Manakkadavan Muhammed Haji (1921 -), a Freedom Fighter of India
On the day they set out to fight the British, Avaran had a final glance at his two-month-old baby. He had within his hand a few meat, rice and coconuts and asked his wife to make and distribute those traditional Kerala dishes using those, if and only if they didn’t hear gunshots. Before setting out he asked his younger brother Kunjalavi to marry and protect his wife and child, predicting that he won’t return most probably.
What happened was like this. About 2000 of those Mappila fighters including Avaran Kutty hid at Valiyathodu between Pookkottur and Pilakkal. They had planned to attack the British army from behind when all the vehicles had crossed the bridge at Pilakkal. One person, who was not present in the final meeting of the fighters, began shooting when the first British vehicle reached the bridge. The army thus noticed them and directed their machine guns to Mappilas and began firing. However, the fighters did not turn back, but rather fought bravely. More than 300 Mappilas were killed by the British army. The army too lost several of their soldiers, including Commander Lancaster and the vice-Captain.
Pookkottur war memorial gate built to commemorate the martyrs
Life was miserable with famines and communicable diseases and the fate had a few more ironies to play with Muhammed’s life. When the Second World War was on, the British went on recruiting Muslim youths by force into the British East India Company. The situation was such that even sufficient money won’t win you bread or rice. Muhammed too joined the army to escape starvation.
Now he is proud to be an ex-serviceman as well, because he was one among those rebels in the British East India Company, who revolted against the British army demanding independence. Being inspired by Gandhiji’s thought of independence, it was the time when Indians within the four companies of the British army grabbed keys of the arms and ammunition rooms of the military. Muhammed, another Perinthalmanna native Muhammad, Shankaran from Calicut were about to be beaten up but spared only because the Indians in the army as a single unit resisted. It was since then 400 Indians among the battalion were sacked and Muhammed got back to his home in Manjeri [Malappuram district].
In the 1960’s Muhammed moved to the Wayanad district of Kerala, as he was sanctioned with the Ex-servicemen colony land for the British East India Company cadres. He has been receiving the freedom fighters and Ex-servicemen pensions and benefits since then. With every Independence Day and Republic Day ceremonies on the doorsteps, he feels jubilant and happier, just like on an Eid or a Bakrid because those are the days he gets honoured as a proud citizen; those are the days his father’s martyrdom is remembered and honoured. He is thankful to the government and local administration for those kind ceremonial invitations where he gets honoured and privileged.
Notwithstanding all honors and privileges, is today’s India what he had dreamt of? When asked his answers weren’t all that pleasant. He feels like the community who even sacrificed their lives for the sake of a free and independent India but are often marginalised or even alienated. He feels that there are even attempts to brand the historical freedom struggle of 1921 as a riot against Hindus of the region. On corrupt acts he faced in the governmental offices, Muhammed says, the independent India is at present colonised by wicked politicians and bureaucrats.