Whether one wants to be different tomorrow or not, yesterday, today and tomorrow are the concepts that overwhelm our everyday life. So far as birth and death takes place historical thinking is indispensable. Birth is the surest sign and cause of death. But this recognition persuades us to reproduce ourselves rather than refrain from 'labour'. Every pronouncement of the death of history initiates new beginnings in the history of historical thinking.
In a compilation of articles of this kind, issued in the memory of a dear and departed colleague, it may seem a fruitless exercise to write an introduction that sets out the general aims of the Volume. It is obvious that the articles included in this volume are not based on a specific theme, as they include contributions from scholars who have been friends and associates of Valsan K. Varghese. Hence a thematic introduction is impossible. We simply take this opportunity to outline some of our concerns which motivated us to bring out this volume, and expressed by some of the articles, from differing points of view.
The question of relationship between tradition and modernity has been one of the concerns of several scholars who have contributed, or assisted in the making of this volume. Standard literature on the subject has viewed the 'modernisation' process as implying a break from tradition, and much of the studies by sociologists and historians have used the binary of tradition and modernity as a rather simple and obvious model to explain the changes that were taking place during the 19th and 20th centuries. Thus the 'modernising' of 'great traditions' like India became an explanatory device that would include diverse trajectories of historical transformation taking place in different geographical, economic, and socio-cultural milieu. This resulted in unilinear forms of explanation in which modernization was inevitably induced by the processes of 'social reform' and 'renaissance' which apparently tore into pieces the forces of 'tradition'. We have a very rich body of scholarship on the social reform process all over India which together seems to emphasise the process of transition of traditional society into a modern society.
This model of transition to modernity is under attack by new scholarship and by the recent social trends. Recent years have witnessed a major revival of community consciousness, and formation of identities on the basis of caste, community and religion. This revival uses a large number of symbols and practices considered once as 'traditional' and dismissed as such, -and many features of 'traditional' society are attempted to be eulogized. This new legitimation of tradition is taking place by attacking the 'corrupt' and 'immoral' Western culture, and also by demonstrating that the process of 'social reform' was itself a product of the West, introduced by the western educated middle class who became the agencies for a new kind of western inspired cultural consciousness. The engagement between tradition and modernity in the beginning of twentieth century was an illusory project. What seems to have taken place was the growth of communities, whether Hindu, or Muslim, or whatever, and the national movement can, at best be explained in terms of the formation of national 'community'.
This line of reasoning has serious implications for any study of Indian history. On the one hand, it exposes the grave faults in the simple model of tradition and modernity, and the eulogisation of social reform as the harbinger of standard conceptions of modernity, related to secularism, progress, democracy and so on. One should add that this also exposes the developmentalist project inherent in any 'tradition/modernity' discourse.
Modernity and all the conceptions associated with it, was part of the elite middle class discourse, and it manifested in the society in a totally different form. Despite the earnest wishes of the perpetrators of social reform, new conceptions of caste, community religion and gender were constructed by colonial state and its forms of knowledge, which became consolidated and institutionalized in the post-colonial era. The middle class 'developmentalist' project has had a transitory and illusory existence, and is now torn into fragments by the very same forces that emerged as a result of the 'modernising' process.
All this means that the standard binary of tradition and modernity will have to be discarded and we have to look for an analytical device that would take into account the complex trajectories of social change during 19th and 20th centuries. The complexity of issues can be illustrated by some of the problems attempted to be tackled in the present collection. It is not surprising that there are five essays on the problems related to history of Mappila Muslims in the present collection, as they represent Clearly some of the problems mentioned above. Standard works by Stephen Dale and Roland Miller appear to take the existence of a Muslim community as a necessary postulate for explaining the Mappila revolts in 19th century Malabar. Dale appeals to a militant tradition among the mappilas before British rule and mappila revolts naturally form a continuity, How far the concept of a militant tradition conforms to the British colonialist reading of the Mappila as a 'fanatical Muslim' is a point worth considering.
It appears, however, that the Sayyids of Hadramaut played a significant role in shaping the social and religious consciousness of the Mappiles during 18th and 19th centuries, and they have been called traditional intellectuals.
They played a significant role in the creation of anti-British sentiments among the Mappilas from a religious and political point of view. Another factor also appears to have played a role in the development of this consciousness. The arrival of Mohammed Shah Kardani at Kondotty and the Establishment of a system other than the traditional faith established by the religious leaders at Ponnani resulted in a major schismatic movement called Ponnani- Kondotty kuditarkam. Mohammed Shah also appears to have belonged to a warrior tradition, but the tarkam brought Kondotty Thangal closer to the British and the Sunnis of the Ponnani faction more strongly anti- British. It should be pointed out that the kuditarkam and the role of the Hadrami Sayyids have nothing to do with the 'militant tradition' of the Mappilas. In fact, they appear to be transforming the Mappila society in ways that is yet to be properly analysed. The more important feature is that the emergence of the Thangals coincides with the occupation of Malabar by the British, the harbingers of 'modernity'.
What was the impact of the Thangals among the Mappilas? Do they 'modernise' them? If they don't, what actually is their role? It is clear that the thangals of Tharamal, Sayyid Alawi and in particular, Sayyid Fazl tried to arouse the consciousness among Mappilas that they have to contend against an alien socio-economic system and the Christian religion. There is no Clear evidence that the other thangals sympathized with their project, and many of them remained neutral, or even sympathized with the British. This is also indicated by the later history of the Thangal families. After the deportation of Sayyid Fazl, his remaining descendants in Malabar do not.
continue the resistance against the British, and they seem to be collaborating with the British, receiving titles such as 'Khan Bahadur'. The efforts by Congress leader Mohammed Abdurahiman to bring sayyid AIi, the direct descendant of Sayyid Fazl, back to Malabar ends in failure, and interestingly. does not seem to get the support of any of the Thangals.
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