Bacha Khan remembered: Khudai Khidmatgar leader enshrined in his spirit rebellion

Published: January 19, 2016
Bacha Khan. PHOTO: FILE

Bacha Khan. PHOTO: FILE

PESHAWAR: Known for his manifesto highlighting women empowerment and the separation of religion from the state, Bacha Khan or Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan is hailed for his forward stance even today, over two decades after his demise.

Bacha Khan’s political beliefs eventually carved out Khudai Khitmatgar (Servants of God) and his pro-peace views resulted in people in India calling him Gandhi of the Frontier.

“It was in December 1929 when I and Amir Mumtaz Khan, the headmaster of our Azad School, decided to visit Lahore and watch the All India Congress annual rally, though we were not in the party, but were active in the Khilafat Movement,” Bacha Khan says in his autobiography Zama Jund o Jadojehad (My life and struggle), translated excerpts from which are paraphrased in this profile.

“We were impressed by the rally and organised one in Utmanzai, Charsadda upon our return. In my address, I told participants even Hindu women were united to work for their country and its freedom.”

Bacha Khan’s tale to come alive in English

In Zama Jund o Jadojehad, Bacha Khan recalls that night a few people from his village, after hearing him speak, visited him and discussed with him the possibilities of forming a political party. “For three days, I delayed them,” wrote Bacha Khan, “But on the third day we decided.” Thus came into existence Khudai Khidmatgar, its workers were known as Surkh Posh or Red Shirts due to the colour of their clothes.

Political downfall

While his political alliance with the Congress and friendship with Mahatama Gandhi inspired and refined his political thoughts, it won him great opposition in Pakistan.

As an ally of the Congress, Bacha Khan opposed the creation of Pakistan which set him on a warpath against the All India Muslim League. This did not prove positive for the Surkh Posh leader as even when he eventually accepted the creation of Pakistan, he was viewed with suspicion.

He spent over 25 years behind bars unfortunately his imprisonment did not end with the Raj.

He was arrested in the December of 1921 as a leader of the Khilafat Movement, and was put in Central Prison Peshawar. However, it was his involvement in this very movement which made him famous even before he started his own party around 1929.

Post-Partition years saw the Khudai Khidmatgar’s decline as the government mobilised against it. His own brother Dr Khan Sahab abandoned Bacha Khan and joined the government.

Nonetheless, the local, inward, focus of Bacha Khan’s party lent the Surkh Posh a powerful appeal among people desperate for basic rights and amenities.

Ruffling rulers

Before his arrest in 1921, Bacha Khan and others formed Anjuman-e-Islah-e-Afghan. They established a school in Utmanzai to educate children free of cost.

“There was a shortage of teachers and funds for our school so I taught children myself,” he writes in his autobiography. “We started visiting villages to gather support for our school. This enraged the British rulers.”

He adds Sir Hamilton Grant was the chief commissioner of the then NWFP. “He called my baba [father] and told him his son was creating unrest against the government by establishing schools and visiting villages.”

Bacha Khan writes his father stopped him from carrying on as it displeased the rulers. “I replied to my father, saying many people do not pray to God so should I also stop praying; my father told me prayers are a must so I replied education is also a religious obligation.”

Days of yore

Bacha Khan’s father Behram Khan, was a landlord in Utmanzai and was popularly known as Masher Khan (the elder Khan). Behram did expect his sons would grow up to become prominent political leaders.

Bacha Khan, the great Khudai Khidmatgar leader, died in 1988 and was buried in Jalalabad, Afghanistan as per his request.

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Reader Comments (5)

  • Jan 20, 2016 - 11:38AM

    One of the most respectful Indians ever born in Pakistan. Most Pakistanis hate good people, therefore, Raheel Sharif, is right now attacking Bacha Khan University in Peshawar.Recommend

  • Salman - SK
    Jan 20, 2016 - 3:23PM

    How tragic that on the death anniversary of this saintly politician, forces of evil chose to kill so many innocent souls in Bacha Khan University. And, more tragic than that is the fact that Bacha Khan’s passion: EDUCATION, is still elusive in our homeland. Lack of education diminishes our ability to differentiate between friends and foes. Therefore Bacha Khan and Abul Kalam Azad, the biggest proponent of the advancement of Muslim community in undivided India were considered by so many as enemies of Pakistan. The author, Riaz Ahmed, has made a good attempt to remind us of the sacrifices of this great leader. I wish he would have also mentioned that the reason Bacha Khan chose to be buried in Afghanistan, rather than in his birthplace in Charsadda, is because of his wish to be buried in a free country, and not in a neo-colonized and enslaved land. Something for us to think about and reorient our qibla.Recommend

  • Feroz
    Jan 20, 2016 - 5:00PM

    Bacha Khan was the tallest Pashtun leader with grass root support of the masses. His contribution to the Indian Freedom movement will be remembered by Indians for centuries to come. The social reforms he undertook among his people will be remembered by them for ages with fond memories. If Pakistan had utilized his vision and services, its status and trajectory in the comity of nations would have been astounding. Along with Gandhi he was the only one who believed that every goal of people can be achieved through non violent means. The people of KPK and FATA badly need a leader of his standing and stature who commands universal respect, unfortunately the world does not make men like him any more. Seeing the violence wreaking his land, the great Bacha Khan must be weeping in his grave. Bacha Khan, you will continue to live in the hearts of people when every other leader pre and post Partition is long forgotten.Recommend

  • Ramanan
    Jan 20, 2016 - 5:01PM

    If Pakistan chose him as their leader, Pakistan would be the different nation….. He was a man of Vision, he just wanted United India, after the partition, he was suspected unnecessarily. Pakistan should choose capable leader, who believes in Peace, Stability, Development, Secularism. I’m sure, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was the fine example of these features…..Recommend

  • Lakhkar Khan
    Jan 20, 2016 - 7:59PM


    STOP spreading hate against Pak army. I am one of the staunch Bacha Khan supporters and I fully respect Raheel Sharif. Raheel Sharif is NOT attacking Bacha Khan University. He is cleaning the mess created by the previous Jehadi leaders in Pakistan. Recommend

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