How the BJP is using the history of the Razakars to further anti-Muslim prejudice.
Vaijyanath Madhatte, a 78-year-old resident of Gorta B (pronounced GO-RA-TA), a Lingayat-dominated village in Basavakalyan taluk of Bidar district in the northeast corner of Karnataka, was three when members of the Razakar militia overran the village on May 10, 1948. While the septuagenarian has lost most of his teeth and needs support to ascend stairs, he recounted clearly to Frontline what his parents and other eyewitnesses had told him about the events of that day.
Madhatte said: “There was a Muslim official called Hishammuddin stationed in Gorta who represented the [Hyderabad] Nizam’s government. He was murdered a few weeks before May 1948, by members of the Arya Samaj. In retaliation, the Razakars unleashed hell on our village. Two hundred Hindus were lined up and killed in cold blood, our women were raped and there was widespread looting. A saying was popular among the Razakars then: Bamman ko looto, Baniye ko kaato, Aapas mein sab baato (Loot the Brahmin, kill the trader, and share in the pillage). There were around 40 Muslim homes in our village at that time and some of them even protected us [Hindus] but they were too weak to resist the outsiders..”
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As Madhatte paused, a flock of youngsters surrounded him filling in the gaps based on stories they had heard growing up. One of them even said that this barbaric act had estranged him from Muslims forever. “Everyone hates Muslims in Gorta B and there are no Muslim households in the village. There is only one Muslim man, an ice cream vendor, who is allowed to enter because he has been coming for decades; even Muslim masons who often come to our village cannot stay overnight..”
In March this year, Home Minister Amit Shah inaugurated a memorial for the martyrs of Gorta B—a tall statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the first Home Minister of independent India, and an Indian flag—where one enters the village. Sites associated with the slaughter can be found across the village. In front of the Lakshmi temple where Hindus resisted the onslaught is anolder, smaller memorial. A few cowherds lounged in a crumbling wadi (a large enclosed stone dwelling) which, according to one of them, served as a refuge during the attack. A Kannada book titled Hyderabad Karnatakada Jallianwala Bagh: Gorta (Gorta: The Jallianwala Bagh of Hyderabad-Karnataka) is available at the local temple.
History a part of psyche
History is not merely an academic discipline in our country but an intrinsic part of the citizens’ psyche, which makes it fungible—a slate on which claims and counterclaims continue to be made, with the negotiation honing modern identities and assuring the resentful survival of ancient vendettas.
In colonial India there were more than 550 princely states—both large and small territories—which were not directly governed by the British but by local potentates. These princely states were merged with the Indian Union (or with Pakistan) mostly in a straightforward manner.
Hyderabad, a princely state that lay sprawled across central and peninsular India, resisted the merger as its last Nizam nursed hopes of becoming independent. The Razakars led by Kasim Rizvi, described by Hyderabad historian Omar Khalidi as a “fanatically communal lawyer”, were a militia of the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen which supported this demand and was dead set against the incorporation of Hyderabad into India. The Razakars were largely Muslim, though scholars have pointed out that there were Hindus (mainly Dalit) as well among them. In the bedlam that followed Independence, the Razakars targeted Indian partisans in the state. Considering that Hyderabad was largely Hindu, most of the victims were Hindus, but Muslims too lost their lives to the Razakars’ fury.
Shivraj Patil, a Kalaburagi-based retired professor of Kannada literature who has written a book in Kannada on the impact of the integration of Hyderabad state on its Kannada speaking territories, told Frontline that it was wrong to give a “communal colour” to the actions of the Razakars. “It was primarily a clash between citizens who wanted to join India and the forces of the Hyderabad state. Whoever protested against the Nizam, was targeted by the Razakars. In Gulbarga [now Kalaburagi], all the high administrative positions were occupied by Hindus and many among them wanted the Nizam state to continue as they benefited from the feudal system in place.”
(There was also an active communist movement in the Hyderabad princely state that complicates any simple retelling of events of that era. The communists were not averse to violent acts in a radical restructuring of the prevailing feudal order, but their actions, while crucial to thoroughly understand the torrid events of that era, are not part of this article.)
K.M. Munshi, India’s Agent-General in Hyderabad after 1947, writes in his memoir, The End of an Era: Hyderabad Memories, that there were 260 incidents of violence committed by the Razakars on civilians. These bouts of brutality usually took place in the rural hinterland of the princely state. (M. Ravibabu, co-founder of Anekdhara, a public policy forum, has examined various sources to conclude that fewer than 1,000 people were killed by the Razakars.) The Indian Army invaded Hyderabad on September 13, 1948, and, in a five-day manoeuvre called ”Police action”, annexed Hyderabad. Thus, for residents of modern-day Telangana and the people of the erstwhile Hyderabad state and their descendants, who became part of Maharashtra or Karnataka after the linguistic reorganisation of States in 1956, September 17, 1948, is the day they officially became Indians.
- The strongest corroboration of the anti-Muslim barbarity of 1948 comes from the Pandit Sundarlal Committee Report, the findings of which came to light only in 1988 although it was submitted in 1949.
- Identifying that the violence against Muslims was a consequence of the “inevitable repercussions of the atrocities committed on Hindus only a few days before by the Razakars,” the report stated that in its “conservative estimate… at least 27 thousand to 40 thousand people lose their lives during and after the police action”.
- The report also identified that the four worst affected districts were Osmanabad, Gulbarga, Bidar, and Nanded which were the “main strongholds of the Razakars and the people of these four districts had been the worst sufferers at the hands of Razakars.”
Using Razakars’ history to further anti-Muslim prejudice
Over the past few years, the Bharatiya Janata Party has focussed on these events, and in the process used the actions of the Razakars, to further anti-Muslim prejudice. This manifested itself recently in the BJP’s campaign in Telangana for the Assembly election to be held in November. A film titled Razakars, produced by a BJP leader, is slated for release even as commentators have pointed out that the trailer is rooted in hyperbole and flawed claims and presents a black-and-white picture of the complex set of events that preceded Hyderabad’s incorporation into India. In its intent, this film seems to emulate the recent wave of “propaganda” films such as The Kashmir Files and A Kerala Story, which have been accused of tweaking the truth as part of a larger agenda of othering the Muslims in India and advancing the BJP’s political ambitions.
The saffron party’s focus on these events has resuscitated the frenzy of the dark days of 1947-48 in the modern territories of the erstwhile princely state of Hyderabad while willfully ignoring the large-scale massacre of Muslims that took place in the wake of the Indian Army’s invasion of Hyderabad. Memories of the pogrom continue to sear the souls of Muslims to this day as conversations across the districts of Kalaburagi and Bidar revealed. (Three districts of the former Hyderabad state—Gulbarga, Bidar, and Raichur—became part of Karnataka in 1956).
Cups of tea flowed endlessly at Maulana Nuh’s residence in the heart of the Muslim enclave of Kalaburagi (formerly Gulbarga) as a group of 12 Muslim men aged between 50 and 80 gathered on an evening in early October. Nuh, a former corporator, had invited leaders of the Muslim community in Kalaburagi to share their inherited memories on the visceral events of 1947-48. Azeezullah Sarmast, a senior Urdu journalist, who has written a booklet in Urdu titled 17 Sitambar ki Hakeekat (The Truth of September 17) took the lead.
“We distribute this booklet widely every year on September 17 so that the tragedy of what happened in 1948 is known by everyone,” said Sarmast. He also added that while the State government holds an official function annually on September 17, certain Muslim organisations in Kalaburagi hold an alternate event on the same day to demonstrate their disagreement with the way Hyderabad was integrated with India and to remember the widespread killings of Muslims. The rationale for this event, according to Sarmast, was that the State celebrating the day when “lakhs of Muslims were massacred as a Liberation Day, was throwing salt on their [Muslims] wounds.”
In Sarmast’s summation of the complicated events in 1947-48, he made three points: First, he disagreed with the widespread view that the Razakars were a rabid, Islamic force and instead stated that they were “a defense force of Hyderabad who were against the merger”; second, he asked, “Even if we assume Razakars were violent, what justifies the widespread violence against Muslims in the wake of the Police Action and that no one was punished for this?”; and third, “No major violence against Muslims took place in the core of the Hyderabad State but it was widespread in the peripheral districts of Osmanabad, Nanded [both now in Maharashtra], Gulbarga, Bidar, and Raichur.” Asked about what happened in Gorta B, Sarmast said that “there may have been one Gorta B” but there were hundreds of such villages across the hinterland of Hyderabad state where Muslims were killed en masse with lakhs becoming refugees overnight.
Feroze Khan of Wadi in Kalaburagi district said, “Mosques were demolished or converted into temples overnight across the region” and reeled off the names of nine mosques which had transitioned into temples. Amid these painful remarks— Mohammed Meerajuddin, who is part of the Hyderabad-Karnataka Horata Samiti, summed up the sentiment of the group by stating, “You will not find a single Muslim family in this region which does not have a personal story of savagery against their ancestors.”
Aland, a town around 45 kilometres north of Kalaburagi, is home to a renowned 650-year-old dargah (a shrine to a Sufi saint) of Hazrat Shaikh Alauddin Ansari. According to descendants of the Sufi saint who live in the town, the dome and the minarets of the dargah were bombed during the Police Action. Pointing to the minarets, one of the descendants who did not want to be named, said, “The damaged minarets have still not been restored.” This allegation is endorsed by an official letter of the Town Municipal Council of Aland (dated June 5, 1969). A historical mosque in Aland called Masjid-e-Gadi was also appropriated and Jain deities forcibly installed there during 1948. It was partially restored to the Muslim community in 2002 after a long legal imbroglio. Again, judicial proceedings in this case unequivocally establish that this act took place during the days of the Police Action as the Indian Army advanced into Hyderabad.
What does the Pandit Sundarlal Committee report say
The strongest corroboration of the anti-Muslim barbarity of 1948 comes from the Pandit Sundarlal Committee Report, the findings of which came to light only in 1988 although it was submitted in 1949. The committee which consisted of Pandit Sundarlal and Kazi Abdul Ghaffar was entrusted by the Union Government to enquire into the allegations of the massacre of Muslims. The noted jurist A.G. Noorani accessed the report and portions of it were published in Frontline authenticating the accusations made by Muslims across the northeastern part of Karnataka.
Identifying that the violence against Muslims was a consequence of the “inevitable repercussions of the atrocities committed on Hindus only a few days before by the Razakars,” the report stated that in its “conservative estimate… at least 27 thousand to 40 thousand people lose their lives during and after the police action”. The report also identified that the four worst affected districts were Osmanabad, Gulbarga, Bidar, and Nanded which were the “main strongholds of the Razakars and the people of these four districts had been the worst sufferers at the hands of Razakars.”
In a subsequent paragraph, the report states:
“Almost everywhere in the affected 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, desecration of mosques, forcible conversions, seizure of houses and lands, followed or accompanied the killing. Tens of crores worth of property was looted or destroyed. The sufferers were Muslims who formed a hopeless minority in rural areas. The perpetrators of these atrocities were not limited to those who had suffered at the hands of Razakars, nor to the non-Muslims of Hyderabad state. These latter were aided and abetted by individuals and bands of people, with and without arms, from across the border, who had infiltrated through in the wake of the Indian Army. We found definite indications that a number of armed and trained men belonging to a well known Hindu communal organisation from Sholapur and other Indian towns as also some local and outside communists participated in these riots and in some cases actually led the rioters.”
Further scholarship on this theme over the past few decades has only upped the extent of this anti-Muslim carnage with some estimates running up to 2 lakh deaths. An estimate made by Margrit Pernau, a German scholar, summed up the loss of lives “as one-tenth to one-fifth of the male Muslim population primarily in the countryside and provincial towns”.
Noorani accuses Patel of suppressing the shocking findings of the Sundarlal Committee which meant that the rioters got away without being prosecuted. The Razakars were implicated for their violence against civilians, and Kazim Rizvi was tried, jailed, and he subsequently departed for Pakistan after his release in 1957, where he died.
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When the dusty minutiae of the archives are unravelled, history is far denser and complicated than what the binaries of communal politics purports to present. The story of the violent events that engulfed Hyderabad state in 1947-48 is not a straightforward account but is knotty and layered. The BJP, with its parochial reading of history, is choosing to highlight (and exaggerate) only one side of the story. The Razakars committed violence and were punished for it but no one was held culpable for the violence against Muslims, among whose descendants the greatest grievance is that no one is aware that a massacre of this proportion even took place. Will the BJP acknowledge the pernicious role played by “Hindu communal organisations” (such as the Hindu Mahasabha) in the violence against Muslims as pointed out by the Pandit Sundarlal Committee report even as it pitches headlong into tearing open these wounds that have, over time, turned into scabs?
Vinay V. Malge, a youth activist based in Bidar, often guides students from universities across India and the world when they tour Bidar and smaller locations such as Gorta B. Aware of the deep hatred for Muslims that are boastfully expressed in Gorta B, Malge responded thus: “Hatred is also a privilege. The young upper caste Lingayat man in Gorta B can get away with openly saying that he hates Muslims whereas no Muslim will ever be spared if he says something similar.”