Tuesday, 25 February 2014

The 1930 Civil Disobedience Movement in Peshawar Valley from the Pashtoon Perspective: Part III

By Syed Wiqar Ali Shah

This is the final part 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. Part I can be accessed here, Part II here, and click here for the original article.

Peshawar, which was both in shock and fear, was put under the army. Armed troops were seen on patrolling duties to keep the situation under control. As Rittenberg correctly argues, though the riots were limited to one particular locality their repercussions were tremendous. For all practical purposes, the administration was paralyzed in three out of five tahsils of Peshawar district.72 The Government was more sensitive to the refusal of the Garhwalis to follow the orders of their officers. They wanted to stop the recurrence of such incidents at all costs since it would have a negative effect on the morale of the Indian troops in general. This led to another drastic decision in the late evening. Panicking at the possibility of serious questions being raised regarding the reliability of all Indian troops following the Kissa Khani incident, they suddenly decided to withdraw all soldiers from the city.73 Only at a few selected spots, were some policemen visible. Within three days, the locals resumed their routine but were amazed to see hardly any policemen on duty. This was criticised by the locals and perceived as tantamount to leaving the people of Peshawar to the mercy of plunderers and dacoits. The local Congress and other traumatic volunteers decided to execute the police duties and helped the citizens to regain their confidence. They were seen performing the traffic police duties, controlling traffic to avoid untoward accidents.74

Meanwhile, the civil administration also went through some sweeping changes. Sir Norman Bolton, the Chief Commissioner, was immediately recalled and replaced by Sir Courtney Latimer, the then Revenue Commissioner, as the acting Chief Commissioner.75 Almost all sources agree that Bolton had a nervous breakdown and left the province on 28 April. Sir Evelyn Howell, the Foreign Secretary of the British Indian Government was also directed by Lord Irwin to go to Peshawar to help the local administration to restore normalcy to the province. The tragic news of the firing in Kissa Khani and massacre at a level never imagined before infuriated the Pashtoon tribesmen. The commotion in the tribal areas reached such an extent that the Afridis, settled around Peshawar, raided the city to avenge the killing of 23 April. However, they were repulsed by the British troops.76 Haji Sahib of Turangzai, another anti-British religious figure, antagonized by the atrocities on innocent people, recriminated the colonialists for oppressing blameless Pashtoons, and organized his disciples in Mohmand area, threatening the edges of Peshawar. The British were alarmed at the movement of Haji Sahib’s lashkar77 and in retribution started aerial bombardment of the Mohmand area to defuse the threat and stop their advances towards Charsadda.78

On 4 May, Peshawar was re-occupied by the troops. Congress Committees and all its affiliated bodies including the local chapter of the Naujawan Bharat Sabha were declared unlawful. The offices were raided, papers, cash furniture, etc. either seized or burnt. It was followed by a general crackdown on the political workers. Mr Latimer took impetuous decisions to bring Peshawar under control and was successful at least for the time being because all kind of political activities seized. However, the situation was not the same in other parts of the Peshawar Valley, in particular in three tahsils which were dubbed the centres of Khudai Khidmatgar activities.

The arrest of the leaders provoked the people in general and it raised the number of the Khudai Khidmatgars to thousands. The whole outlook of the majority of Pashtoons changed. In the face of British atrocities and maltreatment of the locals, the pertinacity of the Khudai Khidmatgars and their adherence to nonviolence, more people were allured to the nationalist movement. They started enrolling themselves in the Khudai Khidmatgar organization en masse and although no accurate figures are available according to a careful estimate the enrolment reached more than one hundred thousand, a figure unimaginable few months previously.79

According to Rittenberg, ‘Civil disobedience plunged much of Peshawar Valley into turmoil. Volunteers paraded daily in military formation; meetings drew audiences as large as 10,000 people; and liquor and foreign cloth stores were subjected to constant picketing’.80 Soon the area was declared as unruly and difficult to control. Sir Steuart Pears, the new Chief Commissioner, informed Lord Irwin, the Viceroy that ‘Peshawar District itself, as far as the Charsadda, Mardan and Swabi tahsils were concerned, was being overrun by bands of ‘red shirts’ holdings meetings everywhere and moving across country to different centres everyday…’.81

The Government responded by crushing the civil disobedience movement with an iron fist. Every kind of brutal method was adopted to suppress the movement. Many villages, including Utmanzai, the home town of Abdul Ghaffar Khan were besieged and the inhabitants tortured. Their homes were searched, people beaten, the grain stores were plundered and grains like wheat, oat, lentils etc were scattered on the ground and kerosene oil poured over them to make them inedible. Standing crops were destroyed while bedsheets and other clothing were torn to pieces and crockery broken. It was reported that cattle were prevented from going outside for grazing while hujras82 were burnt and libraries destroyed. Many deaths from starvation were reported from these villages. The villagers inhumanly treated; the sanctity of the four walls violated and in many cases they were stripped naked and subjected to all kinds of humiliation.83 On one such occasion, Dr Khan Sahib issued the following medical certificate highlighting the British atrocities in Pashtoonkhwa:
This is to certify that I admitted eighty patients to a special hospital which was arranged by public subscription at Peshawar. These were the Khudai Khidmatgars from Charsadda Tahsil who were beaten by the police at picketing at a liquor shop in Charsadda. Several of them were very cruelly treated; most of them had more than thirty marks on their body caused by lathis. The majority of them could not lie straight in bed, their buttocks being a mass of bleeding red flesh. I was surprised by those cases specially, who suffered from swelling of the testicles which were squeezed and twisted by a British Officer according to the statements of the patients. In my opinion these poor people were treated even more cruelly than the wild beasts.84
One of the noteworthy features of the civil disobedience movement was the observance of non-violence by the Pashtoons during the whole span of the movement. To all kind of brutalities, the Pashtoons did not retaliate and bore all the atrocities with forbearance and patience. They adopted non-violence as a creed and remained loyal to it during the whole time. According to The Frontier Tragedy,
The Government, on one hand, did its worst to make the people leave the path of nonviolence. In all sorts of ways, they were goaded, persecuted, insulted, somehow to make them resort to violence. This would give the Government some semblance of justification to resort to still more bloodshed. The people on the other hand, bore all this calmly and quietly without raising a finger in retaliation. They based their breasts to British bullets and laid down their own lives rather than resort to violence. Their property was looted. To the Pathan nothing is as dear as the sanctity of his four walls which are a symbol for the honour of the women folk. This sanctity was violated in order to poke him at his most sensitive point. Nevertheless he was true to Nonviolence. Many were stripped stark naked—another great personal insult to a Pathan. Many were roughly handled in their private parts—a brutality perhaps unknown to the history of repression and an ingenuity of the Frontier official. But not a hand went up in active resistance.85
The Kissa Khani massacre (23 April) was followed by another brutal firing incident in Peshawar on 31 May 1930. A peaceful funeral procession of the two children shot dead by an English soldier was not allowed to proceed to the cremation ground. Despite requests from Hakim Abdul Jalil Nadvi and other noted citizens of Peshawar then accompanying the procession, they were not permitted to proceed towards Gorkhatry. The thirty six British soldiers under the command of Olaf Caroe, who came from the opposite direction, i.e. from the Clock Tower side, opened fire upon the procession without any provocation resulting in the death of twelve people and injury to more than twenty two people.86 On 26 May, the prominent Khudai Khidmatgars of Baizai area, Mardan were arrested in Takkar and Pathay, two villages considered to be a stronghold of the Khudai Khidmatgars. Prominent among them included Shamroz Khan, Shahzada Bacha, Malik Masim Khan, Khan Bahadur and a few others. Local people decided to accompany their leaders in a procession to Mardan jail. Near Gujar Garhi, a strong contingent of troops stopped the people from proceeding further. Mr Hay, Assistant Commissioner of Mardan, started negotiations for a peaceful dispersal of the procession. Meanwhile, Mr Murphy, a notorious police inspector, initiated the lathi charge and used abusive language against the people, offensively castigating their leaders. He was knocked down by an anonymous person and shot dead. On getting information of Murphy’s death, the police resorted to violence and used every kind of force under their disposal to disperse the mob. It was followed by a siege of Gujar Garhi. The next few days were like a nightmare for the local population. To avenge the murder of Murphy, they were subjected by the troops to the worst indignities. The whole village was fined and the security forces let loose to deal with the ‘rebellious population’ on their own ‘free’ will. It was followed by a general massacre at Takkar, the village the imperialists had targeted from the beginning. The forcible entry of the troops and their indiscriminate firing upon the unarmed innocent people without any prior warning resulted in the death of about twenty people; many more were wounded. The hujras of Malik Masim Khan and Malik Amin Jan, two noted Khudai Khidmatgars were burnt to ashes.87 The story of repression in Baizai area did not culminate there; it went on unchecked in other villages of Swabi and Mardan including Yar Hussain, Marghuz, Mainey, Kota, Maneray, Tordher, Jalbai, Sawal Dher and Lund Khwarh. In addition to the Peshawar Valley, the recrudescence of violence and the reign of terror was also extended to other parts of the province such as Kohat, Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan in southern Pashtoonkhwa. However, the worst kind of atrocities was perpetuated in Bannu where on 24 August a protest meeting of unarmed and non- violent people from Hathi Khel led by the local Waziri tribal leaders was fired upon in Spin Tangi; more than seventy people were killed and the number of wounded was in hundreds.88 The local authorities did their best to keep the number of dead and wounded concealed. Visits to and from the province were under the strict vigilance of the Government. It was rumoured that the Frontier authorities were bent upon declaring the Khudai Khidmatgars as agents of the Bolsheviks in Russia, who were given the task by the communists to create anarchy and dissension in India to destabilize the British Indian Government.

In the absence of frontline leaders, the command passed on to the second tier of leadership. Interestingly, despite apprehensions from the authorities, none of them was found involved in preaching or practising violence. The protesters almost in all cases remained non-violent. Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s preaching of non- violence prior to their participation in the civil disobedience movement had its impact upon the inhabitants of the Frontier Province. Despite the worst kind of atrocities committed by the authorities and all kind of provocation, the Pashtoons did not retaliate. They knew that laying down their own lives rather than taking someone else’s is the real test of their forbearance and courage. They were ready to sacrifice everything they possessed for the sake of the liberation of the country from foreign yoke. Some scholars working on the area misunderstood the nature of the leadership during the civil disobedience movement. The presence of a large number of smaller potentates or Khans struggle to get their leadership recognized through the Khudai Khidmatgar movement has been traditionally viewed as part of their insatiable desire to get more benefits from the government to counter the influence of the big Khans. While this might be true for some particular cases, it cannot be implemented as a general rule. If one looks at the various stages of the civil disobedience movement, it is evident that there were many persons at the forefront of the movement who belonged to the professional classes. Abdul Ghaffar Khan emphasized from the beginning upon the participation of these professionals, known as Qasabgars89 in the local society, and gave them important positions in the organization. They had roots within the masses who decided en masse to join the Khudai Khidmatgar movement which provided it with a boost. The British Government, on its part, utilized the services of a few big landlords, title holders and Jagirdars to suppress the movement. The authorities tried to convince the big Khans, the traditional allies of the Empire, to control these people, who mostly belonged to ‘menial’ castes. If not checked, according to the Government circulars, these people would deprive the ‘traditional leaders’, that is, the big Khans, of their influence in the Frontier. These big Khans, on their part, adopted all kinds of draconian methods to torture these people but such tactics eventually came to naught. The oppression prevailing under British rule further provided a boost to the movement enhancing the prestige of these people in the eyes of the masses. It also resulted in greater sympathy for the Khudai Khidmatgars and the civil disobedience movement. Some officials of the Raj misunderstood Pashtoon psychology. In several places, the Raj official’s mistreatment and rough handling of the situation provided more members to the Khudai Khidmatgar organization. In Utmanzai, after the violent crackdown upon the Khudai Khidmatgars, whose belongings had been destroyed and offices sealed, a colonial official publicly claimed that they were finished and challenged the audience to show their sympathy with them or face his wrath. On hearing these remarks regarding the Khudai Khidmatgars, Abbas Khan, a cousin of Abdul Ghaffar Khan who was not on good terms with him, turned up along with a large number of his servants and tenants and declared openly his support for the leader and the Khudai Khidmatgars. Though this can be interpreted as an act of a single individual it offers us a glimpse into the manifestation of the aspirations of the general public regarding Abdul Ghaffar Khan and his cause.

In Search of Friends

Abdul Ghaffar Khan and the frontline leaders of the Khudai Khidmatgars were imprisoned in the Gujarat Special Jail. Mian Jaffar Shah Kaka Khel and Mian Abdullah Shah of Qazi Khel, Charsadda, two prominent leaders, were still out of prison. They went to Gujarat Jail in disguise, met Abdul Ghaffar Khan and apprised him of the gravity of the situation in the Province. According to some reliable sources, they also conveyed to him the message of Sir Sahibzada Abdul Qaiyum Khan, a prominent Pashtoon elder, enjoying confidence and respect in government circles, who had secretly advised them to affiliate the Khudai Khidmatgar movement with an all-India organization because the local British administration was bent upon declaring them as Bolshevik agents in India. This association, according to Sir Sahibzada, would save them from further annihilation at British hands.90

They discussed the matter and on the advice of Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the two aforementioned leaders met Malik Lal Khan, a prominent leader of Gujranwala whom Jaffar Shah knew since the days of the Khilafat movement. Through him he contacted other prominent Muslim leaders including Malik Feroz Khan Noon, a Muslim Leaguer and Mian Fazli Hussain of Muslim Conference, a member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council. The present author had the honour of asking Abdul Ghaffar Khan personally about the names of Muslim leaders whom the Khudai Khidmatgars met and was very kindly provided with these names. Jaffar Shah narrated the whole ordeal of the Frontier people and requested them to provide help and support in this particular connection. However, to their utter surprise, the Muslim leaders showed their inability to help the Frontier people against the Raj. Since a majority of them were ‘loyalists’, it was almost impossible for them to support the Pashtoons’ cause against the British imperialism in South Asia.91 However, for Rittenberg their denial of support was because these parties were weak and fragmented. Moreover, they had their special reservations on the declaration of immediate independence and also were opposed to the civil disobedience movement launched by Congress under Gandhi.92 Probably they were also afraid that any step weakening the British authority in South Asia would indirectly bolster the Congress cause.

The dejected leaders came back to Gujarat and informed Abdul Ghaffar Khan of the refusal of the Muslim leaders in providing help and support at that critical juncture. The whole matter was discussed in detail and it was decided to approach the Congress which was also on the warpath with the British Indian Government. The envoys went around the country, met Congress leaders and sought their help in this regard. ‘As a drowning man tries to catch hold of any straw’ commented Abdul Ghaffar Khan, ‘—being thwarted by the Muslim League—we requested the two colleagues to seek help from the National Congress. When they met the Congress leaders, they readily agreed to help us in every way, provided we joined them in the struggle for India’s freedom’.93 As both had the same agenda, so without reluctance the Congress leaders immediately responded positively to the request of the Khudai Khidmatgars and declared them as part of the Congress national movement94 and allowed them to retain their separate identity.95

Jawaharlal Nehru, while paying special tributes to the Frontier comrades, mentioned particularly the great sacrifices rendered by them in the cause of the Indian freedom struggle. He stated that he ‘have read with amazement and admiration the record of their doing and their sufferings...’ and the Pashtoons who ‘are known to be brave fighters but they have shown that even in our non-violent struggle they can take the lead and set an example which is not easy to emulate’.96

He further stated that,
There used to be in past years talk of pretty reforms in the Frontier Province. Today we are not fighting for reforms but for independence. Our comrades of the Frontier have shown in the fire of suffering what metal they are made of. Out of our common suffering we shall fashion free India, in which all of us, including the Frontier Province, will be equal sharers. The men and women of the Frontier Province have purchased by their blood and suffering a full right to this freedom. For the brave no gift can be too much, and those who know how to die know also how to live as free men. Men and women of the Frontier, you have written a golden page in Indian history! That will be an inspiration for us and we shall remember it in the long days to come. India cannot forget those who helped to make her free.97
Abdul Ghaffar Khan was castigated by some of his close associates and friends for merging the Khudai Khidmatgar movement into Congress. To them the Pashtoons would lose their identity and the Hindu-dominated Congress would least care for their welfare. They had the bitter experiences of always supporting the political and social organizations of India but those people did not care for the Pashtoons and never uttered even a single word in their favour when they were in crisis. They always preferred their own interests and never supported the Pashtoons previously. Abdul Ghaffar Khan was not apologetic. Responding to these recriminations, he made it clear in an acrimonious way that they needed support and help from any organization at an all-India level. Their first choice was obviously their co-religionists the Muslim leaders but to their chagrin they disappointed the inhabitants of the Frontier. They made the same kind of request to the Congress party who welcomed the Pashtoons to their fold. Since both were struggling in the same direction and the main objective was the same, that is, getting rid of the British imperialism, both would supplement each other in the freedom struggle.98 He cited examples from the life of the Holy Prophet of Islam who entered into certain pacts and agreements with the Jews and other non-Muslim tribes in Medina to thwart the threat of the Quraish.99 According to him he did no harm to the Pashtoon movement by affiliating it with the Congress, as they would safeguard the rights of the Frontier people in future.

The merger was beneficial for both: Congress got its firm footing in an overwhelming Muslim majority province and refuted all future allegations against it by its opponents in terming Congress as a Hindu body. They cited examples of the Frontier Province with its solid support for the Congress politics throughout the remaining years until the Partition of India. Congress claimed to be a representative organization of all Indians irrespective of their belonging to any religion, caste or creed. The Khudai Khidmatgars on their part were saved from further Government repression. As mentioned earlier, it was rumoured that the Frontier administration would soon declare the Khudai Khidmatgars as the agents of the Bolsheviks who were deputed by the Communists to stir the rebellion in India. Even some individuals in the Political Department were busy in collecting evidences against the Khudai Khidmatgars in this particular connection. The peculiarly strategic location of the Frontier Province provided the Frontier administration extra powers to deal with the locals in their own way. Various regulations were implemented in the province to keep the inhabitants under the tight control of the British authorities. To thwart the ‘evil’ designs of the Tsarist Russia in the Indian direction was the major policy consideration of the British Indian Government. This provided unchecked power to the administration and they were fully confident that whatever they do with the Khudai Khidmatgars on the pretext of being Bolshevik agents, they will get the required support from the Government both at home and in London. After the merger of the Khudai Khidmatgars with the Congress, it was now almost impossible for the Frontier officials to declare them Bolshevik agents. The Khudai Khidmatgar leaders made it clear that the main objective of the Congress was identical to theirs: getting rid of British imperialism from South Asia. They denied their links with foreign powers including the Russians. Moreover, by merging their movement in Congress, the Khudai Khidmatgars, hitherto a provincial organization, achieved popularity and fame at a national level. The Khudai Khidmatgar leader, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, came closer to the Congress leadership and enjoyed the confidence of all including Mahatma Gandhi. The sincerity of the Khudai Khidmatgars to Gandhian non-violence which they accepted as a creed earned them such reverence and veneration that their leader under Abdul Ghaffar Khan was affectionately called by the majority of Indians as Frontier Gandhi, a title enjoyed by none other.

References and Footnotes

72 Rittenberg, Ethnicity, Nationalism and the Pakhtuns, 79.
73 Ibid., 79–80.
74 Shad, Deed wa Shuneed, 148.
75 The Frontier Tragedy, 32.
76 Full details can be seen in Shad, Deed wa Shuneed, 192–201.
77 Literally, a tribal armed gathering for battle.
78 Noor Mohammad Nowshervi, Mujahid i Sarhad: Jangnama da Ghazi Sahib da Turangzo (Pashto)(Peshawar: Mian Brothers Book Sellers, n.d.), 64–74.
79 Khaleeq, Da Azadi Jang, 70; Rittenberg, Ethnicity, Nationalism and the Pakhtuns, 82.
80 Rittenberg, Ethnicity, Nationalism and the Pakhtuns, 80.
81 Ibid.
82 In Pashtoon areas the term hujra refers to a separate place/house, with a big court yard having two, three or more rooms, meant for the male members of the community where the women are strictly prohibited. Usually it is a central place in the village where men gather in the evenings to discuss the daily affairs, politics, drink tea and smoke the chilum or hookah. In olden times people used to enjoy listening stories and poetry also in hujras. The unmarried members of the village community usually slept in the hujra. Every clan, tribe and family has their own hujra. In contemporary times it function is also akin to a guest house where visitors are provided free food and lodging. It continues to play an important role in community life, particularly in initiating the youth into Pashtoon norms and values.
83 Further details of the atrocities perpetuated on the inhabitants of Pashtoonkhwa can be seen in The Frontier Tragedy, 39–55; Ahmad, Khudai Khidmatgar Tehreek, 201–465; Shah, Ethnicity, Islam and Nationalism, 32–33; and, Mukulika Banerjee, The Pathan Unarmed: Opposition & Memory in the North West Frontier (Oxford: James Currey, 2000), 111–20.
84 The Frontier Tragedy, 55.
85 Ibid., 16–17. ‘Of all the remarkable happenings in India in recent times,’ commented Bakhshi, nothing is more astonishing than the way in which Abdul Ghaffar Khan made his turbulent and quarrelsome people accept peaceful methods of political action, involving enormous suffering. That suffering was indeed terrible and has left a trail of bitter memories; and yet their discipline and self-control were such that no act of violence was committed by the Pathans against the Government forces or other opposed to them. When it is remembered that a Pathan loves his gun more than his brother, is really excited, and has long had a reputation for killing at the slightest provocation, this self-discipline appears like short of miraculous. Bakhshi, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, 129–30.
86 Shad, Deed wa Shuneed, 191; Statement of Lachaman Das (Witness No. 53), Peshawar Enquiry Committee, 240–41.
87 Ahmad, Khudai Khidmatgar Tehreek, 241–54; The Frontier Tragedy, 45.
88 Shah, Ethnicity, Islam and Nationalism, p. 33.
89 Deriving from qasab meaning craft, the term literally refers to occupational groups such as barbers and carpenters.
90 Mian Atauddin, Memoirs (Pashto), (Nowshera: unpublished memoirs), 18; Khaleeq, Da Azadi Jang, 89–90.
91 Abdul Ghaffar, Zama Zhwand au Jaddo Jehad, 386–87.
92 Rittenberg, Ethnicity, Nationalism and the Pakhtuns, 83.
93 Tendulkar, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, 75.
94 Abdul Ghaffar, Zama Zhwand au Jaddo Jehad, 387–89; Khaleeq, Da Azadi Jang, 89–90; Akbar, Da Pukhtano Barkha, 109–10.
95 Mian Atauddin, Memoirs, 18–19.
96 Jawaharlal Nehru’s Message to the North–West Frontier Province, 16 October 1930, Mussoorie, S. Gopal, ed., Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru Vol. Four (London: Orient Longman Ltd, 1973), 401.
97 Ibid., 401–02.
98 Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Pukhtun, 1 August 1938, 19–23.
99 Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Pukhtun, June–July 1931, 5–10.
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