Mopala rebels, not freedom fighters : ICHR report

For prelims:

Mopala / Malabar Rebellion, Wagon Tragedy, Variyamkunnath Kunjahmad Haji

For Mains:

Mopala / Malabar Rebellion

Why in discussion?

In a report submitted by one of its members to the Indian Council of Historical Research- ICHR, it has been recommended to remove the names of the leaders of the ‘Malabar Rebellion’ (Moplah Rebellion) from the ‘list of martyrs’. 

Key points:

  • This report of the ICHR was related to the review of the leaders involved in the freedom struggle from South India who have been included as ‘martyrs’.
  • The report demanded the removal of the names of 387 Mopala rebels (including about 10 Hindus) and the names of martyred leaders in the ‘wagon tragedy’ from the ‘list of martyrs’, including Ali Musaliyar, Variyamkunnath Kunjahmad Haji.
  • The fact to be noted here is that in the year 2019, a book related to ‘List of Martyrs’ was released by the Prime Minister on ‘Dictionary of Martyrs: India’s Freedom Struggle 1857-1947’.
  • In this dictionary, the leaders involved in the Moplah Rebellion have also been included in the ‘Martyr List’ of freedom fighters.


Wagon Tragedy: 

  • This was one of the major incidents of oppression adopted by the British government against Indians. 
  • In the wagon tragedy, about 60 Mopala prisoners were put to death in a closed train cargo compartment / wagon.

ICHR Report and Wagon Tragedy:

  • According to the report, those who died in the ‘Wagon Tragedy’ were not India’s freedom fighters, as the rebels did not support the Indian freedom struggle or the Non-Cooperation Movement Purna, but only supported the Khilafat Movement for a brief period. .
  • According to the report, the rebels were convicted only after a fair trial by the British and these dead were not recognized as freedom fighters elsewhere.

Mopala or Malabar Rebellion:

  • In the 19th century, the Mopalas of the Malabar region of Kerala revolted several times, suffering from the atrocities of the zamindars. In August 1921, local Mopala peasants revolted due to illegal reasons. 
    • The fact to be noted here is that the year 2021 marks the 100th anniversary of the Mopala uprising.
  • Mopala was a Muslim farmer from the Malabar Coast in Kerala where the zamindars, who were called ‘jenmi’ in the regional language, were mostly Hindus.     
  • The major reasons for the Mopala uprising were as follows: 
    • High rate of rent; 
    • Nazar and other oppressive modalities;  
    • Relations with the nationalist movement.   
  • In February 1921, the government imposed prohibitory orders and several leaders were arrested. 

Mopala Rebellion and Communalism:

  • The Mopala Rebellion initially started as a class struggle but later took a communal form. Both the Mopala (Muslim peasants) and the ‘Genmi’ (Hindu zamindar) groups started citing their religions to include people in their favor.
  • Many religious sites were targeted during the rebellion. The Moplans started looting and setting fire to the landlords, which led to the rebellion taking religious form.

Mopala rebellion related to national movement:

  • At the call of Mahatma Gandhi, a ‘Khilafat Committee’ was formed under the leadership of the religious head of the Mopalas in Malabar.
  • The ‘Khilafat Movement’ supported the demand of the farmers, in return the peasants also participated in the movement with all their might.
  • The Mopala Rebellion was supported by the ‘Indian National Congress’ (INC) and simultaneously supported the demand for both agricultural reforms and independence. 
  • With the violent appearance of the Mopala uprising, many nationalist leaders broke away from the movement and the movement soon came to an end.   

Variyamkunnath Kunjahmad Haji:

Mopala rebels
  • The leaders of the Khilafat Movement and the Indian National Congress introduced him as the pioneer of the Khilafat Movement in India.   
    • Although Kunjahmad Haji believed that the Khilafat was an internal affair of Turkey, he promised to join the nationalist movement against the atrocities of the British and the zamindars. 
  • He led the Khilafat Movement in Calicut and South Malabar. 
  • Haji ensured the secularism of the Khilafat movement and emphasized Hindu-Muslim unity in the movement and stressed on ensuring the safety of the people of other religions. 
  • The British introduced him as a religious fundamentalist leader to end the movement by giving it a religious color.

Kunjahmad Haji in ICHR report:

  • The ICHR report described Haji as a ‘notorious Moplah rebel leader’ and a ‘staunch criminal’. 
  • According to the report, Haji killed innumerable Hindu men, women and children during the Mopala Rebellion of 1921 and deposited their dead bodies in a well.
  •  In the last phase of the Mopala Rebellion, Haji was arrested by the British, shot and killed on January 20, 1922.


  • Many Hinduist leaders, including the ‘Sangh Parivar’, were angry with the government’s decision to include the Mopala rebels in the ‘martyr list’. They believe that the leaders involved in the Moplah rebellion not only massacred hundreds of Hindus but also forced many Hindus to convert to Islam. But in this way, any decisions related to Indian history should be taken independent of the influence of current politics.  

Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR):

  • ICHR is an autonomous body of the ‘Ministry of Human Resource Development’ (Ministry of Education), which was established in the year 1972 under the ‘Societies Registration Act’ – 1860.
  • It provides financial support to historians and scholars through fellowships, grants and seminars.

Objectives of ICHR establishment:

  • Promote, accelerate and coordinate research in history;
  • To provide a forum for the exchange of ideas among historians;
  • Promote scientific writing of history and rational presentation and interpretation of history;
  • Promote balanced distribution of research efforts in various fields.

Source: The Hindu

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