It is a strange irony that the land which gave birth to the non-violent movement started by Ghaffar Khan in this part of the world is itself engulfed in the flames of violence.
Baacha Khan’s Khudai Khidmatgar or Servants of God movement influenced the struggle for freedom and Pakhtun nationalism by their adoption of non-violence as a political tool to fight against the British Empire.
Born in 1890s at Uthmanzai village in Charsadda district, Baacha Khan’s first started with education by setting up educational institutions in early 1910. British banned the schools set up to spread awareness among Pakhtuns.
Baacha Khan’s political activities were gaining support in the wake of the Khilafat Movement. On April 6, 1919, on the eve of the India-wide strike against the Rowlett Act, about 50,000 villagers gathered at the Utmanzai village- first and largest protest in any village in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, at the time.
The British imprisoned Khan and imposed a fine of Rs30,000 on Uthmanzai villagers. The Khilafat movement introduced the Frontier to professional and urban politics in place of guns. In the months to follow, he migrated to Afghanistan when religious scholars declared India as Darul-al-Harb (Land of War).
Baacha Khan set up a school in Dir upon his return, which was also closed down. He then went back to his village and set up Anjuman-i-Islahul-Afghanan (Society for the Reformation of Afghans) in 1921. The society aims were unity among Pakhtuns, eradication of social evils and the promotion of Pashto language and culture. This was followed by opening schools to educate the Pakhtun.
The revolutionary leader attended the Indian National Congress meeting in Lahore in December 1929 after which the Civil Disobedience Movement was launched, characterised by the killing of the unarmed Khudai Khidmatgar in the Qissa Khwani massacre of April 1930. This was followed by a period of the worst kind of repression that ended with the Ghandi-Irwin Pact in March 1931.
Baacha Khan and Khudai Khidmatgar over the course of years proved their allegiance to non-violence. His imprisonment for several occasions and repression by the Raj failed to make him give up his stance on non-violence till his death January 20, 1988.
Baacha Khan’s message of peace seems to be even more relevant today. Perhaps, it was his message of peace and non-violence that helped Awami National Party (ANP) into K-P government for the first time since Pakistan’s creation.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 26th, 2012.
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