RSS on a mission to disparage the glory of peasant movements to propagate its communal agenda
The RSS has launched its agenda of dividing the Hindus and Muslims in rural India by denigrating the character of the peasant movements across the country
After its mission of creating communal divide in the urban areas and polarising the Hindus on the Hindutva plank by raising the slogan of Hindutva in danger, the RSS has launched its agenda of dividing the Hindus and Muslims in rural India by denigrating the character of the peasant movements across the country.
Colonial India had witnessed two major peasant movements. The Malabar rebellion, which is also known as the Moplah movement of Kerala, and the Titumir struggle of Bengal. Incidentally, the leaders of both the movements were Muslims. The Malabar rebellion was an armed revolt staged by the Mappila Muslims against the British authorities and their Hindu allies in 1921.
Historical researches and findings tell us that both the rebellions were against the British and their faithful landlord subordinates by the poor peasants who were the victims of the repressions and torture of these landlords. Research papers and reports provide enough insight about the ruthless character and approaches of the landlords. In some cases, the defiant victims were even killed. Violating their women by the Mulazims (orderlies) of the landlords was the most common thing which was seen as anti-law.
The poor peasants had to pay land rent even though they were worst hit by droughts and floods. They used to borrow from the moneylenders to pay the rent. Of course, there were some pious hearted and good landlords who were quite considerate and treated the peasants as human beings. But they were few in number. The ne'er-do-wells outnumbered them by far.
The RSS has now started finding virtue in these landlords and project them as benevolent patrons of the peasants. In sharp contrast to the historical facts, they have started presenting the peasant struggles as a Muslim attack on Hindu landlords.
The worst observation in this regard has come from senior RSS activist and former BJP general secretary Ram Madhav. On Thursday, he described the Moplah rebellion of 1921 as ‘one of the first manifestations of the Taliban mindset in India’, and criticised the LDF in Kerala for celebrating it as a revolution.
It is obvious that he looks at the struggle as a terrorist movement. No sane person claiming himself to be an outstanding intellectual could stoop so low to malign a movement. Only a person with an acute sense of hatred towards Muslims could utter this nonsensical term. Besides, it also underlines that he has no understanding of India’s political economy and agrarian situation during the colonial rule.
It has often been perceived as one of the first nationalist uprisings in southern India. It has even been described as a peasant revolt. In fact, in 1971, the then Kerala government had included the participants of the rebellion in the category of freedom fighters.
The BJP is against glorifying the massacre as a freedom struggle, and is opposed to giving freedom fighters’ pensions to the participants. The BJP wants the relief to go to the dependents of the victims of the “jihadi massacre” instead.
Malabar fell under British rule in 1792. By then, the Moplahs, once a prosperous trading community, had been reduced to penury as the English and the Portuguese wrested control of maritime commerce. Further, Malabar’s landlords under the British were almost exclusively Hindu.
Throughout the 19th century, the Moplahs would revolt against this order, attacking either the Hindu landlords or European bureaucrats. Between 1836 and 1919, there were 29 such “outrages”, as British chronicles from the time describe these uprisings. Whether the uprisings were a reaction to Malabar’s oppressive land system or driven by religious fanaticism was debated even at the time by British officials. The historian Stephen Dale explains how the two elements mixed to create violence:
“For whereas the lower Hindu castes were part of a hierarchy in which an oppressive Nambudri landlord was also a social and religious superior, the Mappillas as Muslims would identify the same Nambudri as an unbeliever and could invoke Islamic tenets to justify a challenge to his authority.”
Meanwhile the Railways has removed a painting of the 1921 Moplah Rebellion from the station of Tirur town in Kerala’s Malappuram after the Bharatiya Janata Party protested. In October 2017, the BJP’s state chief Kummanam Rajasekharan had said the rebellion should not be celebrated.
The BJP is of the opinion that depicting the “unprovoked massacre of Hindus as part of the Independence struggle is an insult to history as well as the majority community in Kerala”. The Sangh Parivar had often played to hilt this narrative as part of the BJP’s agenda of mobilising Hindu vote banks in Kerala. The Parivar version has also gained ground in tune with the emerging polarisation in the state.
In the run up to the events marking 100 years of the rebellion, the BJP, highlighting the ‘loss’ incurred to the Hindu side in the riot, claimed that temples had been destroyed and thousands of people (Hindus) had been killed.
In 1988, a Malayalam film titled ‘1921’ was made based on the theme. With superstar Mammootty in the lead role, the film, directed by I V Sasi, won laurels. The protagonist had been a member of the brigade of Variyamkunnath Kunjahammed Haji, a prominent Muslim leader of the uprising. However, last year, when young film director Aashiq Abu announced a new project based on the Haji, the Sangh Parivar felt it was glorifying a Muslim leader in the massacre of Hindus. The BJP wanted the film dropped as the party felt it was a “jihadi version” of history.
The Parivar side retorted with BJP leader and filmmaker Ali Akbar announcing another project, “to expose the true face of the uprising”. The BJP leaders wanted to highlight the killing of Hindus who were not ready to change religion.
“The revolt of peasants in Malabar, in 1921, constitutes, so far as India is concerned, the greatest manifestation of spontaneous mass upheaval in the first quarter of this century, against British Imperialism,” declared Saumyendranath Tagore, founder of the Revolutionary Communist Party of India.
Titu Mir, whose real name was Syed Mir Nisar Ali, had started an armed struggle against the British Police and East India Company armed forces, who were supporting Zamindars and Mahajans. Zamindars and their men were collecting taxes for wearing beards and harassed Muslims. Opposing the oppressive taxes levied by the Company rulers and inhuman activities of local Zamindars, Titu Mir led several revolts.
Titu Mir was irked by atrocities and attacks on the common people by Zamindars, Mahajans and British force.
Syed Mir Nisar Ali used to inform the East India Company officials and police about his attacks in advance. His courageous approach attracted the poor towards him. Thousands of people, irrespective of religious and class followed him in his rebellion and fought for him against the police and British forces. Titu Mir built a bamboo fort in Narkelbaria where he trained his followers in armed struggle and frightened the Company rulers for about a decade. The British commanders attacked the fort of Syed Mir Nisar Ali (Titu Mir) on 19 November, 1831 at Narkelbaria, where he succumbed to injuries in 1832.
It is extremely shocking that 190 years after his death, Titu Mir, the legendary peasant leader, who led the Narkelberia Uprising in 1831, considered the first armed peasant uprising against the British, is being accused of communalism by saffron leaders. Celebrated in folklore as a peasant leader, Titu Mir remains a controversial political figure in Bengal for his religious identity as an Islamic preacher after he converted to Wahabism. He is being depicted as a Muslim leader only for the reason that some Hndu landlords were killed and a few temples were destroyed.
Noted historian and scholar of Islam Gautam Bhadra described it as a “distortion of history.” Bhadra claims in his book Iman O Nishan (Faith and the Flag), on the peasant movements in Bengal (1800-1850) which chronicles the Narkelberia uprising and Titu Mir’s role: “Titu destroyed one Hindu temple and killed one priest who worked in the temple of a talukdar (tax collector holding land) Deb Roy. (And) that is not because of any communal reason but because of the nature of his movement, [which was] directed against an irrational tax regime implemented by the land holders,”
A closer insight into the design of the RSS underlines that it is scared of the challenge the farmers’ or peasants’ struggle throws to the political economy of the RSS–BJP rule. It is scared that the peasant movement would finish its control over the political narrative of the current times.
Though preserving the interest of the corporates and capitalists has been the basic reason, the threat of the peasant movement to completely shatter its existence has been primary reason to oppose the farmers’ demand. They would intensify their design to discredit the peasant movement with the farmers’ taking more to the struggle and presenting an antithesis to the ideology of the present ruling arrangement.
Views are personal