By D Raja
Misrepresentation of facts, distortion of history, appropriation of some historical figures and events while negating or falsifying others are standard techniques in the ‘toolkit’ of the Sangh Parivar. This urge to rewrite the history of the Indian nation and the Republic stems from a deep seated inferiority. When the Indian masses were coming together to throw away the imperial yoke, the RSS and other fundamentalist forces were extending their cooperation to the British being totally compliant and subservient.
The recent expression of this anxiety was when a senior member of the BJP-RSS tried to give communal colour to the Mopillah Rebellion of1921 by calling it “one of the first manifestations of Talibani ideology in India”, without regards to historical evidence, as is common for them. Devoid of historical context, the BJP-RSS has labelled the Mopillah peasant as a Jihadi and similarly the protesting farmers’ of our times are being branded Khalistanis by the same forces. The Jamaican activist and politician Marcus Gravey said, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” If the Indian freedom struggle with its various branches can be envisioned as a tree, the RSS would have no branch to claim. That’s what moves them to try to uproot the tree of history itself and replace it with their false, polarized, hateful and divisive narrative.
The case in point, the Mopillah Rebellion of1921 and the RSS’ attempt sat dishonoring and diluting its memory by dubbing it an Islamic insurgency or a manifestation of Taliban ideology serves the dichotomy of thought present in the RSS’ outlook. They are practicing the ‘othering’ of a section of Indian population for about a century now and that compels them to look at every event in a communal ‘Us vs Them’ light. For them, all peasant insurgencies would have to have a communal angle – Hindu, Muslim or Sikh – and those who do not fit into their narrative of a monolithic Hindu Rashtra tend to get discarded.
However, looking at the history of the freedom movement primarily through the lenses of religion have its problems as it overlooks the inclusive character of the struggle at the same time and undermines the class based struggles aimed at the overthrow of both the British and their local collaborators. The use of religious, caste, tribe or region based affinity for mobilization was prevalent until the freedom movement, through numerous struggles and debates, evolved a coherent program to fight the British and people from all faiths started subscribing to it.
Frequent references were made to Dharam Raj or a Golden Age in the tribal’s struggles against outsiders, both British and their local supporters, in Chhota Nagpur region. Vasudev Balwantrao Phadke, a Chitpavan Brahman, aimed at a Hindu Raj through his group of social bandits while his group remained inclusive of many castes. The use of religion as a mode of mobilization gradually lost its sheen till the RSS, Hindu Mahasabha and Muslim League started using it again for solely sectarian goals.
The Mopillahs, once a wealthy trading community were reduced to the status of paltry peasantry and agricultural labourers in the Malabar region of the modern day state of Kerala. When the British gained control of the area from Tipu Sultan, they altered the land revenue system and monopolized essential commodities like salt and timber. The demand for land revenue was so severe that peasants defaulting and having to sell their furniture or other household articles to pay the revenue were frequent.
Between 1862 to 1880, there was an increase of nearly 250 percent in rent suits and nearly 450 per cent in eviction decrees in the South Malabar taluka as. Agrarian distress was at its peak and the peasants of that are arose against this oppressive structure for at least 29 times between 1919 to1936 and that included Hindu peasants also. While the population of the region was predominantly Muslim, many converting to Islam to get rid of caste disabilities, the class of Jenmis or Zamindars was drawn almost exclusively from upper-caste Hindus.
In the early 1920s, the Congress under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi gave a call for Non-Cooperation and included the demand of Khilafat to achieve Hindu-Muslim unity. The movement was aimed at creating an anti-imperial front against the British including Hindus and Muslims both. When the movement spread to Malabar region, it took a violent form and the peasants started attacking British officials and local landlords both. In this aspect, it was not different from other militant peasant uprisings when the peasants attacked the landlords and local moneylenders because they were the representatives of imperial oppression locally.
Under the influence of some Khilafat leaders, the form of mobilization and the expression of the rebellion became religious in some cases but overall, it remained anti-imperial and anti-landlord in content. Mahatma Gandhi resented the use of violence by the Mopillahs but commended them for their bravery. The movement was widespread and it took the British Army sometime to wrest back the areas from the agitated peasantry. In this conflict, 2239 rebels were killed followed by the ignominy of the Wagon Tragedy where 64 rebels suffocated to death, without water or food, in a closed train wagon which was transporting the prisoners to Bellary. These horrible deaths created a furore across the country and strengthened the freedom movement.
Many of the rebels were sent to the Cellular Jail in Andaman where they were tortured. In 1924, replying to a question in the British Parliament, the then British Under-Secretary to India, Mr. Robert Richards replied that “In July last there were in all 1,235 Moplahs in the Andamans—all in Port Blair. Seventy-two were in the cellular jail, 12 in the adolescent gang, 40 agriculturists and self supporters, and the rest in convict barracks.” After release, many of them settled in the Andaman group of islands itself as agriculturists and fishermen. I, while visiting the islands with freedom fighter and CPI Leader Comrade N E Balram, met and interacted with the families of those who survived the severe British oppression in one of the Islands.
The inability of the RSS-BJP in engaging with peasant uprising is ideological since their ideological affinity is towards the capitalists and land lords, predominantly hailing from the upper castes of the society. On the other hand, peasant distress and the perils of agricultural labourers fail to get their attention since their interest is opposite to the rich classes, not to mention that the highest instance of landlessness are recorded among the Dalits. During the independence struggle and after-independence, the Communists continued to be at the forefront of the peasant’s movements through the Kisan Sabhas and were instrumental in bringing legislations to abolish Zamindary system and bringing land reforms.
The RSS was ideologically close to and dependent on the reactionary upper caste land magnates and capitalists both for mobilization and resources and has always looked after their interests instead of the toiling masses. This has been the class characteristic of the RSS-BJP, so vividly at display through the ruthless violence inflicted on the farmers’ protesting against the three farm laws, reminding us of the RSS’ true patrons: the British and their oppression of peasant movements.
The RSS’ outlook is so narrow; it fails to see the citizens of this country with this identity and always tries to create division and discord among them on religious basis. However, the unity of the oppressed classes and castes has the potential to rise above this dichotomy and resist the onslaught of the RSS on our history, our present and future. (IPA Service)