Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the forgotten freedom fighter of India

Frontier Gandhi, Bacha Khan, or Badshah Khan are a few of the many names of the freedom warrior Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan who was born to Behram Khan on February 6, 1890.

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Khan was from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, earlier known as the Northwest Frontier Province, and was a Pakhtun or Pathan.

A devoted Muslim, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, led a nonviolent movement throughout the county against the British and was an advocate for Hindu-Muslim reconciliation in the Indian subcontinent. He was a political and spiritual leader was recognised for his peaceful opposition with an oath towards non-violence, on the path of the Muslim Prophet, Muhammad.

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The becoming of the “Frontier Gandhi”

Khan’s close friend Amir Chand Bombwal gave him the nickname “Sarhadi Gandhi” as the former held views as that of Mahatma Gandhi. In 1910, at the age of 20, Khan opened a school in his hometown Utmanzai which provided education to women and children, rebelling against the British Raj.

After witnessing the downtrodden condition of the society, especially his community, Khan developed the Afghan Reform Society in 1921, followed by a youth movement called the Pashtun Assembly, for the social upliftment of the community. He also founded the ‘Pashtun’ a monthly political journal to ensure that people were well-read and informed.

In 1929, in a revolt against the British, Khan formed the Khudai Khidmatgar, a nonviolent anti-colonial resistance movement that demanded a democratic, secular and united nation.

As the popularity and favoritism towards the Khudai Khidmatgars increased among Indians, the colonizers launched a series of crackdowns against Khan and his followers. The Khudai Khidmatgas were subjected to some of the most brutal persecutions during the Indian independence struggle, in an attempt to suppress the movement.

Abdul Gaffar Khan was a prominent part of India’s partition into the Hindu Dominion of India and the Muslim Dominion of Pakistan, siding with the pro-union Indian National Congress and All-India Azad Muslim Conference against the pro-partition All-India Muslim League.

Khan was arrested during the salt satyagraha, alongside Gandhi, on April 23, 1930. As the Khudai Khidmatgars gathered in a protest against his arrest in Peshawar’s Kissa Khwani, the British massacred unarmed protestors in large numbers with machine guns.

The Khudai Khidmatgar, which merged with the Congress during the Civil Disobedience Movement in 1930-31 but retained its identity as a volunteer force.

Only four leaders held out to the pressures of partition which included Gandhi, Ghaffar Khan, Ram Manohar Lohia and Jayaprakash Narain. 

He felt deeply deceived when the Indian National Congress reluctantly accepted the partition proposal without consulting Khan, who had outrightly opposed the partition. Khan who was upset after his people were pushed into Pakistan, slammed the Congress saying “you have thrown us to the wolves”.

Khan’s feeling of being betrayed arose from the fact that the Pakhtuns were only given a choice between two states and not a proposal of an independent nation.

Khan moved to Pakistan as his province the North-West Frontier choose the state during the partition. He regularly detained by the Pakistani government till the end of his life, over suspicions of being a traitor and his fight for a better deal for his province and people.

In 1960 he became an exhile in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Khan visited India for the Congress’ centenary celebrations of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth, amidst a rousing reception, which failed to hold him back from speaking the truth that the country had strayed away from Gandhi’s path.

Khan died of complications from a stroke while under house arrest in Peshawar in 1988, and was buried in his home in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

He lived to be ninety-eight years old when he died. He was the embodiment of honesty, kindness, and nonviolence throughout his life. A hero during the freedom struggle, Khan has faded away from the memories of a majority of Indians, Pakistanis, as well as South Asians.

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