Pakistan Must Apologise To Pashtuns Over Babarra Massacre
It was a bright day on August 12, 1948 when the newly formed state of Pakistan revealed the monstrous claw that it will submerge into any nation and ethnicity if they tried to oppose the draconian order and narratives of oppression of the state. Today we are observing the 72nd anniversary of Babarra massacre, when the new postcolonial state but with under the colonial mindset carved its policy through blood, vis-a-viz the ethnic minorities of the country.
Perhaps Jinnah was tolerant of sectarian differences and wanted different religious communities to have a claim to their own identities. But he considered the cultural and linguistic identities as a challenge to the discourse on which he had created Pakistan and later wanted that discourse to shape the future polity of the country. The political consciousness of the Pashtuns is marked by this tragedy. It remains the cornerstone around which Pashtuns imagine their role in the state of Pakistan.
August 12, 1948 is the day the Babarra massacre happened. The new state of Pakistan opened fire and carried a massacre in broad daylight killing 630 Pashtuns, including kids. In memory of Pashtuns, that day defines their relationship within the state of Pakistan. Remembering that day gives the core to Pashtun political consciousness and informs what Pashtuns can expect from Pakistan and at what cost. 630 people were killed not by the British, not by the ‘non-Muslims’, but by the Muslim brothers in a state formed in the name of Islam and for protection of Muslims.
The new state of Pakistan under the order of Abdul Qayyam Khan, then imposed a fine of Rs. 50,000 on Khudai Khidmatgar Tehreek for the cost of the operation. Imagine the state killing 630 people belonging to an ethnic minority and then extorting a hefty sum for its ‘service’ of killing them. Rs. 50 was imposed as a fine on every dead for participating in the rally and violating the Article 144. Rs. 100 was taken from each injured as a fine. As a result the wounded weren’t taken to hospital by the heirs out of fear of fine and imprisonment. Four or five people were buried in a single grave so that they have to pay fine of one dead only.
Life of Dost Muhammad Khan, a young man who survived the Babarra massacre but was gunned down by terrorists in 2015 presents in one single example the treatment the Pakistani state has meted out to Pashtuns.
Qayyum Khan had imposed article 144 and leaders of Khudai Khidmatgaars, Bacha Khan included, were put behind bars. Khudai Khidmatgars were on their way to a nearby mosque for a Jirga when they were confronted at Babarra, a place in Charsadda by police. Abdul Rauf Sardehri, the person leading the guards on duty (the guards were not armed, all processions of Khudai Khidmatgars would be protected by a contingent of volunteers who would offer their bodies as protection for the procession), pleaded the assistant commissioner to let the procession pass as they were peacefully protesting against the law of the colonizers. Altercation broke down and in the flurry of the moment the Pashtuns gathered were made to realise that the events of Qissa-Khwani massacre were not only tales of the past, that the present state of Pakistan led by Muslims is no different from the British colonizers when it comes to oppression, that independence was just a change of masks.
Pashtuns had seen massacres before. The Qissa Khwani massacre of April 23, 1930; the Takkar massacre of May 30, 1930, and other mass slaughtering like that of HathiKhel and the one carried after demolishing Sar Daryab Markaz of Khudai Khidmatgars. But the Babarra massacre stands out, because it determined what kind of relationship the Pashtuns will have with the new state. The other massacres will be written as acts of selfless sacrifice in the annals of freedom. But in which category the Babarra massacre will be put? Pashtuns were not violent, they were not armed, they didn’t want freedom.
They wanted their rights under the new state, and the new state drew a red line through blood that Pashtuns have to either live as second class citizens or bullets will be ready to welcome them.
Six hundred and thirty people laid down their lives, including women. Bacha Khan had made women part of every Khudai Khidmatgar procession and according to Dost Muhammad Khan women were holding Qurans on their heads to stop the police but they kept firing. The machine guns roared till they were out of ammunition. The injured were not taken to hospitals because they would have been arrested.
Our present can be recognised in that one singular moment and from the workings of memory it will seem that our present is just a continuum of that fateful day. The history from that day on is not an empty time. We have been visited by atrocities which were variations of that defining day.
For the last 16 years mortars shells have visited us while we were lying unsuspecting them, sleeping in our homes. For the last 16 years, our children are left without schools. Our elders marched to bullets on 12th August, 1948 knowing their fate. If history has progressed in any way it is that we don’t have that choice now. Turning away is not a choice. Only death is. And to give us that choice back, there is a new political consciousness in Pashtuns! History is always the struggle of the oppressed and the last 16 years are the part of history that this new insurgent Pashtun political consciousness is rewriting in favor of the oppressed.
We have more stories to tell. We have a whole history to be reproduced. But for that, the first demand is the right to life, which the increasingly tyrannical state of Pakistan has systemically denied to us. This 12th August will be that one day in popular consciousness that the scar of the day happened 72 years ago will be connected to the scars of today. The tyranny may seem total and the oppression complete, but there can be dreams which think of an alternative future.
If the democracy in the country has to give a sense of belonging to the Pashtuns living in Pakistan, it has to begin by apologising over the Babarra massacre. There are precedents of nations and states recognising their past mistakes. The British apologised for Jalianwala Bagh, the Australian government apologised to its aboriginal population. Similarly, Pakistan too can apologise to Pashtuns for the Babarra massacre. The culprits are known, there is no secret to hide. It was carried by the state and the wounds are still fresh in our imagination. These wounds need to be healed. But regardless, the memory of martyrs of Babarra will be a metaphysical part of our reality as a Pashtu verse says
Wakhta dalta che qadam gde nu pa khyal gda
Da da khawre kanre butte shahedan dy.
[O Time! Tread carefully on this land
Every stone and every plant tells a story of a martyr in this land.]