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HomeCRIMEThe real story of Kerala behind 'The Kerala Story'

The real story of Kerala behind ‘The Kerala Story’

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Kerala has made headlines because of a wide range of subversive activities ranging from the promotion of terrorist ideology to flying overseas to join the Islamic State. According to court papers and unofficial media sources, Kerala has set a record for terrorism-related actions more than any other state in India. During this time, dozens of individuals, including women and children in some cases, travelled to Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan to join ISIS. Let us go back in time to discover how this problem arose and why Kerala is so prone to radicalization and terrorism.

Kerala also called Keralaputra was first mentioned in a rock inscription left by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka. During those days it used to be the territory of the Chola, Pandya and Cheras dynasties. There was a time when Kerala and Tamil Nadu shared a common language, ethnicity and culture. Over the years Malayalam became the local language, but Hinduism was the prominent religion.

Much of Kerala’s history from the 6th to the 8th century is obscure, but it is known that Arab traders introduced Islam during the period.

History- the rise of Islam in Kerala (7th–8th century AD)

Cheramaan Perumal Masjid in Kerala – one of the oldest mosques in India

The distinction between Islamic impact in North and South India is that in the north, Islam arrived on the backs of invaders, but in the south, it arrived through trade in the 7th and 8th centuries AD. Arab traders have been arriving on Kerala’s coastlines, and the earliest constructed Masjid in India is the Cheramaan Perumal Masjid located at Kodungallur, in Kerala’s Thrissur district. This mosque built in 629 AD, is the first in India and the oldest in the subcontinent.

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It does not have domes and minarets like other mosques. Rather, it looks like a traditional house with its tiled roof and ornate wooden doors. But once you go inside, you find a qibla pointing towards Mecca, and prayer mats, like many other mosques. Another unusual feature is the hanging lamps, which are part of traditional Kerala house and temple architecture. One of the lamps is said to have burnt for 1,000 years without going out, fueled by oil brought by worshippers.

The history of Cheraman Juma Masjid dates back to the 6th century. According to legend it was built on the orders of King Cheraman Perumal the last Chera King of modern-day Kerala who abdicated his throne and converted to Islam before going on a pilgrimage to Mecca.

According to folklore, King Cheraman Perumal saw a dream in which he witnessed the splitting of the moon. Since his court astrologers had no idea what it meant, the king discussed the matter with some Arab traders who came to his court. They told him that it was caused by the prophet Muhammad, who was propagating the new religion of Islam. Hearing this, the king left for Mecca to meet the prophet, and accepted Islam. On the way back he died but sent Malik ibn Dinar, a Persian convert, to his kingdom with a letter telling the new king to build a mosque.

Influence of Arabia and Islam in Kerala (9th-14th Century)

Though it is yet not clear when Islam spread across Kerela, it is believed that Islam gradually reached the shores of Kerala before its advent in northern parts of India.

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During the 12th century, the region saw the rise of the Zamorin of Calicut, the mightiest and the wealthiest monarchs of Kerela who had contacts with Arab countries, Egypt and even beyond. The Zamorin was considered to be the friend of the Arabs. the Zamorin, gave special privileges to the Arab merchants who settled and controlled the business in the port city of Calicut.

The word Mappila meaning “great child” (maha, “great” and pilla, “child”) who were mostly descendants of foreign traders who inhabited the southwestern coast of India (known as the Malabar Coast) and were powerful members of the Zamorin government, holding positions of authority and responsibility.

In the 14th century Muslim king, Zainuddin Makhdum, who was said to have arrived from Arabia, became the ruler. He is credited with constructing Kerala’s first mosque, known as the Juma Masjid. The mosque evolved into an Islamic study centre and played an important role in the propagation of Islam in Kerala. Arab traders and academics were instrumental in spreading Islam’s teachings, and the Mappilas evolved as a separate Muslim population in the region. The Arabic presence affected the region’s cultural, commercial, and political history, as well as helped to bolster Islam’s prominence in Kerala.

Many mosques in Kerala were built with the financial support of Hindu rulers. Chera rulers benevolently donated land and tax-free estate for mosques. Out of the first ten Masjids in Kerala, at least six were constructed with the largesse of the Hindu rulers.

The History of the Region (15th–18th Century)

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The Portuguese who arrived in the region in the late 15th century, launched a series of military campaigns against the local rulers, disrupting the commercial networks built by Muslim traders. In 1498, this led many Muslims to evacuate the coastal districts and seek sanctuary in Kerala’s interior regions of the Hindu kingdom of Kolathiri in Kerala’s Malabar area, where they were safer. The movement of the Muslim community into inner Kerala resulted in a massive demographic shift in north Kerala, making it a particularly communally sensitive region. When Hyder Ali deposed the Wodeyar King, Ali Raja, a Mappila Muslim and king of Arakkal, begged for his help in destroying the nearby kingdom of Kolathiri, which he joyfully accepted. In February 1766, Hyder Ali devastated Kolathiri, with its town and temples, as well as a large portion of Malabar. However, there was a large region still to be conquered, which Tipu Sultan, Hyder Ali’s son, took on himself. Tipu Sultan was far more ruthless towards the Hindu community than his father. Tipu’s arrival in Malabar is remembered in Kerala’s oral history as the fatal “Padayottam,” which means “military march,” in which he burned down the whole of Kozhikode and numerous areas of Malabar to oblivion. A number of Nairs, as well as around 30,000 Brahmins, fled Malabar as a result of the persecution, and many of them were forced to convert. They were force-fed meat, the temples were plundered and destroyed, and people were killed, causing a cultural change in the cultural character of several cities in Kerala.

Pre-Independence Era (18th and 19th centuries)

In 1852, Connolly, the district magistrate of Malabar, wrote in his records that the Muslim population in the area publicly ridiculed and assaulted the Hindus, as well as isolated incidents of deaths and disappearances, establishing a permanent atmosphere of communal dread among the Hindus. The Moplah slaughter in the pre-independence era, nicknamed the ‘Anti-Hindu Riots,” remains a testament to this sectarian sensitivity. This occurrence occurred as a result of the Khilafat movement. This movement began when the British destroyed Turkey in World War I, which had been the world’s centre of the Islamic Caliphate. The British had deposed the Khalifa, which infuriated Indian Muslims. This group advocated for the return of the Khalifa to the throne, whereas the then-Congress leaders backed local British control in India.

The campaign collapsed due to Arab and Turkish Muslims’ indifference to the Caliphate and the Khilafat movement. However, this led to an outpouring of fury by Indian Muslims against Hindus in the state of Kerala. The Hindus had to choose between conversion and death. Thousands of Hindus were forcibly converted, and the bulk of the remaining Hindus were slaughtered. Their homes were robbed and set on fire. This “anti-Hindu massacre” was strongly criticised by stalwarts like Annie Besant, Veer Savarkar, and Dr Ambedkar. 

Post-Independence Era (20th Century)

Following India’s independence and subsequent partition, two organisations rose to prominence as pro-Pakistan entities in India: ‘The Kerela Wing’ and The Razzaquers from Hyderabad, founded by Jang Bahadur. The Razzaquers from Hyderabad were a militant organisation in South India with a political wing called MIM (Majise-Itihadul-Musalmin). MIM was advanced by Kasim Rizvi and suffered a catastrophic defeat in ‘Operation Polo’ owing to the Indian Army led under the strategic guidance of Sardar Patel. This operation was primarily aimed at establishing South Pakistan along the lines of East and West Pakistan. MIM’s whole machinery, including philosophy and infrastructure, was poised to give birth to AIMIM after independence.

AIMIM was re-established by none other than Asaduddin Owaisi’s grandfather, Abdul Wahed Owaisi, who was an avid supporter of the construction of South Pakistan, or ‘Mopilistan’ as a component of Pakistan. This did not happen due to the great geographical distance.

The second organisation was ‘The Kerela Wing’ of the Indian Union of Muslim League, which was far stronger than MIM and had parliamentary representation. Kerela is the only state in which the Muslim bloc voted completely for the Muslim League rather than the Congress, the Left, or any other party. This demonstrates that the Muslim population in Kerela is more politically organised than the Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir.

Political neglect in the South came at a high cost. (Today, 21 Century)

The Jammu and Kashmir area, being in the north, close to Delhi, and nourished by Pakistan-bred terrorism, has long diverted Indian political focus away from Kerala’s fast conversions, communal instability, and religious discord, as well as its rising political kraut. In the 1950s, the Muslim population of Kerala was 17.5%, which was rather high by 1950s standards because they were unable to relocate to Pakistan due to its location in the deep south. The same population has expanded to 26.56% now. The Hindu population was over 70% before the turn of the twentieth century but has since declined to 56% in less than 200 years.

Also Read: The Kerala Story: politically motivated criticism

The historical revelations concerning Kerala show that it has gone through a lot. This imbalance made this region a hotbed for religious conversions by Muslims, Wahabism, and Salafism, as well as Christian missionaries. As they say in the South, “caste trumps religion,” and the weak castes have fallen prey to conversions surrounding the Muslim and Christian conversion mechanisms, which are still in place and developing.

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Vipul Tamhane
Vipul Tamhane
Vipul Tamhane is an Anti-Money Laundering and Combating Terrorist Financing (AML/CFT) specialist with expertise in international business, and Commercial Law. He is a visiting faculty at Pune University's Department of Defence and Strategic Studies, where he teaches Counter Terrorism to Masters and Postgraduate Diploma students. He is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Diplomacy Direct, an upcoming national-interest think tank dealing with counter-terrorism, national security, geopolitics, and international diplomacy.


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