27,000 Massacred, the Bloody Price of ‘Liberation’: Hyderabad 1948

Hyderabad’s ‘liberation’ in 1948 cost 27,000 lives, reveals the Sundar Lal Report that was suppressed till 2013.

4 min read
The Charminar, Hyderabad’s most iconic monument.

(The Quint is republishing this article from its archives on 'Hyderabad Liberation Day'. It was originally published on 17 September 2015.)

The BJP has been pushing hard to celebrate Hyderabad Liberation Day on September 17 every year to mark the end of the Nizam’s rule in the erstwhile princely state.

This chapter of history does not feature prominently in our textbooks. And neither does the brutal violence that was involved – a fact that was conveniently brushed under the carpet till recently.

Supressing the History of a Massacre

The Sunder Lal Committee Report, submitted in 1949 and suppressed by subsequent governments, revealed that 27-40,000 people were killed in the aftermath of the annexation of Hyderabad.

We can say at a very conservative estimate that in the whole state at least 27 thousand to 40 thousand people lost their lives during and after the police action. We were informed by the authorities that those eight were the most affected districts and needed most the good offices of our delegation. We, therefore, concentrated on these and succeeded, we might say, to some extent at least, in dispelling the atmosphere of mutual hostility and distrust.— The Sundar Lal Committee Report

From the Sunder Lal Committee Report
From the Sunder Lal Committee Report

The Annexation of Hyderabad

In September 1948, the Indian Army marched into the then-princely state of Hyderabad. The objective – Operation Polo.

The erstwhile princely states of India had maintained subsidiary alliances with the British through which they enjoyed self-rule within their territories. In the Indian Independence Act of 1947, the British suspended all such alliances, leaving the Indian states with the choice of opting for full independence. But by 1948, almost all of these states had acceded to either India or Pakistan with the exception of one – Hyderabad.

The Nizam of Hyderabad, Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VII decided to choose independence and sought to maintain his self-rule through the Razakars, a militia recruited from the Muslim aristocracy.

Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VII, the last Nizam of the state of Hyderabad. (Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)
Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VII, the last Nizam of the state of Hyderabad. (Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

The newly-formed Indian government under Jawaharlal Nehru was decidedly eager to integrate the state into the new Indian Union.

Citing that the Razakars were propagating unmitigated violence against the large Hindu population in the State of Hyderabad, Sardar Patel ordered the annexation of the princely state in September 1948. In five days of what was somewhat misleadingly termed as ‘police action’, the Indian army overtook the state by defeating the Razakars. Hyderabad became a part of the republic of India.

The Razakars of the State of Hyderabad. (Courtesy: <a href="http://andhrajihad.blogspot.in/2010/03/muslim-men-and-women-undergoing.html">Andhra Jihad</a>)
The Razakars of the State of Hyderabad. (Courtesy: Andhra Jihad)

Soon after, reports of massive violence emerged from the state, pointing fingers at the Indian troops for mercilessly killing and pillaging the Muslim population. An alarmed Nehru appointed a mixed-faith committee under Pandit Sundar Lal, Qazi Abdul Ghaffar, and Maulana Abdulla Misri to investigate and submit a report on the matter.

The report never saw the light of day until 2013, when it was declassified after Historian Sunil Purushotham from the University of Cambridge filed a petition to obtain a copy.

“Rape, Abduction of Women, Loot, Arson Accompanied the Killings”

The Detailed Report of Pandit Sundar Lal, Qazi Abdul Ghaffar, and Maulana Abdulla Misri on the Aftermath of the Police Action (Military Invasion) by the Indian Army of the Hyderabad State in September, 1948 revealed that Indian troops indulged in looting, pillaging, rape, and murder of innumerable Muslims throughout the State of Hyderabad, that included parts of Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh.

Almost everywhere in the effected (sic) areas communal frenzy did not exhaust itself in murder, alone in which at some places even women and children were not spared. Rape, abduction of women (sometimes out of the state to Indian towns such as Sholapur and Nagpur) loot, arson, desecretion (sic) of mosques, forcible conversions, seizure of houses and lands, followed or accompanied the killing.
— The Sundar Lal Committee Report

From the Sunder Lal Committee Report.
From the Sunder Lal Committee Report.

“Soldiers Encouraged, Persuaded, and Compelled Hindu Mobs to Loot Muslim Shops and Houses”

The report also notes that not only did the Indian army indulge in various brutalities, but it also incited people to perpetrate violence.

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. During our tour we gathered, at not a few places, that soldiers encouraged, persuaded and in a few cases even compelled the Hindu mob to loot Muslim shops and houses. At one district town the present Hindu head of the administration told us that there was a general loot of Muslim shops by the military. In another district a Munsif house, among others was looted by soldiers and a Tahsildar’s wife molested.
— The Sundar Lal Committee Report

From the Sundar Lal Committee Report.
From the Sundar Lal Committee Report.

Whither Liberation?

For 65 years the Sunder Lal Committee Report was kept under covers. Why? Is it because the loss of a massive number of human lives it documents, were all in the name of liberation?

Can we term this as liberation? Does liberation necessarily come at the cost of human lives and dignity?

Does celebrating a Hyderabad Liberation Day not undermine the history of a despicable human tragedy?

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