82 years on: The unsung heroes of Qissa Khwani massacre

Published: April 23, 2012

Qissa Khwani Bazaar’s marble arhes where people thronged in numbers to protest against the British. (R) Deplorable state of the monument constructed to remember the fallen. PHOTO: EXPRESS

Qissa Khwani Bazaar’s marble arhes where people thronged in numbers to protest against the British. (R) Deplorable state of the monument constructed to remember the fallen. PHOTO: EXPRESS
Qissa Khwani Bazaar’s marble arhes where people thronged in numbers to protest against the British. (R) Deplorable state of the monument constructed to remember the fallen. PHOTO: EXPRESS

PESHAWAR: On April 23, 1930, British soldiers opened fire on unarmed protesters killing hundreds in Peshawar’s Qissa Khwani Bazaar.

Few, however, are aware of the violent history witnessed by the bazaar’s chipped marble arches, at the opening of Dhaki Nalbandi Street. Now, the walls, which have long lost their lustre, are covered with another form of protest – religious political parties’ posters, each with its own outburst against America.

The sacrifices made by the non-violent demonstrators remain largely confined to the footnotes of history, unlike the well-known, well-documented Jalianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar.

It was barely a month after Gandhi’s Salt March that Qissa Khwani witnessed bloodshed, when Abdul Ghaffar Khan (popularly known as Bacha Khan)’s Khudai Khidmatgar movement was making its own mark on the western frontier.

The anti-colonial movement at the time was sparked by a number of factors – on one hand, the more religious elements were resisting British attempts to change Muslim personal laws, as per one author. Other writers note resentment to draconian laws (still in place today) like the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR).

Ziauddin, a local researcher who is about to publish a book on the massacre, said that the tragedy remains one of the most neglected chapters of subcontinental history. “It is not mentioned in textbooks, nor do any dramas, books or novels credit those martyrs,” he said.

In fact, the only entity that commemorates the day annually and remembers those who laid down their lives is the Gandhara Hindko Board, an organisation that aims to preserve the native language.

Even at the time, the protest was hijacked by those with their own political agenda. “There was no political party involved (in the protests), but they all tried to take credit for the sacrifices of the locals,” Ziauddin told The Express Tribune.

The incident itself occurred when protests by the Khilafat Committee and local religious clerics snowballed into something much bigger than had been anticipated. Mukulika Banerjee writes in her book ‘Pathan Unarmed’: “A Congress committee of enquiry was due to arrive to begin an investigation into the grievances of NWFP, in particular the FCR and other regressive measures.”

Banerjee outlines how hundreds of Bacha Khan’s Red Shirts were waiting to receive the committee at the Peshawar railway station when they were told that the committee had been stopped in Punjab. Ensuing protests led to Bacha Khan being placed under house arrest on charges of sedition.

It was then that people took to the streets, in hundreds, under the marble arches of the Qissa Khwani Bazaar. After local police refused to open fire on the peaceful protesters, the government called in the army.

The British acknowledged around 179 casualties. The Khilafat Committee claimed that there were around 700 fatalities, Ziauddin said, adding that the committee maintained that the British threw most of the bodies in Attock River to cover up the facts.

After the massacre, a Qissa Khwani trader, named Ashiq Hussain, constructed a monument to commemorate the victims at his own expense. The British, however, demolished the reminder.

“After the creation of Pakistan, leaguers and nationalists tried to turn this place green and red, to claim legacy for this event. This finally came to an end in the 1980s, after which (another) monument was set up to remember the martyrs of Qissa Khwani,” Ziauddin said.

While few remember the tragedy 82 years after it took place, and although it has been largely ignored in the annals of history, in 1930, the Qissa Khwani massacre was at the forefront of the nationalist consciousness: Banerjee concludes aptly: “From being a minor sideshow, the Pathans became nationalist heroes overnight.”

Published in The Express Tribune, April 23rd, 2012.

Reader Comments (4)

  • mindless
    Apr 23, 2012 - 9:02AM

    To writer of The article,
    Ashiq Hussain was not the only one who funded the construction, It was ordered and planned by then Mayor of Peshawar but history when told should be told precisely. First monument was build in 1930′s by Saif Ellahi (Engineer and Factory Owner, in fact only factory owner at that time), second was reconstructed but monument was designed by his late son Architect Dad Ellahi.
    i hold the actual model of that monument, on which it was given approval in Governor House.
    Please look at the old records of Peshawar Municipality.
    Thx

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  • Pak-Indus
    Apr 23, 2012 - 9:44AM

    I remember my Father and Uncle(who was settled there) used to talk about the historical events that took place at Qissa Khwani Bazaar in Peshawar, many years ago now.

    It’s the responsibility of the Local Government to establish trusts or specially funded departments for the preservation of such monuments from the deterioration, vandalism, destruction or encrouchments due to the threats by ever increasing population and it’s foot prints.

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  • citiman
    Apr 23, 2012 - 7:52PM

    good article and good reader’s comments.
    suche events should be informed to public so as they may know about the sacrifices people made.

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  • Sher Awan
    Apr 24, 2012 - 12:13AM

    The same thing happened in Punjab and in fact thousands were slaughtered like this but it was never mentioned in our text books. Jallianwala Bagh massacre where Baloch and Nepali soldiers killed hundreds in Punjab and the above massacre and all other massacres should be remembered in Pakistan and we should learn from our history as well.

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