Bacha Khan: A Shared Hero Of Subcontinent
India and Pakistan share not only its borders but also a history, heritage and heroes who achieved remarkable heights as public figures defying all borders and other identities. After being separated as two sovereign nations, they underwent a path away from cordial relations most of the time. Both sides fought wars, restricted movement of its people and goods and even postal services. These are the same nations whose founding fathers and many leaders, historians, and writers shared a beautiful bond.
Now, this is a high time for governments on both sides to re-visit the history which has the potential to transform the future. Among many such steps, one can be bringing social leaders and writers together to create a bridge between two sides. Bacha Khan is one such leader whom people from across boundaries – particularly in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan – love and respect.
On 6th Feb, it was the birth anniversary of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, popularly known as Bacha Khan and also as Frontier Gandhi. Pyarelal, who has been fortunate to meet with him a few times, wrote the book Sarhadi Gandhi (published by Sarv Seva Sangh in year 1970) about life and philosophy of Bachat Khan. He writes that Bacha Khan’s role was primarily important in subcontinent because he successfully experimented and lived philosophy of peace and non-violence among Pakhtuns who were always believed to be great warriors. Bacha Khan spread a message of peace among them and that non-violence was the highest form of bravery, stronger than violent resistance. Bacha Khan’s work among Pakhtuns actually transformed thousands of people.
In a protest during the civil disobedience movement of the 1930s, hundreds of Pakhtuns in Peshawar encountered British bullets fearlessly without running away. Having seen such a huge crowd of Pakhtuns without any arm exhibiting no violent resistance, few soldiers with Royal Garhwal Rifles refused to fire. This was an example of transformation in heart and mind that he inspired not only in his people but enemies as well.
We find rare such examples of transformation apart from what Gandhi did during India’s freedom struggle and this is why Bacha Khan and Gandhi were so close. Sometimes, during his stay in India, on request of Gandhi, Bacha Khan would narrate Holy Quran’s teachings while Gandhi narrated Holy Geeta during prayer meets of the two. Subsequently, Bacha Khan became popular as Sarhadi Gandhi or Frontier Gandhi.
When British were leaving and India and Pakistan were emerging as two separate countries, communal violence erupted in many parts of subcontinent. While India was preparing for its Independence Day and leaders were gathering in Delhi, the most renowned leader Mahatma Gandhi kept himself away from any limelight. He went to Noakhali (then in East Pakistan), to spread message of communal harmony and bringing amity between Hindus and Muslims. Gandhi walked on his feet talking to people there and it was his magic that Noakhali became peaceful. Afterwards, he moved to Bihar where violence was at peak and then he felt need for Ghaffar Khan to ease tensions. Ghaffar Khan reached Bihar and they both tried to cool down the flame of violence together.
In 1969, the centenary year of Gandhi, Bacha Khan came to India. At that time, India had lived 22 years of independence but Bacha Khan was not happy to see it was not in match with what Gandhi had envisioned. During the 1969 centenary year, many preparations were in line to celebrate Gandhi’s life. JP was also in full dedication with his active role. S N Subbarao was preparing for the Gandhi Darshan Train to be travelled to all over India alongwith volunteers. Meanwhile, as communal violence erupted in few places, Bacha Khan sat on fast in Gujrat. This was when ‘Insani Biradari’ (brotherhood) was formed. While addressing joint session of Parliament in India, he spoke vehemently: ‘You are forgetting Gandhi, the way you forgot Buddha’.
This is need of the hour to look towards Bacha Khan once again. Let the violence, hatred, and suspicion melt away not only from thought but also from hearts. Governments and civil societies, social and political leaders, educationists and bureaucrats, media and common people – all have a role in this. Bacha Khan’s contribution in history will remain alive to tell us that stories of peace and non-violence are not just for books or spirituality, but to live on ground as Ghaffar lived, the modern history of this subcontinent.