Coercion and carnage - VIII
by Shreerang Godbole on 31 Aug 2020 1 Comment

The second phase of the Khilafat Movement (August 1920-March 1922) was the phase of coercion and carnage. The Non-cooperation movement provided the coercion part while the wave of violence that accompanied and followed it constituted the carnage. 


Khilafat and Non-cooperation: Siamese twins


A common misconception is that the Non-cooperation and Khilafat Movements played out in that order or were launched simultaneously, and that the former was launched to secure freedom. The ever-perceptive Ambedkar wrote:


“... the connection between the Khilafat agitation and the Non-cooperation Movement has become obscure by the reason of the fact that most people believed that it was the Congress which initiated the Non-cooperation Movement and it was done as a means for winning Swaraj. That such a view should prevail is quite understandable because most people content themselves with noting the connection between the Non-cooperation Movement and the special session of the Congress held at Calcutta on 7th and 8th September 1920. But anyone who cares to go behind September 1920 and examines the situation as it then stood will find that this view is not true. The truth is that the Non-co-operation has its origin in the Khilafat agitation and not in the Congress movement for Swaraj: that it was started by the Khilafatists to help Turkey and adopted by the Congress only to help the Khilafatists: that Swaraj was not its primary object, but its primary object was Khilafat and that Swaraj was added as a secondary object, to induce the Hindus to join it will be evident from the following facts.


“The Khilafat movement may be said to have begun on the 27th October 1919 when the day was observed as the Khilafat Day all over India. On the 23rd November 1919 the First Khilafat Conference met at Delhi. It was at this session that the Muslims considered the feasibility of Non-cooperation as a means of compelling the British Government to redress the Khilafat wrong. On 10th March 1920 the Khilafat Conference met at Calcutta and decided upon Non-cooperation as the best weapon to further the object of their agitation... the Non-cooperation commenced on 1st August 1920.


“This short resume shows that the Non-cooperation was started by the Khilafat Committee and all that the Congress special session at Calcutta did was to adopt what the Khilafat Conference had already done and that too not in the interest of Swaraj but in the interest of helping the Musalmans in furthering the cause of Khilafat. This is clear from the perusal of the Congress Resolution passed at the special session held at Calcutta” (Pakistan or the Partition of India, B.R. Ambedkar, Thacker and Company Limited, 1945, pp. 137-139).


Khilafatist plan of Non-cooperation


On February 28-29, 1920, Maulana Azad presided over a Khilafat Conference in Calcutta. He maintained that the shariat was positive that any mawala (co-operation) with the non-Muslim ‘enemies of Islam’ (he was careful to exclude Hindus from this category) was a sin. He defined Non-cooperation as the Islamic tark-i-mawalat (social boycott) and recommended it to Muslims as the only remedy left open to them (The Khilafat Movement in India, 1919-1924, Muhammad Naeem Qureshi, dissertation submitted to University of London, 1973, pp. 88).      


On May 11, 1920, peace terms which aimed at destroying any semblance of Turkish independence and stripping her of her empire were announced. To secure support of Hindu leaders in the Congress, the Khilafatists, in consultation with Gandhi, decided to invite Hindu-Muslim leaders to a special meeting of the CKC at Allahabad in the first week of June 1920 (referred to by Ambedkar above). In this meeting, Non-cooperation was envisaged as follows:

1.      Resignation of titles and honorary posts

2.     Resignation of posts in the Civil services of the Government, the Police being excluded

3.     Resignation of service in the Police and the Army

4.     Refusal to pay taxes


Upping the ante


Gandhi advocated boycott of Government-mandated Peace Celebrations in December 1919 solely on the Khilafat issue. He was unwilling to add the Punjab issue (Jallianwala Bagh massacre and Martial Law) as a cause for the boycott. Speaking at the joint Hindu-Muslim meeting (November 24, 1919) of the Khilafat Conference, Gandhi said, “Personally, I feel that, whatever the sufferings of the Punjab, we cannot, on a local issue, dissociate ourselves from a celebration which concerns the whole Empire... Hence it is only on the Khilafat issue that we can refuse to join the Peace Celebrations.” However, the Khilafatists started exploiting the Punjab issue as it had provoked widespread discontent. Gandhi now tacked the Punjab issue with the Khilafat as bait to attract the Hindus to the Non-cooperation movement (Qureshi, ibid, p. 112,113). The proposed departure of the Congress from the traditional, constitutional paths was considered an issue big enough for a Special Congress to be held from September 4-9, 1920 in Calcutta (The History of the Indian National Congress, Pattabhi Sitaramayya, CWC, Madras, 1935, p. 336).


Hostile Hindu leadership


The hostility of many Hindu leaders to the Non-cooperation Movement made the Khilafatists insecure. The Muslim leaders were not inspired by a genuine desire to make up their differences with the Hindus to form an Indian nation (History of the Freedom Movement in India, R.C. Majumdar, Vol.3, p. 64). Apart from Gandhi who was touring the country as a Khilafatist with finances from the Khilafat fund, other Hindu leaders had expressed themselves against what they felt was a CKC-driven movement.


The moderates saw it as ‘bizarre in its conception and utterly impracticable’. Mrs. Annie Besant (1847-1933; Theosophist and founder, Home Rule League) called it a ‘national suicide’. Sir P.S. Sivaswami Aiyer (Advocate-General, Madras Presidency, 1907-11) considered it an ‘ill-advised’ campaign ‘fraught with disaster to the country’. V.S. Srinivasa Sastri (1869-1946, in April 1920, he predicted the movement would turn violent) thought it was illogical and harmful. Srinivasa Iyengar (Advocate-General, Madras Presidency, 1916-1920) pronounced the third and fourth stages as ‘definitely illegal and unconstitutional’. This opinion was shared by Madan Mohan Malaviya. Surendranath Banerjea (1848-1925, founding member of Congress) issued his public disapproval (Qureshi, ibid, pp. 154-155).


The ‘extremists’ were divided. Though the widespread feeling was that Tilak’s heart was not in the Khilafat agitation, the Manifesto of the Democratic Swarajya Party that Tilak founded within the Congress in 1920 read, “This party supports the claim of the Muslims for the solution of the Khilafat question according to Muslim dogmas and beliefs and the tenets of the Koran (Pattabhi Sitaramayya, ibid, p. 327). Motilal Nehru was concerned about the spread of violence. C.R. Das, B.C. Pal, G.S. Khaparde, N.C, Kelkar, Vithalbhai Patel and others were sceptical (Qureshi, ibid, pp. 154-156).


For Gandhi and the Khilafatists, if such a distinction be made, the Special Session of the Congress in Calcutta (September 1920) was crucial.


Khilafat before Swaraj


In order to show their strength to the Hindus, the Khilafatists held their Conference (September 5, 1919) before the Congress took up the discussion on Non-cooperation. The Khilafat Conference unanimously reaffirmed that Non-cooperation was an absolutely binding religious obligation. Under extreme pressure from Shaukat Ali and other Khilafatists, the Muslim League decided to follow the CKC despite words of caution from Jinnah.


“Mr. Gandhi’s immediate objective was to convert the Special Congress to his creed... But Mr. Gandhi had prepared the ground with characteristic thoroughness. Khilafat specials from Bombay and Madras had flooded the Congress with delegates sworn to vote for him. The Nationalists complained ...that the Khilafatists had packed the house and manoeuvred a majority” (Speeches and Writings of M.K. Gandhi, introduction by C.F. Andrews, Madras, 1922, pp. 46-48). The proposition of Non-cooperation was debated for three days in the Subjects Committee before being accepted by a narrow majority: 144 votes to 132. Muslim dominance had swung the balance in favour of Non-cooperation (Qureshi, ibid, p. 158).


Moving the resolution of Non-cooperation, Gandhi said, “The Mussulmans of India cannot remain as honourable men, and followers of the faith of their Prophet, if they do not vindicate its honour at any cost. The Punjab has been cruelly and barbarously treated. And it is in order to remove these two wrongs that I have ventured to place before this country a scheme of Non-cooperation”. The addition of the Punjab issue was clearly an afterthought. It may be recalled that even after the Rowlatt Act and Jallianwala Bagh massacre, Gandhi had opposed even a mild form of Non-cooperation at the Amritsar Congress in December 1919. He had refused to consider the Punjab issue as a reason to boycott Government-mandated Peace Celebrations. Now within a year, he was advocating a much more severe Non-Cooperation and including the Punjab issue as well (Majumdar, ibid, p. 89)!


The Muslim vote on the resolution of Non-cooperation must have counted for something, and there is a story about Calcutta taxi drivers having been smuggled in to decide the vote. There were over 5,000 delegates at that session, of who, however, not quite half voted. The resolution on Non-cooperation was passed by 1,826 to 804 votes (The Khilafat Movement in India 1919-1924, A.C. Niemeijer, Martinus Nijhoff, 1972, p. 109).


A comparison of the Non-Cooperation proposals put forth by the CKC in April 1920 (drafted by Gandhi) and those approved by the Special Congress Session in September 1920 show that the Khilafatists were prepared to go further than Congress. When, after about a year, the Non-cooperation movement failed to redress the grievances of the Muslims, Gandhi wrote, “In their impatient anger, the Musalmans ask for more energetic and more prompt action by the Congress and Khilafat organisations...The Musalmans, therefore, decline to wait if the attainment of Swaraj means indefinite delay... I would gladly ask for postponement of Swaraj activity if thereby we could advance the interest of the Khilafat” (Majumdar, ibid, p. 96).


Baring Islamist fangs


The CKC appointed paid itinerant lecturers, coached by its Propaganda Committee, as well as secret workers and emissaries to disseminate propaganda. Every evening, Muslim volunteers drilled and paraded in the streets of major towns. Clad in khaki and armed with knives and spears, Khilafat volunteers held political meetings in support of Khilafat demands and championed a form of Non-cooperation that condoned violence. Pamphlets, poems and polemics aroused public feelings by exploiting the usual theme of ‘Islam in Danger’ or the ‘machinations of the Christian Powers’. Apart from direct appeals for funds, the CKC issued ‘paper currency’ in the form of one-rupee receipts resembling a one-rupee note in shape and size but superscribed in Urdu with quotations from the Quran.  


The ulama also wished to use Non-cooperation against the growing secularism; the legislative bodies would be replaced by a committee of ulama, the ‘infidel’ law courts by shari courts and Government schools by Dar-ul-ulum. The Jamiyat-ul-Ulama-i-Hind issued a Muttafiqa (collective) fatwa supporting the Non-Cooperation Movement, item by item, based on Quranic texts and sayings of the Prophet (Qureshi, ibid, pp.160-177; see also The Khilafat Movement: Religious Symbolism and Political Mobilization in India, Gail Minault, Oxford University Press, 1982, p. 146). In March 1921, Jamiyat-ul-Ulama resolved in Bareilly to punish the opponents of Non-cooperation through religious tribunals (Qureshi, ibid, p. 191).


The Khilafatists captured the vast machinery of the Congress and all its funds, including the Tilak Swaraj Fund which had pledges totalling one crore and five lakhs (Qureshi, ibid, 178; Minault, ibid, p. 126, 132). Demands for statements and audits of the Khilafat Fund were increasing since March 1920 but nothing was forthcoming till July 1920. Many were shocked at the lavish expenditure of the Khilafat delegation in Europe (Minault, ibid, p. 137). 


Inviting the Amir


In the summer of 1921 the tone of speeches by some Khilafat leaders became ever more violent. Copies of the Muttafiqa Fatwa, declaring service in the army haram, were secretly distributed from February to May 1921. This proscribed fatwa was reissued in the form of leaflets distributed among many units of the Indian army. A huge amount of the Khilafat Fund was utilised for bribing the soldiers (Qureshi, ibid, p. 205).


In 1920-21, there was a conspiracy to invite the Amir of Afghanistan to invade India. On April 18, 1921 Muhammad Ali delivered a speech at Madras on the duties of Indian Muslims in the case of an Afghan invasion. He said that if the Amir invaded India aiming at its subjection, Muslims should resist the attack; but if his object were to defeat the oppressors of Islam and the Caliphate, then it would be the duty of Indian Muslims to withhold all assistance from the Government of India, and even to fight the good fight for Islam side by side with the Afghans.” This opinion caused a good deal of uneasiness among Hindus. Gandhi wrote in Young India: “I would, in a sense, certainly assist the Amir of Afghanistan if he waged war against the British Government; that is to say, I would openly tell my countrymen that it would be a crime... to help the government, which has lost the confidence of the nation to remain in power” (Niemeijer, ibid, p. 129,130).


“There is no doubt”, U.P. Governor Butler concluded in a note (January 12, 1922) to Viceroy Lord Reading, “that the Musalman rowdy element is out for murder and any kind of violence.” The spirit of defiance led to collisions at various places between the mobs and the police, especially in the U.P. and Bengal. Police stations and other government buildings became special targets of attack (Qureshi, ibid, p. 221). Butler’s words about Muslim blood-lust proved prophetic!


Carnage at Chauri Chaura


On February 4, 1922, a mob of 3000-5000 protestors marched to the thana (police station) in Chauri Chaura, Gorakhpur district, U.P. In the collision that took place the mob brick-batted the police who first fired blank and then into the crowd. When the mob realised that the police were running short of ammunition, it rushed the police and forced some to flee into the fields and some into the building. The thana building was set on fire. In all 21 police and Chaukidars were killed. A little boy servant of the Sub-Inspector was also murdered. Most of the policemen were battered to death with sticks and brickbats and many dead bodies bore marks of spear thrusts. Gandhi publicly repented this violence and abruptly called off his agitation (Qureshi, ibid, p. 223).


In the guise of subaltern history, efforts are on to paint the Chauri Chaura incident as an outburst of peasants (Event, Metaphor, Memory: Chauri Chaura, 1922-1992, Shahid Amin, Oxford University Press, 1995). The religious motivations of the Chauri Chaura arsonists are simply glossed over. But facts, as quoted from the same book, cannot lie. 


In the winter of 1921-22, the Khilafat and Congress Volunteer Organisations were merged into a composite National Volunteer Corps. In mid-1921, a village unit (mandal) of such volunteers was set up in Chotki Dumri, a village one mile west of the Chauri Chaura police station. A functionary of the Gorakhpur District Congress and Khilafat Committees had been invited by one Lal Mohammad Sain of Chaura to set up the village unit. Maulvi Subhanullah, a leading Khilafatist, was also president of the District Congress Committee. The Dumri unit was formally established by Hakeem Arif, vice president of Gorakhpur Khilafat Committee (Amin, ibid, pp.14-16).



Hakeem Arif gave a lecture, appointed some ‘officers’ and took the evening train back to his district headquarters. Volunteers were urged to congregate at Dumri on Saturday, February 4, 1922, a bazaar day. At the Dumri meeting on the morning of the riot, a man ‘wearing green glasses’, ‘who from his words appeared to be a Musalman’ came forward and ‘began to read from a slip of paper’, singing a song exhorting the gathering to embrace imprisonment, like Mohammad and Shaukat Ali. The man slipped away after the song. The crowd which had been bound together by oath by Nazar Ali, marched in serried ranks to the thana, to demand an explanation from the thanedar regarding a thrashing police had administered to volunteers a few days earlier.. ‘Influential’ persons (maliks) sent by the thanedar Gupteshar Singh to dissuade the assembled crowd were disregarded even as their bona fides were questioned (Amin, ibid, pp.14-16, 171).


Saturday was also the day when the specialist mart for hides and skins sprang up at Bhopa, a place just beyond the rail godown.... Most Muslim cultivators of the nearby villages dabbled in the Bhopa hides bazaar. Muslim dominance of Bhopa was underlined by a mosque which had come up opposite the bazaar... Most Hindus would keep away from Bhopa on Saturdays, the stink of hides was enough to drive anyone except the committed trader away (Amin, ibid, pp. 24-25).


According to one version, the real agents (asli log) involved in the riot were people from Madanpur, a Pathan-trader dominated market village twenty miles south-east of Chauri Chaura. The Madanpur cartmen suggested that stones lying by the railway track be used as missiles; it is they who supply the kerosene which set the thana afire. Having caused the riot, the traders drove their carts, laden with rice and raw sugar (Amin, ibid, pp.34, 132).


‘There was much smoke and so they (the policemen) all came out of the thana. Nazar Ali and Shikari and four or five Pathans of Madanpur who were there said: ‘You all should keep watch so that no one may run away. Tum kya maroge ham marenge. ‘Thana jalane mein Madanpur ke Pathanon ka bahut hath tha - wahi sab “trader” ‘the’, so said Mewa Lal who had heard it from his father (Amin, ibid, p. 231).


Two significant events representing coercion and carnage played out in these fateful years. The coercion was in the form of a hijrat (mass Muslim emigration) to Afghanistan; the carnage took the form of the barbaric Moplah jihad. Both need to be discussed separately. 


(Continued on 7 September 2020)


See also:

1] Khilafat Movement:  Relevance and discourse – I

2] Khilafat scriptural sanction and historical antecedents - II

3] Khilafat Movement: The previous hundred years - III

4] United colours of Khilafat - IV

5] World War I and the Indian Muslim response - V

6] Muslim-British nexus and Hindu naiveté (1857-1919) - VI

7] Petition and persuasion (December 1918-July 1920) - VII


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