The Myth of Hyderabad’s “Hidden Massacre”

The Myth of Hyderabad’s “Hidden Massacre”

BBC correspondent Mike Thompson in a recent article on the annexation of Hyderabad claims that in September-October 1948—that is, soon after its annexation—tens of thousands of Muslims were butchered in Hyderabad. He terms this as ‘India’s hidden massacre.’

Mike Thompson bases his assertions on an unpublished report which he claims is presently with the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi. This report is named the Pandit Sunderlal Report, an account of the investigations into the alleged ‘massacre.’

Now, Mike Thompson is not the first person to write about this alleged massacre. Equally, neither is he the first to rely on the unpublished Sunderlal Report to substantiate his claims. Quite a few attempts have been made in the recent past, even by mainstream Indian columnists like Swaminathan Aiyar, who has asked to declassify the Sunderlal Report. While Mike Thompson quotes the Sunderlal report and places the figure of the people killed in the post-annexation violence from anywhere between 27,000 to 40,000, which is by itself a staggeringly high figure, Swaminathan Aiyer puts the count at 2 lakhs!

Apart from shamelessly bearing a very visible communal tone, the BBC article sports a lot of factual discrepancies. First, the article chooses to gloss over the atrocities committed by the Islamic militant group, the Razakars. Next, by not saying even a word about the active patronage the Nizam provided to the violent Razakars, the article cleverly suppresses the Nizam’s role in the diabolical barbarities committed by them. The reality is however very different. In a letter dated 28February 1948 addressed to the Nizam’s Prime Minister Laiq Ali, India’s Agent-General to Hyderabad, K.M Munshi writes:

…I must point out that the most serious menace to the internal tranquility of the State and of all the bordering areas is the Ittehad-Al-Musalmeen (Razakars) organization which thrives mainly on the patronage and support of your government. Its avowed object is to secure the sovereignty of Hyderabad, which, according to its declared doctrines, vests only in the Muslim subjects of the Nizam. Its volunteer force is 1,50,000 strong and its leader Kazim Razvi has recently appealed for stepping up of recruitment by 3,50,000 more volunteers. This organization provides a fertile source of recruitment to the State Army and Police Forces. Its volunteers, Razakars, operate throughout the State in close collaboration with the State Army and Police Forces. They spread a reign of terror amongst the non-muslim population of the State and it is common knowledge that, although they have been inflicting widespread injury on person and property, they are generally immune from the processes and penalties of law. Assisted by the State Police, they frequently conduct raids on the neighbouring provinces of the Dominion… He (Kazim Razvi) has openly declared again and again that Hyderabad is an Islamic State and that sovereignty therein vests in the Muslims of Hyderabad. He has called upon the Razakars to liberate the Muslims of India from the Government of India… these pronouncements come from the President of the Party to which majority of the Ministers in your present Government owe allegiance, and are calculated to inflame the Muslims of the State and in the whole of India against the non-muslims and Dominion of India…(Pilgrimage to Freedom – K.M Munshi, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan)

It is well-known that the Razakars served as the Nizam’s private militia and were actively supported and patronized by the Nizam himself. By not mentioning any of these details of the Razakars and the Nizam, Mike Thompson tries to hush up their horrible atrocities against the non-Muslim population.

Even more importantly, all the articles that have been written on this ‘hidden massacre,’ base their assertions entirely on the unpublished Sunderlal Report. It is perplexing as to how an incident of communal violence as big in scale as the one claimed here, can go widely unreported in newspapers of that time, and especially in a period as crucial as the country’s partition and post-partition days when the whole world’s eyes were on India. Also, it is common knowledge that communal violence, however small in scale, leaves a lasting impression on the people affected by it. It is thus surprising how the people of this region are themselves largely unaware of this post-annexation violence, while they so vividly recall the earlier atrocities committed by the Razakars. This is not to deny the occurrence of any communal violence during those tense post-partition days. Retaliation by the Hindus against the brutalities committed by the Razakars in the days after their surrender could have taken place; but the magnitude of the violence as reported by these articles is definitely a gross exaggeration.

More interestingly, a copy of a confidential letter addressed to Pandit Nehru and Sardar Patel, presumably written by the authors of the Sunderlal Report was found. Contrary to Mike Thompson and Swaminathan Aiyer’s claims that the Sunderlal Commission was a government-appointed commission of investigation, the letter makes it clear in the very first line that it was sanctioned by the government only to serve as a goodwill mission:

We clarified ourselves, whenever opportunity presented itself saying that ours was not a commission of investigation or inquiry into events preceding or following the police action and that ours was merely a goodwill mission charged with the task of restoring better communal relations.

It is very strange that despite the letter clearly calling itself as ‘merely’ a goodwill mission, authors like Mike Thompson and Aiyar choose to call it a commission of inquiry. It is well known that reports of goodwill missions do not enjoy the legal sanctity that a report of a judicial commission of inquiry enjoys.

In addition, Mike Thompson also gives us a glimpse into the contents of the ‘confidential notes’ attached to the Sunderlal report. These “confidential notes” are nothing but the letter mentioned above. He also gives a screen shot of a portion of the letter in his article and he quotes a few extracts:

In confidential notes attached to the Sunderlal report, its authors detailed the gruesome nature of the Hindu revenge: “In many places we were shown wells still full of corpses that were rotting. In one such we counted 11 bodies, which included that of a woman with a small child sticking to her breast…

And it went on: “We saw remnants of corpses lying in ditches. At several places the bodies had been burnt and we would see the charred bones and skulls still lying there.

What is more shocking than the atrocities detailed by Mike Thompson is the fact that these gruesome details, which Mike quotes from the confidential notes, do not appear in the confidential notes at all! This mars the credibility of the article heavily apart from raising strong suspicion on the motive of the article itself.

If this was not enough, we are faced with yet another perplexing fact: the claim that the said Sunderlal Report is with the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. It turns out that a researcher named Captain Pandu Ranga Reddy was told by the museum authorities in reply to an RTI query that the copy was not available with them! However, both Mike Thompson and Swaminathan Aiyar claim that the copy of the report was accessed by a few foreign researchers. However, it is not known why these people have not yet made the copy public. Thus, until the copy of the report is made public by the concerned authorities, writing speculative articles on the contents of the report contributes to unhealthy public discourse.

However, one can join issue with Mike Thompson’s plea for revising the country’s history textbooks to make them adhere to facts. But will Mike Thompson stick to the same principle and ask for a revision of India’s medieval history detailing the 800 year-long brutal Muslim rule?

Lastly, it must be noted that the timing of these articles is suspect. Recently, there have been subtle attempts going on in Hyderabad to whitewash the atrocities of the Nizam’s rule. Efforts are also ongoing to portray the Nizam’s degenerate culture as the Telangana Culture in the name of Hyderabadi tehzeeb. Articles like the one written by Mike Thompson, based as they are on loose assertions and unverifiable sources, may go a long way in helping such appropriation attempts by not only whitewashing the Nizam’s dreadful rule but also by creating a false sense of guilt in the minds of the Hindu majority.

Tejasvi Surya

An alumnus of IndiaFacts, Tejasvi Surya is an Advocate practicing at the High Court of Karnataka, at Bangalore. He is also the co-founder of Centre for Entrepreneurial Excellence, an organization running projects in the spheres of education, employment and entrepreneurship. Tejasvi is currently the State Secretary for Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, Karnataka.