The investigation of Special Commissioner T.L. Strange into the repeated eruptions of Mapilla Jihad in Malabar reveals horrific findings
The uniform observation by the British regarding the frequent and widespread Mapilla Jihads against Hindus on the eve of appointing T.L. Strange is unambiguous. The following is a brief list from the Malabar Manual.
1. The power of their fanaticism was astounding…One Mapilla was badly wounded and lay in an unhealed condition for seven days yet he was only anxious to get a fair blow at the infidels ere he died.
2. …the Mappillas…were always lawless…steeped in ignorance, and were… more than ordinarily susceptible to the teaching of ambitious and fanatical priests, using the recognised precepts of the Koran as handles for the sanction to arise and slay Kafirs…the Hindus, in the parts where outbreaks have been most frequent, stand in such fear of the Mappillas as mostly not to dare to press for their rights against them, and there is many a Mappilla tenant who does not pay his rent, and cannot, so imminent are the risks, be evicted.
3. The Mapillas hold the perverted view that an apostate should suffer death, and viewed the idea of granting a reward to an apostate for his wounds as a covert attack on this cherished dogma of their religion.
4….in August 1851, the leading Mappillas had even asserted that “it was a religious merit to kill landlords who might eject tenants.” [Emphasis added]
The Malabar Manual dedicates nearly fifty pages, which read like a litany of Mapilla horrors that begin roughly around 1836 and escalate to a feverish pitch over each decade. The serial Jihads against Hindus reach their peak between 1841-52. A staggering thirty-one cases of brutal Mapilla attacks occur in just this decade.
Equally, the descriptions provided in various British reports unanimously refer to Mapillas as bigots, fanatics, and describe them as a “barbarous and savage race.” Southern Malabar is where the maximum number of atrocities occur to the extent that even a mere rumour of a suspected Mapilla Jihad spooks entire Hindu villages and sends them scurrying into the jungles and hills for safety.
Thomas Lumsden Strange is selected by Conolly because he alone is thoroughly qualified and experienced enough to conduct an exhaustive investigation into these Mapilla Jihads. Strange has undergone a “long service in Malabar and intimate acquaintance with the people and their peculiar habits and feelings” which “eminently qualify him for the task, while his employment in a different sphere of late years saves him from the influence of any prejudice or bias.” Accordingly, Strange spends several painstaking months touring the region, talking to people (Hindus and Mapillas) from all backgrounds, digging up police and other reports, and “entering into the freest intercourse…both official and non-official.”
The result is his report dated 25 September 1852. The report is reviewed by the British Government and most of Strange’s recommendations are ratified in an order passed on 23 August 1853. His report conclusively demolishes the Great Myth—to repeat—that the repeated Mapilla mayhem against Hindus were rooted in an “agrarian crisis,” or that they were “peasant revolts” or “rebellions” by any definition of the term. On the contrary, he proves with hard data that they were acts of Islamic religious fanaticism provoked constantly by the preachers in the mosques and other hardcore Muslim community leaders. In other words, they were Jihad. The following are some of the notable and representative findings:
1. …in no instance can any outbreak or threat of outbreak that has arisen be attributed to the oppression of tenants by landlords.
2. I…am convinced that though instances may and do arise of individual hardship to a tenant, the general character of the dealings of the Hindu landlords towards their tenantry, whether Mappilla or Hindu, is mild, equitable and forbearing. I am further convinced that where stringent proceedings are taken, the conduct of the tenants is, in the vast majority of cases, the cause thereof, and that the Mappilla tenantry, especially of the taluks in South Malabar, where the outbreaks have been so common, are very prone to evade their obligations and to resort to false and litigious pleas.
3. …a feature that has been manifestly common to the whole of these affairs is that they have been one and all marked by the most decided fanaticism, and this there can be no doubt has furnished the true incentive to them. [Emphasis added]
Based on this, T.L. Strange makes the following recommendations to curb future Mapilla Jihads. The following is a summary.
Confiscating the property of all Mapillas who committed and planned to commit atrocities.
Imposing heavy fines on all districts and taluks and villages where Mapillas commit unprovoked outrages.
Deporting the guilty and the suspects.
Placing restrictions on the possession of arms by Mapillas.
Preventing the construction of mosques.
Creating a special police force specially trained and dedicated to crush Mapilla outbreaks. This special force were to comprise exclusively of Hindu warriors supervised by European officers.
Expelling all Mapillas from Malabar.
Of these recommendations, the British created a special force but it does not comprise exclusively of Hindus. Needless, the prospect of expelling all Mapillas was impractical and was therefore rejected.
However, T.L. Strange’s other critical finding was also entirely consistent with that of the Collector Conolly: the vicious role of the Tirurangadi Tangal and the Mambaram mosque as the nucleus of the Jihad that fanned throughout Malabar. Which only bolsters the common theme of the history of Mapillas in Malabar especially after their commercial backbone was crushed and their political power evaporated: that they were tightly united by the constant drumbeat of their religious preachers, which in turn made them a highly organised and well-networked community.
Thus, on 17 February 1852, the very day that T.L. Strange was appointed as Special Commissioner, a surging crowd of twelve thousand Mapillas, “great numbers of whom were armed,” thronged outside the Tirurangadi Tangal. The reason: rumours had circulated like lightning that the fanatic preacher Sayyid Fazl was about to be arrested. However, it was not a rumour. As mentioned earlier, the British could be paragons of ruthlessness when required and this occasion demanded not ruthlessness but its mere hint. And Sayyid Fazl understood the message clearly, fully.
Strange’s recommendation offered three options to Fazl: (1) Face a formal trial (2) Become a State prisoner (3) Quit Malabar without fuss. Sayyid Fazl’s behaviour and demeanour when he met Conolly is, once again, typical of a long line of such Islamic bullies who face a far superior force: abject grovelling. Here is an excerpt from William Logan:
Sayyid Fazl chose the third option. On 19 March 1852, he boarded a ship from Kozhikode and headed to Mecca never to return. His retinue comprised fifty-seven members including his wives, children, other family members, and servants. However, on the previous day, a huge mob of about eight thousand Mapillas gathered around his house to bid him a tearful farewell.
Sayyid Fazl’s deportation would revisit Conolly in a nightmarish fashion as we shall see.
To be continued