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The Feminist Legacy Of Khan Shaheed

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The definition of ‘feminism’ was rarely known among the masses of the sub-continent and no organisation or government followed the principles of gender equality. Because the British colonialism’s discriminatory policies based on exploitation and oppression of nations in the then united India did not allow such debates to take place.
But even in those dark times, Khan Shaheed Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai, the Pashtun Afghan nationalist hero and founder of Pashtukhwa Milli Awami Party, spoke of gender equality.

Despite living in a deeply patriarchal society of Pashtunkhwa– a product of the colonial, capitalist, conservative and extremist forces, Khan Shaheed believed in treating men and women equally. Khan Shaheed once visited Quetta with his parents for his sister’s operation. He wrote about it and narrated how he loved the way the English nurses looked after the patients. These women were seen as villains by the Indian society because of how the Britishers had oppressed the people of the sub-continent and attacked Afghanistan in the three Anglo-Afghan wars.

But Khan Shaheed did not hesitate to meet the nurses when he once visited one of those hospitals as a child. When Khan Shaheed met the nurses, he was curious to know about their work. He would ask questions and wanted to know how things work at the hospital. Seeing the child’s interest, the nurses took him for lunch so they could spend time with him.

Meanwhile, his parents got worried when they couldn’t find him, because children usually go missing in unfamiliar buildings and the rush of the city. Khan Shaheed eventually returned to his parents who anxiously asked him where he had gone. He told them he went with the nurses because he was impressed with their work and how they helped those in need.

Upon hearing this, Khan Shaheed’s parents got angry at him, because the missionary nurses and doctors, being non-Muslims, were looked down upon by the Muslims. They were furious that Khan Shaheed ate the ‘non-halaal’ food with the nurses. Khan Shaheed told his parents that neither did the nurses ask him about his beliefs, nor presented theirs. This incident shows young Khan Shaheed’s logical and observational approaches toward new logic and philosophy even at a young age.

In his autobiography, Khan Shaheed also shares that he would always visit the nurses and ask about their well-being when he visited the city. Owing to Khan Shaheed’s liberal, secular and feminist approach, the same nurses testified before the British agents about his innocence when his tribesmen once abducted the British military officials and and took them to Afghanistan. The Britishers wanted to avenge the act, but the nurses saved Khan Shaheed by testifying in his favour.

Khan Shaheed enrolled his daughter named Khor Bibi at a young age in boys school of Gulistan. The conservative Pashtuns who were invaded and separated from Afghanistan under Gandamak and Durand treaties imposed by the colonial regime could not accept Khan Shaheed’s decision to send her daughter to school. As the school was a bit away from their house, Inayatullah Karez, Khan Shaheed arranged a bicycle for his daughter to travel through villages and reach the school comfortably. This was a new chapter in the Southern Pashtunkhwa’s modern history, which paved the way for girls education, women empowerment and gender equity. These principles are still followed by Khan Shaheed’s admirers and his political philosophy and legacy continues to be the guiding light for them.

He would take Khor Bibi with him to the official meetings in Afghanistan to show his countrymen and women how important it is to include women in consultations. He wanted to ensure that women are given due space and role in political activism and nationalist progressive, anti-colonialist and anti-capitalist struggle. Khan Shaheed’s philosophy of empowering women is reflected in Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP)’s manifesto. PKMAP chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai tabled a bill seeking representation of members of the transgender community in Senate, national and provincial assembles and all policy-making bodies at the national level.

Mehmood Khan Achakzai is carrying Khan Shaheed’s legacy forward by teaching the women the importance of their participation in the mainstream. He is the torchbearer of his forefather’s feminist ideals. In PKMAP, female parliamentarians are fully supported and encouraged to play their due role in creating a society where every citizen regardless of their gender has a say in politics, economy, culture, history, education.

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