Thursday, September 22, 2005

Under the Char Minar by William Dalrymple | Travel Reviews from Travel Intelligence

Under the Char Minar by William Dalrymple | Travel Reviews from Travel Intelligence: "Under the Char Minar
by William Dalrymple"

This link makes interesting reading - as it is one of the few accounts of an officer of the Nizam's army who fought against Indian forces coming in.

William Dalrymple is a good writer, but he seems to be obssesed with finding fault with India's small wars. He has nothing complimentary to write on his piece on Goa either. In both the accounts, he finds people who were 'on the other side' and records thier complaints and grouses. Which is all fine, but you also have to look at the global picture. Didn't he read about the Nizam refusing the offer made by Mountbatten that gave him more rights than he would have got? But all said and done, I should say thanks to this guy for atleast recording the accounts from the 'other side'.

His overdependence on the Sunderlal report published in Omar Khalidi's book is another matter of interest. I am reproducing a couple of excerpts


"After university I had joined the Nizam's Civil Service and as fate would have it, on the 13th of September 1948, when the Indian army finally crossed the frontier into Hyderabad, I was the district officer in charge of the area facing the main Indian attack. We had no tanks, no planes and virtually no artillery. Nothing: just a pile of old .303 rifles. And with those we had been ordered to take on the might of the Indian army.

"The morning of the attack I was still shaving when I heard the first shells falling near my house. We had a few platoons, so we lined them up on the frontier, along the banks of the River Bori. They were facing a fully mechanised Indian army unit, with Sherman tanks, armoured cars and field guns, and before long the Indians began picking off our men like rabbits. Our first plan was to blow up the bridge, but it turned out the soldiers didn't have the correct equipment. As head of the district, I was sitting with the Brigadier in the staff car, trying to decide what to do, when the Indian Air Force started strafing us from the air. Our car windows exploded. I lay flat on my belly with bullets shooting over my head. In the end the Brigadier and I both took refuge under an arch of the bridge we had been supposed to blow up. Elsewhere much of the rest of the Hyderabad forces were surrounded while they were at parade. We were all caught with our pants down.

"The brigadier and I managed to escape, and after that we just retreated and retreated. The whole resistance was completely unrealistic. There was heavy aerial bombardment on all fronts: bombs falling everywhere. The next day I was in a jeep trying to get back to Hyderabad when the bus we were overtaking was blown up by another plane. I had to hide in the paddi. We managed to delay them a little by opening the sluices and flooding the roads, but that was our only success. When the Emperor Aurangzeb invaded Golconda [in 1687], the Hyderabad troops managed to keep the Moghuls at bay for seven or eight months. In our case we only held them up for four days. It was a total collapse."

What Mir Moazam said was confirmed by the casualty figures: on the Indian side seven killed and nine wounded, of which one died later; on the Hyderabadi side, an estimated 632 killed and at least fourteen wounded.

"How did the Indian army behave when it got to Hyderabad?" I asked.

"When an army invades any country - whether it’s Alexander the Great, Timur, Hitler or Mussolini - when it gets into a town, you know what the soldiery does. It's very difficult for the officers to control them. I can't tell you how many were raped or killed, but I saw the bodies everywhere. Old scores were paid off across the state."

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 asked Mir Moazam what happened to him in the immediate aftermath of the conquest, while all this murderous anarchy was taking place around him:

"Most of the officers who were under suspicion by the new regime went to Pakistan," he replied. "Arrangements were made for me, as it was clear I was going to be arrested. But my father said, 'Face the firing squad. I will disinherit and disown you if you run away from your post.' So I stayed, and after a farcical trial full of paid witnesses, I was sentenced to death. I could see the noose from my cell."

Mir Moazam briefly cupped his head in hands. He hesitated, and silently rocked back and forth for a minute. Then he clasped his hands together and continued:

"Later that year the sentence was reduced to life imprisonment," he said quietly. "Three years after that, following an appeal in the High Court, I was honourably acquitted. Other officers were less lucky: many were framed, while others were forced to flee to Pakistan, though they dearly wished to stay in Hyderabad. Few retained jobs of any importance: they were weeded out. Some were removed, some were reduced in rank, others were put in jail. So after I was released, I decided to go to London. There English friends of mine eventually helped me get a job in UNESCO, and I spent much of the next 30 to 40 years in Paris."

"You must have seen quite a few changes on your return," I said.


as for the report published in "Hyderabad : After the fall", here is what AG Noorani had written in the Frontline:

In 1988, Omar Khalidi, a devoted chronicler of Hyderabad, published what he claimed were extracts from their Report in his compilation of essays, Hyderabad: After the Fall (Hyderabad Historical Society; Wichita, Kansas; U.S.). His introduction to the extracts, though informative, is marred by inaccuracies and intemperate language. He had relied, somewhat uncritically, on an interview with Yunus Salim who claimed inaccurately, that he was a member of the team led by Sundarlal which toured Hyderaba d in November-December 1948. A 32-year-old State attorney then, he was dismissed from the post for having helped the team.

Yunus Salim was a Deputy Minister for Railways in Indira Gandhi's government (1969) and a Governor of Bihar in 1991. Garbled versions of the Report appeared in Pakistan. Khalidi writes: "In addition to the copy in the Union Home Ministry, Srinivas Lahoti , a Communist Party of India leader in Hyderabad, owned a copy. In an interview in February 1988 he claims to have deposited it with the National Archives of India, New Delhi upon his party's instruction. The present writer obtained fragments of t he Report (which is partly in English and partly in Urdu) from owners who wish to remain anonymous. The portion in English is being reproduced without any alteration. The Urdu portion is translated into English."

Khalidi was misled. The entire document is in English and the "fragments" he reproduces should have put him on notice that it is not safe to rely on them. The brief Introductory portion is intrinsically unreliable. The rest is a village-wise and d istrict-wise account.

No comments: