THE heroic saga of the Kayyur martyrs is part and parcel of the revolutionary, anti-imperialist movement led by the communists. Kayyur is a village which was in the Hosdurg sub-taluk of South Canara, adjoining the then Kannur district. It was part of the Malabar region and the Madras presidency. Now Kayyur is in the Kasargod district of Kerala.
Four young communist patriots – Madathil Appu, Kunhambu Nair, Chirukandan, Abu Baker – who became famous as the Kayyur communists, were hanged on March 29, 1943. All of them were below 25 years of age, but they became popular leaders in their village. They took a leading part in the organisation of the Kisan sabha and built a heroic peasant movement in that district during the years 1938-41, against the oppression of the jenmis (landlords) and the government. While the police hated the youth for their patriotism, the landlords hated them because they roused and activised the kisans.
The peasants in that taluq had no tenancy rights and were severely oppressed. With the advent of the war and communist opposition to it, British repression had further increased. A unit of Malabar special police was stationed in the area. Under the guise of searching homes, the police looted them; in the name of interrogation, they caught kisan workers and beat them up. To protest against this highhandedness, a demonstration was fixed in Kayyur village on March 28, 1941. A police constable posted in the village, came across the procession and was found misbehaving with a Muslim peasant woman. The assembled kisans were alleged to have stoned him and chased him and he fell into the river and died. It is for this reason that these comrades were hanged.
The Sessions judge admitted that in an incident like this, it is difficult to identify the culprit. Even the witnesses, who were coached by the police for over a month, failed to testify coherently. Their evidence contained many contradictory statements and everyone felt that the case would not hold. In spite of all these facts, the judge convicted and sentenced the four to be hanged to death. All appeals to the higher courts too were rejected, in spite of the best efforts made by the Party.
The Kayyur four were remarkable for their political maturity and courage. They wrote many letters to the Party declaring their unflinching loyalty to the Party and its struggle for the freedom of the motherland. Days before they were to be hanged, they had written a stirring letter to the people. Below is the full text of the letter:
“We believe that you might have known by this time that our mercy petition has been rejected by the viceroy of India too and that we are nearer to the gallows than before. We are only overjoyed to hear this rejection news, which may of course be unwelcome to others. The only appeal now remaining is in the Privy Council. We don’t bother ourselves about the final outcome of the appeal. We don’t care about its results. Our selves are not our own, for we believe that we belong to the peoples of the world. We feel proud to die for the cause of our country. Don’t think that we are cowards; we are fully prepared to face death boldly as true patriots and martyrs. If we do embrace gallows now, our sacrifice will forever be commemorated by posterity. We consider it a special privilege and we are only proud to have had this opportunity of facing death in the cause of our national freedom. We are spending every minute of our life behind the prison-bars singing joyfully the songs in praise of our holy motherland. The heroic end of patriots like Bhagat Singh gives us inspiration. We also remember numerous hardships Comrade Lenin – the leader of the world proletariat – had to encounter and surmount before he could smash the Tsarist regime by a successful revolution.
“We had a letter from Com Kumaramangalam informing us that the appeal has been filed in the Privy Council and that the people in general and our Communist Party in particular are doing their utmost and everything humanly possible for them to save our lives. We get this very same news from our Kerala comrades too who are often coming to us for interviews.
“We are only too glad to hear that our comrades outside are straining every nerve of theirs to rally the Indian people along with the peoples of the United Nations to crush fascism and save the future world from aggression and domination over the weak by the strong. We are sorry that we are not able to contribute our quota of work to fight against the Jap brutes and for the independence of our motherland.
“Our earnest request from behind the prison-bars to our comrades is that they should, by dint of hard and sincere work, set an example to the people and inspire in them courage and enthusiasm to come forward as one man and sacrifice their all for the national cause. We are not worried, neither are we dispirited. The history of many heroic martyrs of our land gives us enough inspiration and consolation to face death boldly for the noble cause of our country. We do fully believe the peoples of the world will emerge victorious in the end and the future of the world will be bright and glorious. Forge national unity by all means that is the only path for our national salvation.
Long Live the Communist Party. Inquilab Zindabad”.
Few days before they were to be hanged, PC Joshi, general secretary of the Party, was tasked to meet the four comrades and convey greetings on behalf of the entire Party. P Sundarayya and Krishna Pillai accompanied him, taking along with them a huge bag of letters of solidarity, written by workers and peasants from all over the country.
Recalling his conversation with them, PC Joshi wrote: “I told them on behalf of the Party: the Party is prouder of you four than it is of any of its members….All 17,000 of us (Party members) vow to you that we will hold high the banner you held so worthily and continue fighting the battle you fought so heroically….The Party is not losing you, but gaining four martyrs. Let them send you four to the gallows, that we can’t help today. But inspired by you four, we will win four hundred, four thousand, new Party members. This they can’t prevent. This we will work for. And rest assured, comrades, we will win. As our cause is immortal, so is its instrument, our Party….You accepted the people as your parents and worked to see that no Indian father or mother suffers from what your own did. Rest assured comrades, that we, all the 17,000 of us will look after your families as our own. We will do what we can to make you parents feel that the Party is their family and every Party member, their son. To get the chance to meet you has been the greatest day of my life….”
In reply, Kunhambu said: “The Party made me capable of doing whatever I did for the people. If the Party thinks I have done my duty that is all I ever deserved”.
Chirukandan: “We are only four kisan sons. But India has millions of kisans. We can be hanged, but they can’t be destroyed”.
Appu: “You have brought great news of the growing strength of the Party. We will now mount the gallows with added strength”.
Abu Baker: “We have drawn inspiration from the lives of our martyrs. We never dreamt that we will share the honour of being one of them. Tell all the comrades that we will mount the gallows fearlessly….My brothers are very young. Educate them for Party work”.
With tears welling in his eyes, Joshi shook hands with all four of them and pointing to the flowers in the jail, stated: “These flowers are perishable. You comrades, are the flowers of humanity that will never perish”.
For the first time in the history of India, four communists, born into poor peasant families, were hanged on March 29, 1943. Young in age, they joined the unconquerable army of the fighters for freedom, the Communist Party. They lived as true patriots, they died as noble martyrs, with the slogan ‘Communist Party Zindabad’ on their lips.
Afraid of the popular anger, the British government even refused to hand over the bodies of the martyred comrades to the people who had gathered at the Kannur central jail.
All the efforts of the British to suppress the growing communist movement in the region, failed. On the contrary, the Communist Party emerged as an effective combative force against imperialism and feudalism as seen by the militant struggles of Morazha, Karivelloor and Kayyur during this period.