ICHR move to strike-off prominent names from martyrs’ list may ruffle feathers

ICHR expert committee thinks 1921 Malabar Rebellion not freedom struggle; echoes Sangh Parivar view

A move by the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), functioning under the Union Ministry of Education, is likely to ruffle feathers in Kerala. 

The ICHR, functioning under the Union Ministry of Education, has struck from its list of martyred freedom fighters as many as 387 prominent people who were part of the Malabar Rebellion of 1921. The surprise move is likely to ruffle feathers among the commoner and the community of historians in Kerala and across India. 

Prominent among the names that are deleted from the list of freedom fighters is Variyamkunnath Kunjahammed Haji, who was the spearhead of the Malabar Rebellion of 1921. The Malabar Rebellion, also known as the Moplah Riots, was triggered as a resistance against the British colonial rule in the Malabar region of Kerala. 

Sangh Parivar alleges that Haji is being whitewashed

Part of the freedom movement, the Malabar Rebellion, has been written about by scholars as a peasant revolt against the British colonial government. The rebellion also was a strike against the British move to appoint high caste Hindus in prominent positions to garner Hindu support to the British colonial rule. The uprising had witnessed attacks on the British colonial state institutions, such as telegraph lines and train stations.

However, the Sangh Parivar and its sympathizers believe that the rebellion was not part of the freedom struggle and that people like Variyamkunnath Haji were rioting Muslims. 

ICHR move politically motivated feels historian

A three-member expert committee constituted by the ICHR, according to a report, is believed to have recommended to the Ministry of Education that the Malabar Rebellion of 1921 need not be considered to be part of the Indian Freedom Movement, and the names of 387 people may be deleted. The new list of people who lost their lives during the freedom struggle is expected to be released by the end of October this year. Prominent historian MGS Narayanan has lashed out the move, saying that it is politically motivated.

Only a few days ago, RSS leader Ram Madhav stated that the Kerala government was trying to whitewash the Malabar Rebellion. This had created a controversy in Kerala, as the Malabar Rebellion and Variyamkunnath Kunjahammed Haji are revered in the state for their efforts to add muscle to India’s fight for freedom from British rule. 

With the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi set to wield the axe, the Malabar Rebellion and freedom fighters like Variyamkunnath Haji are in danger of being relegated to the trash can of Indian history. 

100th year of Malabar Rebellion; films lined up

Variyamkunnath Kunjahammed Haji has been part of debates over the past year after filmmaker Ashiq Abu had announced a biopic on the freedom fighter. The saffron brigade had been up in arms against the movie. They did not digest the portrayal of Variyamkunnath as a Muslim hero against British rule. A couple more films on the same subject were announced in a matter of days. This year would be the 100th anniversary of the Malabar Rebellion, and the movie announcements only came as natural. 

Even as films that would portray the Haji as a hero were being discussed in public space, director Ali Akbar, a BJP sympathizer, and activist, made it public that he also would make a film on Variyamkunnath Haji. He went on to announce that his movie would say ‘the truth’ about Haji and the rebellion. Promising to “Reveal the real face of the Haji”, he said his film would be made through the crowdfunding route, and the BJP and Hindutva followers would help him fund the movie. 

Earlier, when these debates were lighting up social media, the Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had opined that Variyamkunnath Kunjahammed Haji was a warrior who led a brave battle against the British. Kerala has consistently recognized him as a warrior. “There is no need for giving a communal angle to that historical fact,” he had said then. 

With the martyrs’ dictionary being revamped by striking out names like Variyamkunnath Haji’s and others, Kerala will likely see the debate heat up. 

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