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Published in the 16-31 March 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Book Review

Hyderabad 1948

Remembering the Forgotten Genocide

By Mohammed Ayub Ali Khan

The Milli Gazette Online 

Name of the Book: Police Action Ki Bhooli Tareekh Ka Aik Janbaaz Shaheed
Author: A.R. Yaf’ai
Publishers: Darul Isha’at, All India Majlis-e-Tameer-e-Millat, Hyderabad, A.P.
Pages: 294
Price: Rs 200

The 1948 military action of the Indian army to annex Hyderabad and the resulting mass slaughter of Muslims that followed in its wake remains one of the forgotten episodes of modern historiography. Apart from Dr. Omar Khalidi’s classic Tragedy of Hyderabad, a dozen or so non-fiction and fictional works in Urdu, a few in English by scholars like V.K.Bawa and Narendra Luther and isolated references in the research of Western scholars like W.C.Smith, Lucien Benichou and Margrit Pernau, nothing much exists on this topic. What is even astounding is the total absence of eye witness accounts of the survivors of these massacres. 

In the years immediately preceding the military action (deceptively termed as ‘police action’) the State Congress as well as the Arya Samaj and other organizations had launched a propaganda campaign alleging that the Nizam government and the para-military Razakaars are harassing the Hindu majority of Hyderabad and that their lives and property are in great danger. Influenced by such propaganda and emboldened by India’s independence, activists of the above mentioned organizations and criminal elements started attacking border areas of Nizam’s Dominions from within as well as from India. 

In Police Action Ki Bhooli Tareekh Ka Aik Janbaaz Shaheed, A.R. Yaf’ai provides an account of his father Muhammad Isa Yafa’I’s activities in defending Hyderabad from the nefarious onslaught of communalists and highway robbers who in the name of independence had unleashed a wave of violence in the Udgir area of modern day Bidar district.

Trouble started brewing in Udgir in 1938 when the Arya Samajists took out a provocative Dussehra procession and murdered a Muslim resident. Sensing the coming upheaval and the disorganization of Muslims Isa Yaf’ai left his governmental post as sub-inspector in the excise department to lead the Razakaars in his native Udgir. Isa Yaf’ai immediately set to work and started organizing the Razakaars and strengthening the defenses and was conferred with title of Salar.

He faced an uphill task as the Muslim community there was rife with opportunists. The local Majlis-e-Ittehad ul Muslimeen, of which the Razakaars were an offshoot, was also not prone from such characters. Help from Hyderabad was not forthcoming. Numerous requests to the government and Razakaar and Majlis leadership fell on deaf ears as situation worsened by the day. Salar Yaf’ai did whatever he could relying on the local resources. Enjoying the fruits of this situation was the highway brigand Appa Rao who regularly carried raids on Muslim settlements. 

As political deliberations failed between Hyderabad and New Delhi and with an all out military attack looming Yaf’ai moved the town’s Muslim community to one of the interior villages hoping that this will save their lives. The military came and assured them that they will not be harmed if they give up their arms. However this was not to be and thousands of unarmed Muslims were killed indiscriminately even as the army watched. Not only this but the author present eye witness testimony to prove that the army provided arms to the attackers and actively participated in the killings. According to the author’s estimates as many as 30,000 people were killed in the Udgir area alone. 

Rejecting claims that Razakars looted and killed Hindus the author contends that they were not at all communal and that they in fact protected their (Hindus) lives and property. This is attested by the fact that their were many Hindus like Lakshayya who actively collaborated with them.

The book at times reads like a hagiography. The recreation of some events (the skirmishes, etc) appears to be exaggerated as the author was still a child during that time and was not present at each one of them. Some of the speeches and statements that the author attributes to his father cannot be entirely of his own as they are clearly those of the late Majlisi leader Nawab Bahadur Yar Jung.
Despite these flaws the book is an eye opener and brimming with long forgotten facts. A short history of Hyderabad , the Nizam’s government, Majlis and its leadership, and the political and military situation of the time is presented in a readable manner. In writing this book the author has not only interviewed the victims but also their persecutors. He presents a neighborhood wise list of 125 of those who were killed and another one consisting of the names of the 25 leaders of their attackers. Many of these attackers reportedly led gangs of 500 men. 

It is heartening to know that at least one survivor of the 1948 massacres has come forward with his reminisces of a tragic era. There are many others who continue to hide their experiences fearing persecution. Such individuals should be sought out and encouraged to bring forward their own and their relatives diaries and writings of those events so that a clearer picture of what really happened can emerge. The long suppressed Sunderlal report whose full text was finally obtained by noted columnist and legal scholar A.G.Noorani in 2001 should also be made available to wider public as it sheds much light on the massacres. 

Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it goes the saying. For the Muslims 1948 serves as a lesson as to what can happen when they ignore reality and let their passions take over. It is vital that Indians know of the gory events of its attack annexation of Hyderabad. No longer can this be put on the backburner by claiming that it will instigate violence or threaten national integration. When the Germans and the Americans can objectively study their past and acknowledge their darker aspects why can’t we? «

Read also:

» Was the movement against Nizam a “liberation movement”?

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