Thursday, February 2, 2023

A riot in Madras

In 1884, the Malappuram Special Police was raised as a special paramilitary force to deal with social unrest in the (north) Malabar region. After successfully quelling a gang of fanatics, the force was made permanent in 1897. By 1921 the force had a sanctioned strength of 6 British Officers, 8 Subedars, 16 Jamadars, 60 Havildars and 600 Constables, making up six companies. By then, the Malappuram Special Police had been successful in blunting the guerrilla tactics of the Moplah rebels not only in Malappuram, but also in other parts of Malabar where the Moplah Rebellion had spread. The force was now renamed the Malabar Special Police (MSP); in 1922, a sizeable part of the MSP was moved to Madras, to deal with uprisings in that part of the Presidency. 

And that was how Jamadar TP Kumaran Nair, who had joined the MSP circa 1924, came to be in Madras in 1931, when news of Bhagat Singh's execution reached the city. There were protests all around India and in Madras, a large gathering, exclusively of women, began their protest on the Marina Beach, singing Vande Mataram and waving black flags as well as the forbidden 'national flag'. This was the kind of situation the MSP was famed for breaking up. Jamadar Kumaran Nair was tasked with lathicharging the protestors. As he marched his platoon close to them, he was struck with a sudden and stark realisation that beating unarmed, peaceful protesters, and women at that, was not what he had joined the MSP for. He refused to carry out his 'duty' and the British officer on the spot had him arrested and carted away, to be sacked from the force later.

So begins the book "Swaraj Spy". Written by Kumaran Nair's grand-nephew Vijay Balan, it is not truly fiction, but a reconstruction of how Kumaran Nair went on to become part of the Indian National Army, to be an instructor at a secret espionage school set up by them. Sadly, Kumaran Nair's story is of sacrifice. Having heard Vijay Balan talk about the book at an event last evening at the CP Arts Centre, I am looking forward to reading the story - one that promises to be a grand lesson in history, as well! 

Vijay Balan is the bearded gentleman in the picture. Talking to him is Pradeep Chakravarthy, who we have met earlier on this blog. 

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