Khudai Khidmatgar Tehrik (Vol 1 & 2)
By Ahmed (Kaka)
Translated by Qasim Jan
ISBN: 978-969-9147-10-4 & 978-969-9147-11-1
The Khudai Khidmatgar Tehrik [Servants of God Movement] or the Red Shirts (Surkh Posh) was founded in 1930 by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (1890-1988), who is also known by the names Bacha Khan and Sarhad Gandhi.
The movement had four major objectives. It was all for anti-imperialism, the liberation of India from the colonisers and the British quitting India; it promoted awareness about the critical need for education among Pakhtun men and women, who were the most backward people in the Indian Subcontinent; it propagated Pakhtun nationalism; and it advocated adhering to non-violent means for achieving its goals, inspired by Gandhi’s philosophy.
KKT demanded freedom from colonial rule for the Indian Subcontinent but was strongly opposed to the proposal for the partition of India — although it also aspired to a separate territory for the Pakhtuns, incorporating some areas of Afghanistan.
The author of the voluminous treatise under review is Ahmed (Kaka). Originally written in Pashto and published in 1991, it has now been translated into Urdu by Qasim Jan, and reads like a detailed journal or a logbook, spanning several decades.
A translation into Urdu of a two-volume Pashto treatise about Bacha Khan’s Khudai Khidmatgar movement, penned by one of its earliest participants, is an invaluable historical document
It begins when the author was a poor village teenager and orphan. The founders and activists of the KKT movement in the frontier region provided him free schooling and food. The book is full of intriguing portrayals of grassroots rural life, and numerous known and unknown persons in various towns and villages, where the KKT had made inroads as a popular movement.
The treatise has been divided into two volumes. The first volume is about the general conditions and environment in which Bacha Khan’s movement started, and which would then go through different stages of evolution. Why it did not succeed in achieving all its objectives is also looked into. It starts with the joining of Ahmed with the Red Shirts as a destitute schoolboy and covers day-to-day and village-to-village accounts of promoting education and motivating youngsters to enrol into school, spanning many years.
The second volume is about the author from the beginning, including the loss of his parents as a child, the hardships he faced, his struggles and his work. According to Ahmed, he had narrated both these parts of the book to Bacha Khan in 1963, while they were both in Hyderabad Jail. He had been advised by Bacha to work on one part first, which explored the movement’s formative years and activities, so that it could be published as soon as possible, to let the world know about the facts of an unknown struggle in remote areas and the sacrifices of the ordinary Pakhtuns for their collective uplift.
Later, in the foreword of this book, dated January 1991, Bacha Khan’s son, Khan Abdul Wali Khan writes: “We felt that the anonymous brave young men will be lost to obscurity. As time passes, our elders and contemporaries will go to their graves. About five years ago, I sent for Ahmed and told him that no one else was left and you would have to do this job, this is your responsibility.
“Ahmed was living in my neighbouring village and, indeed, he accomplished this task. To gather information about relevant events, he would go to various places and collect the material. The writing of this book took him about four years.
“I took Ahmed to Kabul, with the manuscript. The Afghan government published Baba’s, as well as a section of my book Haqaiq Haqaiq Hain [Facts are Facts]. We requested that the revolutionary government also publish this book. Afghanistan was embroiled in its own crises. Ahmed went there several times with me, as well as alone, for the printing of this book. But Ahmed suddenly left this world. Ahmed stayed until having written this book. When he completed the book, he also completed his share of life on this earth. He had started this journey with us from the Azad Islamia High School. He couldn’t see his finished book.”
KKT became increasingly political as its members were targeted by the British Raj. By 1929, its leadership was banished from the province and many supporters were arrested. To seek allies, its leaders approached the All India Muslim League and the Indian National Congress. After being snubbed by the League in 1929, the movement formally joined the Congress Party and played an important role in the Indian freedom movement. Due to pressure from across India, the British colonial government finally released Bacha Khan and lifted restrictions on the movement.
As part of the Government of India Act 1935, for the first time, a limited male franchise was introduced in what was then known as the North-West Frontier Province. In the 1937 elections under the new Government of India Act, the Congress Party, supported by the Red Shirts, won a majority and formed a ministry under Ghaffar Khan’s brother, Dr Khan Sahib. With some interruptions, it remained in office until the 1947 Partition.
“That year, the Frontier Province, faced with the choice between India and Pakistan, opted for Pakistan in a plebiscite,” writes Ahmed. “Ghaffar Khan then advocated Pakhtunistan — the concept of an independent Pakhtun state, drawn from both the Pakistan and Afghan frontier districts. The Pakistan government suppressed both, this drive and the Red Shirts.” (Dr Khan Sahib would later serve as the chief minister of West Pakistan from 1955 to 1957.)
The foreword of the book by Khan Abdul Wali Khan includes a lucid and comprehensive historical and political background that encompasses international political dynamics around the First World War period and the designs of Western allies to weaken Muslim dominance, creating rifts between Muslims and Hindus. Then, they revitalised Islamist forces as a strategy to counter communism.
Although an interesting read, which could be made more so with better editing and organising the content into clearer separate chapter headings, the significance of the volumes as a detailed and thorough historical document for researchers and scholars, cannot be overestimated.
This is particularly because we have an inadequate mass of indigenous literature about the freedom struggles of our various regions, especially that written from the point of view of those individuals who actually participated in them.
The reviewer is a freelance writer and translator. He can be reached at email@example.com
Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, December 10, 2022