August 2021 marked the centenary year of the Moplah Rebellion, a four-month long agitation by Muslim agricultural workers against unfair British land laws. In the same week the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) proposed removing 387 members associated with the resistance from the Dictionary of Martyrs of India's Freedom Struggle.
Critics labelled the move as yet another concerted effort by the government and its agencies to rewrite important chapters of India’s history and the role minority communities played in it. The counter narrative was that the rebellion wasn’t really a class conflict, but a religious one, a “genocide against Hindus”.
The Moplah Rebellion, also known as the Malabar Rebellion, began on August 20, 1921 in the southern state of Kerala in Malappuram district. The insurrection that began as a protest against British colonial rule and the feudal system, which while granting landowners (mostly Hindus) complete ownership of agricultural lands, reduced workers (mostly Muslim) to labourers with no control over the land they tilled or the final produce. It ended up with martial law being forced in six taluks (sub-districts) and a class divide being deemed as religious conflict between Hindus and Muslims.
Historical unofficial records suggest that approximately 10,000 people died, including 2,339 rebels, in what is seen to be one of the first nationalist uprisings in Southern India and a peasant rebellion. The revolt is generally perceived through three lenses: religious fanaticism, the struggle against British rule, and peasant uprising against landlords' unfair practises. Though an ardently debated topic among historians, the general consensus is that it began as a struggle against political authority before taking on a communal hue. It remains contentious to this day.
The centenary year and misinformation
ICHR’s proposal triggered a slew of misinformation on social media with #MalabarHinduGeocide and #MalabarIslamicstate trending.
OpIndia, a right-wing news portal known for fake news and anti-Muslim commentary, posted a tweet on September 25 depicting the Malabar rebellion with a memetic image showcasing the massacring of Hindus by Muslims. The post received 7,163 likes and 3,907 retweets.
The national convenor of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-affiliated group proposed that September 25 be designated "Malabar Hindu Genocide Day" and demanded a "genocide memorial" be erected.
Arti Agarwal, an IIT and MIT graduate who runs hindugenocide.com claimed that Hindus are uninformed of the atrocity. The post was liked by 840 people and received 525 retweets.
Politicization of history
As the Moplah rebellion reached its centenary, leaders from various political parties spoke of the incident adding religious and communal tones to an incident that at its core was a class conflict.
"We have to think as to how we can liberate humanity from Jihadi thoughts and create an environment so that the Malabar genocide is not repeated. For this, all Indians have to come together with determination.” Yogi Adtiyanath, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh said in an interview to an RSS-affiliated publication.
RSS and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ram Madhav said, “The Moplah rebellion was one of the first manifestations of the Taliban mindset in India and the Left government in Kerala was allegedly trying to whitewash it by celebrating it as a communist revolution. "
However, former ICHR chairman M.G.S. Narayanan believes that politically motivated factors could be behind the move which was “not right and not good” and that no fresh evidence had been offered that would demand a reinterpretation of the historical role of the martyrs. “Although the panel’s recommendations have finally not been accepted, the Sangh Parivar’s characteristic mode of operation —outrageous public statements and controversies raised by prominent leaders on the one hand and surreptitious administrative actions on the other— is calculated to float its ideologically skewed version in the public domain,” Narayan said.
Criticizing the current narrative, general secretary of the Communist Party of India D Raja, also chimed in. “One can say such things about RSS also. What is the RSS mindset? It is also a communal fascist mindset that tries to re-interpret and rewrite the entire history, and tries to redefine the nationhood of this country. As far as Moplah revolt is concerned it is against feudal lords against British rulers that is why those people were sent to cellular prisons. Ram Madhav should know that", Raja said.
The past several years have been witness to the Sangh Parivar's politics that revolve around distorting history and promoting an anti-muslim stance. Soon after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership in 2014, Dinanath Batra, former general secretary RSS’ school network chaired a committee with the goal of Indianzing the education system. Batra proposed that an essay by A. K. Ramanujan — Three Hundred Ramayanas — be removed from the University of Delhi syllabus because it contradicted the Hindu nationalist idea that there was a single version of the epic. The right wing even attempted to construct a temple on November 15th, 2017 for Nathuram Godse, who was involved in Mahatma Gandhi's assassination. Hindutva's portrayal as a nationalist with the goal of spreading nationalism among the people conceals a communal goal.