Vakkom Moulavi: The scholar who believed in the power of journalism


Last week, the Postal Service ran special coverage on the unsung heroes of the Indian freedom struggle. Vakkom Abdul Khader Moulavi, widely known as Vakkom Moulavi, was one of the four names of Kerala.

While he rightly deserved this recognition, it would have been more fitting if he had been honored for his pioneering contributions to journalism at the turn of the 20th century.

Today (Sunday) is his 89th death anniversary.

Vakkom Moulavi was a multifaceted man. But nearly nine decades after his death, he is remembered more as a religious reformer who led the Islamic renaissance in Kerala than as an intrepid journalist who had strong convictions of nationalism and a visionary understanding of the power of Israel. journalism.

Who was Vakkom Moulavi?

If you google you will find him as a socio-religious reformer and Muslim scholar in Kerala. But little emphasis has been placed or written on his being one of the early proponents of journalism as a powerful tool for social reform.

Coming from a wealthy family in the former princely state of Travancore in southern Kerala, he was trained in languages ​​and subjects by hand-picked scholars. His extensive reading and pursuit of knowledge has helped him shape a national perspective and realize the importance of education for social development. Through foreign publications and books, he was in touch with what was happening in the world, whether it was Islam, science or geopolitics.

Before the age of 30, he had within him a patriotic heart that beat fervently. He believed in the essential role of the media in social reform and in the realization and protection of civil rights and liberty. He questioned the “divinity” of the royal and defended the rights of the people as citizens and not as mere “subjects” of a king.

In 1905, at the age of 32, he launched Swadeshabhimani (ThePatriot) as a weekly. It was not about uplifting the Muslim community in him and around him, but about empowering the citizens of Travancore, making them aware of their rights to liberty and liberty, and reminding the royal rulers and to the dewans named by the British that of the people of the lands were not “subjects” of exploitation and nepotism.

He was defending the democratic rights of his country at a time when the civil rights movement had not gained momentum in India.

His decision to launch the newspaper was not the result of an adrenaline rush at all. Nor was it an emotional decision from an epiphanic experience. It was taken after careful deliberation and reflection.

He imported an automatic flatbed printing press via Pierce Leslie from England over a century ago at a cost of 12,000 rupees, while an acre in Thiruvananthapuram could be bought for 100 rupees! If he had to start printing a newspaper from a press imported from England at the age of 32 in 1905, he must have started planning for it at least almost five years ago, that is say at 27!

This Swadeshabhimani was the first Kerala newspaper to subscribe to the Reuters news agency which shows young Vakkom Moulavi was up to date with the latest industry trends. He named both the printing press and the newspaper Swadeshabhimani because the leitmotif of his activities was patriotism and not commercial interests.

He knew very well that publishing a newspaper was not a lucrative business. When some of his relatives tried to dissuade him from launching Swadeshabhimani, Vakkom Moulavi said: “I am not a businessman. What I want to accomplish with the newspaper is social service and patriotism. Money is not the ultimate profit that I need. I firmly believe that my country will get what I am looking for. That’s enough for me.

In the editorial of the first edition of Swadeshabhimani on January 19, 1905, its publisher CP Govinda Pillai wrote: “We do not declare that Swadeshabhimani will accomplish great things for the Muslim community and other communities, who desire their well-being. Our primary goal is that by Swadeshabhimani work must promote public welfare and prosperity. To achieve this goal, we will do all we can. We will not hide any public grievances fearing the dangers that may befall us. “

Vakkom Moulavi knew well that it would not be a bed of roses for him or for his newspaper when he decided to use journalism for the public good and prosperity. One of the mission statements of Swadeshabhimani was that the newspaper “would not cover up any public grievances fearing a danger that might befall us”.

José Abraham, author of Islamic reform and colonial discourse on modernity in India: socio-political and religious thought of Vakkom Moulavi, writes: “When the rights and privileges of the people were not respected by the state bureaucrats, no one dared to speak out against it and bring it to the attention of the Maharaja. Moreover, no Travancore newspaper was prepared to take on this difficult responsibility. It was the gap that Swadesabhimani promised to fill. Through editorials and columns, people’s rights – when challenged or denied – have been highlighted even while risking everything and always living up to their ideals. Therefore, given the political and social structures of Travancore in the early twentieth century, Swadeshabhimani was the means to express public grievances to the government, and even to challenge its responsibility.

“Fear, dishonesty and greed will not build a country” – Vakkom Moulavi printed the line under the heading of Swadeshabhimani, and practiced such a type of journalism that no one had dared to do in India until then, let alone Travancore. Influential nationalist newspapers like the Leader (1909) of Allahabad and the Bombay Chronicle (1910) from Bombay were not published until after Swadeshabhimani was suppressed, the press confiscated and its editor-in-chief Ramakrishna Pillai was sent into exile by royal decree.

When Vakkom Moulavi joined forces with Ramakrishna Pillai, who was the second editor of Swadeshabhimani, at the same time courageous, passionate, honest and committed to their causes and their profession, it was the beginning of an unprecedented professional association. The manner and extent to which Vakkom Moulavi gave professional freedom to its editor, Ramakrishna Pillai, was unheard of in the history of journalism even today.

Make Swadeshabhimani Spearhead of political journalism, Vakkom Moulavi did not depend on anyone else. He himself was good enough to edit and direct posts with strong socio-religious messages as was evident in the case of his other posts –Muslim, Deepika and Al-Islam.

MA Shakoor, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the Dawn and later London correspondent of Pakistani weather and one of Vakkom Moulavi’s nephews, wrote: “The double duty of running The Patriot (Swadeshabhimani) and leading the Muslim reform movement at the same time soon proved unmanageable, and Maulavi Abdul Qadir (Vakkom Moulavi) sought an editor for The Patriot who would live up to the high standards of integrity, courage and political principles he had set for his newspaper.

“He was lucky to have found such a man in a young graduate called Ramakrishna Pillai who had just been fired by his own uncle from the management of his weekly newspaper because of his opinions and his uncompromising adherence to the principles. A personal interview and discussion of matters of principle convinced Maulavi Abdul Qadir that he had found exactly the man he wanted. Ramakrishna Pillai was also fortunate to have found the right person to work with.

“Maulavi Abdul Qadir placed an implicit faith in the integrity, patriotism and political ideals of Ramakrishna Pillai, which were identical to his own. Not once during the stormy life of the newspaper, Maulavi Abdul Qadir did not feel the need to intervene in the editorial policy of his newspaper to maintain the course he had charted. This political collaboration which began in 1906 between two young radical democrats forms a glorious chapter in the political history of Kerala.

When the king of Travancore, on the recommendation of the dewan, suppressed Swadeshabhimani, confiscated the press and sent the editor-in-chief in exile, Vakkom Moulavi refused to apologize for what he stood for and reportedly said he did not want the press without the editor-in-chief. Although this caused him huge financial losses, the setback did not deter his journalistic activities.

He then published Deepika and Al-Islam in her efforts to “cleanse” the Muslim community which was steeped in superstitions, and to advocate for the need to educate Muslim women.

Alone and by the merit of his sharp and incisive writing, Vakkom Moulavi was a shining example of journalist and media entrepreneur, whose knees did not tremble and the spine did not bend in bondage to the powers that be but had the cold-blooded courage to fight endemic bureaucratic corruption and defend the democratic rights of the people. Moreover, he didn’t pull off anyone’s shoulder but his own and spent almost all of his wealth for the good of his society and his community.

Vakkom Moulavi’s sense of patriotism and his selfless journalistic efforts to propagate nationalism and the people’s right to liberty and liberty a century ago should not be overlooked under any circumstances. Neither should his lucid understanding of the role and place of cultural and community identities in India’s unique socio-political mosaic.

It will be a flagrant injustice to Vakkom Moulavi and his visionary journalistic endeavors if we do not tell his story seriously – that he was not only a generous newspaper owner, but that he himself was a fearless, cultured journalist himself. and with happy language. and moral honesty and the intention to spend even the last penny on his cause.

When he died at the relatively young age of 59 on October 31, 1932, he was in debt, having spent all his money on society and the community.

(Sabin Iqbal is a senior journalist based in Bangalore. He is the grandson of Vakkom Moulavi.

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