Historical truth gets sacrificed in the fight between narratives, says MGS Narayanan

The rebellion went wayward.
MGS Narayanan
MGS Narayanan

KOZHIKODE: “History is complex, and with time, people with vested interests spin a narrative to suit their convenience,” said renowned historian MGS Narayanan. Narratives proliferate in the absence of a historical perspective, he said, on the controversy surrounding the life and times of Variyamkunnath Kunjahammed Haji and the 1921 Malabar Rebellion. MGS pointed out that historical truth gets sacrificed in the fight between narratives backed by individuals with political and religious leanings. Stressing that movies can never do justice to history, he said filmmakers exaggerate, distort and add fictional elements to historical events to make it dramatic.

“Movies should never be considered as historical truths.” Narrating the sequence of events broadly, MGS -- who has also served in the Indian Council of Historical Research -- said the Malabar Rebellion began as an armed rebellion against the British. However, the character of the rebellion, unfortunately, turned against the Hindu community.

“The British kept Hindus in various government posts during their rule. They had trust issues with the Muslims for a long time and they were never employed by the empire.” World War I, followed by the toppling of the Turkish Caliphate and the consequent Khilafat Movement, influenced Muslims, particularly in Kerala, to turn against the British.

The rebellion went wayward. But the renowned historian pointed out that no critical study of the nature of the rebellion was done. “There are no official records on the number of civilians deaths and many other important factors remain vague to arrive at a historical conclusion.” On whether it was an agrarian revolution, a rebellion against the British or the genocide of a particular community, he said, “It’s a mix of everything. Historical truths are vague and only scattered pointers remain.”

He lamented the low-quality education infrastructure as a reason for the confusion. “Had this been in the West, the universities there would have discussed, debated, dissected, deliberated and made the necessary course-correction and brought out a clear historical consensus. Has any university in Kerala studied seriously the British records and the court proceedings in the aftermath of the disaster?” MGS asked.

The former Calicut University professor said universities in the state function merely as examination centres, and hence, historic truth is thrown out of the park and narratives peddled by vested interests take centre stage.

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The New Indian Express