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The Moplah Rebellion 1921 – A British Soldier's viewpoint

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Donald Sinderby in Malabar

There are so many books with deal with the revolt in Malabar, or what the British Raj termed a rebellion (i.e. waging war against the crown) with a purpose to clamp down the area under martial law.  Some of these were written by Malayali congressmen and survivors, some others by the British administrators who were in the thick of things. There are very few firsthand accounts from the British side perhaps because such reporting was not encouraged. There is one, a work of historical fiction which gained a certain amount of popularity but vanished from the shelves after a while. Having obtained a dog eared 1927 copy of that book, I decide to peruse it carefully without tearing those ancient pages, with an intention of finding out what a common soldier thought about the whole thing. What you will read on is not a review but a summary of Sinderby’s opinion of Malabar, the Nairs, the administrators and the revolting Moplah, not about the love story which he wrote. In a way this book is unique since it is one of its kind, though the contents are not summarily of great value.

Steve at bearalley provides biographical material on Sinderby as follows. Donald Ryder Stephens was born in St. Albans, Hertfordshire, on 11 September 1898, the son of Martin Frank Stephens, a publisher's manager, and his wife Mary Ann (Annie) Beney. Stephens grew up in St Albans and Wimbledon. His parents subsequently moved to 2 Nevill Park, Tonbridge Wells, and, later still, to Bexhill. Stephens was an Old Tonbridgian, having attended Tonbridge School, and was a well-known member of the Tonbridge Rugby F.C. After attending R. M. C. Sandhurst, he served in the Dorsetshire Regiment during the Great War achieving the rank of Lieutenant and, after the Armistice, is believed to have served in India. After five years in the Army he began working in the Central Editorial Department of the Amalgamated Press in 1923-26. He also began writing for their children's papers, producing serials and short stories and was a staff writer on the Children's Newspaper. He also began publishing stories in Hutchinson's Magazine and The Regent Magazine in 1924 using the pen-name Donald Sinderby, derived from a family name which was borne by his great-grandmother, who died in 1861.His occupation was given as author when, in 1927, he married Audrey Margaret Elmslie (1901-1991), only daughter of Major and Mrs. Stuart Elmslie. Stephens served for four years in Malta during World War Two. He died in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, on 30 November 1983. He used an alias of Donald Ryder Stephens in his early works, choosing to remain behind the curtain.

The Jewel of Malabar was described as "An exciting love story of unusual interest" as it portrayed the love, devotion and self-sacrifice of a beautiful native girl and her lover, British officer Sir John Bennville, who is infatuated with her. Its background is the Moplah Rebellion of 1921 in South-West India. The book was well-reviewed as a convincing and vivid account of the fierce fighting with many hair-breadth escapes which characterized the campaign in which the author was personally engaged from first to last.

The heroine of this story is Kamayla, a beautiful Hindu girl with whom Sir John Bennville, a young English officer, involved in fighting in South-West India, falls desperately in love. Kamayla is so devoted to him that she becomes a Christian. After her conversion, however, she comes under Roman Catholic influence, and, being told that her marrying Sir John would ruin his prestige and prospects, she proves her love by renunciation and enters a convent. In its simple way the story is pleasing enough. But the romantic element in it is the thread upon which the author has strung his own vivid and stirring memories of the Moplah Rebellion of 1921; and it is these first-hand scenes that give special interest to his book.

Before taking Sinderby to Malabar, I should set the scene, which I will now proceed to do. In writing this, you the reader should humor me, for I may seem to be looking at the sordid period from a slanted British viewpoint, it is on purpose, for this is Sinderby’s tale.

1919 proved to be a disaster for the British what with the aftermath of the massacre at Jalianwala. The Simla administration was careful in employing any kind of military involvement to suppress rebellions and revolts. It took a lot of debating before a decision was taken, and as it turned out in the case of Malabar, decisions were late and taken after matters had crossed the boiling point. Local administrations struggled to get their voices heard, especially requests for armed forces. Down south in Malabar, the Khilafat movement was heating up and it was not clear how Turkey would rise in support. Gandhiji had thrown his weight behind it and the wary British were watching developments very carefully and were quite worried that Hindu Muslim rapport would become a huge problem for the crown.

It was in 1921 July that the British Army first got involved in these matters starting with a case of a stolen pistol in an area called Pookottur in the Ernad Taluk. The police attempted to arrest Vadakkeveettil Muhammad (an ex-employee of the Thirumalpad), the Secretary of the local Khilaphat Committee, on the pretext that he had stolen a gun from the palace of the Nilambur Tirumalpad. They searched the house of Muhammad but found nothing. Later, thousands of enraged Mappilas of the locality, who were summoned by the beat of drums in the mosques of the neighborhood went up in arms and the mob marched to the kovilakom. The family members in the palace fled and the mob plundered the palace and distributed the booty.

The events at Pukkottur, Hitchcock wrote, 'have created an entirely new situation in Malabar; Khilafat was completely swallowed up by the old fanatical spirit on this occasion’. EF Thomas the collector was understandably very nervous as his summons to those who were implicated at Pookottor went unheeded. His superiors in Madras finally decided to allow a deputation of military to support the beleaguered police in Eranad and to take action at Tirurangadi where in their opinion Ali Musaliar was fomenting a rebellion and igniting fanaticism. Led to believe that the Khilafat movement would lead to the downfall of the British the Eranad Moplahs had decided to take law into their own hands and gathered at Tirur on 20th August.

A force comprising 79 from the Leinster regiment of Gurkhas headed by PC McEnroy in the company of some 170 Malabar police arrived in Tirurangadi just before dawn on the morning of August 20, and immediately set out to arrest 24 persons, 6 of whom had been involved in the Pukkottur incident and to search suspected houses in Tirurangadi, Chembrasseri, and Pukkottur. It did not go very well and only three were arrested. Rumors went around that the Mambram (Tirurangadi Kizhakkepalli) mosque had been desecrated by the British and the mobs gathered and started wanton destruction of public property, and went on to sabotage and remove railway lines and cut the telegraph lines. Firing was resorted to and in addition to a number of rioters, Second Lieutenant W. R. M. Johnson and the Assistant Superintendent of Police, Mr Rowley were killed. Within days widespread revolt spread across Malabar, particularly Ernad and Valluvanad in south Malabar, which had the highest concentration of Moplas. The treasury at Manjeri was looted and torched.

This was when reinforcements in the form of the Dorsetshire regiment were rushed out in the HMS Camus to Calicut, from Bangalore under John Burnett-Stuart (GOC Madras District) who was appointed Military Commander of the troubled areas. Before they were formally deployed, the marching Leinsters were ambushed by a large band of rebels and in the attack a large number of Moplas were killed, many wildly rushing onto machine gun fire. Seeing that this did not work, the Moplah rebels decided to change tactics and from then on it was mainly guerrilla style warfare in the dense jungles of the area. The marching Dorsets (as railway lines were cut) took a few days to reach the area, and were later split out as two columns and then sending small detachments to affected villages. They found the going very difficult, with heavy monsoon rains, mud and difficult jungle terrains, all eminently suited for the local Moplah rebel gangs. In simple words, they were bogged for a while, but were gaining an upper hand slowly, since they possessed good firearms and howitzers compared to the Moplahs who had sticks swords and antiquated rifles (Martini-Henry breech loading rifles stolen from the police, shotguns and even muzzle-loading smoothbore guns). Some of the Moplahs did have military training for they had returned after serving in the First World War, but they were too few to hurt. In September, some of the affected areas (Ernad, Walluvanad and Ponnani) were put under Martial law but with functioning civil courts. They were now on unsound terrain, they could kill a rebel in an encounter, but if they captured some, they had to be handed over to a civil court. The so called effective methods used in Punjab (Dwyer’s and Dyer’s tough methods) were not to be used. Through the month of September, Stuart’s forces conducted many operations to capture rebel leaders and restore order, but was unable to make real headway.

Later Stuart requested Gurkhas and Burmese reinforcements to conduct proper jungle warfare as the insurrection continued to spread, now alarmingly towards Calicut where British planters also started raising a hue and cry. Large scale sweeps took place in November and by December, the situation was under better control. Stuart commented that surrenders were beginning to increase rapidly, and intelligence became much easier to get. On 19 December, the Chembrasseri Thangal, a key Moplah leader, surrendered. It was also becoming clear that no support was coming from anywhere, that Turkey was not interested in any Khalifa (see my article)

Stuart stated - The surrendered Moplah’s are outwardly cheerful and respectful, and I could detect few signs of resentment or sulkiness. The Moplah is a simple minded stout-hearted ruffian, and embarked on rebellion in the genuine belief that the British Empire was retiring from business, having now discovered that he has been misinformed; I think that he is quite prepared to admit his error and accept things as they are. The revolt petered out in 1922 and martial law was withdrawn. An unfortunate event which occurred was the Train tragedy (see article)  and another at Melmuri where the Dorsets dropped grenades down chimneys.

Donald Sinderby served with the Dorsets and his book covers many of the events during the months of September to November 1921, in Ernad. Let’s now get to the book and see what he had to say. In some ways it is interesting to note that Sinderby foresaw a split of the country into two, a Muslim and a Hindu India even in those early days. But all that is distilled out in his last book Mother in Law, which is another topic by itself (dealing with a Muslim half ruled by the Nizam with Malabar, Cochin and Travancore under him), the development of an atom bomb, the arrival of Americans and finally India getting divided amongst other world powers!

Sinderby enters the book in the character of John Bennville, a rich Baronet in the military service and a Lieutenant in the regiment of the Royal Musketeers. His first impressions of Malabar are eloquent – This country, which is so like and yet so strangely unlike England! Malabar that emerald gem of sad beauty in the south west of India! Small brown houses again fantastically reminiscent of England, nestled in the shade of coconut palms. He observes the first Moplahs clad in their best waist clothes (dhoti) the stately moplahs their peculiar caps perched on the back of their heads, strode silently along on their way from the Friday mosques.

At a locale named Calipuram, we are introduced to a beautiful high caste Nair girl Kamalya (Kamala?), and her betrothed – Nahran a Nair police officer on a motorcycle. They are talking about the Moplah rebels on the move and the arch villain of the tale, the old Abdul Ahmed Hajee (perhaps V K Haji) who desires the girl, the destruction of the treasury at Manjeri (magahdee) and the arrival of Shaukat Ali (Shankat Ali). He mentions how the British raj is powerless and just going about the motions, not doing much to suppress the rebels. Kamalya’s house is a standard two storied nalukettu with wooden parquet flooring (??) and teak paneled walls (!!), a pooja room and a grandfather clock, but no chairs and tables. They are a relatively well-off family but somewhat isolated in the jungle area and the mother is named Lukshmi. The family is scared and worried about potential trouble and violence. Nahran the police officer states that the telegraph lines have been cut and the reserves have been given arms, but is worried that their outpost has just 6 officers who are doomed unless the British army arrives quickly. They believe that the forces will take another month to come, so this is obviously August.
Pandikkad 1921
As expected Abdul Hajee storms the police station, kills the Adhikari and Kamalya and her family flee to the forests abandoning their home. After a while they return to see that their home is untouched, but notice a letter from Abdul Hajee who has proclaimed himself governor of the country (Ali Musaliyar proclaiming himself Khilafat king) stating that he will spare them if Kamalya becomes his wife. The next morning, a single column of the Royal musketeers with Capt West in command, redeployed from Chahnipet arrive in Calipuarm. His men are looking forward to some action after boring barracks life. Benneville a young officer in the marching column, rightly observes that the rice in the paddy fields are ready for harvest, and wonders where all the people have gone for the road is deserted. Soon they team up with Naharan the police officer who is their main informant, and get ambushed by Moplahs on the trees above firing their antique firearms. Many die in the battle that ensues and Benneville is saved from death by Nahran who explains that the rebel Moplah is worked up to such a pitch of madness that they feel no pain, and simply want to kill or be killed. Victorious, they reach Calipuram where they drink tea at a couple of tea shops run by local non rebel Moplahs. Benneville comes up with an interesting observation, all the Moplahs wear a Dhoti which has a dark blue border and he mentions now and then of picking up the smell associated with the Moplahs compared to the cleanliness of the Nairs.

The story picks up speed as Abdul Hajee abducts Kamalya, and Nahran explains why the Moplah is rebelling. He explains – The Moplahs are nearly all poor people sir, and that is because of a law in their religion which orders that a man’s property, when he dies, be divided up amongst his relations and not left to any one or two people. So they never accumulate property, but are mostly small holders. They become discontented with this state of affairs, but blame their Hindu landlords instead of their own religious custom, and state that they are charged too much rent. ..They are fanatical and do what their religious teachers tell them…Then Gandhi’s agents have been here for many months preaching rebellion against the government and this caused the outbreak. Many Moplahs think that the British were defeated in the Great War….

What is interesting in this is the fact that the British officer does not believe the outbreak had anything to do with religion, but is due to agrarian causes and goading by politicians and revolutionaries. In fact there is quite a bit of firsthand information that will be useful for those interested, if you do not focus on the love story that unfolds and stick to the story behind the story. A person who has lived in a Malabar village can easily get immersed into the scenes and visualize it as it all unfolds, but for others it would be drab fiction.

We can see that the entire operation proceeds on, based on information gathered from trusted informers, as skirmish after skirmish takes place. As we saw, Kamalya is abducted and in an attempt to rescue her Nahran is injured and dies soon after. Benneville but naturally falls head over heels in love with the distressed maiden, and stops one of his men from stealing a brooch off a Moplah kid stating that their objective is to protect the natives, not to rob them. Benneville wrestles with thoughts of marrying Kamalya, and worries of practical issues in having a native wife and losing his army job, if that were to happen. In between he hears that the Krembassery (Chembrassery Thangal) has now been proclaimed chief and has started issuing edicts and also that Abdul Hajee is in consultations with him.

During a lull in fighting, he starts to learn some Malayalam, and digs up information on the Nairs of Malabar, and plans to go ahead and profess his love to Kamalaya. We also note that old copies of Madras Mail are the only ways a Brit could get some news. Kamalya rejects Benny’s advances, stating that white does not mix well with brown and only unhappiness results. Another abduction attempt follows, Kamalya is kidnapped again and Benny rescues her a second time. During a third attack, Benny is injured and he is repatriated to the HQ on a little hill overlooking Tammanorum (perhaps Malappuram barracks). We also note that he spends some time in Bannore (maybe Tanur).

He now notifies his superiors of his plans to marry the Nair girl and they are aghast, and soon enough Benny takes matters into his own hands and decides to challenge Abdul Hajee. He is captured by the warlord who offers to spare his life if he would spit on the cross, which he refuses to do in a sudden surge of religiousness. Kamalya now rescues him and upon his return to the barracks is arrested by his superiors for taking matters into his own hands. Fortuitously an attack by the Moplahs allows him to show his excellent skills in fighting with the enemy and in this encounter bayonets Abdul Hajee to death, thus finishing off his beloved’s nemesis, once and for all.

After the event Benny is packed off to Belladroog (Bangalore?) where he slowly settles down to barrack life and a prospective match up with one Miss Catesby Jones, when he receives a letter stating that Kamalya is being victimized and is in a bad shape at Calipuaram, now branded as Benny’s ex-mistress. He takes the train bound for Tarantore (station close to Calipuram), then gets a hold of a car and speeds off to Calipuram, where he is reunited with Kamalya again. They then proceed to Manningtown (Some suburb of Bangalore- probably Cook’s town or Fraser town) where Benny has rented a house. In the meanwhile Kamalya has decided to convert and Benny is glad that this would reduce his problems somewhat. Now he decides to resign from his position and the couple decide to move on to Adayar in Madras. Meanwhile Kamalya meets an old friend who is now a sister in the Church. Upon hearing Kamalya’s story, the nun asks if she wants to convert because she is marrying a Christian. Kamlya answers that she wanted to convert no matter, after which the nun asks if Kamalya wants to see Benny happy or sad. She explains that a marriage between them will be no good and that Benny would be ridiculed by his people, because of their mixed marriage. A lot of discussions take place between them and Kamlaya decides to become a nun and drift away. In the last paragraph of the book, Benny is seen desperately searching for his love, while Kamalya is starting her new life of religion, mercy and self-sacrifice…..

Even though the tale itself is quite contrived, it brings to the fore the problems faced by the mixing of races, but deviates towards evangelization towards the end (perhaps due to influence of Sinderby’s mother). The marches, the attacks, the assessments of the rebels and so on are quite interesting when looked at as first hand opinions and provide a basis for somebody who would want to make a movie, perhaps.

The book ‘Guns and its development’ by Greener narrates an earlier event, which I am quoting below to illustrate typical attacks - The enormous consumption of ammunition with even a comparatively slow-firing arm, as the Lee-Speed-Metford, may be appreciated from the following fact. In the Mopla rising in Malabar, in 1894, fewer than thirty fanatics charged a force of fifty men of the Dorset regiment, armed with the Lee-Metford magazine rifle, and about a hundred native police with Sniders. They had less than fifty yards to run, yet a few of them actually reached the line and fell upon the bayonets, although there were fired at them over seven hundred shots from the Metford rifles and three hundred from the Sniders.

Baillie Ki Paltan by Lt Col Murland is another book which provides limited graphic records of the actual field situation in Eranad and you can easily see that these are quite believable and matter of fact, devoid of politics and any kind of spin. Interestingly this account an officer calls it a Khilafatist agitation. The 64th Pioneers (later renamed as Madras Pioneers) took a while to reach the location since rebels had removed rail keys and damaged bridges enroute. By 27th august, the rail line until Tirur had been repaired and the arriving party found looting of houses underway. It also states that the 9 rebels arrested in Tanur were taken without incident and the mob had already dispersed by the time troops reinforced by the Leinsters, got there. During the first week of Sept, they rounded up many rioters in the area. During the second week a group a rumor was heard that 1000 Moplahs had proceeded south to sack Palghat, but no such thing took place, in fact they were marching to Angadipuram. 

Since then three platoons (actually A, B & C) were formed, #1 located at Manjeri, assisted by the Dorsets which reported nothing of great consequence. #2 was located at Wandur and Mambad, and here it is recorded that Hindu agitators supported the Moplah rebels, in some cases. A serious ambush occurred (and detailed by Sinderby). By Oct the Chin Kachin battalion arrived to support this platoon and small skirmishes occurred. This group covered Kottakkal and Malappuram areas and were involved in many attacks and ambushes. #3 platoon was based at Pandikkad and was involved in a few skirmishes. What is clear is that the many books we read out there deal mainly with the politics, the mind of the politicians involved and the general fallout, but hardly mention the day to day events during the rebellion. John T Burnett-Stuart the GOC of Madras who masterminded the British counter insurgency measures at Malabar, went back to England to direct many an operation during the WWII and masterminded many military strategies and reforms in place today. Various records mention that about 10,000 guerrillas were involved and the counter attacks led to some 2,300 executions, 1,650 injured, 5,700 captured and 39,000 surrenders. 137 soldiers died in the campaign

A quick study shows that Sinderby was perhaps serving under Lt Col Herbert of Platoon 3(C) above and was camped at Wandur. Stephen Dale explains the background - Thus, while V. K. Haji might say after his capture that Khilafat was a Turkish matter, he met with the Chembrasseri Tangal at Pandikkad on the 21st to form a Khilafat government and took charge of the area between Pandikkad and Manjeri, while the Tangal was to administer the eastern section between Karavarakundu and Mellatur. The attacks which followed and masterminded by V K Haji and Chembrasseri Thangal. 

During this posting, Sinderby was a subaltern, a 2nd Lieutenant posted in Malabar and narrowly missed death after “one of the Moplars fired point blank at him, and missed.” Sinderby's next novel ‘Mother in law’, set twenty years into the future, depicts various states falling under the control of two factions; in the north control is held by the Confederation of Princes and Landowners; and the south is seized by the Nizam of Hyderabad. Trouble develops between north and south threatening the country with a civil war which turns into an inter-caste conflict between Hindus and Mohammedans. The desolate and ravaged country is restored to order by the intervention of America, France and Portugal.

What all this tells us was succinctly expressed by Calicut heritage Forum’s CK Ramachandran when we met in Calicut a couple of months ago, that a factual work devoid of spin, covering the Moplah Revolt in its entirety, is yet to be written.

The British Empire as a Superpower - Anthony Clayton
Colonial Counter-insurgency in Southern India: The Malabar Rebellion, 1921–1922 - Nick Lloyd
Peasant revolt in Malabar – RH Hitchcock
Islam and Nationalism in India, South Indian Contexts – MT Ansari
Baillie-Ki-Paltan: Being a History of the 2nd Battalion, Madras Pioneers 1759-1930 -Lieutenant-Colonel H. F. Murland

Pandikkad pic Courtesy- E.Chambre Hardman Collection, Military on the move (The educationist)

The Fathul Mubiyn, Qadi Mohammad and the Zamorin

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A study of the Fathul Mubyin, a war poem – Calicut 1550-1590

In a clamor to analyze and study the Tuhfat Al Mujahideen by Sheikh Zainuddin, most historians forgot a very interesting companion text which was perhaps a contemporary to the Tuhfat or even a forerunner. It is an urjuza short titled Fatḥul-mubyin and scripted by a Qadi Muḥammad al-Kālikūtī. To get to the details, we have to go to the Malabar of the 16th century, a place where many communities resided and traded amicably, until the Portuguese sailed in and demanded a monopoly. The resulting resistance, intrigues, skirmishes, wars and confusion left the entire region in a state of turmoil, what with neighboring Cochin and Kolathunad working with or even siding with the Portuguese. The bordering principalities of Tanur and Vettom sat on the fringes swaying either way depending on the situation. Those mainly affected were the trading communities comprising the Pardesi Muslims and some local Moplahs. The Pardesi community was a complex mix of Yemenis, Hanafi Arabs, Egyptians, Turks and so on. The biggest were the Yemenis who centered on Ponnani & Mambram and some Yemenis and Hanafis who settled in Calicut. Their leaders generally led the Muslim populace.

As I get into this discussion, you will realize how important this work was and it is my contention that one potential reason why Islamic scholars talked less about it was simply because it extolled Hindu Muslim amity, a subject which usually rests on the fence, these days. I for one believe that the two communities have to, need to and should coexist peacefully and that it is, was and should always be possible in a place such as Calicut. Anyway let’s get to the topic.

We discussed the Zainuddin Makdum’s of Malabar some years ago. The Zainuddin Makdums were the religious leaders in Ponnani and differed at times on approach compared to the Calicut Qazis (or Qadis), but worked together. I had introduced to you an obscure work named the Vencatakota Ola, which has more recently been reintroduced to the public by Stephen Prange. If you recall, Lt Rowlandsen had concluded that both Tuhfat and the Vencatikota Ola were derived from an earlier work. My assumption is that the Fathul Mubiyn is that work.

As we know, Vasco Da Gama came, created a good amount of furor and departed, to come again and eventually die in Cochin. Others like Cabral and Alfonzo Albuquerque followed, to continue with despotic acts in Malabar, warring often with the Zamorin and trying to wrest away the spice trade from the Paradesi Muslims (Arab traders) who had thus far been firmly entrenched. Four or five Zamorin’s from the first dynasty ruled during the 1500-1600 period (two or three were named Manavikraman’s and there was one Virarayan). We also note from various records that while some of the early Zamorin’s were accommodative of the Portuguese, others were distinctly against, after having understood their deceitful behavior. We do not know which Zamorin is the individual described, but one of the Zamorin’s of the middle years (of the 16th century) was perhaps the person mentioned in the Futhul Mubyin, by Qadi Muhammad.

What did the Qadi Muhammad have to say and who incidentally, was Qadi Muhammad? He was a Muhammad ibn Abd al-Aziz hailing from Calicut and it is concluded thus far that he was a judge and a poet writing in Arabic or Arabi-Malayalam (Malayalam written in Arabic script), the one who authored poetry such as the Fathul Mubiyn and the well-known Mubiyn Mala (the earliest and in Arabi-Malayalam). He belonged to the Qadiriyyah order of Sufis. But there is some confusion in his identity and the period of his life. Muid Khan in his preamble to the translation had wrongly opined that Zainuddin Makhdum was perhaps Qadi Abdul Aziz Muhammad’s younger brother and that the Fathul Mubyin could very well have been written before the Tuhfat. The Fathul was actually written by a Qadi Muhammad of Calicut and the time setting of the poem seems to be prior to that of the Tuhfat, as it mentions a living Adil Shah.

The complete title of the text we are going to analyze is ‘Al Fathul-mubiyn lis Samerial ladhi Yuhibbul Muslimiyn’. It is usually translated as ‘The victory of the Zamorin of Calicut, lover of Muslims’. Woven around the victory of the Calicut forces fighting the Portuguese to wrest control of the fort in Chaliyum in 1571, the epic poem traverses a long period roughly 1497 - 1578. In all the poem has 534 (actually 537) lines and is written in Arabic. There are a couple of Malayalam translations and 2 or 3 in English but they are not available in wide circulation or much discussed. Even a Malayalam book I referred skims over the subject, not including a translation of the poem as such.

The urjuza was first discovered embedded between chapters 3 & 4 the original manuscript of Tuhfatul Mujahidiyn in the India office library at London. Both were written in the same hand and formed one folio, but a closer scrutiny divulged that the Fathul was a poem while the Tuhfat was prose and had different authors. The Fathul author’s name is stated at its end as Muhammad-ibn Quazi Abdul Aziz (i.e. Muhammad son of Qadi Abdul Aziz), so its authorship was a Muhammad, both were Qadi’s of Calicut and my contention is that either the father was the original author or that the son was a contemporary of Zainuddin and Abdul Aziz Makhdum of Ponnani (Quadi Muhammad is elder to Zainuddin Junior (the Fathul mentions a Calicut conference which was attended by the Calicut Qadi Abdul Aziz Kalikoti and Zainuddin’s uncle Abd-al Aziz of Ponnani).

Another reason exists to prove that the poem was set in the late 1570’s (As present day Muslim historians believe this was written in 1607). Qadi Muhammad states in the poem that he composed it in the hope that kings the world over, especially in Syria and Iraq, would learn of the bravery of the Zamorin’s and be inspired to join the fight against the Portuguese. He explains that the modus of retelling of the glorious victory of the Zamorin will be carried out by rendering prose (nas̤ir) into verse (naz̤im), a process that he compares to changing silver (fiẓa) into gold (naẓir). By the end of the 16th century the Egyptians and Syrians were long gone and were not present at the Malabar scene, so Qadi’s writing this to exhort friends in Egypt & Syria would make no sense, and thus it does date to a previous period, closer to the death of Adil Shah. Also a document dated to 1607 would not miss the death of the Kunjali Marakkar (Kunju Ali is mentioned in line 400 as a living Muslim leader). It would also not miss the support given to the Portuguese by the Zamorin in capturing Kunjali. Such a Zamorin would not be extolled by a person of eminence, i.e. a Qadi who delivers judgements.

Now let us try and jot out a precis of the entire poem, working mainly with Muid Khan’s translations. As you will read on, you will notice a bit of exaggeration and some incorrect assertions. Also we can conclude that the accounts of Zainuddin and the Qadi are conflicting with respect to overt support for the glorious deeds of the Zamorin.

The Fathul Mubyin of Qadi Muhammad ( a rough summary)

Verses 1-6 Supplications to the Prophet Muhammad.

Versus 6-22 The Quadi states that he is going to narrate a wondrous tale, which happened in Malabar with the hope that those who hear it, especially in Syria and Iraq, will take heed and consider a war against the accursed Portuguese. The tale he will go on to narrate is about a war which took place between the soldiers of the Zamorin of Calicut and the infidels, the Portuguese.  The Zamorin, he states, is a brave and well known ruler of Calicut who loves his Muslim subjects, who does not hinder their religion or beliefs and fights for their cause even, if so required. He is a ruler who allows a Muslim to stand on his right side during important festivals (Mamankham). In fact the al-Shah Bandar and other Muslims stand to his right (as right hand strong men). He is the lord of the mountains and lord of the seas of Malabar.

Vesus 23-48 The Zamorin was given the sword of Malabar by his predecessor and asked to reign over the land with the sword, the unsheathing of which ensures his next victory. He has four heirs who have their own troops and territory (Eralpad, Moonalpad, Ittattornad nambiyathiri, Naturalpad) and an agreed method of accession when one dies, with the younger after the older. His (nair) soldiers can fight horsemen and wolves, and fight unto death. He has the power to get wind on the sails of a ship at sea to get them going like Persian horses over land, he can turn the seas waters red with the blood of his enemies and get sea fish to eat their flesh. He never seizes another’s property (unless it is a criminal issue) nor is he unjust. He does not invade lesser countries without reason and forgives them after. But if any other king disobeys, big or small, he fights them and takes over their land. And so continues their time honored and age-old traditions. His Nair soldiers are feared, and are totally faithful to the Zamorin, never changing sides. He wages wars honorably, always providing due notice, taking nobody by surprise or deceit and is respected by his many suzerain lords and petty kings. All taxes and penalties are spent on the poor, he is a statesman, is patient, tolerant and a forgiver for those who seek his support. Like the Sameri who existed during the time of Moses, the Zamorin was the one who instituted the worship of the cow and carries charms to help him during battles.

Versus 48-61 Let Allah grant him eternal guidance and let us pray for him even though the Zamorin, a non-believer is fighting for the Muslim, whereas the Muslim kings of the region are not and have even made peace with the infidel Franks. So listen to the Zamorin’s war story with an open heart. Those accursed Franks came to Malabar in the guise of traders just to take over the pepper ginger and coconut trade.

Verses 62-79 Details many misdeeds of the Portuguese since their arrivals, their deceit, dishonesty, changing of character, deeds of invasion of other lands and territories and subjugation of their peoples, enslaving of Muslims, desecration of mosques, oppression, attempt to usurp the Zamorin’s position and so on…

Verses 80-84 A war ensued for three years between the Zamorin, Muslims and the Franks after which the Franks came begging for a treaty, asking for shelter in Malabar and agreeing to abide by the Zamorin’s rules.

Verses 84-111 The Zamorin (the Eralpad who apparently poisoned his predecessor to go up and the one who appointed Da Cruz) permitted the Portuguese to build a fort in the middle of the city (by all accounts it was near the beach and is now submerged) and obtained an agreement permitting free navigation of his own subjects. Once the fort once completed, the Franks changed colors and started their oppressive tactics and demanded additional commissions from suppliers and tried to offer more commissions to the Zamorin to get the Muslim traders out. They disallowed pilgrim travel to Mecca, and this was the worst tactic. They tried to get the Zamorin into the fort in ambush, but he was saved by God’s grace and with that the Zamorin prepared for war, spending a lot of money to build a fleet of galleys (Ghurabs), to buy cannons. Digging trenches on either side of the fort, they next besieged the Portuguese. The Zamorin’s forces used mangonel (a type of catapult to throw projectiles at a castle's walls) and guns (tufek) in this attack till the fort was leveled to the ground. A thousand Franks were killed in one nights fighting and the rest of them fled. Thus they were evicted in 930AH (1523).

Calicut Fort
Verses 112- 320 The Portuguese also encouraged the Cochin king to fight the Zamorin after the Portuguese had built a fort at Cochin. Bijapur’s Adil Shah in the meantime wrote to the Zamorin asking him to hasten the war and drive away the infidel Frank who was incidentally creating problems for him from Goa. The Zamorin deputed his galleys captained by his (marakars). The explanation of the sea battle continue for many verses, what with the (a new one who was fully against the Franks) Zamorin himself leading the fight and promising not to eat himself (when the Franks starved the town by cutting off supplies). The fortunes of the war tilted either way, the Cochin, Cannanore and Tanore Kings supported the Portuguese in return for cartaz’s. The Egyptian and Turkish captains finally came to support the Zamorin, and he personally sailed to Cambay in Gujarat to meet them, but as the wars continued, the Muslims disagreed with each other and were not united.  Finally a peace treaty was effected and the Portuguese built a lofty fort at Chalium (Santa Maria do Castello), situated on an island. Many a verse describes the fortifications of this Shaleat fort.

Verses 321-368 Numerous verses detail the inhuman and tyrannical behavior of the Portuguese dealing with the Muslims of Malabar and the heroic retaliation by the Zamorin and his forces.

Verses 368-397 Yet another Zamorin had started his reign and this was the time when the Sultan Adil Shah together with Nizam Shah of Chaul contacted the Zamorin requesting him to capture the Chalium fort. He sent out two of his ministers and their armies to attack the fort. The Tanur king joined the Zamorin while the Cochin raja informed the Portuguese about the plans. A fierce fight ensured at Chalium and sometimes the Zamorin traveled there himself to supervise the affairs.

Chale fort
Verses 398- 410 This was the time when the Zamorin’s Queen mother got involved and exhorted the Muslims to think of the issues and consequences and unite. Kunji Ali the leader of the Muslims, Ahmad’l Qamaqim, the sheikh with mysterious powers Abu’l wafa Muhammad al-Shattar, Shahabandar Umar Al Ghassani, scholar Abdul Aziz al-Malabari al Funani (Zainuddin’s brother) and Qadi Muhammad together with many Muslim chiefs met at the Calicut Mosque. The queen mother summoned the Zamorin back to Calicut to attend the conference.

An important event that is mentioned in the Fathul in these verses is the above conference organized at Calicut under the direction of the Zamorin’s queen mother where not only the Qadi but also Abdul Aziz Makhdum of Ponnani participated to exhort their brethren to participate in a jihad against the Portuguese. It shows the importance of the queen mother in those days.

Verses 410 – 500 Deal with the Zamorin leading the fight to demolish the Chalium fort in 1571, the valor and strategies of war, and its execution, the just way in which he dealt with the prisoners and any Muslim or Hindu who had been converted to Christianity, the handling of booty, the usage of the fort’s stones to rebuild the mosque from which they were originally taken. It took a year to dismantle the fort completely.

Verses 500- 516 The Qadi now concludes, stating that Adil Shah and Nizam Shah forgot their promises, as the former made peace with the Portuguese while the latter forgot his pact with the Zamorin even though he had been gifted the Chalium fort’s bell captured after the attack! He despairs that none of these Muslim kings joined the attacks against the Portuguese and the non-Muslim Zamorin was all alone in his efforts to support the Muslims in their cause.

Verses 517-534 The virtues of the Zamorin outlined in the above versus is but a tenth of a tenth of a tenth of his merits. He then gets to the Perumal story, the king who was his uncle and who witnessed the splitting of the moon and who became a follower of the prophet, who died at Zufar while returning to preach Islam, and asks for forgiveness lest his words and narrative be blamed for excessive poetic licenses taken and ends asking for blood on the swords of his followers (in the continuing fights with their enemies).

That was actually the end game for the Portuguese when it came to Malabar. They trading after that was confined to Cochin and Goa, mainly. Though forays into Malabar continued, but with less vigor and intensity.

Zainuddin incidentally mentioned as follows in Tuhfat - It is well-known that the Muslims of Malabar have no Amir who possesses power and can exercise authority over them and be mindful of their welfare. On the contrary, all of them are subjects of rulers who are unbelievers (H.Nainar)
In conclusion, Qadi Muhammad in his poem, is not keen about detailing or telling the story of the advent of Islam in Malabar mainly because he believes that the war in Malabar was a concern of both Muslims and Hindus. He also explains that the Zamorin is their overlord and having an equal status with any other powerful Muslim Sultan. On the other hand, Zainuddin’s prose is inherently Islamic in its orientation, depicting the long history of Muslims in Kerala and the central role they played in the struggle against the Portuguese (Ayal Amer)

When and why did this changed attitude creep into Zainuddin (b 1532 d 1583) junior’s thinking and why did he drift in his loyalty to the Zamorin? The Portuguese continued attacking Parappanangadi and Ponnani, and in 1577 captured many Moplah vessels. The Kunjali 1V was becoming powerful and strident in his stature and was nearing a potential fallout with the Zamorin. Adil Shah sent his envoy to felicitate the new Zamorin who incidentally was planning to allow the Portuguese to erect a factory (not a fort) at Ponnani in return for permission to sail the seas unhindered.  And so, Zainuddin perhaps chose a new patron, for the Tuhfat is not dedicated to the Zamorin but is instead dedicated to the Adil Shah of Bijapur, the very same Sultan who was belittled by the Fathul’s author. Zainuddin now goes on to call him - most glorious of sultans, and the most beneficent of monarchs, who has made war against infidels the chief act of his life, having himself glorified God, and made his name to be upheld with reverence by all; having ever devoted himself to the service and protection of the servants of God.

Two of the reference dpapers provide differing reasons for this. One believes that the Shah was wrongly named, it should have been Ibrahim Adil Shah who was a Sunni. Kooria explains - while ʿAli Adil Shah alternated between enmity and friendship with the Portuguese, Ibrāhīm II was initially reluctant to forge any relationship with them, which nurtured Zayn al-Dīn’s hope that the king might adopt an anti-Portuguese stance. Nevertheless, even Ibrahim changed his stance later and became pro–European. The second writer Ayal infers that Zainuddin’s choice of ‘Ali ‘Adil Shah was politically motivated, and that his real ambition was to encourage Muslim rulers of the Deccan Sultanate to annex Kerala. Or perhaps Zainuddin was in Bijapur and canvassing the support of Adil Khan during the 1580’s (and had to praise him).

I think otherwise. Assuming that the Fathul was written before the Tuhfat, I would believe that the political equations in Ponnnai (where Zainuddin preached) were becoming complex what with the Kunjali IV rising in status and planning a potential challenge to the Zamorin, as some historians aver. Zainuddin’s work was perhaps to obtain support for Kunjali IV’s overtures (from Ibrahim Adil Shah) which we know was eventually snuffed out by the next Zamorin in 1600.

A huge difference between the two texts is the fact that while Zainuddin expresses despair over the lack of direct Islamic rule over the Muslim subjects of Malabar (Zainuddin also leans towards the changed attitude of the Zamorin and his doubt on the Zamorin’s ability to defend the Muslims of Malabar), the author of Fathul extolls the relationship between the religions and the leadership of the Zamorin, and his firm belief in him. This leads to my feeling that Zainuddin’s work could have been heavily influenced by the Kunhali IV epoch and thus provides an indication of the changing situations in the power games involving the native Zamorin rulers, the Marakkar chieftains and the Portuguese interlopers.

Studies in the Foreign Relations of India (from Earliest Times to 1947): Prof. H.K. Sherwani Felicitation Volume, ed. P.M. Joshi and M.A.Nayeem - Fatḥ al-mubīn of Muḥammad al-Kālikūtī: Khan, M.A. Muid. 1975. “Indo-Portuguese Struggle for Maritime Supremacy (as Gleaned from an Unpublished Arabic Urjuza: Fathul Mubiyn).” Dr M A Muid Khan was the Prof and HOD for Arabic at Osmania university, Director Da’iratu’l-Ma’arif and Secretary Islamic culture – Hyderabad.
Spiritual leadership in Anti-colonial struggle – G P Mudawi

The rise of jihadic sentiments and the writing of history in sixteenth-century Kerala - Ayal Amer
An Abode of Islam under a Hindu King: Circuitous Imagination of Kingdoms among Muslims of Sixteenth-Century Malabar - Mahmood Kooria
Samoothirkku vendi oru samarahwanam – Qadi Muhammad – Trans EM Zakir Hussain
Introducing the Vencaticota Ola Parts 1 and 2  
The story of Dom Joao-de-Tanur  

Urjuza is a genre of poetry with the clear intention to instruct and where the verse focuses more on the details of content leaving the poem "devoid of stylistic elegance and poetic beauty. For more details refer this link 

A Qadi (Cadi, Qazi, kadi or kazi) is the magistrate or judge of the Shariʿa court. The word "qadi" comes from a verb meaning to "judge" or to "decide". I contend here that Qadi and Qazi as relevant to Malabar, to mean the same.

The publication by Other books which I perused subsequently, uses the same Muid Khan translation as above (but terms it an anonymous one fetched from Hyderabad), and presents the poem in 537 verses. Some of the footnotes provided by the editors/reviewer did make me raise my brows, to say the least.

Intervening years - time line

Initial forays vasco Da Gama, Cabral
Establishment of Portuguese at Cochin, Calicut Cochin wars
Treaty with Portuguese, erection of fort at Calicut
Eviction of Portuguese from Calicut, demolition of Calicut fort
Building of Portuguese fort at Chalium
Portuguese Calicut wars
Peace treaty
Portuguese Calicut wars
Portuguese defeat at Chalium, destruction of fort, writing of Faithul Mubiyn?
Portuguese Calicut wars
Portuguese factory at Ponnani. Writing of Tuhfat Al Mujahedeen
Portuguese settlement at Calicut
War with Kunjali IV, capture of his stronghold and fort
Siege of Cranganore, treaties with the Dutch and English writing of Faithul Mubiyn?

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