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Posted by on Oct 2, 2008 in Religion, War | 0 comments

Remembering Mahatma Gandhi & ‘Pashtun Gandhi’

frontier gandhi and mahatma gandhi

Today (October 2) is Mohandas K. Gandhi’s birth anniversary. While the votaries of non-violence in the violence-ridden world pay tributes to Mahatma Gandhi’s memory, in this post I would like to recall Gandhi’s abiding friendship with a Pashtun leader, better known as “Frontier Gandhi”, and who belonged to the so-called ‘badlands’ in Pakistan on the border of Afghanistan. (Photo of the two leaders above.)

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (1890–1988), a Sunni Muslim from the subcontinent’s Northwest Frontier Province won more than one battle against British power in his region in the Gandhian non-violent manner. After Pakistan’s independence in 1947, he fought against difficult odds for autonomy for the Pashtun people.

This fascinating story is narrated in an old article by Rajmohan Gandhi, a visiting professor at the University of Illinois. He wrote “Ghaffar Khan: Nonviolent Badshah of the Pakhtuns” (Penguin India), and also authored “The Good
Boatman,”
a biography of his grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi.

“The efficacy, nonetheless, of the nonviolent movement of Badshah Khan (‘badshah,’ or ‘king of kings’ being the honorific the Pashtuns, or Pathans, attached to his name) is captured in a recollection by a British officer called Bacon of the 1930 struggle in the Northwest Frontier Province when thousands of Pashtuns nonviolently stood up to the British. Later, Bacon talked about the events: ‘If nonviolence overcame fear, it was an antidote to the revenge code, the curse of Pashtun society.

” ‘As Gandhi put it in the summer of 1940, when he and Ghaffar Khan were defending a nonviolent strategy (“Satyagraha,” in Gandhi’s phrase) before colleagues tempted by the route of violence: ‘[Ghaffar Khan] is a Pathan and a Pathan may be said to be born with a rifle or a sword in his hand. But [Ghaffar Khan] deliberately asked his Khudai Khidmatgars to shed all weapons when he asked them to join the Satyagraha (non-violence)….

” ‘He saw that his deliberate giving up of the weapons of violence had a magical effect. It was the only remedy for the
blood feuds which were handed down from sire to son and which had become part of the normal life of a Pathan. They had decimated numerous families and nonviolence seemed to [Ghaffar Khan] to have come as longed for salvation. The
violent blood feuds would otherwise have no end and would spell the end of the Pathans.

” ‘Since a nonviolent strategy did not invite unbearable retaliation, it won enthusiastic support from a general populace spared the brutal reprisals that violent attacks provoked.’

“Remembering the violent upheavals destroyed life in the Northwest Frontier during his boyhood in the late 1890s, Ghaffar Khan spoke with justifiable pride in his autobiography of the contrasting results of the movements he led in the early 1930s: ‘The British crushed the violent movement in no time, but the nonviolent movement, in spite of intense repression, flourished….

” ‘If a Britisher was killed, not only the culprit was punished, but the whole village and entire region suffered for it. The people held the violence and its doer responsible for the repression. In the nonviolent movement we courted suffering, and the community did not suffer but benefited. Thus, it won love and sympathy of the people’.

“It was in March 1947 that the British as well as colleagues of Gandhi and Ghaffar Khan in the Indian National Congress
agreed to the demand of the Muslim League, first raised in 1940, for the separation from India of a Muslim homeland
called Pakistan. In sadness, and only because no other solution seemed in sight, Gandhi and Ghaffar Khan acquiesced in a division
they had stoutly opposed.

“On March 16, 1947, Ghaffar Khan spoke in Bihar, where he and Gandhi sought to heal wounds from Hindu-Muslim violence: ‘I find myself surrounded by darkness, which increases the more I think of the future of India. Indeed I see no light. India is on fire. If India is burnt down, all will lose, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians. What can be achieved through love can never be achieved through hatred or force’….” More here…

A lesson for all in view of the unending violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Here is my earlier post on Afghanistan and Pakistan...Please click here…

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