Friday, February 08, 2008

British campaign medal pertaining to Kerala, Gandhiji and Khilafat

The British army officers who were at Malabar 1921

The only British campaign medal given for a military campaign in the territory of present day Kerala was with a clasp “Malabar 1921-22”. It was given by Army order 50 of 1924 and sanctioned the award of this bar to all who took part in the suppression of the Moplah rebellion in Malabar within the area bounded as follows:“On the west by the sea, on the south by the Ponnani river, on the east by the north and south line form Gudalur to the Ponnani river, on the north by an east and west line from Gudalur to the sea”

This medal is categorized under the name India General Service 1908 Medal (IGS 1908 Medal) with a clasp MALABAR 1921-22.

The educationally and economically backward Moplahs of Malabar initially organized the Khilafat Conference in 1920 against the British Government and this had the tacit support of the Indian National Congress too. Later it took criminal overtones with the rebels committing atrocities with mass conversions, murders, arson, looting etc. Destruction of government properties, and attacks on government treasuries and the adoption of guerrilla type war fare by the trouble makers prompted the British Government to suppress the rebellion with severe measures.

The Events at Malabar

Moplahs are known to be descendents of Arab traders who had settled on the Malabar Coast and married local Indian women. During the early months of 1921, multiple events including Khilafat Movement, Karachi resolution, fuelled the fire of rebellion in Kerala. A conference of Khilafat held at Ponnani paved way for the uprisings in Malabar which became a widespread struggle called the Malabar struggle. The rebellion was triggered when Turkey abolished the caliphate and it quickly gained momentum as the Moplahs were in an organized state owing allegiance to the Khilafat Movement. The reasons for the Moplah conflict were rooted in part in the religious perceptions, in part to the disaffection from British Governance and certain anger at the land owning Hindu community. The Hindu landlords had redistributed their lands and many Moplahs were displaced and hence they rose in revolt. The 'rebellion' was a result of dissatisfaction of Moplahs with the land owning Hindu community and the British Administration that inevitably supported the land owning community. Events following the Khilafat Movement helped organize the Moplahs for this rebellion.

On August 20, the first incident of the rebellion occurred at Tirurangadi when the District Magistrate of Calicut with the help of troops attempted to arrest a few Moplah leaders who were in the possession of arms, and armed incidents followed. Arsonists took to the street, burning and destroying government property. Initial focus was on the British, but when the limited presence of the British was eliminated, Moplahs turned their attention to the land owning Hindus. Ali Musaliar was proclaimed Raja of the Moplah Khilafat and Khilafat flags were flown. Ernad and Valluvanad were declared Khilafat kingdoms. Massacres, forcible conversions, desecration of temples and rape were perpetuated by a section of the trouble makers.

By the end of 1921 the situation was under control. The leaders of the rebellion were Ali Musaliar (who had himself assumed the title of the King), Varian kunnath Kunhammad Haji and Chembrasseri Thangal. All had been caught and executed by February 1922.According to official records, the government lost 43 troops with 1256 wounded while the Moplahs lost 3,000, while Moplah accounts put that number at over 10,000.After the suppression of the result, around hundred prisoners, confined in a closed and almost airtight goods van, were transported by rail. When the door was opened, 66 Moplahs were found to be suffocated to death and the remaining 34 were on the verge of collapse.

The Army actions

Initially, the Malabar Special Police and Fraser’s and Charsley’s Companies were dealing with the rebels. It was “decided to bring additional troops of a type accustomed to jungle fighting and the 3/70 Burma Rifles and 2/8th Gurkhas accompanied by a wireless section, a company of Sappers, half the 20th Draught Mule Corps and other transport details arrived in the middle of October 1921.”(Account by Innes ICS). The military commander for Malabar was Major General Burnett Stewart.

Pandikkad Camp, 15th November 1921

"The Gurkha soldiers were at this camp when the rebels, numbering 3000, under Kunhammad Haji and Chembrasseri Thangal jointly attacked the camp from all four sides in the wee hours of the morning of that Sunday. If it were the Police force or the British soldiers inside the camp, they would not have probably survived the onslaught of the Moplahs. But, the Gurkhas who were present there( numbering only about 80) renowned for their combat skills in duels, used their Kukri knives effectively in the most heroic encounter witnessed in Malabar and killed more than 230 rebels in the camp itself. The rest of the rebels fled and the soldiers followed them with gun shots in which too many lost their lives. Only 4 losses were reported for the Gurkhas, with 34 injured in which Capt. Averill also was one injured."
(Excerpts from “Malabar Rebellion” by K .Madhavan Nair)

IGS 1908 Medal with two Bars Waziristan 1921-24 and Malabar 1921-22
Awarded to Rifleman Balman Rana, 2455, 2-8 Gurkha Regiment
who was in the Pandikkad Camp on 15th November 1921

Gandhiji and Khilafat:

It is interesting to note that Mahatma Gandhi had won three medals from the British , while serving in South Africa.Later, he felt that he could no longer accept these from the British government, and returned the awards bestowed on him. The following excerpts from his letter to the Viceroy is quoted from "Young India "dated 4th August, 1920 . It also shows his sympathies to the Khilafat movement of which the Malabar rebellion was a part.

"It is not without a pang that 1 return the Kaisar-i-Hind gold medal granted to me by your predecessor for my humanitarian work in South Africa, the Zulu War medal granted in South Africa for my services as officer in charge of the Indian volunteer ambulance corps in 1906 and the Boer War medal for my services as assistant superintendent of the Indian volunteer stretcher-bearer corps during the Boer War of 1899-1900. I venture to return these medals in pursuance of the scheme of non-cooperation inaugurated today in connection with the Khilafat movement. Valuable as these honours have been to me, I cannot wear them with an easy conscience so long as my Mussalman countrymen have to labour under a wrong done to their religious sentiment. Events that have happened during the past one month have confirmed me in the opinion that the Imperial Government have acted in the Khilafat matter in an unscrupulous, immoral and unjust manner and have been moving from wrong to wrong in order to defend their immorality. I can retain neither respect nor affection for such a Government.

Dubai, 7th February 2008.

PS: This article is not written to enlighten the readers on history, but to relate to the award of the campaign medal based on the British assessment of the situation in Malabar.


Maddy said...

interesting - just the other day, i was reading about teh mrder of conolly in nilambur...

Murali RamaVarma said...

Thanks, Maddy. British Malabar history is interesting indeed. Yes, I have read on Malabar Collector Connolly's murder in his West hill residence in AD 1855.

While working in Calicut,in the 1990s, I was staying nearby at East Hill adjoining William Logan's official residence , which is the present Krishna Menon Museum.

S Soorya Narayan said...

good one..too bad they all werent killed for this henious crime

Murali RamaVarma said...

Thanks, Soorya for the comments. Those were indeed tumultuous years in the history of our State.Many stern actions were taken by the authorities to suppress the rebellion.

Anonymous said...

Mr Murali & Others, I did happen to go through these posts now only and while searching for some information about the Freedom Movement in Kerala.

It is worth reading such articles and propagating the core value as an Indian and bring all Indian on a single thread , who love India amidst all odds. Keep going and we may together take this ahead. KVR Pillai

Murali RamaVarma said...

Dear KVR,

Thank you for the comments which are encouraging.

Kind regards,

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