When years and years of struggle finally bore fruit in 1947, many parts of India found no reason to celebrate. For them, the Partition had taken away all the cheer of self-rule. Hundreds of thousands of people were dislocated from their ancestral property, and had to move across new borders to start a new life. The riots that broke out were some of the worst mankind has ever seen.
This article contains a story that isn’t found commonly in school textbooks, and even historians barely ever speak of it. It is the story of the tragedy that the people of Hyderabad faced during Partition, a story that has in the past been overshadowed by those from the border regions.
Contrary to what most people believe, the first major military operation carried out by Independent India was not in Kashmir, but in the Deccan. Operation Polo was supposed to be a tonic for a major crisis brewing in this region.
Ever since the talks of Partition came to the fore, the Nizam of Hyderabad, under the influence of Jinnah, began dreaming of an independent Muslim state of Hyderabad. This is despite the fact that 80 per cent of the population of Hyderabad was Hindu. He hoped that Hyderabad’s close relations to the British for years would be sufficient to convince them to give Hyderabad the status of an Independent nation under the dominion of the British Empire. Unfortunately for him, though, the British didn’t agree and wanted him to join Hyderabad with India.
To change the demographics of his domain, the Nizam employed the services of a militant group known as the Razakars, spearheaded by Qasim Razvi. Long before Independence, the Razakars spread violence throughout Hyderabad, killing thousands of Hindus, raping the women, and destroying temples. At the same time, throngs of refugees began arriving in Hyderabad from neighboring states, and the Nizam’s plans seemed to be heading towards a success. Sardar Vallabhai Patel saw the crisis as more pressing than Kashmir, fearing that losing Hyderabad would leave a massive hole in the “stomach” of India. He, along with Lord Mountbatten and KM Munshi, offered the Nizam several offers that weren’t given to other princely states, all to prevent Hyderabad from aligning with Pakistan. The Nizam, however, agreed to none.
As India finally became Independent, the situation in Hyderabad went from bad to worse. Some local Hindus tried to fight the Nizam’s police, but such minor revolts were ineffective. Finally, they decided to meet Gandhi to request him to help them out. Sardar Patel suggested an invasion, but Gandhi refused, allegedly saying “The Nizam is like my son… does a father send an army to fight his son?” Patel, however, was convinced that the invasion was necessary. After a contentious debate with Nehru and Governor-General Chakravarti Rajagopalchari, Operation Polo was framed and put into motion on September 22, 1948.
Despite facing stiff competition from the Nizam’s 40,000 strong army, including around 10,000 Razzakars, the Indian National Army, supported by the Air Force, breached the capital within five days. The Nizam was forced to accept an unconditional surrender, and Hyderabad was annexed.
But the violence did not end.
Soon after, the surrender the Razzakars were disbanded and faced several charges of murder and rape. Although the Indian Army was stationed in Hyderabad to maintain law and control, mobs of Hindu men attacked the Muslim community, avenging the deaths of people of their community. In many cases it is even been said that the Indian Army helped these mobs. An unofficial report, commissioned by Jawaharlal Nehru, stated that the violence after the war had claimed the lives of “one-tenth to one-fifth” of the male Muslim population, primarily in the countryside. The report also cited incidents where Indian soldiers were involved in looting and raping,
The highly controversial report, known as the Sunderlal report, was never published. At a time when India should have been rejoicing its Independence, and looking to build a base for future growth, thousands of people were murdered well within our boundaries. Every year, when we celebrate our Independence, it is not only important to think of the sacrifices that our freedom fighters made for us, but also the sufferings of people like those in Hyderabad. Such riots, however unfortunate, also build an important part of our nation’s history.