Qissa Khwani’s tale of tear and blood
Published 2002 statesman
By Kazi Sarwar
History bears testimony to the undeniable fact that the valiant people of North West FrontierProvince, had stood as the undaunted vanguard of freedom struggle in the face of British incursionto the west of the Indus Bridge which saw so much action, bloodshed, gallantry devotion, enduranceand heart-warming tales of courage, faith and determination.With the passage of time, late in the twenties, the unceremonial exit of Ghazi Amanullah Khan fromthe seat of power in Kabul proved to be an event of far-reaching consequence that pleased theBritish. They felt, that things were going on well and all was queit on the western front. But theanalysis drawn was our unrealistic reading of the situation obtainable in NWFP.People's emotions still ran high over the dismemberment of the Ottoman dynasty, the 'Khilafat'Movement followed by 'Hijrat' and to top it, the highly offending denial of the application of theMontage Chelmsford reforms in NWFP, depriving people of elections, formation of legislature andministries, already exercised by provinces in the rest of India. This brought to surface enmity anddeep-rooted prejudice of the Raj Policy vis-à-vis NWFP and its people.It was at this time, that Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan called upon people to rise unitedly to shake off thealien yoke.He toured the area extensively, addressing meetings, exhorting his followers to wage a relentlessfreedom struggle.It had an electrifying effect that made the administration nervous and extremely enraged. Large-scale arrests were made, collective fines imposed and long-term jail sentences added fuel to the fireof Civil Disobedience Movement.Days before, events in and around Peshawar were gathering momentum. The population of Peshawar at that time was 80,000. The City was by a wall pierced at intervals by sixteen gates eachwith a history of its own. The main thorough fare-The Qissa Khawani Bazaar, some 820 yards long
and 40-feet wide, ran from the Kabuli or Edwards Gate on the west into the heart of the City. Themilitary strength then in Peshawar comprised British, Sikh, Garhwal units plus the Royal Tank Corpsand the Poona Horse. From these units, a 'City Disturbance Coleman' had been specifically formed.Political unrest grew in strength after the arrest of Bacha Khan and a number of his closecompanions. Two other prominent worker surrendered to the police, were taken to the Kabuli PoliceStation. They while being escorted to the lock-up were welcomed warmly by a large crowedassembled in the vicinity. The escort got panicky and used force to disperse the assembly. The so-farpeaceful crowed got enraged, slashed tyres of the vehicles and made attempts to free the twopolitical workers.The situation deteriorated to such an extent which moved the administration to approach the higherauthorities for speedy control of the situation. The military was requisitioned. Two armoured carsfollowed by soldiers took position near the police station and started firing right, left and centre thatresulted in heavy casualties. Those who survived stood defiantly where they were, and used allavailable means to resist the ruthless onslaught.Meanwhile, a very large number of highly emotional people from other parts of the City and nearbysuburbs joined their comrades. Sensing the situation grave, the Royal Garhwal Rifles was ordered tomove forward and fire. The refusal to kill the slogan-chanting and flag-waiving demonstratorscreated an embarrassing situation.The Rifles was immediately ordered to withdraw from the locality, marched back to its barracks anddisarmed.Later on, the Rifles 'Sardars' (Viceroy Commissioned Officers) were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. Their lives were spared because of the Royal Garhwal Rifles outstanding past recordof exemplary courage in the face of much heavy odds both in and outside the country.Some of the 'Sardars' died in jail, while those who survived, were (said to be) rewarded andcompensated after independence by the Indian government.The City Disturbance Column now too took full charge of the fast-deteriorating situation supportedby the armoured cars. The Qissa Khwani, the bazaar of story-tellers since time immemorial, waslittered with blood here, there and everywhere of countless martyred and injured. The City was
occupied after the massacre. The Raj had triumphed over the unarmed people whose only 'fault'was their demand for the release of their two workers, nothing more.The demonstrators could have been dispersed by the police after resorting to baton-charge. But thealien administration's intention was to create fear and intimidation reviving the imperious episodesof Clive and Hosting, Bolton and Caroe; but it was vain for all intents and purposes, since it took afairly long time to restore normalcy.To-day, after a lapse of seventy two (72) years, the fond memory of those whose blood was shed inconfirmation of the noble cause of freedom struggle is ever bright, vivid and inspiringly uplifting.They laid down their lives so as to uphold the honour and dignity of their homeland, that ultimatelybrought them eternal fame and undying glory.