Today as the tidal wave of rebellion to decades of injustice raises its head Medusa-like from Afghanistan to North Africa, one recalls the life and times of a great Pashtun (Afghan) pacifist whose sole weapon was that of non-violence to fight the British Colonial Power.
In the vitiating atmosphere of feuding clans and the endless ebb and flow of ‘badla’ (revenge) was born, in the late 19th century, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in Pashtunistan, the legend of the North West Frontier Province (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). He is also known as Badshah Khan, Fakhr-e-Afghan (pride of Afghans) and Sarhaddi Gandhi (Frontier Gandhi). Khan Sahib followed Gandhi’s path of non-violence as a means to an end – freedom for Pashtus from the British.
Around 1928 he founded the Khudai Khidmatagars (Servants of God), popularly referred to as the “Red Shirts” (Surk Posh). The main objective was to achieve independence for the Pashtus through a sustained program of non-violent protests and also to carry out charity work in the community – setting up schools across the Province and upholding women’s rights. Khan Sahib admitted that this was based on the Gandhian Principle of satyagraha and it was the only path for the Pashtus. Incidentally, he viewed non-violence as being “compatible” with the tenets of Islam.
The sustained crackdown on the Red Shirts by the British forced him to seek help from the Indian National Congress and in turn for their support, joined Mahatma Gandhi’s movement of non-violence/non-cooperation in United India. It was during this time that he met Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, Jinnah, Sardar Patel and other ‘national’ leaders.
The Mahatma and Khan Sahib became close friends and often the Frontier Gandhi chided Mahatma Gandhi on policies that were detrimental to United India. He believed that the partition would bring much bloodshed and divide the family of United India. Moreover, the Pashtus had supported the independence movement in the belief that their homeland, Pashtunistan, already dissected by the raggedy Durand Line (Peshawar in the East and Kabul in the West), would be lost forever in the new state of Pakistan.
Unfortunately, this is what happened and Khan Sahib felt betrayed not only by the Indian National Congress but by the Muslim League which was hellbent on a state for Muslims. The ensuing events unfolded into a bloody communal upheaval that witnessed the horrible slaughter of Muslims and Hindus. The Pashtus were immediately seen as “India lovers” and thus followed another bloody crackdown.
The sad truth is that the Pashtus and their homeland Pashtunistan was carved up by the British and then by Pakistan and topped by the betrayal of the Indians to their cause. Yet in spite of the years of ruthless crackdown and incarceration by Britain and Pakistan of his followers and in particular Khan Sahib himself, he never abandoned the belief that non-violence, education and women’s emancipation was the only way to fight oppression.
He died in 1988 while under house arrest in Peshawar. Khan Sahib’s dying wish was to be buried in Jalalabad (Afghanistan). This was to show the world that he didn’t recognize the Durand Line and that his country was still Pashtunistan. (see map). Russia and its adversaries declared a cease fire so that the funeral could be conducted (even though a bomb exploded in the crowd of mourners, killing 15 people).
1920s – Founded the Khudai Khitmagars (Servants of God).
1930 – Participated in the Salt Satyagraha. In Peshawar’s Kissa Khwani (Storytellers) Bazaar a number of Red Shirt protesters gathered only to be gunned down by British troops who killed a few hundred unarmed people. Some troops from Garhwal Regiment refused to fire on the Red Shirts and were immediately arrested and jailed for life by the British.
1931 – Indian National Congress offered the post of President of the INC to Khan Sahib who refused, saying, <strong>“I am a simple soldier and Khudai Khitmatgar and I only want to serve”.
1948-56 – Arrested and incarcerated many times by the Pakistan Government. Beaten by mullahs and their followers for they viewed him as being un-Islamic.
1960s/70s – Either in Pakistani jails or exile.
1962 – Named Amnesty International “Prisoner of the Year”. Amnesty said that his example symbolized the suffering of upward of a million people all over the world who were prisoners of conscience.
1967 –Awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding.
1985 – Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
1987 – Awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award even though he was not a citizen of that country.
Much has been written of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan by those with political agendas and by scribes from different countries, each projecting a distorted view of this man of Islam who professed non-violence as the sole means to end oppression.
In the words of the Frontier Gandhi to the Khudai Khitmatgars (Servants of God)
“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”
Note: Pashtuns and their indigenous culture, Pashtunwali, with its pre-Islamic (mainly Hindu) identity continues to be an integral aspect of everyday life. One hopes this will continue to keep alive the dream of an undivided and independent Pashtunistan.
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om
I have been reading with great interest your travels ‘through’ the lower caste strata of Indian society including the marginalized impoverished rural youth. This is heartening for it appears the ‘young’ generation in Indian politics is not deaf, dumb, blind and apathetic to these unfortunate people.
Maybe you are aware of the aberrations that exist, fueled by the arrogant Indian Middle Class and the apparent lethargy of a burgeoning State, which are seemingly at odds with Nehruvian ideals, Gandhian principles and self aggrandizement (corruption).
A brilliant method of demarcating society and enslaving those unfortunate lower caste people who even today (in many places) are forbidden to draw water from the village well and instead have to walk miles to collect it from another place.
The Caste system is also perpetuated by the Indian Middle Class in connivance with the national print/electronic media. A glance through the matrimonial columns of any leading English language newspaper will show that the Caste system is alive, well and profitable for a select few.
I understand it is a crime to call a lower caste by his/her caste or trade e.g. cobbler. If this is so, then how is the media permitted to publish matrimonial advertisements under caste headings. Check out this link http://www.bharatmatrimony.com/newspaper-classifieds/newspaper-classifieds.php . And The Times of India Sunday newspaper with its supplement of “Matrimonial Adverts”.
This business has paid rich dividends and created job opportunities with high salaries. The fallout for youngsters fresh out of school who work in Call Centres; stressful working conditions and an inadequate social support system has resulted in (it is claimed) suicides, rapes, failed relationships, alcoholism and more. This is a generation of youth with little or no future prospects for once the bubble bursts where will they go?
Incredible India, that’s what the slogan says. In reality it is just a slick advertising campaign that oversells the product on offer. It is misleading for it doesn’t reflect the ground reality, example – the experience of a white single woman travelling alone by train from New Delhi to Varanasi.
We advertise Incredible India and yet our Visa system doesn’t support this.
Incredible India – visit Goa and see the garbage and rampant desecration of its ‘once’ pristine beaches. Incidentally, Goa has the distinction of being nominated to the top ten worst beach spots in the world, courtesy National geographic. The uniqueness of this former Portuguese colony is its apparent non-existent system of garbage collection and disposal. To add to this is a herd of cows that roam the famed hippie hangouts of the last century; while passengers from tourist buses throw waste out of the window of their moving vehicles.
Many beaches have been turned into tourist ghettos that are a slur on the vibrant ethos of Goa. Interestingly, a prime tourist attraction is a large ship grounded off Fort Aguada, rusting in the sea and polluting the environment.
Goa with its white washed churches, emerald rice fields, beautiful temples, fish curry, xacuti and vindaloo spiced by its vivacious people WAS to many an intrepid overseas traveler, a haven.
But not anymore.
For times have changed.
In the words of my Goan friend, “Brother, our home (Goa) is slowly dying and there is no one to help us save it”.
On the flip side: Havelock island in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is a perfect example of how an administration can work with citizens to create a clean and unpolluted environment. This is due to the personal efforts of the DIG Police, DFO Divisional Forest officer and the Panchayats. (BTW they urgently need a garbage recycling plant. Politicians have visited the small island but have done nothing. Will you please do something about this, Rahul?)
Many among us consider Shashi Tharoor to be the right person for helping Goa and overseeing the development of tourism in the country.
Why can’t we (the rest of India) emulate the State of Kerala that has 100% literacy?
I will refrain from the usual dyspepsia around pollution and speak only about our forests in whose embrace shelters our vanishing flora and fauna.
The tiger. Did you know that Project Tiger which your grandmother (Indira Gandhi) launched was a great success because it increased the number of tigers in the wild to (I think) around 4000? Now we have (it is claimed) approx. 1500 – a figure disputed by experts to be much less than this.
Our neighbor China continues to pay top dollar for Tiger parts…so what are the politicians doing about this? Talk is cheap. Action is what is needed and you, Rahul can instigate the powers that be to set up a Task Force under Valmik Thapar to tackle this problem head on. Keeping politics aside it would also be sensible to rope in Menaka Gandhi who is a well known activist. Government officers like D.P.Yadav, Divisional Forest Officer of Havelock, could also be appointed to the Task Force.
Time has run out, we have to act now. It is people like you who can make this happen.
RIGHT TO EAT
In the end all the above suggestions or viewpoints will be meaningless if we can’t feed our millions.
The baton has been handed to you and your generation of young educated Indian politicians.
You can run with it or hand it to someone else to run the race.
It’s your call, Rahul…India is watching and expecting you to win.
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om
The President of the United States of America
Mr. Barack Hussein Obama II
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Mr. President Sir,
I am compelled to write to you after having just re read Chris Hedges “War is a force that gives us meaning”…ironically on October 02, 2010, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
Apparently you will be visiting India in November, a country that is your ally in Afghanistan. Maybe this is the opportune time to delve into the history of Afghanistan to recount the life and works of the great Afghan leader, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan,
founder of the Khudai Khidmatgar (Servants of God) who is also known as Sarhaddi Gandhi (Frontier Gandhi) for his emphasis on non-violence as the sole means to an end. He was a close friend and supporter of Gandhi and the Indian National Congress. Khan Sahib was against the partition of India and when the Congress accepted the division of India he told them, “You have thrown us to the wolves.”
The Frontier Gandhi always believed in his non-violent methods and never doubted its compatibility with Islam. He viewed his struggle as a jihad with only the enemy holding Arms! When upheavals occurred within his country he said, “O Pathans! Your house has fallen into ruin. Arise and rebuild it, and remember to what race you belong”.
Unfortunately we misuse history to perpetuate hatred through selective recall of facts. From kindergarten through our adult life we are taught a distorted version of history often written with an agenda which has been to subvert the truth/society. The State of Afghanistan is a classic example and in particular the works of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan – overlooked, forgotten or deliberately mislaid by hostile parties engaged in never ending religious genocide.
On your visit to India remind the world, particularly the violent elements in Afghanistan of the friendship between two great leaders of non violence – Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Mahatma Gandhi – and its relevance in this highly polarized world of religious fanaticism.
I leave you with these words from Khan Sahib, the Frontier Gandhi, devout Muslim and highly respected Afghan leader –
“Today’s world is traveling in some strange direction. You see that the world is going forward toward destruction and violence. And the specialty of violence is to create hatred among people and to create fear. I am a believer in non violence and I say that no peace or tranquility will descend upon the people of the world until non violence is practiced, because non violence is love and it stirs courage in people”.
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om
A wacky friend from Oz told me that I was qualified to write on the following subject because I was a ‘brown skinned Indian’ and therefore could not be mistaken for a racist. I told him that racism has been alive and well in India for thousands of years with the help of the wretched caste system. Even Mahatma Gandhi could not get rid of it.
Often one is confronted with harsh reality even in paradise. People from far off lands arrive on these shores carrying the burden of their ancestors’ violent racial history. Why they do this is anyone’s guess. They are apologetic, nauseously politically correct and extremely sensitive to the plight of Aboriginals in Oz and ‘Blacks’ in the US of A. In essence these folk have sacrificed the innocence of the ‘Now’ generation by inculcating in their children the septic history of their homeland.
Frankly one is grateful to these people for they have inspired me to write about reverse discrimination.
One shall now don the robe of the devil’s advocate and delve into the subtle nuances of this new wave that has become all encompassing in Australia and U.S.A. These countries have been targeted because some family members living there have encountered this new age form of racism.
Reverse discrimination is when overzealous self-appointed guardians of history ‘over indulge’ the weaker sections to the point of discriminating against the ‘historical offenders’ the white people in Australia and USA. They do this in the hope that the vicious past would dissolve naturally in the minds of the people, made lazy by easy handouts. Reality has become the pallbearer of the true meaning of discrimination.
Visiting Australians have confided in me that their country is fast becoming a ‘State of the Ridicule’ where the Aboriginals are being destroyed not by violence but by unbridled aid.
Instead of empowering them to ‘handle’ their own lives the State has handed out ready-made houses to the Aboriginals who I am told often use the wood in the houses for fires and weapons in an impromptu fight. Sadly there exists rampant women abuse, incest, murder, rape by knives or sticks etc. which is the result of taking them out of their communities and attempting to ‘civilise’ them through acts of charity that are actually crippling them culturally.
Petrol sniffing and alcohol abuse are the fuses that light the exploding violence in remote communities. Instead of empowering these folk and ensuring they do things for themselves with all the support of the State; they are given everything on a platter as if this would wipe away the stain of the Stolen Generation – the cross that poor non-aboriginals in Australia have to bear. According to Joan, a teacher in Alice Springs, the opportunities for needy white or black kids who are not aboriginal is shocking; even white farmers crippled by years of drought find it hard to get any substantial help – hand outs being non-existent.
So is this the birth of an infectious form of racism – reverse discrimination? And will this be the seed from which will grow brave new generations of white or black supremacists? Joan told me that in her country political correctness has reached absurd levels. Society has imprisoned itself in an iron cast of dos and don’ts that has adverse effects. Nothing negative can be uttered about the Aboriginals for this would bring a swift response by society and the State. Even Aussie expats in Bali pontificate about the ‘white man’s burden’. I suppose talking is cheaper than getting off one’s butt and flying back to Oz to work at remote communities. Has anyone ever mentioned the poor non-aboriginal kids on the block and what is being done and not being done and what should be done for them? Probably these folks are being overlooked because no one wants to be seen to be favouring them for fear of being branded a racist, so I’ve heard through the grapevine.
In the US of A being black could possibly be an advantage. One can always cry discrimination in police custody, get away with murder and more importantly bag a job that one does not merit and leave it months later.
Have you observed the American media constantly harping on the colour of Obama – the whitest black most suited for President of the US of A? If he is elected all ordinary white Americans without a strain of racism in them can heave a sigh of relief for no one can henceforth accuse them of being racist for they would have a ‘black President’. And finally the underprivileged white and other non-black citizens can look forward to being recognised as a section of society that also need help in areas like healthcare, jobs and education.
The question I would like to ask Obama if he becomes President is this, “Mr. President Sir, I understand that I could face imprisonment and/or be fined for calling a black man nigger. Would you enact a similar law protecting white and ‘other’ people from being called inappropriate names or do you think these lopsided laws are exclusively for the Blacks? ”
The truth is there for all of us to see – the Blacks and Aboriginals have endured hundreds of years of unimaginable pain and suffering, families and whole generations have disappeared into the rancid and festering mouth of racism. But times have been changing. People of all colours and religions have come forth to apply balm on these tortured souls. But in continuing to do so we are overlooking the ‘others’ thereby creating a schism that is slowly turning into mass reverse discrimination. There is a danger that this could become a full-blown problem in the near future, which will affect all including those living on this island paradise.
We must remove our pseudo garb of bleeding heart liberals and confront this issue head on – calling a spade a spade and not a rose, if you get the drift.
A close Aussie friend and his equally mad Californian girlfriend have suggested the airing of a live weekly TV program titled Racist. It would be a face off with words between dissenting groups to get all the poison of history out of our system.
Hopefully, this would help in creating a brave new world of endless possibilities like one law applies to all irrespective of colour, caste, creed, race or religion; equal opportunities for all and not based on inherited historical factors that have lost their significance and effectiveness in this day and age.
Reverse discrimination will continue to grow unless we decide to draw a line in history, to write-off past debts and to start anew.
Maybe this island is the answer. Maybe the multi-national force of expats will carry back to their homeland stories of harmony, peaceful co-existence and love. And maybe this could delay the onset of yet another round of racism – reverse discrimination – that is far more potent for it is growing in the majority community in most countries.
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om