Thursday, November 23, 2006
Khudai Khidmatgar literally translates as the servants of God. It represented a non-violent freedom struggle against the British Empire by the Pashtuns of the North West Frontier Province(Pukhtunistan). The movement was led by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (Bacha Khan/Badshah Khan).
Conditions prior to the movement
At the turn of the last century Pakhtuns ociety was colonized, stagnant, and violent,worn down by feuds, inequalities, factionalism, poor social cooperation, andplain ignorance. Education opportunities were strictly limited. Pukhtuns are Muslim; Mullahs were known to have told parents that if their children went to school, they would go to hell. Bacha Khan stated that “the real purpose of this propaganda”was to keep Pakhtuns “illiterate and uneducated”, and hence his people “were the most backward in India” with regard to education.
Origins of the Khudai Khidmatgar
Formed out of the society for reformation of Afghans (Anjuman-e-Islah-e-Afghan), it initially targeted social reformation and launched campaigns against prostitution. Bacha Khan as it's founder seemed to be influenced by the realisation that whenever British troops were faced with an armed uprising they eventually always overcame the rebellion. The same could not be said when using non violence against the troops.
The movement started prior to the Qissa Khwani bazaar massacre, when a demonstration of hundreds of non violent supporters were fired upon by British soldiers in Peshawar. It's low point and eventual disappaition was after Pakistan's independance in 1947 when the Muslim League Chief Minister Abdul Qayyum Khan banned the movement and launched a brutal crackdown on it's members which culminated in the massacre at Babra Sharif massacre. At it's peak the KK movement consisted of almost 100,000 members.
Genesis of the Khudai Khidmatgar
Initially the movement focussed on social reform as a means of imrpoving the status of pashtuns against the British. Ghaffar Khan founded several reform movements prior to the formation of the Khudai Khidmatgar, the Anjumen-e Islah ul-Afaghena in 1921, the farmers' organisation Anjuman-e Zamidaran in 1927 and the youth movement Pashtun Jirga in 1927. Trying to further spread awareness on Pashtun issues Abdul Ghaffar Khan founded the magazine Pakhtun in May 1928. Finally in November 1929, almost on the eve of the Qissa Khwani bazaar massacre the Khudai Khidmatgar were formed.
"The Red Shirts"
Bacha Khan drew his first recruits from the young men who had graduated from his schools. Trained and uniformed, they served behind their officers and filed out into various villages to seek recruits. They began by wearing a simple white overshirt, but the white was soon dirtied. A couple of men had their shirts dyed at the local tannery, and the brick-red color proved a breakthrough, it was this distinctive colour that earned the Khudai khidmatgar movement activists the name "the Red shirts" or surkh posh.
Ideology of the Khudai Khidmatgar
Under the influence of Abdul Ghaffar Khan the movement advocated non-violent protests and justified their actions through an Islamic context. Bacha Khan did not find Islam and non-violence as incompatible. Despite that the movement was intrinsically non-sectarian. In more then one occassion when Hindus and Sikhs were attacked in Peshawar, Khidmatgar members helped protect their lives and property.
“The Holy Prophet Mohammed came into this world and taught us ‘That man is a Muslim who never hurts anyone by word or deed, but who works for the benefit and happiness of God's creatures.’ Belief in God is to love one's fellow men.” – Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan
“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.” – Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan
Bacha Khan always considered trials and tribulations, which he underwent ceaselessly, as the means by which Almighty Allah meant to fashion his life for better things. Being a great humanist, he ardently believed that human nature was not so depraved as to hinder it from respecting goodness in others. It is easy to look down on others but to make an estimate of our failing is difficult. Allah's blessings according to Bacha khan are marked for those, who submit to Allah's will and serve Almighty Allah through selfless activities for the overall good of humanity at large irrespective of caste, colour, race or religions.
Structure of the Khudai Khidmatgar
Volunteers who took the oath formed platoons with commanding officers and learned basic army discipline. The volunteers had their own flags: red in the beginning, later tri-colour and bands: bagpipe and drums. The men wore red uniforms and the women black. They had drills, badges, a flag, the entire military hierarchy of rank and even a bagpipe corps.
Bacha Khan set up a network of committees called jirgas, named and modeled after the traditional tribal councils. Villages were grouped into larger groups, responsible to district-wide committees. The Provincial Jirgah was the ultimate authority.
Officers in the ranks were not elected, since Bacha Khan wanted to avoid infighting. He appointed a salar-e-azam or commander-in-chief, who in turn appointed officers to serve under him. Other ranks included Jarnails (Generals). The army was completely voluntary; even the officers gave their services free. Women were recruited too, and played an important role in the struggles to come.
Volunteers went to the villages and opened schools, helped on 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.
British tactics against the Khudai Khidmatgar
British troops employed a wide variety of tactics against KK activists.
"The British used to torture us, throw us into ponds in wintertime, shave our beards, but even then Badshah Khan told his followers not to lose patience. He said 'there is an answer to violence, which is more violence. But nothing can conquer nonviolence. You cannot kill it. It keeps standing up. The British sent their horses and cars to run over us, but I took my shawl in my mouth to keep from screaming. We were human beings, but we should not cry or express in any way that we were injured or weak." Musharraf Din (Baldauf).
Another tactic employed against non-violent protesters who were blocking roads was to charge them with cars and horses.
In 1931 5,000 members of the Khudai Khidmatgar and 2,000 members of the Congress Party are arrested in the spring of 1932.
By 1932 the Khudai Khidmatgar movement changed it's tactics and involved women in the movement. This unnerved many Indian officers working in the region as in those days of conservative India it was considered a grave insult to attack women, more so ina conservative Pashtun society. However the brutality increased and in one case five police officers in Benares had to be suspended due to 'horrific reports about violence used against young female volunteers'.
The British bombed a village in the Bajadur Valley in March 1932 and arrested Abdul Ghaffar Khan as well as more than 4,000 Red Shirts. The British bombardments in the border area continued up till 1936-1937 because, “India is a training field for active military training which can be found nowhere else in the Empire", a British court concluded in 1933.
In addition castrations were used as a tool against some Khudai Khidmatgar actvists.