This is the first of a three part series adapted from Syed Wiqar Ali Shah's article "The 1930 Civil Disobedience Movement in Peshawar Valley from the Pashtoon Perspective", published in the journal: Studies in History. The original article can be accessed here.
In 1930, the Indian National Congress under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi launched its civil disobedience movement against the British Indian government demanding ‘Complete Independence’. Responding to the call of Gandhi, like other parts of India, the North–West Frontier Province’s (N–WFP, renamed as Khyber–Pashtoonkhwa) Congressmen also embarked on the civil disobedience but in view of their small number the local authorities ignored it. To give a boost to their movement, the local Congress leaders requested Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the prominent social worker of the Province, famous for his altruism, to support them in the next round of the intended civil disobedience in Peshawar to which he agreed. The colonial administration had no further tolerance for such activities. They decided not to allow the scheduled activities of the local political workers which might cause disturbance to the peace and tranquility of the province. On the selected day, that is, 23 April 1930, brutal force was used to disperse the demonstrators. The tragic firing on the peaceful mob in the Qissa Khani Bazaar, Peshawar, resulted in the killing of more than two hundred people in one single day and can be ranked at par with the massacre at the Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, in April 1919. It was followed by a reign of terror in the whole Frontier Province. The Khudai Khidmatgars and their supporters were subjected to the worst kind of humiliation. After Peshawar, similar atrocities were committed at Takkar, Utmanzai and Bannu. Despite the worst kind of repression by the government, the Pashtoons remained non-violent. Under the circumstances they were compelled to join INC, a friendship which continued till the partition of India in August 1947.
While lot of research has been done on the civil disobedience movement in other parts of India, the Frontier Province and in particular the Peshawar Valley have been neglected hitherto for unknown reasons. Very little research has been conducted on this particular region. The absence of written record on this area and subject has meant that the social scientists, historians, analysts and other scholars belonging to various disciplines who have special interest in South Asia, have been deprived of crucial information on a very important phase of twentieth-century history. The only available information is the official record, written from the colonial perspective which is not entirely reliable. According to the official estimate, about thirty nine people lost their lives on 23 April, a highly contestable figure provided by the Frontier administration and unfortunately quoted by many historians writing on the civil disobedience movement, without further checking its authenticity. The present research will focus on this neglected aspect of the civil disobedience movement, relying upon the primary sources including the personal interviews, conducted by the author in various parts of Pashtoonkhwa and unpublished memoirs and autobiographies. While details will be provided of the civil disobedience movement in the Frontier province in general, special attention will be given to the Peshawar Valley. Why 1930 is an important year in Pashtoon history and how it is reflected in the local poetry will be evaluated. The present research will also analyze the Pashtoon perspective of the whole civil disobedience movement. Despite admonition from various circles, what motivated them to join the movement? What kind of mobilization techniques were adopted by the leaders to attract the common man to join in and with what results? What was their thinking? How were they treated by the Frontier authorities? What kind of methods of torture were used against them, so that rather than abandoning the struggle, they showed pertinacity and instead flocked into the Khudai Khidmatgar movement? These and similar questions will come under discussion in the present research article. How the Pashtoons interpreted the whole scenario, why did they not retaliate, were complacent in difficult situations and despite suffering the worst kind of humiliation were able to avenge repeated insults are some of the questions I am concerned with. The present article will also investigate the Pashtoons’ adoption of non-violence as a creed and their commitment to it which earned them a good reputation at an all-India level. Whether Abdul Ghaffar Khan emulated the non-violence preached by Gandhi in other parts of India or developed his own particular variety will also come under discussion. Why the Pashtoons were inclined to join the Congress rather than the Muslim League, their coreligionists in the freedom struggle, will be thoroughly investigated. What was the role of the pro-British landed aristocracy, title holders and other loyalists during the whole imbroglio and what were its repercussions? What was the impact of the civil disobedience movement on the region and how it influenced the future course of South Asian politics will also be analyzed.
In its historic forty-fourth session, held in Lahore in December 1929, the INC demanded complete independence—‘Swaraj’, instead of ‘Dominion Status’ for India. Jawaharlal Nehru, the Congress President, made it absolutely clear that they wanted ‘fullest freedom of India’ and ‘will not acknowledge the right of the British Parliament to dictate to us in any way’.1 It empowered Gandhi to plan and decide on the nature and timings of the civil disobedience against the Empire to achieve the desired goals’.2 Gandhi was fully convinced of the peaceful and non- violent mass movement’.3 In the Lahore Congress he was absolutely convinced of the attainment of independence by non-violent means. He expressed his views to the participants in the most daring manner and stated that ‘Let me however tell you my conviction that if the nation carried out the non-violent programme loyally, there need not be any doubt about the attainment of our goal….’4 He elaborated further and said that ‘I admit and believe that cool courage is mightier than the sword. Cool courage can very well implement civil disobedience. If one thinks that complete independence cannot be achieved through peaceful means, it implies that he has no faith in cool courage. The moment we acquire cool courage, complete independence will be ours’.5 Gandhi started preparing people for the intended civil disobedience campaign.
While formally inviting his countrymen to join them in the great struggle for the liberation of the country from the foreign yoke, the Congress President, Jawaharlal Nehru, made it clear from the beginning that they should be prepared for ‘the rewards that are in store for you are suffering and prison and it might be death. But you shall also have the satisfaction that you have done your little bit for India…’6
Direct confrontation between the Congress and Government seemed inevitable. Gandhi decided that he would himself perform the first act of civil disobedience and would lead selected satyagrahis from Ahmedabad to Dandi in Bombay to breach the Salt Law’.7 On 2 March 1930, Gandhi informed Lord Irwin, the Viceroy, of his views by terming the British rule in India as a curse. Because, according to Gandhi, ‘It has impoverished the dumb millions by a system of progressive exploitation and by a ruinously expensive military and civil administration which the country can never afford’.8 He elaborated on the miseries of the tenants and considered it beneficial for a few big zamindars and not the tenants. He demanded a full revision of the whole revenue system, which, according to Gandhi, was designed to crush the poor. He showed indignation over the salt tax which he regarded as an extra burden upon the poor. He informed the Viceroy that on 11 March he would be proceeding along with the inmates of the Ashram to break the Salt Law. He regarded the salt tax to be the ‘most iniquitous of all from the poor man’s standpoint’.9
On 12 March 1930, Gandhi along with seventy eight satyagrahis set out from Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmedabad, towards Dandi, a Bombay coastline about 240 miles away, which they covered in about four weeks. The group of seventy nine satyagrahis, including Gandhi, comprised people from various social back- grounds including scholars, journalists, untouchables, Muslims and weavers and belonged to different age groups. The oldest one was a 61-year-old leader and the youngest one was a boy of sixteen. The historic march to Dandi was a unique experiment, which attracted many people. Throughout the way Gandhi preached non-violence and informed the curious villagers of the meaning of Swaraj’.10 On 6 April they reached Dandi and immediately broke the Salt Law ‘by picking up a lump of salt mixed with mud’.11 On this occasion in an interview to the Free Press of India, Gandhi announced that
Now that a technical or ceremonial breach of the salt law has been committed, it is now open to anyone who would take the risk of prosecution under the salt law to manufacture salt wherever he wishes and wherever it is convenient. My advice is that a worker should everywhere manufacture salt and where he knows how to prepare clean salt should make use of it and instruct villagers to do likewise, telling the villagers at the same time that he runs the risk of being prosecuted…’12Speaking on their future course of action, he remarked that
Those who are now engaged in this sacred work should devote themselves to vigorous propaganda for boycott of foreign cloth and use of khaddar. They should also endeavor to manufacture as much khaddar as possible. As to this and prohibition of liquor I am preparing a message for the women of India who, I am becoming more and more convinced, can make a larger contribution than the men towards the attainment of independence’.13He further advised the Congress workers the following:
Let every village fetch or manufacture contraband salt. Sisters should picket liquor shops, opium dens and foreign cloth dealers’ shops. Young and old in every home should ply the takli and spin, and get woven, heaps of yarn every day. Foreign cloth should be burnt. Hindus should eschew untouchability. Hindus, Mussalmans, Sikhs, Parsis, and Christians should all achieve heart unity. Let the majority rest content with what remains after the minorities have been satisfied. Let students leave Government schools and colleges, and Government servants resign their service and devote themselves to service of the people, and we shall find that Purna Swaraj will come knocking at our door’.14The British Indian Government tried to belittle the impact of the civil dis- obedience movement. The District Administration was given the responsibility of touring the villages through which the Salt March Satyagrahis had passed ‘to repair the damage and to improve the morale of the loyalists’.15 In the last week of March, reported Nanda, the biographer of Gandhi, the Central Government issued the instructions to the provincial governments to show maximum restraint and to avoid wholesale arrests. They were further advised not to enter into direct confrontation with the protesting Congress workers and to arrest the leaders only. This will surely discourage the Congress workers and will also disorganize the movement. In some cases if the Government was compelled under the circumstances to use force, they should use the minimum possible force because the use of brutal force will create sympathy among the general public for the Congress organization and the demonstrators’.16
But the attitude of the Government did not remain the same. With the growth of the movement, it changed its policy. In March and April, the prominent leaders of Congress including Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, C. Rajagopalachari, Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, J.M. Sen Gupta, B.G. Kher, K.M. Munshi, Devadas Gandhi, Mahadev Desai and Vithalbhai Patel were arrested and put into various prisons. Finally, Gandhi was also arrested on the night of 4/5 May under the Bombay Regulations XXV of 1827 and put into Yeravda prison in Poona’.17
Unlike the previous occasions the Muslims’ response to the call of civil disobedience movement was lukewarm. Gandhi did not attract the same number of Muslims to follow him which he did previously. He failed to mobilize a big number of Muslims to join him against the British government. The participation of the Muslims was insignificant. Except in the N–WFP, an overwhelming Muslim majority province, which would be discussed later on separately, the Indian Muslims as a whole seemed to be unmoved by the Gandhian call. Gandhi did not succeed in mobilizing the Muslims in Bengal and the Punjab, the two Muslim majority provinces, to join him against the British Indian government. According to Brown, by middle of November (1930) out of a total of 29,000 prisoners only 1,000 were Muslims’.18 But it is not clear whether this number also includes the Muslims belonging to the N–WFP or whether this is the overall number of the Muslims who were imprisoned by the colonial administration for taking part in the civil disobedience movement.
Since the adoption of the Nehru Report (August 1928), many prominent Muslims developed distrust of the Congress policies.19 The situation further aggravated when the Congress leadership announced that the issue of communal settlement would be suspended until the attainment of Purna Swaraj. Swaraj, according to the prominent Congress leaders was to be achieved by the civil disobedience movement, ‘a movement in which the Muslims were not likely to figure prominently, and even if it were achieved by that method, it was unlikely that it would result in a communal settlement to their advantage’.20 This resulted eventually in the resignations of prominent Muslims from various positions in the Congress. Those who tendered resignations from their positions included M.A. Ansari, Choudhri Khaliquzzaman and Tassaduq Ahmad Khan Sherwani. Ansari warned Gandhi a couple of months before the launching of the intended civil disobedience movement that he was taking a ‘great responsibility’ on himself by declaring war against the government. He compared the situation with the Hindu–Muslim unity in 1920 and termed it the ‘Lowest watermark’ in the Hindu-Muslim relations.21 He informed the Mahatma that
...it is my conviction that the country is not at least ready for starting a campaign of civil disobedience in any shape or form, and it would do an incalculable damage should you decide to embark on such a campaign now or in the near future.22Gandhi responded immediately and stated that:
I agree that the Hindu–Muslim problem is the problem of problems. But I feel that it has to be approached in a different manner from the one we have hitherto adopted—not at present by adjustments of the political powers but by one or the other acting on the square under all circumstances. Give and take is possible only when there is some trust between the respective communities and their representatives. If the Congress can command such trust the matter can proceed further, not before. The Congress can do so only by becoming fearless and strictly just. But meanwhile the third party—the evil British power—has got to be sterilized. There will be no charter of independence before the Hindus and the Muslims have met but there can be virtual independence before the charter is received. Hence must civil disobedience be forged from day to day by those who believe that there is no escape from non-violence and that violence will never bring freedom to India.23Ch. Khaliquzzaman, another prominent Muslim from UP, showed indignation over Gandhi’s reply and termed it ‘disappointing’. According to him,
Uptil now we thought Hindu–Muslim unity was the pillar over which the superstructure of the constitution of free India was to be laid, but from Mahatmaji’s letter one can infer that while recognizing the utility of such a unity he does not consider it sine qua non for a fight for independence. If we accept the formula, laid down therein we indirectly proclaim to the Muslim community to find its champions in people who believe that communalism in India is a fact. No one can deny that in time to come nationalism would grow and envelop every one of its sons—Hindus and Muslims, but that would certainly require ages.24On the forthcoming civil disobedience movement, he commented that
As for Mahatmaji’s civil disobedience programme, to tell you the truth, I have not been able to understand it, much less appreciate it. I am very glad you have made your position clear in the matter. No one can now say that you forsake them when the time came… Let us hope we are false prophets, but to all intents and purposes the course adopted is doomed to failure.25After going through the views, expressed by Ansari and Khaliquzzaman, one can easily deduce why the Muslims in general and their prominent leaders in particular stayed away and showed a lukewarm attitude to the civil disobedience movement launched by Gandhi. During the course of the movement, Maulana Shaukat Ali, elder of the famous Ali Brothers, termed it a movement not for Swaraj but for Hindu Raj and against the Mussalmans26 and advised them to stay away from it. He complained why he was not consulted by Gandhi before embarking on the civil disobedience movement. Gandhi replied that there was no sense in consultation with him because he knew that they had different views on such issues. He also pointed out to Shaukat Ali that
Can you not see that, although I may act independently of you, it might not amount to desertion? My conscience is clear. I have deserted neither you nor the Mussalmans. Where is the desertion in fighting against the salt tax and other inequities and fighting for independence?27Gandhi reiterated it time and again that the repeal of salt tax will benefit every Indian irrespective of their belonging to any caste, community or religion. Gandhi made an emotional appeal to the Muslims to support the Congress in eradication of salt tax, boycott of foreign cloth and picketing the liquor shops. He made it abundantly clear that ‘this movement of self-purification is not a monopoly of any community, and wish that all people should heartily join it’.28
Following the historic decision taken at the Lahore Congress, 26 January 1930 was observed as the ‘Independence Day’ throughout India. In conformity with other parts of India, despite having limited number of registered Congress workers, the Frontier Provincial Congress Committee also decided to observe it in Peshawar. However, little interest was shown by the local people and because of the small number of the Congress workers, the provincial authorities took no action against them.29 The next step was non-payment of taxes. The local chapters were authorized by the Central organization to do in an appropriate and organized manner ‘where ever and whenever it considers desirable’.30
The prominent leaders of the provincial Congress and the recently formed Naujawan Bharat Sabha, Agha Syed Lal Badshah, Maulana Abdur Rahim Popalzai, Khan Mir Hilali, Dr. C.C. Ghosh, Ghulam Rabbani Sethi, Rahim Bakhsh Ghaznavi, Sanobar Hussain, Abdur Rahman Riya, Roshan Lal and Lala Paira Khan, met in Peshawar to devise the strategy for the next round of civil disobedience movement. It was resolved to start the boycott of the foreign cloth and picketing of liquor shops simultaneously.31 It was also discussed how to attract more people to their intended civil disobedience. They decided to invite Abdul Ghaffar Khan and the Khudai Khidmatgars to support their movement. Meanwhile, on 5 April, a delegation of the local traders dealing with the liquor business met the Congress leaders and requested them to grant them fifteen days to dispose of the existing stock. They promised that in future they would not trade in liquor. On 7 April, the local Congress Committee informed the liquor contractors that their request has been accepted and the picketing has been postponed till 23 April.32
Before proceeding further it is pertinent to provide some details of the local Congress leadership. Unlike other parts of the country, in the Frontier Province the centre of power politics remained the rural areas. The traditional kinship ties served as the best tool for the popularity of a certain individual in a particular locality. Like many other tribal societies of the world, the traditional Pashtoon society focused on the leadership qualities of the individuals keeping in view their support base and their belonging to well-established tribes. The strength of the leader mostly depended upon the number of his supporters. Although no one can deny the role of charisma of an individual, the tribal links served as the most important factor in the whole process. Hence the failure of the Peshawar-based urban Congress politicians to attract large crowds to their political gatherings. Despite their excellent leadership qualities, even the best of the urban leaders could not convince the majority rural population to support them in the intended Congress civil disobedience movement and hence they depended upon Abdul Ghaffar Khan to provide them the required strength and support for the forthcoming civil disobedience to be launched in Peshawar.
Footnotes and References
1 Jawaharlal Nehru’s Presidential Address, 29 December 1929, Lahore, Congress Presidential Addresses From the Silver to the Golden Jubilee (Madras: G. A. Natesan & Co., 1934), 893.
2 Judith M. Brown, Gandhi Prisoner of Hope (New Havens: Yale University Press, 1989), 234.
3 ‘...In a place like India’, remarked Gandhi, ‘where the mightiest organisation is pledged to [non-] violence, if you really believe in your own creed, that is to say, if you believe in yourselves, if you believe in your nation, then it is civil disobedience that is wanted;’. Speech at the 44th Session of Congress, Lahore, 31 December 1929, The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi XLII (October 1929– February 1930), (Ahmedabad: Navajivan Trust, 1970), 355.
4 Lahore, 29 December 1929, Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, XLII, 332.
5 Ibid., 351.
6 Nehru’s Presidential Address, Congress Presidential Addresses, 902.
7 B.R. Nanda, Mahatma Gandhi: A Biography (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1958), 291.
8 Gandhi to Lord Irwin, 2 March 1930, Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, XLIII, 3.
9 Ibid., 7.
10 Judith M. Brown, Gandhi—Prisoner of Hope, 237. More details can be seen in Thomas Weber, On the Salt March: The Historiography of Mahatma Gandhi’s March to Dandi (New Delhi: Rupa & Co., 2009).
11 Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, XLIII, 199.
12 Interview to the Free Press of India, 6 April 1930, Ibid.
14 Message to the Nation, 9 April 1930, ibid., 215.
15 Nanda, Mahatma Gandhi: A Biography, 296.
17 Brown, Gandhi: Prisoner of Hope, 238; Nanda, Mahatma Gandhi: A Biography, 297; Weber, On the Salt March, 476–84.
18 Brown, Gandhi Prisoner of Hope, 243.
19 For details, see David Page, Prelude to Partition: The Indian Muslims and the Imperial System of Control 1920–1932 (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1982), 168–94.
20 Ibid, 237.
21 M.A. Ansari to M.K. Gandhi, 13 February 1930, in Mushirul Hasan, ed., Muslims and the Congress: Select Correspondence of Dr. M. A. Ansari 1912–1935 (New Delhi: Manohar Publications, 1979), 99.
22 Ibid., 100.
23 M.K. Gandhi to M. A. Ansari, 16 February 1930, Ibid., 101.
24 Choudhry Khaliquzzaman to M. A. Ansari, 1 March 1930, Ibid.
25 Ibid., 111–12.
26 ‘What It is Not’, M.K. Gandhi, Young India, 12 March 1930; Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, XLIII, 55.
27 Gandhi to Shaukat Ali, 17 April 1930, Gandhi Collected Works, XLIII, 281.
28 Gandhi’s Speech at Rander, 1 May 1930, Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, XLIII, 373. Gandhi made the following compassionate appeal to the Muslims: "I appeal to Muslim friends to realize that at present we have embarked upon a movement of self-purification. The time has not yet come to divide the gains among ourselves. When that time comes, we shall decide the share of each. If it is our misfortune to fight then, we shall fight it out. But personally I believe that when that day comes, there will be no need for us to fight. There will be no cause then for mutual distrust or fear. At present our fight is directed mainly against the salt tax. Such a tax is forbidden in Islam. Salt is a necessity for all. The majority of Hindus and Muslims are poor people and the burden of the tax falls on them. In Rander, however, we have mil- lionaires and multi-millionaires. They can see the facts if only they go with me into villages. Our second task is to banish foreign cloth. Everyone can see from the accounts of the Spinners’ Association that because of this movement we pay thousands of rupees to Muslim women and weavers. The large numbers of women in Vijaypur who earn a living through this work and bless me are all Muslims. These poor women have often wept when my workers could not supply them enough slivers. The third task is eradication of the drink evil. In which religion is drinking not forbidden? In the course of my life I have mixed a great deal with Muslims and attended many dinners given by Muslim hosts. Muslims cannot but join the movement for banishing liquor and other intoxicants from the country. Are those mill workers not Muslims who picket liquor booths in Ahmedabad and plead with proprietors and drink-addicts, patiently submit- ting to assaults and abuses? This is a God’s work. He alone can do it who is ready to sacrifice his life for it. Only he who is ready to dive into the sea can bring up pearls from it. I only beg my Muslim clients and other Muslims to realize that this movement for self-purification is not a monopoly of any community, and wish that all people should heartily join it. We will see afterwards how to share the gains when the Government asks us what we want. My prophecy about that day, however, is that we shall then no longer think it necessary to fight, that one brother will invite another to take anything he wants. We shall then have nobility among us and the bargaining spirit will have disappeared. We have to do this work in God’s name, in the name of the poor. Let all the communities help in it and let the town of Rander, too, give all the help it can and bring glory to its fair name." (Ibid., 373–74)
29 ‘Summary of Political Situation in the N-WFP’, CID Reports, Special Branch Peshawar, 1 February 1930, 153.
30 Congress Presidential Addresses, 900.
31 Abdul Khaliq Khaleeq, Da Azadi Jang sa Auradeli sa Leedali (Pashto) (Peshawar: Idara Ishaat i Sarhad, 1972), 67.
32 Report (With Evidence) of the Peshawar Enquiry Committee (Allahabad: 1930), 6–7.