Variyamkunnathu Kunjahammed Haji: Freedom fighter or religious fanatic?

Showing the marks on the door of the ancestral home, Namboothiri said the rioters broke open the door using an axe.

Published: 28th June 2020 06:26 AM  |   Last Updated: 28th June 2020 06:26 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

KOCHI: “My father had to flee with family as rioters attacked our house and hacked my grandfather to death. The family walked all the way through the forest to reach Kozhikode where the Zamorin had opened a relief camp. Later they went to Vaikom in Cochin where a person called Thottakath Damodara Kaimal gave asylum. They lived in exile for one year and eight months. When they returned, the house had been looted and only the skeleton of my grandfather remained,” said N C V Namboothiri, the 80-year-old grandson of Vishnu Namboothiri of Nageri Mana in Eranad, Malappuram.

Showing the marks on the door of the ancestral home, Namboothiri said the rioters broke open the door using an axe. “According to what my relatives have told me, my grandfather was a supporter of the freedom movement. One morning, a few Muslims known to him came to the house saying they were going to launch an agitation against the British. They sought his support and were provided with a bag of rice and Rs 500. They then requested for a country gun, and he gave them two guns,” Namboothiri said. However, a gang of six to eight people returned at night seeking Vishnu Namboothiri’s blessings, by which time he had gone to the bedroom upstairs.

“They insisted that he give them a coin as a token of blessing. When he came down, they shot and hacked him to death. He was never a cruel feudal lord and was well respected. Velukutty, a toddy tapper and two Nair youths were killed on the same night. My father was the adhikari (village officer) of Eranad and escaped as he was away,” said N C V Namboothiri.

The announcement of a movie on the life of Variyamkunnathu Kunjahammed Haji has stirred a hornet’s nest in Kerala, with a section of Hindus alleging that he was a religious fanatic who massacred Hindus and established a Khilafat regime. R H Hitchcock, who served as the police superintendent of Malabar during the period, has given details of the riot in the book ‘Peasant revolt in Malabar: a history of the Malabar rebellion, 1921’. He has recorded the role of Haji in the Thuvoor incident and the atrocities committed on Hindus. As per records, around 2,500 members of the Haji’s army were killed while 45,000 people surrendered. Researcher Sanku T Das said Malabar saw 130 days of blood curdling violence after the British police withdrew from the area.

“As per records, 10,000 people were killed, of which only 43 were members of the British police and only three were British officers. While only 15 of those killed were landlords, the rest were members of Nair, Thiyya, Pulaya and Viswakarma communities. The violence resulted in 1 lakh refugees, with more than 5,000 people converted forcefully to Islam. Those who refused were brutally murdered. How can you call this a peasant revolt or freedom struggle?” he said.

The Khilafat movement was launched in Malabar by the Congress and it was the Hindu leaders -- including K P Kesava Menon and K Madhavan Nair -- who toured the region forming Khilafat committees in 1920. “ Later the Muslim fundamentalists took over the protest. The Thirumulpadu of Nilambur Kovilakom had lodged a police complaint that his pistol was stolen and the police came to arrest Vadakkeveettil Mohammed on August 20, 1920. More than 1,000 people assembled to protest against the arrest and they attacked the police. The next day, the police raided Mambram mosque and there were rumours that the police destroyed the mosque and murdered Ali Musaliar. This was the trigger for the riot,” he said.

The incidents related to Thuvoor well and Nagalikavu are events that prove the atrocities committed against Hindus during the Malabar Rebellion, said historian C I Isaac. “Malabar had witnessed 48 communal riots from 1828 to 1921. A British Officer -- who visited Thuvoor on December 26 in 1921 -- found 38 bodies in the well. According to the documents, Variyamkunnathu Kunjahammed Haji had conducted a Khilafat trial at Thuvoor hills after which, it is said, people who refused to convert to Islam were hacked and pushed into the well. Many died after days of suffering. Most of the victims belonged to the lower castes,” said Isaac.

Stay up to date on all the latest Kochi news with The New Indian Express App. Download now


Disclaimer : We respect your thoughts and views! But we need to be judicious while moderating your comments. All the comments will be moderated by the editorial. Abstain from posting comments that are obscene, defamatory or inflammatory, and do not indulge in personal attacks. Try to avoid outside hyperlinks inside the comment. Help us delete comments that do not follow these guidelines.

The views expressed in comments published on are those of the comment writers alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of or its staff, nor do they represent the views or opinions of The New Indian Express Group, or any entity of, or affiliated with, The New Indian Express Group. reserves the right to take any or all comments down at any time.

flipboard facebook twitter whatsapp