As somebody who’s born in Sangareddy, a district in the state of Telangana–the erstwhile princely state of Hyderabad- I’m glad that Hyderabad is now part of a democratic India. However, 70 years ago, the picture was not as rosy as it appears today.
Soon after the British agreed to leave India and its subsequent partition in 1947, more than 500 princely states that had autonomy under British rule had acceded to either of the two countries – India or Pakistan. However, the Nizam of Hyderabad chose to remain independent and refused to join the Indian union. Amidst growing apprehensions about an independent state in the heart of the Indian Territory, reports of atrocities by Razakars, and the communist uprising against feudalism in the state, the Indian Government launched a military operation on 13th September 1948 called, “Operation Polo”, resulting in the successful annexation of Hyderabad into the Indian union. It would become known as the “Police Action.”
17th September 1948 – the day when Hyderabad merged with the union of India, remains the black day in the history of the state. This merger was not just painful but was extremely horrifying – in every sense of the word. The “Liberation”, as few would want to call it, unleashed an orgy of human massacre which has been grossly unreported and comfortably forgotten.
The tragic aftermath – statewide burnings, massive killings, looting, abduction of women, and rapes – continued unabated for several days.
According to the Pandit Sundarlal Committee report (henceforth The Report), commissioned by the Government of India – an estimated 25 to 30 thousand people were killed, although unofficial figures range up to 2 lakh deaths. The heart-rending report was never declassified and was swept under the rug for decades. It came into public domain only recently, in 2013.
“So that out of the total of 25 to 30 thousand which at a very conservative estimate is a safe figure of killed in the whole state.” (The Report, page 2)
The Report further reveals how a few from the Indian troops along with the right-wing paramilitary groups perpetrated widespread rapes, pillaging, looting, and murders. They vandalized several religious places, looted and torched houses and shops. Hundreds of wells were found to be full of disfigured corpses of women and children.
“Loot, arson, desecration of mosques, forcible conversions, rape, abduction of women (sometimes out of the state), seizure of houses and lands followed or accompanied the killing. Tens of crores worth of property was looted, destroyed…” (The Report, page 3)
The report further goes on to state:
“Duty also compels us to add that we had absolutely unimpeachable evidence to the effect that there were instances in which men belonging to the Indian Army and also to the local police took part in looting and even other crimes.” (P. 4)
Nevertheless, the report also acknowledges the incidents sporting the rich composite culture of the Hyderabad state and refers to them as “silver lining in very dark clouds”:
“We were given by instances by Muslims where Hindus had defended and given protection to Muslim men and women at the cost of their own lives… Many Hindus helped and co-operated in the recovery of abducted Muslim women…” (P. 5)
Indian historian A.G. Noorani notes that the annexation was in the interest of the majority of people, while also referring to the massacre aftermath as, “Tragedy” and stating that, “there were better alternatives to Army action.”
No doubt the annexation was inevitable, but it was the innocent common man who paid the price for the strategic political blunder of the Nizam. What also remains indisputable is the fact that the Nizam’s stand and the subsequent standoff between the Hyderabad state and the Indian union was largely political and not based on religious or communal agenda. It is very important to understand this, more so because there are attempts to somehow demonize the Nizam and project him as an anti-Hindu ruler. The Nizams were autocrats and had their own share of wrongdoings, including their support to Razakars, but the Hyderabad state was neither a Muslim state nor did Nizam ever implement Sharia (Islamic rule) during his reign.
The call to celebrate Hyderabad Liberation Day, under the garb of “nationalism” is a ploy to communalize the state’s atmosphere and nurse anti-Muslim sentiments for mere political gains.
While today, 70 years later, the common man of the state is proud to identify himself as an Indian and expresses confidence in the democratic and secular ethos of this country, the reminiscences of “Police Action” would fetch nothing but only revive the horrors of the massacre. Furthermore, the actual idea behind the proposed celebration is to denigrate the composite and plural culture of the Hyderabad state, under the Nizam.
Most importantly, more than the “to celebrate or not” debate, the entire episode offers us lessons that could, perhaps, make our world a better place –that communal violence is detrimental to the progress of the society and that peace and harmony can only be achieved through mutual respect and tolerance.