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An American Consulate in Kerala?

Posted by Maddy Labels: , , , , ,

Abbot L Dow 1880, and the story of Alleppey

Difficult to believe, right? But that was indeed the case. An early US representation in India did exist for a while at Alleppey, and this started first with the appointment of a commercial agent stationed there and his office was later upgraded to a consulate. The consular officer was one Mr Abbot L. Dow.

Why Alleppey? For that you have to check out the details in my article on Darragh in Kerala and his pioneering efforts with establishing coir weaving establishments in Kerala. To recap, James Darragh, a Brooklyn man left New York in 1855, to seek his fortunes in India, like so many others.  He sailed to India, destined for Calcutta with an intent to start a coir industry but was unsuccessful in making mats with Bengali labor and English supervision (Remember now that coir matting was unknown in India but already well established in Britain and America). As it appears, he took a couple of his trained laborers together with the English supervisor to a place he had heard of, rich in coconuts and teeming with people willing to work their butts off, but had no idea of their commercial potential. The man had big business in mind, nothing short of setting up a world class factory and to become the biggest manufacturer of coir products in the world! That my friends, was the coir pioneer James Darragh.

He was a pioneer, in cocoa mats (The US name for coir), but he also went on to try his hand in a few other businesses before stabilizing his fortunes on coir and propelling Kerala to the forefront of the industry, worldwide. Darragh, Smail and Co., thus became the first American firm in these parts, soon employing some 1,081 hands and shipping coir matting to many parts of the world. Others like Aspinwall, Pierce Leslie and William Goodacre (to name a few) followed in quick succession.

We also note that after about 25 years in Alleppey, Darragh became a bigwig and was hobnobbing with the royalty of Travancore and even minting his own coins. He quickly diversified into coconut oil, tea, coffee, rubber and so on….and become a very rich man. In 1889 he decided to head back to New York and during a stopover at Cairo, he fell ill and died.

But while Alleppey, an English term derived from Allepilly or Alapuzha, a port developed by the sovereign Dharmaraja of Travancore within his domains to reduce their dependence and perhaps even rival Cochin and Calicut (which was already trending to decadency by then), was synonymous with coir, the purpose was originally to create an all-weather harbor to export all of Travancore’s products including spices, duly serviced from inland procurement centers through an inland network of canals and using cheap boat transportation. How did this plan come into being and how was it put into effect? Let’s go back in time to the rule of the Dharmaraja of Travancore to find out.

Dewan Keshava Pillai, the architect of the whole idea, is a character who deserves a separate article, in fact a book, for such is the power of his character. With a promise that I will definitely do a separate article on his times, let me pull away from the urge to write a few paras about him and instead stick to a simple introduction. Starting as a lowly visitor to the palace, the boy worked his way up as a scribe, and later became a brilliant military strategist trained by none other than Capt D’Lannoy. His commercial skills were unmatched in those times for a native and the man soon found himself heading the commerce department going on to become the Sarvadhikarai and eventually the (Dalawa) Dewan of state by 1788. He was also the biggest pillar of support for Dharmaraja, at a crucial time when Tipu Sultan sought to wage a war against Travancore. The purchase of the Cranganore forts from the Dutch and the battle of Nedumkotta followed, Keshava Pillay led from the front and ensured a timely repulse of the Mysore army (See my article Tipu’s waterloo for details). He did so much more, such as moving the capital from Padmanabhapuram to Trivandrum, building the MC road (the origin at Trivandrum is named Keshavadasapuram in his honor), the Chalai market and so on…

But Keshava Pillay’s everlasting achievement was the development of the port of Alleppey following the decline of the Dutch monopoly of the Pepper trade, after the Dutch defeat by Marthanda Varma at Kulachel. Now that the pepper business was directly conducted by the sovereign of Travancore (note that the Zamorin and family were in exile in Travancore during this period), the British were dependent on Travancore for pepper. Pillay decided to open two ports, one at Alleppey close to Cochin and a smaller one at Vizhinjam.

A port town was thus established in this sleepy village, warehouses were opened, traders were invited from Bombay (Kutchi Memons and Gujaratis), also Chettiars and Ravuthars from Tamilakam, to conduct trade. Transport of spices and raw materials were guaranteed by the royal army and new canals were built to link the waterways to the new seaport at Alleppey. Anjengo, Quilon and Vizhinjam were converted as feeder units to the main Alleppey port. Shaktan Thampuran of Cochin in the meanwhile was keener on establishing Trichur as his main base and thus the Cochin port largely run by the declining Dutch VOC, slowly took a back seat in maritime activities. The Dutch VOC’s pepper monopoly had ended. Alleppey was now the chief commercial town of Travancore. Spices, Coir and everything else sourced from Malabar and other coastal ports of Western India were headed to Alleppey for export, to the eager buyers in the west.

Alleppey’s mud banks practically speaking, afforded a safe anchorage in the open roadstead (See explanation of ‘mud bank’ in notes).  Its natural port was unaffected during the ravages of the Malabar monsoons and remained open even when Cochin was closed, while at the same time, inland waterways afforded a route to get the goods across to and from Cochin and other producing locales.

As it became a busy and popular port by 1762 as the Dewan stationed himself to oversee the port’s development phase. The Travancore Raja built a palace there raising the esteem of the locale, also a Huzur Kutchery, and a temple. Mathu Tharakan oversaw all the timber business, Vicharippukarsanmar delivered hill produce and spices and the state commissioned (to avoid dependence on the EIC and the VOC) three ships to transport goods to major North Indian ports like Bombay and Calcutta.

By 1798, Dharmaraja passed away and the loss of his patron also decided Kashava Pillay’s fate. The new king was unduly influenced by his Samprati Jayantan Sankaran Nambudiri, who convinced the king that Pillay was colluding with the British. By the next year Pillay was found dead (murdered by poison). A few years later, the Church Missionary Society set up its local headquarters in Alleppey and three years later the first Anglican Church was built in 1819.

The 19th century was an all-important period for the fortunes of Alleppey. It continued to be a safe port and Markham surveying it stated so in 1867 - The mud-bank of Alipee, the Port of Travancore, is a curious phenomenon. The safety of the roadstead arises from its possessing a remarkably soft muddy bottom, and the fluidity of the water being diminished by the intermixture of mud the anchorage is very smooth in four fathoms, even while the swell of the monsoon is at its height in the offing.

Goods came down the canals and to the warehouses in Alleppey. Seafaring barges then carried them to oceangoing ships anchored at the mudbank. It was still not a thriving or bustling port until the mid-19th century but Travancore had by now come under British suzerainty. A British commercial agent was placed at Alleppey. It was in the first half of the 19th century that the Vadai canal was built, parallel to the commercial canal, indicating that commerce was heating up and congestion had to be relieved on the main commerce canal.

A report Voyage from Bombay to Madras and Calcutta 1829 narrates -

The trade of Cochin has so declined that there are at present neither political or commercial agents there on the part of the East India Company, this port being subject to the collector of Travancore, who resides at Alipee. The articles which were formerly exported and imported, now go from Calicut, except a small annual export of cocoa-nuts, coin, elephants' teeth, sandal wood, tamarinds, teak wood, and wax, which are carried in coasting vessels; the cassia, cardamums, ginger, pepper, &c., being now mostly collected at Calicut for the northern part of the country, and at Alipee for the southern.

There is some confusion in the books and charts regarding the situation of Alipee. Mr. Milburn places it in lat. 9° 42' N. near a river; calls it a town of considerable size, very populous, having many good houses, and wearing the flag of the Rajah of Travancore, to whom it belongs. Mr. Horshurgh says that Porea, which he places in lat. 9° 30' N. and long. 7C° 34' E. is sometimes called Alipee; but he adds, that the village properly called Alipee, is three leagues more to the northward, where the Company's ships load pepper, and confirms this, by saying that the Earl Camden, in five fathoms and three quarters, the village bearing E.N.E. 1/2 E., when at anchor, made it in lat. 9° 42' N. by observation. The Lord Cathcart and the Bombay, the two vessels loading pepper here, were lying in four fathoms, about two miles from the town, with a large and handsome brick building like a factory, having an arched entrance in the centre of its front, and a flag-staff, bearing the British flag, rising from its summit, bearing about E.N.E. This is a place belonging to the English, and subject to the collector of Travancore. We inquired its name from the natives, who came off to us in boats, and was told by several that it was called by them Alipelly, but by the English, Alipee. The latitude of this place, by a good meridian observation, was 9° 34' N., which is nearer to the situation of Porea; but of this name, or of any other Alipee than the present, these natives said they knew nothing.

By 1858, the EIC had relinquished their powers to the British crown and the colonial administration took its place. All royal monopolies were abolished, free trade was established and only a commission/duty needed to be paid to the Travancore royalty.

This was the stage when foreign investment and organizations came in droves to Alleppey and Cochin. Darragh was one of the first arriving in 1859. The British modernized the port, building a lighthouse by 1860 and a post and telegraph office by 1863, the first in Travancore, just 10 years after the one in Madras. Imagine the relief for traders who needed good and quick communications, so also safety for the ships and their produce. A pier was constructed in 1870, steam driven cranes were established and a small coolie operated tramway was established to move goods from the warehouses to the pier. The number of ships plying the port reached about 400 annually while at the same token, the total tonnage went up from 58,000 to 350,000 by the end of the 19th century. In fact Alleppey was modernized just 10 years after Bombay and Madras and was characterized as a fine harbor.

The industrialization of Travancore started by American James Darragh was extraordinary and as he promised, it was soon to become the center of all coir industry in the world. Everything was done in-situ and not in Europe as other companies had modeled their businesses. This was to continue for a full century, until 1970, and it was only in the last decades, when labor unrest ensued, that the business declined. But there were other reasons too as we will soon see.

Alleppey circa.1900
Aspinwall, Pierce Leslie and William Goodacre followed to establish their coir factories in Alleppey. The next were the Swiss Volkart brothers. All in all the coir business was very profitable and labor was dirt cheap (Darragh’s factory paid their laborers just 4 annas per day). Many tens of thousands of people were employed both in the factory aspects of the coir industry as well as the cottage based parts of de-husking coconuts and raw yarn bundling stages. Alleppey grew and grew for a century. The port became even more congested, the place reeked from decaying coconut fiber dumped in the canals for soaking and illnesses increased. Mosquito borne Filariasis was common place. Easy commuting over canal boats attracted even more and more job seekers and with the coir industry also amenable to women workers, the numbers swelled. All in all things were looking good but somewhat unstructured and unregulated.

As we said before almost all of Darragh’s coir was going to America. That was the business volume which made the American government decide to appoint a commercial agent in 1880 to take care of related issues, especially to liaise with the British, who controlled the seas, the ships and the ocean routes between India and America. The person appointed for to the position was one Abbot Low Dow.

Abbot Low Dow, born in 1845 was like Darragh, a native of Brooklyn - New York and came from an old and respected shipping family. He was the son of George Worthington Dow, a respected East India trader and Anna De Bevoise Prince. He was first married to Cornelia Suydam Herriman and his three daughters found mention in New York’s society news, most of the time. Dow also happened to be the first cousin of Seth Low, the president of Columbia University and the first mayor of the consolidated city of New York. He was a wealthy man indeed and became the trustee of the estate of his children in 1876, upon the death of his wife, who left $400,000 in trust for them.

In 1880 he moved to Alleppey as consular agent, perhaps after persuasion by his Brooklyn compatriot James Darragh. The importance of the locale and the bilateral business which was very much in favor of Travancore in terms of balance of payments, resulted in an upgrade of his office to a consulate quickly. The Congressional Series of United States Public Documents, Volume 2028, states that Abbot Dow was promoted as American counsel in 1881, so recommended by President RB Hayes and industrialist Samuel Sloan.

But the consulate was short-lived. We do not know how long it functioned because Abbot L. Dow, himself stated that it was difficult for him as the British Government 'permits no direct intercourse of Indians with other countries'. It existed perhaps (I could not find any further details of the consulate myself) for some 10 years and Dow’s comment above roughly dates to the 1890’s reflecting that all did not bode well between the Americans and British, with respect to trade at Alleppey. Nevertheless he continued on at Travancore for a while before moving back to America. We note that by 1899 he had become the director of the Craig colony for epileptics at Sonyea NY. In 1905, Abbot Low Dow married Helene Carola Nancy Sanford, a wealthy socialite (The city of Sanford in Florida gets its name from the Sanford family). Dow settled down in New Hampshire, in his Wakefield home and passed away in May 1914. His daughters Margaret married Ernest Greene in 1896, Caroline married Mr Hiss in 1906 and Cornelia to Charles Bancroft in 1905. One could guess that Abbot Dow’s high connections, and standing in New York society and his family background as East India traders must have got him the position in British India. So that was a bit about the consulate and the Consul.

Abbot Dow and Nancy Sanford
By 1890 the American consular agent one Mr John Grieve located in Cochin reported as below to Mr Comfort, Vice Consul at Bombay on the state of the Alleppey port, dated July 23 1890:
"Our season having now ended, I have pleasure in sending you the following short account of the trade done during the year ending June 30, as promised when I saw you in Bombay. Six American vessels, two British steamers, and four other vessels loaded cargo here for New York of the approximate value of 25 lakhs. Of the six American ships, three of them loaded part cargoes in Alleppey (about 30 miles from here) of the value of 82,000 rupees, while another American vessel loaded entirely in Alleppey, cargo to the value of about 106,000 rupees. The above is exclusive of cargo that may have been sent to London for transshipment there to New York, of which there is no trace in the customs returns."

The attention that Alleppey was getting from Trivandrum was perhaps lackluster and investment had reduced. Perhaps the British also neglected maintenance in the port and it was in a state of decline with diseases and crowding on the up. A reason for the decline of the port was sadly the development of a road network between Travancore and Cochin. The KH 1 or MC road (again conceived by Keshava Pillay) and the advent of trucking transport resulted in goods taking the safer land route to Cochin where bigger ships could dock in safety nearer the port, whereas in Alleppey they had to be transported further into the sea on barges. The factories in Cochin decided to truck or boat the village produce directly to their Cochin factories. The world wars resulted in Cochin getting promoted as a naval port with crown funds for further development and then again there was a mega port at Bombay which got a bulk of the funding.

But there was another reason at the turn of the 20th Century (Krishna Poduval - Calcutta review) - It was again nature which moved the mudbanks out from Alleppey to Puracad. Recently, however, the mud-bank which hitherto held out all the advantages of an excellent harbour and made this port so very attractive to shipping and thus helped in building it up into an emporium, one of the oldest in this part of the world, appears to have, partially, at all events, shifted to about twelve miles south near a village called Puracand, Thus nature has snatched off one of the best advantages with which she had endowed Alleppey, with the inevitable result that the town is now face to face with a south-ward diversion of its trade, and its time-honored commercial eminence stands doomed, at least for the time being. I take care to add the qualifying phrase, seeing that quite possibly the operation of natural forces similar to those which have now carried off the mudbank may, at some future time, move it back to its original site and leave Alleppey in statu quo ante. Speculation apart, the occurrence in question is certainly a serious economic disaster to this unfortunate town and indirectly to Travancore.

Nevertheless, that did not seem to be a major issue at the time, only the barges had to move a little further. The primary reason for the decline in Alleppey after all was increasing labor costs and militancy amongst the labor ranks. The coir industry had required little capital investment as all initial work was done in the countryside, near homes and the yarn was moved by boats plying canals, to Alleppey. Freight costs were also thus minimal. Handlooms and power looms in the sheds producing the end product were also not too expensive. Port duties were quite low. The highest cost thus was the labor cost at Alleppey’s factories or work sheds. This was quite low until the 1950’s but at the same time, the mat so produced was not a glamorous item, even at its final destination, America (so it’s selling price could not go up very much). Starting from the 1920’s trade unions started to emerge in order to counter bad working conditions. This was coupled with the emergence of class consciousness in Travancore and the slow disintegration of the century old caste system. A number of labor movements and strikes ensued while at the same time, the demand for coir products reduced. Wages had to be increased and the bigger organizations decided to move away to less militant locations in Tamil Nadu, Sri Lanka and other places. The factories in Alleppey split into unorganized smaller units and lost their economics of scale. Exports declined from a 25,000 ton level in 1962 to 7,000 tons in 1973. A port which once commanded 40% of Kerala’s exports in the mid 50’s was now exporting less than 10% of its total. That my friends was the story of the spectacular surge and decline of a modern port Alleppey,  the Venice of Travancore, a story unlike the stories of many of the medieval coastal ports of Malabar which died more natural deaths.

Today Alleppey forms part of the tourist belt, as the gateway to the backwaters and many a person passes or visits the locale while boating through the waters on houseboats. These tourists will never hear about the coir industries which had once set the shores buzzing nor of the ships that were anchored out yonder waiting to carry coir mats to America. They will also not know about the turbulent 1920-1950 period when the very same shores witnessed the first of Kerala’s labor unrests. But they will take in the serene waters, the still lagoons, the picture-book lakeside views, palm fringed canals, the bustling day to day routines of the canal-side dwellers, simple homes and many other small marvels.  No boatman or tour guide will tell them about Dewan Keshava Pillay or James Darragh, the American Sayip, for they had served their respective purposes and moved on, now only reduced to flashing memories and ashes in the ground. Nor will they know that an American consulate once existed, in Alleppey.

But from the ashes of one, rises another, in this case, Cochin. The reemergence of Cochin as a premier inner harbor port is owed to one person, Sir Robert Bristow. His of course has to be another story, for another day….

Alleppey – From a port without a city to a city without a port (Gateways of Asia, ed Frank Broeze) – Hans Schenk
The Oriental Herald, Volume 23
Travancore state manual – T K Velu Pillai
Trade Union movement, a social history – N Raveendran
The mud banks off the Malabar Coast - Krishna Poduval, Calcutta Review, Volumes 116-117

Mudbank – They are temporary formations, occurring annually and naturally on the west coast of India, normally near Alleppey, Cochin and Calicut. Almost all the old ports of Malabar, Cochin and Travancore were actually due to mudbanks. Mud banks are typically described as “calm, turbid waters having high loads of suspended sediments occurring in the coastal regions during monsoon season.” They appear “in a semi-circular shape with average distances of 4-5 km along shore and 5-6 km offshore, and are characterized by a heavy suspension of dark, greyish green fine clay.” Although mud banks are known to occur along the southwest coast of India for at least three centuries, the cause of their appearance, disappearance and their shifting is still an enigma for the local and the scientific community.

Aleppey stone bridge – courtesy D'Cruz, Zachariah, British online gallery
Dow couple – courtesy Sanford family

Hans Raj - The British Approver

Posted by Maddy Labels: , , , ,

And his role in the Amritsar Massacre

I spent a considerable amount of time reading various published accounts of the infamous Jallianwala Bagh massacre. A summary of the events that transpired and an accounting of some of the persons who attained notoriety from it was posted the other day. But there was one thread that I did not unravel in that article, for I thought it deserved a more studious effort. That related to the murky role played by a person of some consequence and mentioned in the various records of the event. Many Indians refused to agree that it was a minor role and some even went on to characterize his role as a part of a large conspiracy. Who was that person and was there a conspiracy? Let’s check out the involvement of the infamous local lad Hans Raj, in the Amritsar massacre of 13th April 1919.

Now Jallianwalla was once upon a time a home site belonging to the Jalhewalas who hailed from the Jalla village. You may not recall Pandit Jalla, the unpopular Brahmin deputy in Hira Singh’s court, the one who used to be remembered once upon a time by this couplet ‘Ooper alla, Talley Jalla, Jalla de sir tey khalla’ (in heaven lived Allah, in earth lived Jalla…may Allah give Jalla a shoe beating), well his name became immortalized with the events of 1919 when Col Dyer ordered the shooting of some 20,000-25,000 assembled in this 24,000 sqmts space, without any provocation.

Who exhorted the unfortunate masses to attend a meeting in this compound? It was largely due to the exertions of an energetic young man named Hans Raj. As records put it, Hans Raj, an aide to Dr. Kitchlew, announced on the 11th that a public protest meeting would be held at 16:30 the following day in the Jallianwala. People flocked to hear these speeches instead, as festivities (the cattle market fair was closed) had been banned by specific proclamations at the usual meeting places, by Col Dyer. Was Hans Raj such a popular figure to be heeded to, was he a real activist? Why did people follow him like pied piper to the Bagh? What happened to him at the ground? What was his relationship with Dr Satyapal and Dr Kitchlew the leaders who had been exiled a few days earlier? And who was the mysterious Bashir who was involved in the two days preceding the massacre, the one who was to speak and the one who never turned up? Let’s take a deeper look.

The first writer to provide some details of the character was Pt Peary Mohan, a vakil of the Lahore high court, writing his account in Dec 1919, just 8 months after the incident. The book’s opening page shows a man in the buff being whipped, setting store for the gory details of the massacre in the pages that follow.  The Hunter commission had been convened in October and Dyer had given his evidence in Nov. The British report was published in March 1920 and Mohan’s book itself was published in May 1920.

According to Mohan, HansRaj, son of a local prostitute Devi Ditta Mal Bedi aged 23, had passed his matriculation in 1911. His less than stellar background traversed many jobs until the 1919 event, and we see that his services had been terminated on many occasions, due to his dubious and shifty character. First he was a ticket examiner in the NWR where he had been dismissed for embezzlement, then he clerked for the municipal commissioner LH Shah, next as a clerk at the Union club, then with a banker Seva Singh and so on. During this period he tried to obtain employment in the police department and was on a waiting list, but was apparently allowed to act as a CID (more correctly as an informer, perhaps). During the events that transpired in 1919, he was a commission agent for printing and stationery. Until Feb 1919, he kept a low profile and suddenly began to appear at all kinds of public political meetings. Mohan argues that it was not fervent nationalism which made him do this, but the responsibility to report inside information to his police superiors. He also cultivated acquaintances with important public figures, expressing his ability and willingness to organize meetings, record and copy meeting minutes, print notices and so on.

By 8th April he was accorded a formal title, the Secretary of the Satyagraha Sabha. Thus he got closer to Dr Kitchlew and Dr Satyapal, the two leaders who had been banished days before the Amritsar event. In fact he was present as the two were deported and carried back copies of the deportation notices to inform their relatives (why did the police entrust him with this duty?). He then bound himself to the next in line Dr Bashir and many other activists who continued to rebel. Before we cast doubts on his character, let us see what he did next, for he certainly went on to stir the hornets’ nest. After leaving Satyapal and Horniman who were being carted off to Dharmasala in high secrecy, Hans Raj reported the deportations to the friendly press and snapped of a telegram to Gandhiji. He then went around town and informed the public of the happenings. It was following this that a crowd collected demanding details on their leaders and the mob violence as well as the event involving Sherwood of 10th April took place. For all practical purposes, Hans Raj was the instigator of the 10th April violence, though Hans Raj later implicated Dr Bashir for these events.

It was on the 12th evening that Hans Raj was involved again, in a meeting at Bashir’s house where Bashir was exhorting the people gathered to call off the agitation if the British promised no reprisals on the mob participants, but Has Raj would not agree stating that each and every one had to be aware that their leaders had been spirited away and that they should all take up individual leadership to continue the agitation. He then called for a meeting at Jallianwala Bagh the next day under the leadership of an elderly resident Lala Kanhiya Lal (who had no idea of all this!). The plan was to announce a hartal on 13th and suspend all businesses until their leaders were released. Gandhiji who had been released in the meantime addressed a meeting in Bombay stating there should be no demonstrations against any leader’s arrest, but that message never reached anybody in Amritsar.

From Draper’s accounts, we note the sequence of events as follows - On the 13th Hans Raj was busy preparing for the meeting at the Bagh. He arranged for a platform to be erected for the speakers and a batch of sweepers to clean up the area as much as possible, and organized for water carriers to carry water through any crowd that assembled. Meanwhile somebody noticed that Has Raj was in conversation on two occasions, with some undercover CID officers in the area. It appears that some people already knew of potential violence even before the event and stayed away from the Bagh or decided to go back. The meeting started and speakers talked about Kitchlew and Satyapal, later some poets recited poems. A plane flew overhead and some witnesses saw Hans Raj wave a handkerchief at it and while at the same time a few policeman in the crowd left the locale. As the sight of the plane triggered some panic, Hans Raj asked the people not to worry and the plane was quickly gone. The speakers continued and just about then, at 5:15 PM, the boots of Dyer’s troops could be heard pounding the entrance path. Again, witnesses noticed Hans Raj wave a handkerchief and the crowd chanted ‘they have come’. Hans Raj exhorted the speakers to sit down assuring them that the Sarkar would not fire. At that instant, Dyer shouted out his orders ‘Gurkhas right, 59th left fire’. Hans Raj shouted – they are only blanks – and it seems, he bolted. The soldiers knelt, loaded and fired, and fired and fired…all of 1650 of .303 Mark VI ammunition into the crowd, methodically, with Dyer directing the aim to the most crowded spots. Dyer and his troops then retreated as collective wails floated up from the walls of the Bagh.

Hans Raj by some accounts had vanished, but that part as well as his kerchief waving were perhaps exaggerations. Let’s now go on to see what Hans Raj did next, for he would reappear soon in the so called Amritsar leader’s case, which took place in June 1919.

The Jalianwala Bagh massacre (courtesy Indian Express)
Lala Jowahar Lal, a CID inspector who had been observed speaking to Hans Raj at the meeting and had left before Dyer arrived, was the first to pick up Hans Raj on the 21st, 8 days after the horrible event, and stated that Hans Raj wanted to confess and help the government, but that he did not have in possession the statements or notes made during pervious interrogation meetings as he had destroyed them. All other police officers speaking for the crown, had interestingly done the same thing. Fellow prisoners had noticed that Has Raj was being treated preferentially and seemed to be leading a jolly life in detention. Lal then took Hans Raj to A. Symour, the magistrate where he admitted that his confession was not being made under duress (though he was held in the British fort for 4 days preceding the confession), but curiously declined to make it under an oath. Thus Hans raj became the key witness for the prosecution, he had turned approver in exchange for full pardon, since he had also been charge sheeted.

The case was held ‘in camera’ though news of JP Ellis’s adhocism trickled out of the chambers. He went on to name each and everyone involved with a remarkably lucid memory and accuracy, and summarized the meetings before 13th to being not related to Satyagraha but as meetings cloaking a plan to agitate violently. He also told the court that Satyapal and Kitchlew had before leaving, asked him to incite the crowds in Amritsar in revenge. With this one statement, Hans Raj nailed the leaders to the board. During his examination, he also provided the court with hundreds of names, their exact statements, in other words, everything that was required by the court, in a way they wanted it, to make a judgment just as they wanted to. He confidently assured the people of the court that he was not committing perjury in exchange for pardon. Many of the onlookers were convinced that Hans Raj had been carefully coached for the narration. Everything he said was taken note of without corroboration or cross-examination and accepted as evidence even though he was the main culprit, the person who had organized and conducted the so called rebellious meeting. Instead all the others leaders who were absent, were convicted.

As the defense counsels were not provided any of the evidence beforehand, they could not take apart Hans Raj other than cast aspersions on his character and this obviously was not sufficient to dent the prosecution’s case. Another crown witness Brij Lal however mentioned that while in detention, Hans Raj worked with the police in forcing Lal to make a confession as they wanted.  Lal was also forced to memorize the content of his statement so that he could stick to it faithfully while in court. In addition, all the accused refuted the evidence given by Hans Raj, with Satyapal even going onto say that he would never have been involved with Hans Raj as the latter was on a much lower social scale! Bashir emphatically stated that he had not asked Hans Raj to organize the 13th meeting at the Bagh. But they were all of no avail.

The court as expected decided that that Punjab had been on the brink of a revolt, that a criminal conspiracy existed and that war had been waged on the 10th of April against the crown. They also mentioned that Has Raj, a person of little standing was ‘worthy of credence’ a statement made strangely without even a bit of corroboration! The record states - We have arrived at the conclusion that Hans Raj had endeavored to tell his story as fully as he was capable of doing and has not deliberately made any false statements. That he has been occasionally confused is apparent, but that is not surprising considering the numbers of persons he had to deal with (a good deal more than the accused in this case and we have given the accused concerned the fullest benefit of any such confusion of ideas, dates and names.

Kitchlew and Satyapal were to be transported and had all their property forfeited. Dr Bashir who was not even involved and who had actually treated some of the injured, was sentenced to death, for his involvement in the 10th April mob violence. Hans Raj was also used in another case to deliver identical results and even more people were sentenced to death on the weight of his evidence. However some of them including Dr Bashir were later acquitted on appeal.

Whatever happened to Hans Raj following the case? As some Indian leaders fumed and planned a retort, or wrote letters to the press, Hans Raj vanished. If he had been let go after the case, he would have been torn to pieces by the angry people of Amritsar. The British apparently rewarded him with a large sum of money and spirited him away to Mesopotamia. It is not clear if his hapless mother or sister accompanied him, perhaps not. The British, interestingly paid out about Rs 18 lakhs as compensation, a couple of years after the event, to families of many of the victims.

Many contemporaries such as Lala Hans Raj (a senior advocate) felt that Hans Raj was actually part of a larger conspiracy, in which Dyer planned in order to make an example of the British iron hand.  Jalianwala Bagh, was carefully chosen location to inflict maximum damage due to its being walled. They were also of the opinion that the Bagh firing was a retaliation for the mob actions of the 10th and that it was deliberately planned and executed by Dyer, not something that happened on the spur of the moment, as recounted by Dyer. But to date no proof exists or whatever existed have been carefully erased or vanished, like Hans Raj himself.

Dyer of course was confident all along that under no circumstance would the crown fail to support him, O’Dwyer certainly did support him to the end, but as events transpired, Dyer got castigated by the crown in the process, whereas O’Dwyer did not. VN Datta believes that both Kitchlew and Gandhiji preferred to remain silent on the Hans Raj issue and let the matter lie, for this was more on the side of national interest and presented a poor image of the crown’s handling of the law and India’s innocent.

Raja Ram in his analysis brings out a point that it was clear from records that O’Dwyer had all the time been gearing up for a major event on the 13th due to the Baisakhi celebrations, the influx of people into Amritsar, and that the event of the 10th happened by chance.  The 10th events provided an even more convenient excuse to announce that a rebellion was being staged, which is defined as ‘waging war’ under martial law. He also mentions of plans to carry out an aerial bombardment of Amritsar which was however called off to prevent damage to the Golden Temple.

Without doubt, what precipitated the disturbances was the unnecessary arrest of Kitchlew and Satyapal. They were the only two leaders who could have controlled the events of 10th April. Gandhiji stated - The police expected that the demonstrators would try to liberate the two leaders and precautions were taken, but 'there was no attempt at rescue'. The banishing of the leaders removed from Amritsar the two men who might have restrained the populace. 'Starting in anger at the action of the government in deporting the two local politicians,' reads the Hunter Report, a mob raged through the streets. That reckless decision by O’Dwyer was what led to Chettur Sankaran Nair’s statement and the court case we discussed in the previous article. In fact Gandhiji said later - The truth of the matter is that the wrong man was in the wrong box; the right man to have been in the box of the accused should certainly have been Sir Michael O'Dwyer. Had he not made inflammatory and irritating speeches, had he not belittled leaders, had he not in a most cruel manner flouted public opinion and had he not arrested Drs. Kitchlew and Satyapal, the history of the last two months would have been differently written.

Nick Lloyd’s book however presents Hans Raj’s relationship with Bashir in a different light based mostly on Hans Raj’s testimony and conflicts those provided by Draper, Mohan and Datta. Quoting Lloyd – ‘According to Hans Raj, Bashir was the man who pushed for the meeting and never turned up (Bashir was according to another account, watching the events as they transpired, from a nearby shop). He narrates that it was Bashir who ordered Hans Raj to organize a meeting at the Bagh. Conflicting Mohan’s notes, Lloyd mentions - When Hans Raj suggested that they should end the hartal, Bashir told him that he was ‘a child’ who did not understand ‘such matters’. He does not believe that Dyer was a premeditated murderer, but he did so due to the size and nature of the crowd he faced and since he had few troops had no option but to keep firing. Nigel Collett reviews Lloyd’s book and rebuts many of these comments in his article linked here.

It is also interesting to see how the judgement was reviewed at a later date in the House of Commons, especially the case of Dr Bashir. When asked by Col Yate why Bashir was released subsequently, Edwin Montagu, secretary of state for India replied “Dr. Muhammed Bashir was sentenced to death by a martial law commission in the Amritsar Leaders' case, which included the charge against him of inciting the mob in the attack on the National Bank. The sentence was reduced by Sir Edward Maclagan, Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab, to one of six years' rigorous imprisonment. The two High Court Judges appointed to examine cases tried by Martial Law Courts agreed that the part of the case against the doctor relating to the events at the National Bank rested on the, uncorroborated testimony of an approver; one judge was of the opinion that there was sufficient evidence to justify a conviction for waging war only, but the other judge would not admit the sufficiency of the evidence to justify a conviction at all. The Punjab Government, in the circumstances, recommended the release of Dr. Muhammed Bashir on certain conditions, and the Government of India accepted these recommendations.” This goes on to prove that much of what Hans Raj provided as testimony was upon detailed analysis, considered dubious and unworthy of merit or action.

It is now time to glance at a peculiar event that transpired after the massacre. Col Dyer and Maj Briggs were made honorary Sikhs by the elders of the Golden Temple. They thanked him for protecting the temple, not bombing it and for saving Amritsar from plunder by the mobs. Excused from growing a beard, Dyer did promise to cut his smoking at the rate of one cigarette a year. The Mahants then offered the services of 10,000 men to Dyer in order to fight the Afghans, which was declined. Anyway two years from then, the Akali Gurudwara reform movement would wrest power away from those powerful Mahants and turn it over to the SGPC.

Collett’s paper provides an aside that Dyer was perhaps fed with a good amount of misinformation by various vested interest groups when he landed up in Amritsar and this clouded his judgement and made him very nervous indeed. Kitchin told him that 200 armed Sikhs from the manja were about to raid Amritsar. The Superintendent of Police, Ashraf Khan had informed Dyer that the rebellion was being spread into the surrounding districts by agents from Amritsar and that large numbers were coming into the city to form a dandafauj (armed with sticks) and drive the British out.  Thus Dyer formed a belief that an army of the Punjabi insurgents would face him the next day and that he should stop it at any cost.

Collett concludes - Who were these Indian informants who had dripped such poison into the administration ears, why had they done so and why had the administration taken any notice of them?  All around these villages clustered the large houses of wealthy and locally powerful Sikh families, supporters, in the main, of the status quo. All were families whose stakes in land and property were threatened by the disorder in nearby Amritsar and who in all likelihood would have desired the British to act decisively before events got further out of hand. It is perhaps from such sources that Kitchin and Donald received the information which they passed on to Dyer. So, by default, the administration consulted its old sources and received advice that was less and less useful as time passed.

An unintended effect of all this was the overhearing of Dyer’s bombast by Jawaharlal Nehru who was lying down on an upper berth in a train compartment which had Dyer and his friends. The infuriated Nehru who was until then ambivalent about Satyagraha, decided to throw his weight into in the lead.
Years later, another Hans Raj, also a state approver, became prominent in the Bhagat Singh case. That is another story, for another day…..

Read Part 1 Dwyer, Dyer and Nair

An Imaginary rebellion and how it was suppressed – Pt Peary Mohan
The historiography of the Jalianwala Bagh Massacre - Savita Narain
The Butcher of Amritsar: General Reginald Dyer - Nigel Collett
Imperial Crime & Punishment – Helen Fein
Jalianwala Bagh Massacre - VN Datta, S Settar
The Jalianwala Bagh Massacre - Raja Ram
A Muse Abused: The Politicizing of the Amritsar Massacre - Nigel Collett
The O'Dwyer v. Nair Libel Case of 1924: New Evidence Concerning Indian Attitudes and British Intelligence During the 1919 Punjab Disturbances: Nigel Collett
British administration and the Amritsar Massacre – Horniman
The Amritsar Massacre – Nick Lloyd
Armies of the Raj: From the Mutiny to Independence, 1858-1947 - Byron Farwell
Jallianwala Bagh Commemoration volume – VN Datta
Amritsar – Alfred Draper

The Chalappuram Gang and the Ameen Lodge

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Those turbulent years, Calicut (1920-34)

Calicut under British governance was a different place than you see it today. My own memories of childhood in Calicut take me to the days I spent with my aunt at Ambalakkat house, Chalappuram. I still remember the walk down the road from Ambalakkat towards Tali, turning right and going past the Chalappuram post office, past the gates of the Achutan Girls school and drifting to the Ganapati School, during my younger days in Calicut. And I recall the temple behind N Ambalakkat, the house of Karunakara Menon my grand uncle, Keshava Menon, Norman Achutan nair, the Anakara Vadakath people, and the homes of so many others who are going to be mentioned in this article, though they belonged to a bygone era. As I wrote in a previous article, it was a time when there were horse driven jutkas, cycle rickshaws and hand pulled rickshaws on the road. On those serene mornings, an odd Ex-servicemen bus roared by, scattering the people on the road hither and thither, and people were sometimes witness to a man (people held their noses as the wheelbarrow like cart with the galvanized iron pots passed by) held in much disgust, the ‘thotti’ who would trundle by, head hung low, pushing his night soil cart. Horns were hardly heard, the rickshaw drivers yelled ‘kooyi’ or rang a bell to get a right of way. The 30’s was still different, there was no electricity and the one person who gave a personal account and provided a vivid description of life in Calicut in the 1930’s is ARS Iyer.

Some miles away down the Chalappuram road was the Zamorin’s Padinjare Kovilakom in Mankavu, a place I heard about now and then when the elders talked. Across the road from our South Ambalakkat house was the residence and office of the ageing Advocate and freedom fighter Karaunakara Menon. It was said that he had been jailed often as a freedom fighter. My grandfather Gopala Menon, Karunakaramama’s brother, who used to be the sub registrar of Calicut had passed away before my birth.
KP Keshava Menon

But well, we are not going to talk about such mundane matters, we are instead going to talk about the people who got involved in governance, noncooperation, the independence movement, satyagraha’s, Quit India moves, regional politics and the nasty business of religious and caste divides. All of this came to the fore in a decade commencing in 1920 and ended with a muted crash in 1934 or thereabouts after which the political scene of the region and thence the state changed forever. In the process of generalizing the story, I will introduce to you the members of the Chalappuram gang and the Ameen Lodge, the very people whose dithering and bickering ways, which in reality had started after the 1921 Moplah revolt, culminated in a divide in the Congress organization of Malabar. Their acrimonious relationship held taut during the time when Muslim group called the Hindu Congressmen as Sunday Congress or the Chalappuram Gang, while the Hindu’s called the Muslim faction, the Ameen Lodge.

To get to these turbulent years, we have to touch upon the Khilafat days preceding the 1921 Moplah rebellion and I promise to be brief, as it has previously been covered in other articles. Indian nationalism was on the rise following the Jalianwala Bagh massacre in 1919 and the imposition of the Rowlett act. Emotions were running high and the desire to kick the butt of the British was omnipresent. In summary, the Khilafat movement was a pan-Islamic, political campaign launched by the Muslims in British India to influence the British and to protect the Ottoman Khalifa or Caliph following the aftermath of World War I. The effort won the support of Mahatma Gandhi, the Congress and was quickly embraced in Malabar.

1920 was a critical year in Calicut. Annie Besant, Gandhiji and Shaukat Ali came by, exhorting the masses against the British and to support the Khilafat movement. Of Gandhi’s visit to Calicut, the Moplah revolts and the Khilafat days, I had written articles referenced, which may be perused if interested.

Annie Besant chaired the Malabar District Political Conference held at Manjeri on April 28, 1920.  Various prominent leaders of Calicut such as K.P. Kesava Menon, Manjeri Ramayyar, M.P. Narayana Menon, K Madhavan Nair, Abdul Khader, P Moideen Koya, took part. A non-cooperation resolution was adopted. The meeting passed a resolution protecting the rights of the tenants of Malabar, which of course raised the ire of landlords and as a result of which they dissented and left the Congress. The Moplah outrage act was also discussed. The District Congress Committee was now reorganized as the Kerala Provincial Congress Committee. Keep in mind that while a District Congress Committee had already been formed in 1908 it was not until 1916 Palghat conference with the founding of the All India Home Rule League that Malabar began to awaken politically.

Various matters occupied the minds of our elders and activists in Malabar. On one hand the desire to oust the British was foremost, on the other hand, the local issues relating to the tenancy act, the urge to get out of the matrilineal society norms was on the other. Pressures were building from both the lower castes as well as the Moplahs regarding the tenancy aspects. The middle class Nair community was at gearing up for a formalization of inheritance norms, away from the matrilineal principles. The wealthy landlords were getting increasingly nervous and then there was the looming issue regarding the concept of marriage in the community. In all, it was a heady mix of local issues specific to Malabar and the pressures to support a larger national cause.

The original Malabar Congress was in reality a Hindu organization, dominated largely by Nair vakils
AV Kuttimalu Amma
(attorneys) from the kanamdar class. The Janmis were the Namboodiris, and the serfs or the Verumpattom holders mainly Moplahs, Tiyyas and Cherumans. With the arrival of the Khilafat, and its forged relations with the Gandhians, the social status of the educated Moplah lot were quickly elevated to the same category as the Nairs and many of them found seats and cemented relationships in various congress committees and working groups. Thus the non-cooperation activities in Calicut were taken forward in relative amity, hand in hand by the Hindus and Muslims. The Muslim activists and leaders who made their presence felt were Moidu Moulavi, Mohammed Aburahman, Hassan Koya Mulla, NP Abu, Nurudheen. It also had other supporters such as AC Raman, Keraleeyan (Kunhappa Nambiar), PC Koran etc.

In 1920 after Gandhiji had come and left, the Malabar DCC became the KPCC and was headquartered in Calicut. Madhavan Nair, Gopala Menon and Moideen Koya were soon arrested for dissent and with that the noncooperation movement started in Malabar. But it was quickly shadowed by the 1921 Moplah revolt.

The 1921 conflict is a very complex subject which I will not get into here, but suffice to say that for various reasons the Moplahs revolted and refused to pay taxes to the British. This snowballed into a violent conflict (starting at Tirurangadi) where religion was used to foment anger and retaliation by the British and some leaders, resulting in the Military being brought in and vicious repression which followed. The horrid tragedy continued for months. Thousands of Moplahs were killed, and wounded by troops, thousands of Hindus were butchered by the rebels, women subjected to shameful indignities, thousands forcibly converted and entire families burnt alive. It was a massive tragedy, the results of which we will now see.

The Congress-Khilafat movement formed by ‘interlocking the discontent of the Moplahs and the common interest of the people of Malabar’ (as EMS put it) ended up in the traumatic events of 1921. The Moplah leader’s cries to leave Hindus alone were not listened to as the bands became undisciplined and uncontrollably violent while the panic-stricken Hindus quickly withdrew their support to the Moplah’s and some even supported the British authorities.  A wedge had been firmly and deeply driven between the two communities as amity degenerated into animosity and eventually enmity.

AbduRahman Saheb
The eventual visible result in the Nair and upper Hindu classes was the edict ‘the Moplahs cannot be relied upon’. Thus there was a lot of nervousness post 1921 in Hindu minds, when it came to working with Moplahs, while at the same time, the Moplah leaders felt the same having seen some Hindus work with the British to protect themselves only during the riots and decry the Moplah leaders. 

Another complaint of the Moplah was that they observed many of the Hindu Congressmen appointed as members of the Hindu Mahasabha, supporting the Aryasabha in reconversions or working as members of the Nair Service society. The gulf between the two groups became so wide that though each claimed to be a group of congressmen, one could not cooperate with the other even in organizing the Congress day to day matters. KPK Menon concluded - Enmity towards the Congress was evident everywhere.... Some Hindu leaders accused the Congressmen of treason for not joining the Khilafatists.... The Muslims complained that those who had induced them to join the Congress, abandoned them when police oppression and firing by the troops started".

The Hindu congressmen who were vociferous in supporting the Khilafat Moplahs and who had lost their faces and voices, now went into a shell and the congress machine of Malabar ground to a complete halt. Who incidentally were these Hindu congressmen? Keshava Menon, U Gopala Menon, Madhavan Nair, MP Narayana Menon, Ambalakkat Karunakara Menon, AV Kuttimalu Amma and so on. Almost all these gentlemen and ladies resided in the aristocratic area of Chalappuram. As a result, their organization, working sometimes from the home of Madhavan Nair, was termed the Chalappuram congress or the Chalappuram Gang. Many of them were lawyers who had once left the service of the courts and worked fulltime with the noncooperation movement. Now with the turbulent situation, they had gone back to working in the cutcheri, working as lawyers on weekdays.

The British had succeeded in one aspect, planned or unplanned, they had by now managed to split the congress along communal lines in Malabar and arrested its workings, one that was now being touted as Khadi against Khaki.  On top of that they had classified the Moplah as a troublesome character and the situation was such that if a Moplah donned khadi he would be jailed.

It was at this juncture that two newspapers arrived on the scene, each to voice the concerns and objectives of these two leading religious communities, they were the Mathurbhumi started by the above group of lawyers and the Al Ameen (The voice of honesty) by the Moplah leaders. Papers like Malayala Manorama, Mithavadi and the Kerala Patrika were present at that time, but not considered nationalistic enough.

The Mathrubhumi was started by Keshava Menon and Madhavan Nair and had as directors Madhava Menon, Sundaram Iyer, A Karunakara Menon, AR Menon, P Achutan, AV Kuttimalu Amma etc. It commenced publishing thrice weekly from 1923. The paper was conceived as a tool to serve national movement for the attainment of freedom and not as a business for profit. Ramunni Menon and Karoor Neelakandhan Namboothiripad also worked for its promotion.

The Al Ameen was the brain child of Mohammed Abdurahman (Kunju Mohammed) from Kodungallur who had settled down at Calicut. Initially educated at the BEM (now MCC) college in Calicut, continuing his studies in Madras at the Muhammaden College and later the Presidency College. He left Presidency in 1920 following the boycott appeal of Gandhiji and joined the Aligarh University for his Honors degree. He arrived in Malabar in time for the Ottapalam conference, and was quickly thrust into the Congress-Khilafat movement, moving to Calicut, and later into the Moplah revolt at Eranad which he tried bring about some control, but could not. After the revolt, he was punished with a 2 year jail sentence at Bellary and Madras for disseminating false information about the government. When he arrived in Calicut after a rigorous sentence in 1923, he found the apathetic Hindu congressmen and the withdrawn Moplah congressmen doing nothing much for the cause of Indian freedom.

The Al Ameen ironically was started with the help of an appeal by Mathrubhumi to support Abdurahman’s effort. The founders and supporters lived at the Al Ameen lodge owned by Moidu Maulavi and that is the reason why they were called the Ameen lodge gang. The first issue came out in Oct 1924 and Mathrubhumi officially welcomed it with an article. In June 1930 it became a daily and was perpetually in debt. It is stated that the British dreaded many a provocative article published by it (e.g. the communist manifesto in Malayalam) and its support for the Muslim voice.

The 1927 provincial congress conference brought about a small amount of reconciliation. The Simon commission recommendations had to be protested against, boycotted and Swaraj had to be declared.The Malabar Tenancy act of 1929 was released and came in support of the kanamdars to provide them the required protections against eviction. But it also resulted in creating a new substrata of mini landlords. The divide now reduced from three to two and a semblance of haves and have-nots (the verum pattakars) an unbalanced situation which a younger groups of socialists led by Kelappan and EMS in the congress were soon to target. The lower classes were observing all this, lukewarm in supporting the congress which they believed were only favoring the landlords as mentioned earlier. A concept that there would be a congress for the rich and a congress for the poor was being bandied about by leaders like Krishna Pillai and the younger leaders.

The plan to start the next phase civil disobedience movement was debated for a while, and it was finally under the leadership of K Kelappan that the youth started their march for the Salt Satyagraha at Payannur joined by Abdurahman. Slowly Calicut caught on and a salt Satyagraha was organized in Calicut in May 1930 by Abdurahman, Krishnaswamy and Kelappan. Abdu Rahman was jailed again.

Meanwhile the two papers coexisted but were different in character. The Al Ameen paid no heed to authority, while the Mathrubhumi was cautious, desiring longevity. Al Ameen frequently decried Mathrubhumi’s silence on certain topics as a sign of its servitude to the British. But they were not too acrimonious and settled up usually, at the end of the day. It was on one such occasion that Abdurahman called the cautious Chalappuram members as the Chalappuram gang of Sunday Congressmen. The lawyers worked for the courts on weekdays and halfheartedly for the congress on Sundays, so said Al Ameen and the socialist cadre youngsters. It was in those days that the Hindu part of the KPCC exhibited the two stark factions, the upper caste Chalappuram gang and the so called Kelappan or Gandhian group.

The Guruvayoor Satyagraha was another event which made the upper caste Chalappuram gang stand apart. The fight to get entry for all Hindus into the temple heated up, with even Gandhiji involved and during this event, most of the Chalappuram congressmen sided with the trustees and the Zamorin in opposing it or by not protesting. This was something that further alienated it from some of the younger working class members of the congress led by Kelappan, EMS, Manjeri Ramayyar etc.

The Calicut Municipal Election in 1931 and the consequent developments which caused a loss of homogeneity and unity among Congressmen of Malabar is something to be briefly looked into, next. Abdurahaman was allotted the VI ward, where he had little chance of winning. Protesting, he got the VII ward from where he won handsomely. Regrettably, he did not get the nod due to a communal divide and Abdurahman stayed away from Congress activities for a while. The writings in the newspapers became acrimonious and Abdurahman did not lose the opportunity to attack the Chalappuram gang as often as he could. The rivalry continued into the 1934 elections where again Abdurahman was allotted Kelappan’s ward and got defeated, protested and left. Then came the CLA elections, where again Abdurahman lost to Sattar sait.

As squabbling was going on between the seniors, the younger group with socialist leftist views 
supporting the working classes strengthened with AKG, Krishna Pillai and EMS Namboothiripad. Very soon, they had occupied a position of popularity and control. The CSP and subsequently the Muslim league formation is yet another story, and we will get into that in the course of time. That was eventually to deal a death blow to the ageing rightist group, though anti British activities continued their course, though slightly dampened as Nehru was heard to remark once.

During and after the Salt Satyagraha, women increasingly enrolled themselves as volunteers. Many went to jail braving police harassment. Kuttimalu Amma was a classic character and was associated with the Chalappuram gang not only as the wife of K Madhava Menon, but as an activist in her own right. Many others can be listed, like Karthiyayani Amma, Narayanikutty Amma, Gracy Aron and Meena Ammaal.

As it is time to wind up, let us check what happened to all these people as time passed by. Abdurahman continued with the CSP faction, his Al Ameen folded in 1939 and Abdurahman soon drifted towards NSC Bose and the INA, getting jailed again. The Mathrubhumi thrived, but the Chalappuram gang aged and struggled with the internal left right rivalry and the rising young Turks of the CSP. Keshava Menon as you will recall went to Malaysia and Singapore, got involved with the IIL and INA. U Gopala Menon continued with his legal work and the bar association. Madhavan Nair passed away in 1933. Madhava Menon was imprisoned often but continued with Congress and Mathrubhumi administration at Calicut. Ambalakkat Karunakara Menon was also involved with administrative capacities and was arrested in the Satyagraha movement and Quit India movement, and eventually got to working for the Harijan Sevak Sangh. Kuttimalu Amma also went to jail fighting the British and continued with the KPCC for a long time. Many of those old aristocratic houses are not to be seen in Calicut anymore. I heard recently that Karunakara mamas North Ambalakkat house had been sold off. The South Ambalakkat house where I grew up is still there and I had seen it a couple of years ago, but I guess it is all a matter of time when these things will be just history.

It was in the course of these studies that I came across an interesting tidbit. During these troubling 20’s, we knew of course that covering the upper half of their bodies was neither the norm nor permitted for women of the lower classes. In fact men were also supposed to be bare bodied, as serfs. Only Nair’s and upper classes could wear shirts. As these freedom movements strengthened and took hold, all men took to wearing shirts and of course, the women too were clad in blouses. But there was another matter of interest. I read that only Nairs could sport a mustache in old Malabar and that it was during the freedom movement when many other classes took the opportunity and started sporting mustaches. It was a big thing, and to this day you will see most Malayalee’s continuing to sport mustaches, for it was not just something manly, it was perhaps a little act of protest and equality!

Well, those were different days when egos, ideology, religions, classes, castes and communities clashed. For a while the singular desire to be free from the British united everybody, and in that path to freedom, true character and grit was exposed. But as we all saw, those undercurrents continued to direct or misdirect many of the characters as days passed by, and as we know, they still do. It is true that each party had justifications for their actions, and the debates will continue on for ever. Maybe it will all change one day, when such petty aspects don’t matter anymore, maybe it won’t. Who knows???

Stealing Congresses’ thunder – Ronald J Herring, (When parties fail – ed. Kay Lawson, Peter H Merkl)
Congress and Kerala Politics – KS Nayar
History of the Communist movement in Kerala – Dr E Balakrishnan
Kerala society and politics – EMS Namboothirpad
Mohammed AbduRahman- NP Chekutty
How I became a communist - EMS Namboothirpad
Who’s who of Freedom fighters in Kerala – K Karunakaran Nair
Peasant Protest and Revolts in Malabar during the 19th and 20th Century - Dr. K. N. Panikkar
Political journalism and national movement in Malabar (Thesis) –Thilleri Vasu
Mobilisation against the State and not against the landlords: The Civil Disobedience Movement in Malabar – K Gopalankutty
The Task of Transforming the Congress: Malabar, 1934-40 – K Gopalankutty
Muhammed Abdurahiman: Pursuits and Perspectives of a Nationalist Muslim Thesis - Muhammed Poozhikuth

Ullal - An account

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And the Abakka Rani

To the north of Kasaragod, where the historical borders of Malabar ends, is Manjeshwar and a little north of it, but south of Mangalore, bordering the Netravati River and facing the Arabian Sea is the small municipality called Ullal (Ullala or Olala). At one point in Malabar’s history, it had a connection to the Zamorin’s of Calicut and with the Portuguese. It is the story of Ullala which we will fish out today, but with some detail and background, for most books just pass it off as a couple of sentences mentioning a minor queen named Abakka Devi or Tirumala Rani. There was more than that, as you can imagine.

We will start with the history of the region when the regional was centered at Puttige. The family which ruled the region was called the Chauta’s and we understand that the first recorded among the rulers was one Vikru Chauta ruling in the 14th century. They were connected with the Vijayanagara kings for a while and under the rule of the Chauta’s, Mudabhidre became a Jainist center (perhaps the Jain connections had started to the earliest of rumors that the Chauta lineage started when a Vijayanagara king had a Jain consort. There is also a purported connection between the Chautas and the Jain Chawdas of Gujarat who migrated after the Solanki clashes) and a few Basadis were built. Sanjay Subrahmanyam states - By all accounts, the control of Vijayanagar over the petty principalities along the west coast, such as Bangher, Ullal, Gangolli, Bhatkal and Gersoppa, was rather limited. These principalities were controlled by local rulers, who had hereditary claims over the local overlordship and paid tribute to Vijayanagar.

Somewhere in the 16th century, following Tirumalarasa Chauta’s rule, a parallel rule started at Southerly Ullala, perhaps by a split faction of the family, following the matrilineal (aliyasanthanam) system, also as prevalent in Malabar. It is around 1571 that the first mentions of queens ruling Ullal and Puttige come to the fore, with a Lokadevi at Puttige and Abakkadevi 1 at Ullala. Recall now that starting from the conquest in 1510, for the Portuguese had settled in Goa and were ruling the seas. 

Mangalore Fort
From this point a number of problems arose between Ullal, Malabar and the Portuguese. Much of the rice export to Malabar took place at the Ullal and from nearby ports using Malabar boats. These were stifled by the Portuguese, setting off intense rivalry and skirmishes. We see events reported as early as 1513 and 1525 when Moplah freight ships were captured and destroyed by the Portuguese.

In 1530 the Portuguese under the command of Nuno da Cunha had crossed the river of Mangalore, which flowed through the Ullal territory, and destroyed the stockade and the fortified positions with the purpose of punishing a rich merchant Shetty, who was in league with the King of Calicut, against them. In fact the Muslim merchants of Malabar had actually been attempting to subvert the blockade of Calicut by sending out the spices to Red sea port buyers using Mangalore ports such as Ullal. Until 1530 the Portuguese had not detected this method!

As the Portuguese became more and more powerful in Kanara, they started to subjugate the local chieftains and it appears that the first major brush the rulers of Ullala had with the Franks took place around 1555-58 when Dom Alvares sacked Ullala, as the Queen was found harboring Calicut vessels in her port. Not much more is known except that the Zamorin of Calicut intervened and helped her out of the trouble, but a latter event is much talked about, something that started with an argument between the neighboring principalities around 1568 as the Northern neighbor the Banghars established a treaty with the Portuguese which the Ullalas could not come to terms with. In the meanwhile, the Portuguese had other plans with Ullala. They planned to build a fort on the south bank to control the access through the river and the border with the Queen’s domain. 

The Viceroy Antao De Noronha decided on cornering the location to commence the building of the
fort, in 1568, but the queen was waiting with a large force in her own ramshackle fort, while the undisciplined Portuguese ended up torching their own tents in a night of revelry preceding the war. In the melee, the Queens forces attacked and a large number of Portuguese were killed. The following days of retaliation resulted in Ullala getting sacked. But after all this, the Portuguese decided against building a fort on the south bank and built their fort on the North bank, in the place allocated to them by the Bangar King Virasimha III.

The queen was named Abakka Devi and this famous attack of 1568 did not go unnoticed. Her courageous stance against the Portuguese was mentioned far and wide and it was at this point that the queen forged a formal relationship with the Calicut Zamorin, to work against the Portuguese in the future. The Portuguese on the other hand had different ideas as the Viceroy Luis de Ataide intervened personally and due to intense mediation, managed to get the queen of Ullala married to the King of Bangar.

An event in 1571 merits mention. The Queen who was friendly with the Zamorin and the Marakkars mentioned to her friends that the Mangalore fort could be taken easily. Kutti Poker, the Zamroin’s representative attacked the fortress following this tip and was clambering it but the servant in the fort threw out a silver chest in defense, knocking down the men scaling the fort using a ladder. Poker and his men ran with the silver but were tracked down by the Portuguese all the way to Cannanore and captured.

The queen also took advantage of the Adil Shah confederacy against the Portuguese in the 1570-74 period. It is also stated that like the Zamorin, she had many thousand Muslims in her fighting forces.The intervening years witnessed the death of the first heroic queen during a battle with the karkala’s, followed by the rule over Ullala by her brother and eventually succession by the second Abakka Devi or Tirumala Devi, her daughter, in the last decade of the sixteenth century, perhaps 1594.

During the last years of the Ullala kings reign, he built a fort in 1589 not far from the Portuguese fort, on the same bank across the river from Ullala. The Portuguese had no choice but to watch it being built by a huge team of over 30,000 men, during its construction, owing to the heavy rains and lack of fighting power. This fort became a huge bone of contention between the Bangas, the Ullala and the Portuguese. Coutinho was deputed later with three galleys and 30 ships to destroy it, late in Dec 1589. After fruitless negotiations, the Portuguese attacked and destroyed much of Ullala, once again. 

The fort however remained intact and the King of Portugal was furious that it had not been destroyed.
Abbakkadevi II renewed the hostile attitude with the Bangas. The fort on the opposite banks, under by the queen was always a threat to the Portuguese who remembered that fateful night of 1568 often and the new queen refused to destroy it. According to an instruction of the king, the viceroy of Goa sent Dorn A Azeveda to Ullala to raze the fortress to the ground and it was finally destroyed by Azeveda, in 1595 or thereafter.

A modern depicition
Abakka Devi
We also hear of her relations with the Kotakkal Marakkars late in 1599 and of support when Kunjali was blockaded, but I could not get too many details about it as yet. In her wars with Banga Raja of Managalore and against the Portuguese, Kunjali had assisted her with captains, ships and soldiers on many occasions. In 1600 however she signed a treaty with the Portuguese and eventually desisted from assisting Kunjali during his final days.

Abakka Devi a.k.a Thirumala devi continued with intrigues against the Portuguese, by siding with the Serra kingdom against the Bangas and by working with the Zamorin in Calicut as well as the Marakkars of Kotakkal. Their intense rivalry with the Bangas continued and it was in 1616 that the Bangars retaliated by attacking Ullala. The queen had no choice but to seek help from the Keladi Nayaks against the Bangas as the Bangas approached the Portuguese for help. Also to be noted here is that the Bangars but naturally, were supported by the Kolathiris of Cannanore. Historians have brought in much confusion between the two Abakka Devis and it is a bit difficult to figure out who is who at times. For example, we see from Vasantha Madhava’s comment - The common boundary between these two chiefs (the Bangar and the Chautas of Ullala) the mutual jealousy, and unhappy marriage of Vira Lakshmappa Banga IV and Abbakkadevi II of Ullala were probably the causes of the wars. At the same time, we have already seen earlier mentions that her mother was married to the Banga King. The Ullalas entered into an uneasy but relatively calm relationship with the Portuguese.

Dharma Raja and Dr Hebbar explain the intrigues and plotting by the Portuguese to work on the queen - The stunned Portuguese decided to bide for time. What could not be won on the battlefield, they knew could be won by treachery and larceny. Lakshmappa Arasa, the Banga king of Mangalore, Abbakka’s husband, was warned not to send any reinforcement to Ullal under the threat of burning his capital of Mangalore. His nephew, Kamaraya was secretly recruited to plot against his uncle, and usurp the throne at Mangalore. The conspiracy by his own nephew and the threat of a Portuguese invasion left Lakshmappa Banga-raja helpless and unable to aid his wife during the next offensive by the Portuguese. In 1567, when Abbakka Devi stopped paying tribute, there was another encounter with the rani, in which she was defeated and sued for peace. Yet, Abbakka remained a non-conformist and a rebel, which irritated the Portuguese to no end. The local legend also says that Rani Abbakka Devi was estranged from her husband, Lakshmappa Banga, who was said to have colluded with the Portuguese and fought against his wife. It is more probable that it was the nephew of her husband, Kamaraya III, who had fought against the queen. The sedition of Kamaraya III against his uncle had been supported by the Portuguese. Consequently he was able to supplant the king and rule Mangalore during the period when Abbakka Devi was opposing the Portuguese advances.

The last phase of her rule is marked by the entry of the powerful Venkatappa Nayaka into the quarrels between the Bangars and Ullalas and the role of the Portuguese in these intrigues. The Portuguese were being supplied with pepper by the powerful Ikkeri Nayak and so they had no plans to go against Venkatappa. But the Bangars had always been their friends and they could not let them down. The Banga king by now separated from Abakka, sulked at the lack of overt support from the Portuguese in going against the Ullalas and the Nayak, retreating often to Kasargod.  These events have been narrated in some detail in Sastry’s book and it is clear that the outright winner in all this was the powerful Ikkeri Nayak, for the Portuguese fortunes were by now, on the wane.

Following this, according to the Italian traveler Della Valle who visited Olala, the Banga king kidnapped his wife and later released her, but the furious queen decided to wage war against him with the help of Venakatappa. He also explains that the Portuguese fort in Mangalore was not really one, but just a house (this explains how many of these scribes spun great stories and tall tales in their memoirs making you conjure up fantastic visions). The Banga war which followed went in favor of the Nayaks and Ullala, but of course she had to pay huge tributes thenceforth to the Nayak. The queen was powerful and was rumored to have finished off her own son when he chose to plot against her, while Delle Valle insists that this is falsehood propagated by the Franks.

This was the situation as Della Valle arrived in the region and proceeded to Ullala. He had heard about the queens and wanted to see the reigning Abakka in person, and his descriptions of the region, Ullal and Abakka Devi, are invaluable visit reports.

Let’s see what he had to say….The Matrimony and good Friendship having lasted many years between the King of Banghel and the Queen, I know not upon what occasion discord arose between them, and such discord that the Queen divorced him, sending back to him, (as the custom is in such case) all the Jewels which he had given her as his Wife.

He reaches olala - The Bazar is fairly good, and, besides necessaries for provisions, affords abundance of white and striped linen cloth, which is made in Olala, but coarse, such as the people of that Country use. At the Town's end is a very pleasant Grove, and at the end thereof a great Temple, handsomely built for this Country and much esteemed. Olala is inhabited confusedly, both by Gentiles who burn themselves and also by Malabar Moors. About a mile off, Southwards, stands the Royal House, or Palace, amongst the aforesaid Groves, where the Queen resides when she comes hither sometimes. It is large, enclosed with a wall and trench, but of little moment.

Having landed, and going towards the Bazar to get a Lodging in some House, we beheld the Queen coming alone in the same way without any other Woman, on foot, accompanied only with four, or six, foot soldiers before her, who all were naked after their manner, saving that they had a cloth over their shame, and another like a sheet, worn across the shoulders like a belt; each of them had a Sword in his hand, or at most a Sword and Buckler; there were also as many behind her of the same sort, one of whom carried over her a very ordinary Umbrella made of Palm-leaves. Her Complexion was as black as that of a natural Ethiopian; she was corpulent and gross, but not heavy, for she seemed to walk nimbly enough; her Age may be about forty years, although the Portugals had described her to me as much older. She was clothed, or rather girded at the waist, with a plain piece of thick white Cotton, and bare-foot, which is the custom of the Indian Gentile Women, both high and low, in the house and abroad; and of Men too the most, and all the most ordinary, go unshod; some of the more grand wear Sandals, or Slippers; very few use whole Shoes covering all the Foot. From the waist upwards the Queen was naked, saving that she had a cloth tied round about her Head, and hanging a little down upon her Breast and Shoulders. In brief, her aspect and habit represented rather a dirty Kitchen-wench, or Laundress, than a delicate and noble Queen; whereupon I said within myself, Behold by whom are routed in India the Armies of the King of Spain, which in Europe is so great a matter! Yet the Queen showed her quality much more in speaking than by her presence; for her voice was very graceful in comparison with her Person, and she spoke like a prudent and judicious Woman. They had told me that she had no teeth, and therefore was wont to go with half her Face covered; yet I could not discover any such defect in her, either by my Eye, or by my Ear; and I rather believe that this covering of the Mouth, or half the Face, as she sometimes doth, is agreeable to the modest custom which I know to be common to almost all Women in the East. I will not omit to state that though she was so corpulent, as I have mentioned, yet she seems not deformed, but I imagine she was handsome in her Youth; and, indeed, the Report is that she hath been much of a Lady, of majestic beauty, though stern rather than gentle.

Her second son Saluva Rairu was living with her when Delle Valle visited her. He continues on explaining how the palace/house is built and furnished, stopping to explain the position held by the Ullala king, and the difficulties he had eating food, served ceremoniously to him. He then moves on to Manel where the queen had gone, to see the brave lady a second time. Their brief audience was again, conducted outdoors.

Accordingly I went and, drawing near, saw her standing in the field, with a few Servants about her, clad as at the other time, and talking to the Laborers that were digging the Trenches. When she saw us she sent to know wherefore I came, whether it were about any business? And the Messenger, being answered that it was only to visit her, brought me word again that it was late and time to go home, and therefore I should do so, and when she came home she would send for me.

But she never did and Delle Valle continued with other pursuits, disappointed. Later he goes to a Krishna temple and documents the visit in great detail. All very interesting original first person reports and invaluable to a Kanara historian.

And of course there are many legends and myths surrounding these queens, multiplying many fold these days with creative writers entering the fray. A comic book by Amar Chitra Katha also provides fodder. She is described as the fearless Abahaya rani, agile and dressed in a sari (we know that is not true), we can read of her relations with her husband who chose to support the Franks, of her ability to fire flaming arrows, of her taking refuge in a mosque and dying in the battlefield muttering – drive the firangis back and so on, but much of all that are just that, legends and myths. Nevertheless, she was a brave queen and revered by her subjects, and she collaborated, schemed and fought for them.

Queen Abakka (Buuka Devi Chauta) passed away around 1640, but it is not clear if she died in a battlefield as legends portray. Ullal once famous for its Jain temple, cotton, rice and cane cultivation, quietened down in history books and vanished leaving behind only the memory of a Jain queen who resisted the Portuguese. A few kings followed, but were not distinguishable in any way.

Political History of Kanara - Vasantha Madhava
Goa Kanara Portuguese relations 1498-1763 – BS Shastry
The Travels of Pietro Delle Valle in India, Vol 2- – Hakluyt society
Portuguese hegemony over Mangalore - Mohan Krishna Rai K.
Muslims in Dakshina Kannada – A Wahab Doddamane
The Aravidu Dynasty of Vijayanagara – Henry Heras
The Portuguese in South Kanara. By J. Gerson da Cunha, Journal of Asiatic society
Queen Abbakka Chowta of Ullal and Moodadbidri – Bipin Shah
The Intrepid Queen Rani Abbakka Devi of Ullal - Dr. Neria H. Hebbar

Pics – Della Valle’sAbakka, RS Naidu - Amar Chitra Katha for the modern depiction, Mangalore fort 1783 - Wikimedia