Operation Polo: The Forgotten Massacre in Hyderabad?

I came across this disturbing bit of history (hitherto unknown to me) while reading William Dalrymple’s The Age of Kali. It relates to the Indian Army’s ‘Operation Polo’ in 1948 to end the resistance in Hyderabad and assimilate the kingdom into the Union of India. Allegedly, the Operation was accompanied by serious atrocities (including murders and rapes) of thousands. This is what Dalrymple has to say (pp 209-210):

I discovered later that it is in fact possible to make an informed estimate of the numbers killed in the aftermath of the ‘police action’. For when reports of atrocities began to reach Delhi, Nehru ‘in his private capacity’, commissioned an unofficial report from a group of veteran Congressmen made up of two Hyderabadi Muslims who had prominently opposed the Nizam’s rule and chaired by a Hindu, Pandit Sunderlal. The team made an extensive tour of the State and submitted their report to Nehru and Sardar Patel in January 1949. The report’s findings were never made public, however, presumably because of its damning criticism of the conduct of the Indian army. It remained unpublished until a portion of it, smuggled out of India, recently appeared in America in an obscure volume of scholarly essays entitled Hyderabad: After the Fall.

The report, entitled On the Post-Operation Polo Massacres, Rape and Destruction or Seizure of Property in Hyderabad State, makes grim reading. In village after village across the state, it meticulously and unemotionally catalogued incidents of murder and mass rape, sometimes committed by troops, in other cases committed by local Hindu hooligans after the troops had disarmed the Muslim population. A short extract, chosen at random, gives the general flavour:

“Ganjoti Paygah, District Osmanabad:There are 500 homes belonging to Muslims here. Two hundred Muslims were murdered by the goondas. The army had seized weapons from the Muslims. As the Muslims became defenceless, the goondas began the massacre. Muslim women were raped by the troops. Statement of Pasha Bi, resident of Ganjoti: the trouble in Ganjoti began after the army’s arrival. All the young Muslim women here were raped. Five daughters of Osman sahib were raped and six daughters of the Qazi were raped. Ismail Sahib Sawdagar’s daughter was raped in Saiba Chamar’s home for a week. Soldiers from Umarga came every week and after all-night rape, young Muslim women were sent back to their homes in the morning. Mahtab Tamboli’s daughters were divided among Hindus, one is in Burga Julaha’s home… “

And so on, for page after page. In all, the report estimates that as many as 200,000 Hyderabadi Muslims were slaughtered in the aftermath of the ‘Police Action’: an astonishing figure which, if true, would turn the ‘police action’ into a bloodbath comparable to parts of the Punjab during Partition. Even if one regards the figure of 200,000 dead as an impossible exaggeration, it is still clear that the scale of the killing was horrific. Although publicly Nehru played down the disorder in Hyderabad, claiming to the Indian representative at the United Nations that following the Nizam’s officials deserting their posts there had been some disorder in which Hindus had retaliated for their sufferings under the [Muslim] Razakars [militia], privately he was much more alarmed. This is indicated by a note Nehru sent to Sardar Patel’s Ministry of States on the 26th of November 1948, saying that he had received reports of killings of Muslims so large in number ‘as to stagger the imagination’ and looting of Muslim property ‘on a tremendous scale’ – all of which would seem to confirm the general tone of Pandit Sunderlal’s report.

I also discovered this blog post discussing the massacres. I wonder whether this episode is already better known than I think, and I have just been too late to find out about. In any case, I could not locate the Sunderlal Report ‘On the Post-Operation Polo Massacres, Rape and Destruction or Seizure of Property in Hyderabad State’. If it is not yet public, surely the government is bound to disclose it if an RTI application is filed, even if it was commissioned by Nehru ‘in his private capacity’? Is the note he sent to Patel publicly available? Surely we need to know – the large-scale involvement of the state troops actively involved in the killings, if true, would put this case in a very different category from cases where the state ‘merely failed’ to protect the victims.
Written by
Tarunabh Khaitan
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