Although Bacha Khan’s father wanted to send him to England to study medicine, his mother disapproved, and Bacha Khan stayed back. However, he took advantage of the opportunity of staying back with his people to be of service to them. Always keeping the interests of his people, the Pashtuns, in mind, Bacha Khan decided to become a social activist; convinced that the Pashtuns needed education, organization, and reformation, he and another social reformer, Haji Fazli Wahid (Haji of Turangzai) who also stood against the British rule, established some religious educational institutes in Utmanzai and Mardan in 1910–when Bacha Khan was barely 20 years old. There, the students were not just given religious education, but they were also taught to be good patriots. Because the Haji urged his students and Pashtuns to unite against the British rule, the British attempted to imprison him but he escaped in time. With his escape, however, the British closed down the institutions he and Bacha Khan had established and imprisoned its teachers.
Bacha Khan was imprisoned after he held successful anti-British Imperialism assembly of Pashtuns in Utmanzai, attended by over 50,000 Pashtun. Holding such an assembly was a crime because of the British Indian Rowlatt Act, which banned people from committing to or initiating any “revolutionary” (anti-British) activities. Bacha Khan was arrested, and the villagers of Utmanzai were fined 30,000 rupees; over a hundred and fifty notables were kept in confinement until the fine was paid. Bacha Khan was released six months later.
Bacha Khan traveled through 500 villages between 1915-1918 in Khyber Pashtunkhwa (then called the Northwestern Frontier Province) in an effort to organize, unite, and educate the Pashtuns. It is these kinds of efforts and activities that earned him the title of “Bacha Khan,” which means King of Chiefs.
His social activism led to the founding of the Khudai Khidmatgar (literally, the Servants of God) Movement. The movement was based on non-violence opposition to the British Raj, and Bacha Khan told its members:
I am going to give you such a weapon that the police and the army will not be able to stand against it. It is the weapon of the Prophet, but you are not aware of it. That weapon is patience and righteousness. No power on earth can stand against it. [source]
|Bacha Khan and Gandhi|
The “Frontier Gandhi”?
Bacha Khan did not appreciate being referred to as “the Frontier Gandhi” because “it created a sense of competition [between him and Gandhi] in what was a relationship of teacher and disciple” (The Pathan Unarmed by Mukulika Banerjee, page 146). On a personal note, I, too, can’t stand it when people refer to him as “the frontier Gandhi.” No, he was not the Frontier Gandhi. He wasn’t a Gandhi at all. He was an individual, his own person; can he not be recognized without any references or links to Gandhi or any other person? The concept of non-violent resistance did not come from Gandhi, and every person who shares that philosophy is not another Gandhi.
Rest in peace, Bacha Khan. You have left us a lot to ponder over and learn from. May you be rewarded for all your efforts and struggles–and may your decades of unjust imprisonment (at the hands of British India and later Pakistan) be rewarded with eternal peace. Aameen.
It’s a shame that he is not nearly as recognized as Gandhi is, despite the similarities in their beliefs, struggles, and influences. What’s worse, few Pakistanis recognize him while much of India revers this man. It’s a pity that even many Pashtuns still don’t know about him–but they all, the ones in/from Pakistan–know Jinnah very well.
Books about him and/or in his honor include:
- My life and struggle : autobiography of Badshah Khan
- A Man to Match His Mountains: Badshah Khan, Nonviolent Soldier of Islam
- India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan : a study of freedom struggle and Abdul Ghaffar Khan
- Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan: The apostle of nonviolence (Champions of nonviolence)
- IDEAS OF A NATION: KHAN ABDUL GHAFFAR KHAN
- Islam’s Peaceful Warrior: Abdul Ghaffar Khan
- Khudai khidmatgar and national movement: Momentous speeches of Badshah Khan
- The Frontier Gandhi: His Place in History
- The Pathan Unarmed (World Anthropology) [This book has a really fascinating argument, one that might shock many people. A part of it is that Bacha Khan’s struggles of anti-violent resistance were derived not from Gandhian thought, as is commonly believed, but from Islam and Pashtunwali. Pashtunwali is the traditional “code of honor” of the Pashtuns, and it is not static but changes with time and circumstances. It is Pashtunwali, in conjunction with Islam, that guided Bacha Khan’s thought, philosophy, and practice.]The main sources for the above include: