How one man turned the fierce Northern Afghanis into peaceful protesters
|Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a proponent of nonviolence and social change, was affectionately known as the "Frontier Gandhi." his most astounding achievement was to convert the gun-toting, revenge seeking Pathans to his unique weapon - non-violence.
A devout practitioner of nonviolence and social reform, Khan worked to spread his ideals in the region. Eluding at least two assassination attempts and surviving three decades in prison, he remained committed to nonviolence to the day he died in 1988 at the age of ninety-eight.
Asfandiyar Wali Khan, Ghaffar's grandson, remembers two basic lessons his grandfather gave him about the superiority of nonviolence.
"He said that violence needs less courage than nonviolence," says Asfandiyar, who resides in Peshawar, Pakistan. "Second, violence will always breed hatred. Nonviolence breeds love."
The British treated Ghaffar Khan and his movement with a barbarity that they did not often inflict on other adherents of nonviolence in India. "The brutes must be ruled brutally and by brutes," stated a 1930 British report on the Pashtuns.
The British thus reacted with a singular ferocity to the Khidmatgar desire for independence from British rule, subjecting Khidmatgar members throughout the 1930s and early 1940s to mass killings, torture, and destruction of their homes and fields. Khan himself spent fifteen of these years in prison, often in solitary confinement. But these Pashtuns refused to give up their adherence to nonviolence even in the face of such severe repression.
In the single worst incident, the British killed at least 200 Khidmatgar members in Peshawar on April 23, 1930. When those in front fell down wounded by the shots, those behind came forward with their breasts bared and exposed themselves to the fire. The people stood their ground without getting into a panic. This continued for six hours. The carnage stopped only because a regiment of Indian soldiers finally refused to continue firing on the unarmed protesters, an impertinence for which they were severely punished.
While people initially joined the organization due to Khan's charisma and persuasiveness, later on it was due to the excitement of becoming part of something larger than themselves. And their commitment to nonviolence was stronger than their allegiance to Khan. When Gandhi asked some of them in 1938 if they would take up violence if Ghaffar Khan told them to, they replied with an emphatic no.
Awad says Khan was an eye-opener for a lot of Muslims. "He was a soldier of Islam but in a nonviolent way," he says. "He showed that even a strong person could be nonviolent."
Khan believed in equality for women and was emphatic about female education. The movement encouraged equal participation of women from the start.
Like Gandhi, Khan lived a simple life - his total belongings consisted of a bed sheet, a towel, and a spare set of clothing.
|Extent of Action:||National|
|Source:||The Progressive, 2/02 and 4/02|
|Prepared By:||alb, 10/02|