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Updated: August 2, 2013 17:30 IST
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Raising a force

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Illustration: Satheesh Vellinezhi
Illustration: Satheesh Vellinezhi

When the British decided to raise the Malabar Police Corps to combat insurgency

(A weekly column on the region’s past culled from historical documents.)

The time was the 1850s. The British were beginning to face agitations against their administration, albeit on a small scale. Taken aback by the “Moplah outbreaks” in Malabar, the British decide to take control. To nip rebellion of any sort in the bud, they decide to raise a force to combat protests. It was testing times for the British. The then Collector of Malabar, H.V. Conolly would be killed in another two years time. Conolly along with the then Magistrate of Malabar played a key role in forming the Malabar Police Corps to tackle insurgencies.

Active steps towards forming the Malabar Police Corps were taken in 1853. The British ponder long and hard on the composition of such a force; whether it should comprise Europeans? If so, in what percentage? The process of forming the force is discussed in detail in the official documents. The permission for raising such a force is given by the Governor-in-Council at Madras. The force was to be “commanded by a zealous active officer with a proportion of European non-commissioned officers attached to it.”

A set of rules to be followed by the newly formed body is charted by Conolly. He covers all aspects related to the force, beginning with the hierarchy and ending with the sanction of leave for the members of the force. He details the reasons for forming the force in the first place. He writes, “A police or irregular corps having to be raised in the Malabar with the view of keeping the peace or repressing aggressions in the localities which have of late years been disturbed by the Moplah outbreaks.”

The force was to comprise 150 men with six non-commissioned European officers and one commissioned European officer. Even when such a force was raised to combat violence from a specific section, Conolly in his letter, takes care not to give a religious slant to it. He writes, “It being an object to avoid anything peculiarly Hindoo or sectarian character the privates are to be selected from any class, creed or country indifferently.”

The privates were to be armed with “light barreled percussion guns and a sword to be worn at the side.” Considerable part of the letter discusses the uniform for the men belonging to the force. “They will be furnished annually with a short cloth coat by government and as regards the rest of their dress will adopt such inexpensive rules as may be deemed right by their commanding officer,” says the letter.

The hierarchy

If the commanding officer had the immediate authority over the force, considerable authority was vested on the Magistrate too. In matters relating to the general discipline of the force or any public service the force may be employed, the commanding officer was supposed to correspond with the Magistrate.

Of the 150 men, 100 were to “be stationed at Mullapooram in the Ernad and the remaining 50 at Chavassery in Cotyzam talook.” But they were to be available at the “discretion of the Magistrate and Commanding officer for police duties in any part of the province of Malabar.”

The commanding officer is entrusted the charge of keeping the force efficient and in full strength. According to the rules, all men part of the force were to serve a period of not less than five years. The commanding officer had the right to tackle minor offences by giving the offenders some extra drill and confining them to the barracks. But offences of more serious nature were to be referred to the Magistrate.

The Governor-in-Council responds to these set of rules in a letter dated December, 1853. He suggests dividing the force into “two companies of 75 privates with one half of the native officers and non-commissioned European and native officers attached to it.”

He also spends more time in defining the ranks, the prospects of promotion and rewarding good service. He fixes a budget of Rs. 1,628 to be spent on the force every month. “Pensions should extend to the native community and non-commissioned officers as well as the privates,” he writes.

The Governor-in-Council though, is very happy with the arms provided to the men. He writes, “Light barreled guns and swords appear very desirable.” He suggests that their uniform be of dark-coloured cloth “made as plain as possible with such simple distinctions for the different grades.” He also expresses his willingness to provide ponies for the senior officers. The proposal for the Malabar Corps is approved without much fuss soon.

(Source: Regional Archives Kozhikode)

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