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June 2007
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Down the History

The Enigmatic Rebels of Kalapani
By Zubair Ahmed

The year 2007 is significant in many counts to the freedom movement of India. The war of first Independence fought against the British in 1857 has completed 150 years. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands, along with the country is celebrating the centenary year of the prison, called Cellular Jail. The infamous Cellular Jail, widely known as Kalapani, has completed 100 years of its existence, as per the records available with the Indian government, although there are claims that the Jail was completed in 1910.

Seminars and functions to felicitate the revolutionaries and freedom fighters, incarcerated here are in full swing.

It is undisputable that the jail remains a symbol of the sacrifice of the freedom fighters who fought the British. But the history of the freedom struggle in the Islands does not begin with the Cellular Jail or end with it. There is more to the movement, which remains unknown. Even pupils are only taught half history from 1906 when Cellular Jail came into existence.

The first half century has totally disappeared from the collective conscience of the people of the islands and the government of India.

Now, the focus is solely on the political prisoners incarcerated in Cellular Jail during by the turn of the century. But those people who were sent to the Andamans as a punishment for taking part in the First War of Independence in 1857 and to die in exile; those revolutionary convicts and their descendants who built the Andaman from scratch; those on whose strength Subhash Chandra Bose decided to choose Andamans as the seat of his Provisional Government and Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru could convince that the islands should come to India - they are pushed in the background and forgotten.

Every Indian salutes the great revolutionaries incarcerated in the cellular jail, but one should not forget that the history of Andaman begins on 10th March 1858. Those were the gallant soldiers of the First War of Independence who lived and died here unsung and unwept long before the British dreamt of construction of Cellular Jail. They were pioneers, some known and a large number unknown, who were deported to the Islands after the great rebellion of 1857.  It would be appropriate to remember the life of a great hero of First War of Independence who led a life of pain and agony in the penal settlement along with his fellow freedom fighters i.e. Allama Fazl-e Haq Khairabadi.

In the history of 1857, the life and works of Fazl-e Haq Khairabadi (1797–1861) gains no attention. He was one of the first political prisoners of colonial times, who not only resigned from the post of kutchery chief and is said to have issued a fatwa-e jihad against the British, but also drafted the first constitution of Independent India based on the principles of democracy. Besides being a scholar of Islamic studies and theology, he was also a literary personage, especially Arabic and Persian literature. On account of his deep knowledge and erudition he was called Allama and later was venerated as a great Sufi. Khairabadi was not a marginal character in the history of 1857, yet somehow his presence in history has been undermined, if not totally ignored, by mainstream historians. Though Khairabadi remains alive in Urdu and Persian literature, we hardly find any voices being heard in historical accounts that are important to ascertain the nature of the 1857 revolt.

Fazl-e Haq was one among the pioneer freedom fighters deported to Andamans in 1859. With his writings he roused a sense of patriotism among the Indian masses particularly Muslims and inspired them to fight against the colonial rule to achieve independence. Soon after the failure of the First War of Independence he was arrested on 30th January 1859 at Khairabad. Fazl-e-Haq was found guilty of “revolt” against the Government   and sentenced for life to Kalapani with confiscation of his property by the Judicial Commissioner, Awadh Court. He along with others reached Andamans on 8th October 1859 aboard the Steam Frigate “Fire Queen”.

There is a mention of an important incident in Al-Surat-ul-Hindia, a book in Arabic authored by Fazl-e-Haq in Andaman. Col.Haughton, the Superintendent of Port Blair once handed over a Persian manuscript to another convict with the request to make necessary corrections. The Maulavi found it difficult to make corrections and handed over the same to Fazal Haq. He agreed and made necessary corrections with addition and references.

On receipt of the manuscript from the Maulavi Col.Haughton was delighted. He enquired how he did such a difficult task by referring so many books. Maulavi explained everything to him. He immediately went to the barrack of Fazal Haq and waited there till he saw an old man coming with a basket on his head. The Maulavi informed “he is Fazal Haq”. Col. Haughton’s eyes were full of tears .He begged pardon of him and immediately took him under his supervision. Shams-ul-Haq, son of Fazal Haq somehow managed to obtain the release order of his father. He reached Port Blair on February 13, 1861.

He reached the town where he saw a funeral procession with a large crowd behind it. He enquired “Who was this man? Someone replied “Fazl-e-Haq Khairabadi who died yesterday” (12th February 1861)”. Shams-ul-Haq too joined the funeral procession. This was the end of an era in Andaman.

Prior to the construction of the jail, in 1866 another batch, who were transported here were the valiant Wahhabis. Maulana Mohd Jaffer Thanesari,

Maulana Yahya Ali, Abdul Ghafoor, Elahi Buksh, Maulavi Ahmadullah and Maulana Abdur Rahim Sadiqpuri were among them. Jaffer Thanesari was a prolific writer, whose accounts, published as “Kalapani - Tawariq-e-Ajeeb” has become the only available reading material in many universities, written on penal settlement by a convict. The Wahhabis too does not appear anywhere on the canvass painted for the celebrations. In fact, Sher Ali, the raison d’ętre behind the construction of the Cellular Jail is also left out.

This year the nation will celebrate 150 years of the first War of Independence. Will these Andaman deportees be redeemed? Will a serious attempt be made to rediscover them? The Andaman and Nicobar Administration and the Government of India have very less time to atone for the sin of neglecting nation’s most valiant sons. Till then, those patriots will remain mutineers - hated by the British and reviled by the Indians.

Even after the construction of the Cellular Jail, many others are discriminated by our indifferent historians. A truthful record of freedom struggle still awaits its birth. The events which shook the British Raj and the erstwhile district of Malabar during 1921-22; find little space in the books written on the Indian National Congress, the history of Kerala.

Those events practically saw the British power vanish from Malabar for six months or more. It does not get more than a small mention in Andamans too, where most of them were later deported.

The Malabar Rebellion of 1921-22 was mainly a revolt of the Moplah population, a majority of who were agricultural labourers, daily wage earners, petty teashop-vendors and those connected with the mosques. A handful of Hindus were also involved. It was a struggle by the deprived class against the landlords and their colonial masters.

It is a fact realised by many that the Malabar Rebellion of 1921-22 was the worst armed rebellion the British Indian Government faced after the Revolt of 1857. The brave participants who laid down their lives or were wounded and maimed or transported to Andamans fought against the might of the British Empire with valour and tenacity at great cost to themselves with the sole purpose of freeing India from foreign oppression, including the oppression of the Indian landlords and rulers, who were British stooges.

The cost they had to pay was total uprootment from their own motherland. The revolt was given many derogatory terms as Moplah outbreak, Moplah madness etc.

According to the report dated 14 March 1922, Major General Stuart wrote, “the rebellion has lasted six months, during which period the Moplahs controlled large areas of Malabar the rebellion has cost 10,000 lives.”

The report also indicate the experience of the British army regarding the first major guerilla warfare they faced in India, the longest and the fiercest battle the British faced since the revolt of 1857.

According to reports, around 50,000 were arrested. More than 14,000 were court martialled and were either sentenced to death or transportation for life. Later, many prison and transportation sentences were commuted to fines in order to relieve pressure on prisons.

A “Moplah Scheme” was broached, according to Roland Miller, as a final solution calling for large scale deportation and resettlement of Moplahs in Andamans. The deportation began in February 1922 and continued till 1926.

According to the census of 1931, there were 1885 Moplahs, of whom 1171 were males and 714 female. According to varying reports, around 2500 persons were deported here. Moplahs, who started as prisoners, planned to stay back even after the expiry of their sentences and brought their families from Kerala. They built villages and contributed their might for the development of these Islands.

Unfortunately, not a single name of the descendants is seen in the list of the freedom fighters drawn out for felicitation.