarious position. The colonial establishment, meanwhile, had no desire for reform.
  • Even in 1917, the British were convinced that legislation to prevent arbitrary eviction of cultivatorswould be a “grave political mistake”.

Resentment building up for years:

  • Resentment had built up over many years among the Mappilas and through the 19th century there had been dozens of “outrages“, predominantly in south Malabar.
  • Each time it was quashed, but the figures could be disturbing.
  • In 1849, for example, 64Mappilas were shot dead, most of them under the age of 24 and impoverished.
  • However, some of the responses from those captured alive were revealing. It was “impossible”, said one rebel in 1843, “for people to live quietly while the Atheekarees (officials) and Jenmies (landlords)…treat us in this way”.
  • Europeans ejected Muslims from the spice trade, Hindu elites aligned their interests with these new lords of the seas.
  • To quote the scholar Roland E. Miller, “The Mappilas in the main (slowly) became a community of poor labourers, fishermen, shopkeepers and religious figures. Deep poverty became the general pattern,” as they forfeited former positions of influence.

The revolt:

  • The immediate trigger of the uprising was the Non-Cooperation Movementlaunched by the Congress in 1920 in tandem with the Khilafat agitation.
  • The Malabar Congress, many of whose leaders were Nairs, was the most active participant in these twin agitations with several Hindu leaders addressing Khilafat gatherings.
  • The anti-British sentimentfuelled by these agitations found fertile ground among the Muslim Mapillahs of south Malabar living in economic misery which they blamed in large part on British rule.

The spark that lit the fire:

  • The Non-Cooperation Movement combined with the Khilafat agitationprovided the spark that lit the fire of Mapillah revolt against the British rulers and their Hindu landlords.
  • The fiery speeches by Muslim religious leaders that accompanied the Khilafat movement added to the religious fervour of an already desperate peasantry and fuelled their ire against the British and the Hindu landlordsleading to the atrocities committed by a segment of the mobilised Mapillahs against Hindus regardless of caste.
  • Non-partisan analyses of the uprising make clear that multiple factors contributed to the character of the movement.
  • These included economic distress, anger against foreign rule and the tenancy laws it instituted, and religious zeal.
  • But above all it was an agrarian revolt that simultaneously took on the garb of anti-colonialism and religious fanaticism.
  • In the end, 2,339 rebels were killed, nearly 6,000 captured, and over 39,000 persuaded to surrender.
  • Much blood had flowed through parts of northern Kerala, featuring “guerilla warfare, plunder, terrorization” and worse, by Mappilas against the colonial state as well as local grandees, in an outburst of economic and religious hostility.

Source:” The Hindu / livemint“.


Discuss the causes that led to the Mapillah revolt. Some historians criticise that the movement was steered by religious fervour. Do you agree with this perspective?