The support of the Indian leaders to the Khilafat movement (1919-1924) was a blow that India perhaps never recovered from. The Khilafat movement was one by Indian Muslims to support the Caliphate in Turkey. Essentially, the Indian leaders, especially Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi thought that by extending support to the Khilafat movement, he would get Indian Muslims to fight against the British and participate in the non-cooperation movement. He thought that Indian Muslims would join the nationalist movement en masse if he supported their demand for an Islamic caliphate.
What followed was mindless fanaticism by the Moplah Musalmans that resulted in the brutal murder of over 10,000 Hindus, the rape of thousands of Hindu women and the desecration of temples that Hindus held sacred. During the Malabar massacre in 1921, the Moplah Muslims went on a murder frenzy killing Hindus in the most brutal manner. On one particular incident on the 25th of September 1921, the Moplah Muslims massacred 38 Hindus by beheading them and throwing them in the well. It has been documented by the district collector of Malabar at the time how even after 2-3 days, several Hindus who were beheaded and thrown in the well were crying out for help.
The Malabar massacre of 1921 was not the only time Moplah Muslims had unleashed genocide against Hindus. In the book written by the then Deputy Collector Diwan Bahadur C. Gopalan Nair, he has documented over 50 incidents of communal strife when the Muslims of Malabar had heaped atrocities against Hindus. Despite the history, the Indian leadership’s response at the time was shameful, to say the least. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi had extended unquestioning support to the Khilafat movement by the Malabar Muslims in the hopes that it would turn Muslims into ‘nationalists’ resulting in them fighting the British empire in unison with Hindus.
Either MK Gandhi was oblivious of the history of atrocities or he knew and chose to be naive – that aspect is only left to our inferences considering our history books hardly critically analyse the Malabar massacre of Hindus or the role of the Khilafat movement in the growth of radical Islam in India. However, his intentions are clear from a speech he made when he, along with Shaukat Ali visited Calicut. It was on the 18th of August 1920 that ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi delivered a speech at Calicut addressing the spirit of non-cooperation and the question of Khilafat.
Gandhi said that he believed that Indians would succeed if they understood the spirit of non-cooperation and that the Governor of Burma himself had said that the British continue to rule India not by force but due to the cooperation by the people. He exalted people to not tolerate the wrongs of the government.
“The Imperial Government have knowingly flouted religious sentiments dearly cherished by the 70 millions of Mussalmans”, he said. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi said that he had understood the question of Khilafat in a ‘special manner’ and he was convinced that the British Government had wounded the sentiments of Mussalmans as they had not done before. “The Gospel of non-cooperation is preached to them and if they had not accepted it, there would have been bloodshed in India by this time. I am free to confess the spilling of blood would not help their cause. But a man, who is in a state of rage, whose heart is lacerated does not count on the results of his actions. So much for Khilafat wrong”, Gandhi said.
Justifying the violence by the Indian Muslims being unleashed on Hindus, Gandhi said, “I propose to take you for a moment to Punjab, the northern end of India and what have both governments done for Punjab? I am free to confess again that the crowds in Amritsar went mad for a time. They were goaded to madness by a wicked administration but no madness on the part of the people can justify the spilling of innocent blood and what have they paid for it? I venture to submit that no civilised government would have made the people to pay the penalty that had been inflicted on Punjab. Innocent men were passed through mock trials and imprisoned for life”, Gandhi had said.
While addressing the Moplah Muslims, he invoked the Jallian Wala Bagh massacre by the British and talk about how the government of the day did not take action to whitewash the crimes committed by the Moplah Muslims.
Right after talking about the Jallianwala Bagh and justifying the violence by the Muslims by saying that they were somehow justified in the violence they had unleashed because the “religious sentiments” had been hurt by the British, he went on to talk about the “cause of Mussalmans and Islam”. Gandhi suggested that participation in the non-cooperation movement was the way to avenge the insult to Islam by the British and if the movement is properly adopted, it will end in victory.
He then asks, “Are the Mussalmans of India who feel the great wrong done to them prepared for self-sacrifice? If we desire to compel the government to the will of people, as we must, the only remedy open to us is non-cooperation”.
Most problematically, Gandhi said, “If the Mussalmans of India offer non-cooperation to Government in order to secure justice on the Khilafat, it is the duty of every Hindu to co-operate with their Moslem brethren”. It is to be kept in mind that this speech was made in August 1920 when the Muslims had already started to massacre Hindus in their demand to establish a caliphate and in their support for the caliphate in Turkey.
After asking Hindus to cooperate as the Muslims massacred them, Gandhi exalted the “unity” between Hindus and Muslims. He said, “I consider the eternal friendship between Hindus and Mussalmans as infinitely more important than the British connection. I, therefore, venture to suggest that if they like to live with unity with Mussalmans, it is now that they have got the best opportunity and that such an opportunity would not come for a century. I venture to suggest that if the government of India and the Imperial Government come to know that there is a great determination behind this great nation in order to secure redress for the Khilafat and Punjab wrongs, the government would then do justice to us”.
It is extremely interesting to note how Gandhi equated the wrongs committed in Punjab against patriotic Sikhs with the Khilafat movement which was essentially one to fight for an Islamic Caliphate in Turkey and also to establish one in India. This attempt to legitimise the demands of Indian Muslims for an Islamic caliphate led to untold atrocities against Hindus while Gandhi spun dreams about Hindus (who were being persecuted) attempting to stay united with their own persecutors. By putting the onus of this elusive unity on the Hindus, Gandhi told the Hindus that it was their national duty, essentially, to be killed, tortured, raped and humiliated with a smile on their face.
After talking about the “first step of non-cooperation” which was limited to rejecting everything that the British offered, Shaukat Ali addressed the Calicut Muslims specifically on their demands regarding the Khilafat movement.
As can be seen from the first speech of Gandhi in Calicut, he had clearly put the onus of unity on the Hindus who were being massacred. In fact, the question of unity in this speech was not addressed in terms of India’s interest in pushing the British out, but in terms of the establishment of an Islamic rule.
While Gandhi made this speech on the 18th of August 1920, on the 28th of April 1920, the Khilafat movement was officially launched. A resolution at the Malabar District Conference was held at Manjeri, the headquarters of Ernad Taluk.
The Malabar massacre of Hindus by the Muslim hoards around the 20th of August 1921. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi travelled to Calicut again the 15th of September 1921 evening. The speech was delivered on Triplicane Beach, Madras.
While thousands of men were being slaughtered, women were being raped and children were being slaughtered, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi told Hindus that they essentially had an obligation to remain “non-violent”. While the Moplah Muslims were massacring Hindus because of their Muslim fanaticism, Gandhi blamed the government for angering the Muslims enough that they became “indisciplined and violent”.
Here is what the Madras Mail wrote about MK Gandhi’s speech in Calicut on the 16th of September 1921 (Some relevant portions have been highlighted):
It was open to the Government, at powerful as they were, to invite the Ali Brothers and the speaker to enter the disturbed area in Malabar and to bring about calm and peace there. Mr Gandhi was sure that if this had been done much of the innocent blood would have been spared and also the desolation of many a Hindu household. But he must be forgiven if he again charged the Government with a desire to incite the population to violence.
There was no room in this system of Government for brave and strong men, and the only place the Government had for them was the prisons, He regretted the happenings in Malabar. The Moplas who were undisciplined had gone mad. They had thus committed a sin against the Khilafat and their own country. The whole of India today was under an obligation to remain non-violent ern under the gravest provocation. There was no reason to doubt that these Moplahs were not touched by the spirit of Non-co-operation. Non-cooperators were deliberately prevented from going to the affected parts. Assuming that all the strain came through Government Circles and that forced conversions were true, the Hindus should not put a strain on the Hindu-Moslem Unity and break it.
The speaker was however not prepared to make such an assumption. He was convinced that a mark who was forcibly converted needed no “Prayaschitham.” Mr Yakub Hassan had already told them that those who were converted were inadmissible into the fold of Islam and had not forfeited their rights to remain in the Hindu fold. The Government were placing every obstacle in the way of the Congress and Khilafat workers to bring relief to desolate homes and were taking no pains to carry relief themselves. Whether the Government gave them permission or not it was their clear duty to collect funds for the relief of sufferers and see that these got what they required, They did not yet know fully what measures the Government were going to take to repress the strength and rising of the people in this land. He had no reasons to disbelieve the testimony given to him yesterday that many young men were insulted because they wore Khad-dar caps and dress. The keepers of the peace in India had torn khaddar vests from young men and burned them. The authorities in Malabar had invented new measures of humiliation if they had not gone one better than those in the Punjab.
While the Malabar Muslims were slaughtering Hindus, raping women and forcefully converting Hindus, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi insisted that they had committed a sin against the “Khilafat movement” and not the Hindus. In fact, he went ahead and insisted that Hindus must remain “non-violent” in the face go “extreme provocation”.
Further, Gandhi said that even if it were true that the Muslims were converting Hindus by force, the Hindus must not let this “put a strain on the Hindu-Moslem unity and break it”. Of course, for Gandhi, the rapes, murders and forced conversions were not breaking the unity but Hindus, who were being persecuted, could potentially break that “unity” by getting mildly angry about their own persecution.
It is evident that despite the genocide, the Indian leadership which prominently included Gandhi asked the Hindus to get slaughtered with a smile on their face and extended unbridled support to a movement that sought to establish Islamic rule. The Malabar genocide of Hindus that followed should be attributed directly to leaders who displayed exemplary cowardice and catapulted to the barbaric Muslims of the times and sacrificed Hindu lives at the altar of ‘unity’.