THE BANYAN TREE: VOLUME II : BRINGING CHANGE - A FUTURE PERSPECTIVE ON CREATIVE HEALTH NONVIOLENT ACTION
( By Editor : Carol Huss )

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Frontier Gandhi : Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan

Nonviolent action has been used by groups which have been famous for their very aggressive behaviour and violence. A case in point are the Pathans in the North-West Frontier Province of British India. Pathans were known for their cruelty-- they were bloodthirsty and highly vindictive. They led wild, free, active lives in the rugged mountain fortresses. War was their traditional business. The Pathans were Muslims, a religion widely regarded as approving of war for a good cause. Among these Pathans was Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan "the Frontier Gandhi" who organized a powerful movement of the Khudai Khidmatgars or True Servants of God, which was pledged to complete nonviolence and whose members became some of the bravest and most daring and reliable nonviolent resisters ofd India’s struggle for independence. Their aggressiveness, bravery and daring found new nonviolent expressions through nonviolent techniques.

Ghaffar Khan wrote :

" I have one great desire:

I want to rescue these gentle, brave patriotic, people from the tyranny of the foreigners who have disgraced and dishonoured them.
I want to create for them a world of freedom, where they can live in peace, where they can laugh and be happy.
I want to kiss the ground where their ruined homes once stood, before they were destroyed by savage strangers.
I want to take a broom and sweep the alleys and the lanes, and I want to clean their houses with my own hands.
I want to wash away the stains of blood from their garments.
I want to show the world how beautiful they are, these people from the hills and then I want to reclaim: "Show me, if you can, any gentler, more courteous, more cultured people than these."

"The genius of Badshah Khan saw Pathan violence for what it was--a consequence not of bloodlust but of ignorance, superstition, and the crushing weight of custom. Beneath the violence and ignorance; Khan saw men and women capable of extraordinary self-effacement, endurance, and courage. He knew his task: to educate, to enlighten, to lift up, to inspire. With understanding, he saw the violenceand venality would fall from the Pathan character like dead limbs from a tree. It was his job to weild the axe."

The Northwest Frontier Province was the gateway to India and the people revered Abdul Ghaffar Khan as a saint and called him Badshah Khan, the "King of Khans". The British had reason to fear him. The Northwest Frontier Province was the only part of the British Empire never to be fully subjugated. This was inspite of shelling, burning,bombing, beating, jailing, and attempting to bribe them into submission. But nothing worked for long. It is no wonder then, that during the Indian freedom struggle, Khan and his 100,000 -man nonviolent army, were the target of severe and savage repression. Pathans had to endure mass shootings, torture, the destructionof their fields and homes, jail, flogging, and humiliations, but they remained nonviolent - suffering and dying in large numbers to win their freedom. The British were baffled by this change in the Pathans, from violence to nonviolence, they couldn’t understandit -- or believe it, often in solitary confinement. He said :

"There is nothing surprising in a muslim or a Pathan like me subscribing to the creed of nonviolence. It is not a new creed. It was followed fourteen hundred years ago by the Prophet all the time he was in Mecca, and it has since been followed by all those who wanted to throw off an oppressor’s yoke. But we had so far forgotten it that when Gandhiji placed it before us, we thought he was sponsoring a novel creed."

In organising the non-violent army there were three phases: first Khan set up Azad Schools, then formed Pakhtun Jirga, youth League, and then came the Khudai Khidmatgars.

With the Youth League he launched a new Program of educational, social and political reforms. This readied people for his next step which was nonviolent action.

One of his first concerns was the role of women. Badshah Khan had long lamented the traditional system of purdah, which restricts Muslim womenfrom participating fully in society. He encouraged them to come out behind the veil, as the women in his own family had done. His sisters became increasingly active in his movement, until by 1930 they were touring the districts of the Frontier and giving speeches--activities which would have required courage even in the cosmopolitan capitals of Islam, but which in the conservative Frontier showed truly extraordinary daring......

To help spread these ideas, Khan had been thinking for some time about starting a journal written in Pakhtu. He knew that Pathans who emigrated to other parts of the world were quick to adopt the local language and drop their mother tongue, and even in the Frontier, educated Pathans had abandoned Pakhtu in favour of English and Urdu. This saddened Khan. He loved the rolling rythms of his language and its body of folklore, epics, and lyrics, which included some of the finest mystical poetry on the subcontinent.

A journal in Pakhtu could restore the Pathan’s pride in their own language, and at the same time carry the message of reform to all Pathans.

"The Pathan." was an instand success, not only in the Frontier but elsewhere -- even as far away as the United States, where many Pathans still live. Educated Pathans were delighted to find their "Pathanness" celebrated : they were a noble, daring, effervescent race.

This journal was also a help in preparing the Pathans for the change from violence to nonviolence. The next step was the Khidmatgars.
Their motto was freedom, their aim, service. Since God himself needed no service, they would serve his people.

Khudai Khimatgars

The Khudai Khidmatgars, under the leadership of Abdul Ghaffar Khan, became history’s first professional nonviolent army -- and its most improbable. Any Pathan could join, provided he took the army’s oath :


I am a Khudai Khidmatgar, and as God needs no service, but serving his creation is serving him, I promise to serve humanity inthe name of God.
I promise to refrain from violence and from taking revenge. I promise to forgive those who oppress me or treat me with cruelty.
I promise to refrain from taking part in feuds and quarrels and from creating enmity.
I promise to treat every Pathan as my brother and friend.
I promise to refrain from antisocial customs and practices.
I promise to live a simple life, to practice virtue and to refrain from evil.
I promise to practice good manners and good behaviour and not to lead a life of idleness. I promise to devote at least two hours a day to social work......

They began by wearing a simple white oveshirt, but the white was soon dirtied. A couple of men had their shirts dyed at the local tannery, and the brick-red colour proved a breakthrough. It did not dirty easily, the dye was cheap, and - best of luck -- it had style. Villagers dropped their plows to see who these glowing figures were.

Recruits didnot come easily, but Khan and his five hundred volunteers persisted. Within a few months they had five hundred recruits -- not enough for a Raj-shattering holy war, but a beginning. Volunteers who took the oath formed platoons wih commanding officers and learned basic army discipline--everything that did not require the use of arms. They had drills, hadges, a tricolor flag, the entire military hierarchy of mark--and a bagpipe crops......

Volunteers went to the villages and opened schools, held work projects, and maintained order at public gatherings. From time to time they drilled in work camps and took long military-style marches into the hills. As they marched they sang :

We are the army of God,
By death or wealth unmoved,
We march, our leader and we,
Ready to die.
We serve and we love
Our people and our cause.
Freedom is our goal,
Our lives the price we pay.

Watching the narrow columns threading a curving mountain pass, one could easily imagine that some angry mullah was unleashing another holy war against the foreigners. But these Pathans, who for years had carried rifles and tucked small armories of revolvers and knives inside their waistbands, now carried only a stick for walking. They armed themselves only with their discipline, their faith, and their native mentle.

Under the leadership of the towering "Red Gandhi", Ghaffar Khan, the satyagrahis took over he city of Kabul, induced crack British units to lay down their arms and proved to the world that martial men, in fact, may make the best satyagrahis.

Gandhi spent two months with them in autumn of 1938. At that time they had over 100,000 members of the Khudai Khaidmatgars. They were pledged to nonviolence in thought, word and deed. Badshah Khan, as he as affectionately called among his Pathan people, was a devout and loyal Muslim who never missed a namaz or a fast; but Islam for him meant amal, yakeen, muhabhat (work, faith, love), and he deplored the communal tension which prevailed in so many places. " At the back of our quarrels", he said, " is the failure to recognize that all faiths contain enough inspiration for their adherents. The Holy Quran says in so many words that God sends messengers for all peoples, and these messengers are their prophets. Details differ, because each faith takes the flavour of the soil from which it springs".

Because of this Frontier Gandhi the formerly warlike Frontier Province, home of the Pathans became one of the most peaceful safest centres on the campaign, in spite of the Government atrocities there.

Suffering For the Cause

At Peshawar, the capital of the North-West Frontier Province on April 23rd, 1931, the most brutal and most controversial tragedy took place. The All India Congress Committee had gone there to enquire into the working of the North-West Frontier regulations. They were stopped and the leaders were arrested and a spontaneous hartal was observed all over the city. As the crowds were returning from the jail after the leaders’ arrest, two armoured cars full of soldiers came from behind. People were brutally run over. In spite of people killed and wounded, they remained peaceful, but when one armoured car caught fire, the English soldiers fired at the crowd in which there were women and children. Still the crowd did not panic even though there were hepas of wounded and dying lying about.

At one point the government ordered its crack Garhwal Rifles to fire on the crowds. Faced with unarmed men, women and children lying down to be slaughtered, the Garhwalis refused. "You may blow us from your guns,if you like", they told their officers. (Indians in the Great Mutiny of 1857 had been shot from cannon as punishment.) "We shall not shoot our unarmed brethren."

When word of the Garhwalis’ heroism got out, it moved all India. The soldiers paid a high price for it. The whole platoon was arrested, and seventeen men were court-martialed and sentenced: one to banishment in an overseas penal colony for life, another to fiteen years’ imprisonment, and the rest to rigorous prison terms.

This was one of the most famous regiments in the world, known for their loyalty as well as their courage, and their refusal to obey orders gave the British a chilling reminder of the Great Mutiny. They were determined to check it. Even after an eventual truce freed all of the one hudred thousand political prisoners of the Salt Satyagraha, the Garhwalis were exempted from the general amnesty and served their full terms.

Peshawar itself fell into chaos, as the troops and police tried to quell the demonstrations. One of their first act was to declare the Khudai Khidmatgars illegal and close down their office, scattering all their papers and removing their cash. The Pukhtoon was declared illegal and its publication ceased.

On October 27, 1934, Khan told the Indian Christian Association the story of the savage repression unfolded, Khan’s emotions surged and he unveiled his deepest feelings. "What is our fault?", he asked rhetorically :

Our fault is that our province is the gateway of India. Because we live there, the government calls us the gatekeepers and openly tells us, "How can we give reforms to the gatekeeps?" The Britishers regard it as dangerous and think that they will not be able to rule India if the gatekeepers join hands with the Indians. It was for this very reason that our movement was crushed at that very outset....We started our own schools, but the government,under some pretext or other, cleverly ruined the educational institutions of our little children

We were born in the Frontier Province and this is why we were doomed. This is our great crime, that we wanted to see the people of the villages civilized in that very Frontier Province which is called the gateway of India, while they wanted that these people should go on fighting among themselves and remain in need of them and remain in a ruined and destoyed condition so that they might rule our country without feeling any anxiety.

What alarmed the British-- and stunned Indians-- was the nonviolence of the Pathans. No one expected it, and the British were clearly unnerved. "The British feared a non-violent Pathan more than a violent one", Khan wrote later. "all the horrors the British perpetrated on the Pathans had only one purpose: to provoke them to violence". Much of the government’s extreme behavior during the months that followed can be understood only as attempts to goad the Pathans into breaking their nonviolent vow. If they broke down and retaliated, the British would be back on familiar ground.

The government tried other methods. Martial law was declared in August and the province was placed completely in the hands of the military. Khudai Khidmatgars were stripped and flogged and made to run the gauntlet through cordons of soldiers and proded them with rifles and bayonets as they passed. One enterprising assistant superintendent, a Mr. Jameson, had volunteers stripped and physically humiliated in public, then thrown into nearby cesspools. For some the strain was too great. They chose sucide rather than break their vow of nonviolence.

The Brtish also tried to subvert the movement by insinuating a Bolshevik influence among the red shirts. An order was sent from the British commissioner to all the village chiefs :

You must prevent Congress volunteers wearing red jackets from entering your villages. The call themselves Khudai Khidmatgars (Servants of God). But in reality they are servants of Gandhi. They were the dress of Bolsheviks. They will create the same atmosphere as you have heard of in the Boshevik dominion.

" The two years that followed", says a Pathan writer,Mohammed Yunnus : formed an astounding period of darkness for the province. Shootings, beatings and other acts of provocation were perpetrated against these people, who had never suffered before without avenging themselves. "Gunning the Red Shirts" was a popular sport and pasttime of the British forces in the province, observed an American tourist.

At Kohat, in the bitter cold of the winter, our men beaten up and later thrown into the icy stream running through the city. It was the same story at Bannu (where the British made an unsuccessful blockade to starve the villagers into submission) and Dera Ismail Khan. The residents of Swabi saw their fields destroyed, their wheat stocks ruined by oil poured upon them.

But the Pathans, notwithstanding the fact that they had been brought up in an atmosphere of violence and bloodshed, stood unmoved by such provocations and died peacefully in large numbers for the attainment of their goal.

" Throwing away one’s weapons is not enough," Gandhi empbhasised, "Nonviolence is an active principle of the highest order. It is soul force, the power of Godhead within us." He stepped quickly across the furrows of the cotton field. "We become Godlike to the extent we realise nonviolence. Even a tiny grain of true nonviolence acts in a silent, subtle and unseen way, and leavens the whole society."

Gandhi said of Badhshah Khan :

Whatever the Khudai Khidmatgars may ultimately turn out to be, there can be no doubt about what their leader is. He is unquestionably a man of God. He believes in His living presence and knows that his movement will prosper only if God wills it. Having put his whole soul into his cause, he remins indifferent as to what happens.

When we parted at Taxila, our eyes were wet. The Frontier Province must remain a place of frequent pilgrimage for me. For though the rest of India may fail toshow true nonviolence, there seems to be good ground for hoping that the Frontier Province will pass through the fiery ordeal.

The reason is simple. Badshah Khan commands willing obedience fom his adberents. He has but to say the word, and it is carried out. His nonviolence is no lip service. His whole heart is in it. Let the doubters live with him as I have all these precious five weeks and their doubt will be dissolved like mist before the morning sun.

He never saw a unified India. His Frontier Province was made a part of Pakistan, all his life’s efforts ended in abandonment by India.

Gandhi confessed later that he could not bear to see Khan’s grief. "His inner agony wrings my heart. But, if I gave way to tears, it would be cowardly, and stalwart Pathan as he is, he would break down. So I go about my business unmoved. That is no small thing."

The two Gandhis said goodbye: " The two aging warriors stood for a long time on the platform and looked at each other: the Hindu Mahatma and the Muslim Fakir wedded in a union of sacrifice and service.

What needed to be said? The understanding had long ago passed beyond words. Their spirits met far above language. They did not knwo when they would meet again--they did not need tro know. They were Khudai Khidmatgars, servants of God. They would serve and God would decide where and how.

Khan watched the express pull out of the station in a burst of steam and clatter. Hundreds of robbed and saried figures swirled around and past him toward the door of the big terminal--and toward freedom. And his Pathans? They would prevail. If they could find out their true strength, it would not matter whether they were part of India or Pakistan.

As for himself, Khan was at peace. His surrender long ago to the will of God shielded him like armour from these setbacks. He had not looked for rest in his life, and he would not start looking now. There was work to do.

Khan glanced up at the large board near the top of the terminal: the day’s arrivals and departures. He smiled. An express left for the Frontier in two hours. It was time he got back to his people.

He stepped through the rush of travellers toward the ticket window. The plum orchard behind the farmhouse would have exploded in pink by now, he thought. Its splendor would not last much longer. It was time to go home.

The world mourned the death of this great freedom fighter and India said goodbye to one of the last of these stalwart men who brought India’s Independence.

See Appendix 5 for Prerequisite for Satyagraha, Rules for a Satyagrahi, Requisite qualifications for a Satyagrahi, and Qualifications of a Peace Brigade. These points on Satyagraha were formulated by Gandhi for his time. Today we see activists keeping to the spirit of Gandhi but adapting some of the principles to suit or reality. Spinning, amber charkha as a home industry doesn’t give a living daily wage, also if you buy the quality of khadi available to ordinary people, it doesnt last as long as synthetic material at comparable prices. So pure Satyagraha today need not include spinning, weaving, or wearing only khadi cloth.

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