At the break of dawn, the Mangalore Express chugged into the freshly painted Tirur station, 290 km from Thiruvananthapuram. This was the centre of the Moppila uprising of 1921.
History: In 1921, Muslim Moppilas of Tirur, Kerala, rose against upper caste Hindu landlords and the British who backed them. Arrested rioters were to be transferred to jail — 70 suffocated to death in the rail wagon taking them there.
"Father told us he was forced to drink urine to survive,"says Abubaker Vazyayil, the son of Kunahamu. Kunahamu, the last survivor of the wagon tragedy, died 18 years ago.
After meeting Abubaker, I went around town to visit the spot where it all began — the Mamburam Darul Huda mosque. A police raid at this mosque to arrest the Khilafat movement (a campaign to protect the Ottoman empire after WW1) leaders triggered the rebellion.
The mosque was rebuilt a couple of years back. Hundreds of bullets were recovered from its debris. Local Congress leader M.K. Haji has kept some of them. "If Hindus hadn't been attacked, it would have been the second mass uprising after 1857.”
Saleem Kuruvambalam, a Muslim League leader whose forefathers were part of the revolt, explains the gains: it gave the community more voice and pushed them towards the mainstream.
Today, Tirur is a thriving business centre in the Muslim-majority district of Malappuram. Its prime export is the 'Tirur Lanka paan', and the Moppila rebellion, its ancient history.