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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Terrorist Acts in Calicut

Calicut is in the news for all the wrong reasons.  There was a series of bomb blasts in the city a couple of years ago. The peace-loving citizens of Calicut thought it was some amateurish attempt to attract attention. There were, of course, some lone voices warning about militancy gaining ground. The Calicut Corporation promptly passed a resolution against terrorism. But then, didn’t our Corporation pass a resolution condemning US invasion of Iraq and the hanging of Saddam Hussein?
We were jolted out of complacency when the alleged kingpin of these activities was caught in faraway Dhaka and he started singing. It appears some of these outfits had been active in the city for some time. And not only the Calicut blasts but even the Bangalore and possibly some more blasts in South India were perhaps planned in our Calicut!
It is not that terrorist activities were totally unknown to Calicut. One of the earliest recorded acts of terrorism in Calicut was the assassination of the Malabar Collector, H.V. Conolly in 1855. A few convicts who had escaped from the jail, plotted to do away with the Collector. It is not clear what motivated them: some say it was because he was instrumental in acquiring large tracts of agricultural land for his ambitious canal project which is now named after him; another explanation is that he was harsh in implementing the law promulgated in 1854 providing for stringent punishment including fining of entire localities in case of outrages.also  Mr. Conolly had taken the initiative for negotiating the voluntary exile of Syed Fazal Pookoya Thangal (Mambram Thangal) to Arabia, as the latter was suspected of being the rallying point for fanatics.   Anyhow, that act of terrorism deprived Malabar of one of the most sagacious and sympathetic administrators.
But, the most serious act of terrorism in recent times in Calicut was staged in 1942, when the Quit India movement was at its peak. This little known incident, which is unfortunately still called after the criminal case  (Keezhariyur Bomb Case) which led to the conviction of 27 accused to long terms of imprisonment, deserves a place in the history of India’s freedom movement as much as the Alipur Conspiracy Case.
The formation of the Congress Socialist Party (CSP) in 1934 as a caucus within the Indian National Congress gave an opportunity for the Communists to implement their agenda of implementing the ComIntern strategy. In many states like Kerala, the Communists dominated the Indian National Congress (INC) through their control of CSP. The strategy was exposed in 1942 when the call for Quit India movement attracted a lukewarm response from Malabar. This was because the Communists, who were originally opposing the imperialist Britain, turned overnight their supporters after Soviet Russia had joined the War against the Axis powers in June 1941.
The British administration had taken pre-emptive action in arresting all the top leaders of the INC in Malabar well before the Quit India call was made. The vacuum was filled by some young Congress workers who constituted themselves into a Socialist group. Led by the young and dynamic Dr.K.B.Menon, this group of young men from Bombay – N.A.Krishnan Nair, V.A.Kesavan Nair, C.P.Sankaran Nair and Mathai Manjooran – provided the leadership for the movement in Malabar.
E.Vasudevan Nair who had left
his medical studies to join the conspiracy
Dr.Konnanath Balakrishna Menon (1897-1967) is described by Nossiter as ‘a neglected figure’. Trained as an academic economist with a doctorate from the University of Berkley, California, he was teaching in Harvard where he met Jaiprakash Narain who had joined there as a student. Under JP’s influence, Menon decided to return to India and work as the Secretary of the All India State People’s Conference and a Human Rights body of which Nehru was the Chairman. He also spent two years with Gandhiji before he became disillusioned with the non-violent philosophy and landed in Calicut in the wake of the Quit India agitation.


Kollom-where the bombs were stored
Koilandy Railway Station - one of the targets
The conspiracy hatched in Koilandy (Calicut) was to mark November 9th, 1942 (subsequently shifted to 17th Nov. as the bomb-making was delayed) as the ‘Sabotage Day’ by staging a series of blasts to damage government buildings, railway lines and other installations. Bombs were originally fabricated by the ‘weapons expert’, Narayanan Nair at Keezhariyur, a sleepy village in Koilandy Taluk on the banks of the Akalappuzha River. But, when it was suspected that the Police had got wind of the conspiracy, the bomb making was shifted to Parappanangadi. Manufactured bombs were transferred and stored in the office of the Charkha Club in Kollom, Quilandy. But at some stage, a few bombs were stolen and used by some of the participants to settle private scores.
The Police had already got wind of the conspiracy, alerted by some Communist agents among the conspirators, and were lying in wait for the climax which was to be the bombing of the Koilandy Railway Station and the Registry. (Ironically, one of the participants, E.Vasudevan Nair from Kollom was the son of a Registrar!) It was the duty of Kurumayil Narayanan to shift the bombs from Kollom to the team from Kunnathara who were waiting at the Railway Station to plant the bombs. The Police, alerted by the Communists, were of course waiting to pounce on the saboteurs.
It was a long wait for all the parties – the bombs did not reach the Kunnathara team. Narayanan’s explanation was that they dozed off at the Charkha Club and when they woke up, it was day! Some charge the Kollom team with having developed cold feet. However, the Police had no difficulty in nabbing most of the conspirators, except for Mathai Manjooran, T.P.Kunhirama Kidave ( the son of K.Kelappan, known as ‘Kerala Gandhi’), M.A. Sadanandan, O. Chekkutty and Verkott Raghava Kurup, who went underground.
The trial started in the court of the Sessions Judge Mr. A. A. T. Coelho on 14th February 1944. The following 27 accused were tried apart from the five absconding: Dr.K.B.Menon, C.P.Sankaran Nair, N.A.Krishnan Nair, V.A. Kesavan Nair, D. Jayadeva Rao, O. Raghavan Nair, Karyal Achuthan, E. Vasudevan Nair, N.P. Abu, K. Narayanan Nair, K. Kelukkutty, T. Pachar, K. Narayanan, K. Kunhiraman, Unnikkutty, Cheriya Kunhiraman, K.V. Chamu, V.Prabhakaran, K. Mohammed Naha, P. Mammootty, V. Abdullakoya Thangal, S.N. Valliyil, V. K. Achuthan Vaidyar, K. Gopalan, C. Damodaran, K.T. Alavi  and C. Choyunni.
It was a sensational trial keenly watched by people of Malabar. The accused got legal and financial support from various quarters including the Mathrubhumi newspaper (which formed a committee to defend the accused), M.R. Masani (who mobilised funds from Bombay) and K. Bhashyam who made similar fund-raising in Madras. A galaxy of lawyers including K.T. Chandu Nambiar, M. Narayana Kurup, K.G. Nair, P. Govinda Menon, K. Kunhirama Menon, K.V. Krishnan and Mahadeva Iyer offered to defend the accused without charging any fee.
The Judge found 13 accused guilty and let off the rest. Among those guilty, one was awarded imprisonment for 10 years and the rest for 7 years of rigorous imprisonment. On appeal by the prosecution, the punishment was enhanced by the Madras High Court to 10 years of imprisonment in respect of the entire ‘Bombay gang’ comprising K.B. Menon, N.A. Krishnan Nair, V.A. Kesavan Nair and  C.P. Sankaran Nair. The punishment in respect of others was upheld.  They were let off in 1946 when the interim Congress Government took over as a prelude to granting independence.
Many of the young men who took part in the conspiracy were either students (including one who was studying for medicine) or had bright careers ahead of them. They had given up their future for the sake of freedom of the country. Many who were let off after Independence were not suitably rehabilitated, apart from the meagre pension for freedom fighters. Several faded into oblivion, taking with them the dreams and aspirations of their families. We salute their spirit of sacrifice! 



24 comments:

  1. Thanks for the interesting story. I had no idea about this incident at all! Presume there were many such incidents during the pre-independence days.

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  2. Yes, Maddy. Even after more than six decades, we are yet to document fully the sacrifices of many such unknown persons (and their families). We tend to trivialise the history by teaching the younger generation that one Gandhi or Nehru won us freedom. Unfortunately, the new generation of politicians does not want to be reminded of how we won the freedom. They are busy mortgaging it for their own private greed!
    Thank you, PNS for the comment.

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  3. History repeats.Those unrecognized freedom fighters neede to be remembered and socity should reward their scarfices.

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  4. The post appears ‘controversial’. Can the present day acts of terrorism be compared to the earlier ones that were executed against oppression and for freedom? How and where does one draw a line between the two?

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  5. Devasahayam- A valid point. It is difficult to draw the line. After all, it is the victor who always writes the history. Without in any way justifying terrorism, one must admit that mainstream public opinion must have been against the perpetrators of terrorism in the Bomb Case, as it is today against the recent mindless militancy. But we try not to be judgmental and record facts which otherwise would have been forgotten by partisan historiography.

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  6. Chemanchery railway station was set on fire, it seems. Aravindan's first film, Uttarayanam,from the early 70's has a leading character who had taken part in the terrorist acts of those times. He makes theatrical masks in his old age.

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  7. By this post you have unearthed some most precious diamonds in India! Many still remain buried!! The invaluable Kohinoors of our country!
    CKM

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  8. Very nice portrayal of a heroic act, it was a terrorist act from the British point of view. I know only one person in the group mentioned, E. vasudevan nair, vasuettan, for all the people in Koilandy and Kollom.As you rightly mentioned, noe remembers those people who gave their todays for the tomorrows of others.
    Thank you for enlightening me.

    Dr PN Ravindran
    Manasom, West Nadakkav.

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  9. Calicocentric - Thank you for providing further information. Yes, indeed, one party led by E.Vasudevan Nair torched the Naduvannur sub registrar office and proceeded to Chemancherry and burnt down the Registrar office there. They also attempted to burn down the Chemancherry Railway Station, but did not succeed.

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  10. Keezhariyur in HINDI! We were pleasantly surprised to learn that the bomb case was made into a HINDI play as far back as in August 1998 by Sujit Saraf, a Space Scientist from Bihar now working in Palo Alto, California (www.sujitsaraf.com) and staged by a group in San Francisco Bay Area (www. naatak.com)Please see a summary of the Hindi play at http://sujitsar.startlogic.com/page4.html
    Thank you, Sujit, for bringing this to the notice of Hindi speaking world in India and abroad!

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  11. Vercote happens to be my grandparents home where I visited every vacation.Verkott Raghava Kurup happens to be my grandmother's brother. He died when I was baby. There is a photo of him with my cousins.
    I have heard this story from my dad and mom.
    Good to see him mentioned somewhere at last. In that house the first congress meeting in Calicut(Chalapuram) was held. Jawaharlal Nehru had come along with his young daughter Indira and other big congress members. Dad used to talk about it. He was a little boy.

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  12. Thank you, Manjula, for the new information. We have also passed by Verkott House in Chalapuram without realising its past glory. We shall be happy to publish further information about Sri Raghava Kurup (particularly after his escape from prosecution)and his contributions for the freedom struggle. Please contact us at: calicutheritageforum@gmail.com

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  13. Just happened to read V A Kesavan Nair's ഇരുമ്പഴിക്കുള്ളില്‍ (Behind the Bars). The book has great historical value as it recounts many events related to August movement. Apart from that the author shows a sensibility remarkably ahead of his times when he talks about jurisprudence and penal science. It's surprising that the book is hardly seen mentioned by authors in our times when so many works consigned to oblivion are being discovered and reclaimed.
    Of late I have been doubting a cover-up of works unpalatable to E M S Namboodiripad version of history. Even the autobiography of Moyarath Sankaran who himself was a communist in his later life might have been brushed aside because in it he wrote about his participation in the nationalist movement prior to his turning communist and probably also due to the fact that it doesn't have much to say about the role of E M S Namboodiripad in the first half of the 1930's apart from a passing mention.

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  14. Thank you, Calicocentric for bringing to our notice VAK's autobiographical writing. We are all familiar with the sight of jostling for space on a political stage or in front of the TV camera. We suspect Malayali behaviour must have been the same in the 1930s and some very enterprising persons like EMS might have pushed the others out of the centre stage. Our attempt is not to condemn those hwo captured the limelight but to try to provide the victims of such jostling also some space in history!

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  15. Dear 'Calicut Heritage';

    My parents and their parents before them lived in and around the areas described in the Keezhariyur bomb case. in face so aroused was i with the conspiracy that i wish to lay hands on some more information. it is my intention to utilise this information and create a body of work dedicated to the hiest. Request you to kindly lead me to some more authentic information on this subject. especially the bombay club and its role; i am sure V.A Kesavan Nair's book would be of great help. Could you help me obtain a copy of the same?

    Vivek Venugopalan (Mumbai)

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  16. Thank you, Venugopal for the comments. We are glad to know that you have more than historical interest in the Kizhariyoor conspiracy. Unfortunately, we do not have access to Kesavan Nair's book. You may get in touch with Calicocentric (see comments above) to find out where to get the book. Meanwhile, we are in touch with some of the families of participants and if you want any information, please feel free to write to us at calicutheritageforum@gmail.com

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  17. It gives a lot of joy to know that today also people remember the unknown heroes of our freedom struggle... V A Kesavan Nair, used to meet him during my childhood when i used to visit his house, but frankly speaking didn't know his contribution for India's independence at that time.. Hats off to the great personalities who have sacrificed themselves for the sake of the country.

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  18. Here is a summary of the play 'Vande Mataram' written by Sujit Saraf on the Keezhariyur episode( taken from his web site): In March, 1942, a British Government pre-occupied with World War II sent Sir Stafford Cripps, a member of Churchill's War Cabinet, to India. He came with the following proposal: the promise of an Indian Union with "Dominion Status" immediately after the war, in return for cooperation by Indians during the war.

    Japan had destroyed Pearl Harbour four months before Cripps's arrival, and was now advancing through the Philippines, Singapore and Malaya, toward the eastern Indian border in Assam. Most Indian politicians were wary of the Japanese, and believed that India should accept Cripps's offer and cooperate with Britain to stop Japan's advance, even if Britain could not be trusted to keep its promise after the War. Gandhi, however, rejected Cripps's offer, and instead proposed a nationwide movement to force Britain out of India. On August 8, 1942, the Congress committee met in Bombay to vote on Gandhi's proposal. It was passed, over the vehement opposition of Gandhi's lieutenants - Jawaharlal Nehru, Abul Kalam Azad, and Chakravarti Rajagopalachari - and the Quit India movement was launched.

    Vande Maataram is set during that ill-conceived campaign which lasted barely two weeks, weakened the Congress, and brought the British no closer to quitting India. The play describes an unsavoury movement, one among many launched during Quit India, and now tucked away in historical footnotes. As Quit India spread through the country, a group of unlikely rebels banded together in Kerala to raze symbols of British dominance. They were led by K. B. Menon, a Nehru protege who had earned a doctorate in Economics from the University of Colorado. He had drifted away from Nehru and recruited a Malayali journalist, Keshavan Nair, and two social activists from Bombay, N.A. Krishnan Nair and C.P. Sankaran Nair, to help him in organized sabotage of the British Empire. Their plan was to observe November 9, 1942 as Sabotage Day, pulling down Government structures all over Malabar in one stroke with bombs manufactured in the north Kerala village of Keezhariyur.

    Like all rebels, they had their reasons - not all commendable - for banding together. As the plan progressed, they turned each other over to the police and used the scheme to advance their own interests. On Sabotage Day, the man responsible for setting off the bombs overslept and missed his deadline. Most of the revolutionaries were arrested. During their trial, explosives experts declared that the bombs which were to sabotage the British Empire were merely "zinc tubes filled with gun powder, glass pieces and pieces of gravel, held together by a string", and would have blown up in the perpetrators' faces, had they been used. The entire revolution was snuffed before it began, and most of the rebels applied for a "freedom fighters' pension" after the British left in 1947.

    Vande Maataram is a lament for Indian nationalism, and an expression of shame at the absurdity of being an Indian rebel in the forties. The play, loosely based on the Kerala events described above, is set in Patna in 1942. It was staged in August 1998 in San Jose, California.

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  19. I have Dr K.B.Menon's typewriter with me, which he used for writing clandestine messages during the preparation for the event. Dr Menon used to stay with my grandparents off and on, while the preparations were going on.

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  20. Sasi Menon - Thanks for your comments. Great to know that you are in possession of Dr. K B Menon's typewriter. You must have seen from some of the comments above that, like you, many others have a lot to add to the sketchy details that we have managed to put together. Please share with us (either through this page or through email calicutheritageforum@gmail.com) any further details including your location and contacts. We at Calicut Heritage Forum are planning to commemorate the contributions of DR.KB Menon in a suitable manner and are keen to gather as much information about that great personality as can be collected.

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  21. who was the first criminal of this bomb case?

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  22. The only recorded history of the Keezhariyoor Bomb Case was a book written by Sri V.A.Kesavan Nair,one of the accused in the event, namely IRUMBAZHIKKULLIL,published by Mathrubhumi.But unfortunately that book is out of print now.The result is that the new generation is almost totally unaware of such a great event.And not much research has been undertaken about the event.The serious consequence is that such an act got to be described as the most serious act of terrorism,as in a post above,by the heritage lover.Such adventurous deeds performed as part of the nationalist movement, if viewed as act of terrorism, would be tantamount to decimating the great sacrifices of the countless men who fought for the country's freedom.I, therefore ,request the Mathrubhumi publishers to bring out a new edition of the above book.--Dr.K. Balakrishnan,Keezhariyoor.

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  23. Thank you, Dr. Balakrishnan for your kind comments. However, you seem to have thoroughly misunderstood our motives. We are in full sympathy with the noble motives of the participants and this has been expressed in the post. Nevertheless, like many other act of sabotage, Keezhariyur is also an act of terrorism. Terrorism is defined as "the use of intentionally indiscriminate violence as a means to create terror or fear, in order to achieve a political, religious, or ideological aim". The aim may be noble ( freedom of the country) but the means used are violent, if you use bombs to destroy bridges and potentially cause death of innocents. Ends do not justify the means. The sacrifices made by the participants in the episode is indeed great, as acknowledged by us in the post. But, it was nevertheless an aberration from the non-violent struggle advocated by Mahatma Gandhi. We reiterate that we have the highest respect for the participants ( as you will see from a different post by us on Dr. K B Menon). Nevertheless, we prefer to call a spade a spade.

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