Many in this generation in this neo-modern era who grew up in the 1990s and 2000s might understand by term “ Badshah khan” as a reference to some bollywood actor in India who has been “proclaimed as the Badshah khan by his friends.”
I guess I have to say this to clear the air “No, I am not recounting of some bollywood movie star or someone who pretends to be something which he is not but rather of man who had a heart of gold.” Though in a free country it is alright to call yourself anything even if the meaning and interpretations have changed.
I am talking about a man who fought for the freedom of his people. Someone who fought for a better life for his people and for the future generations. Someone who in this fight lost his beloved ones and when he got freedom from his exploiters, it was not the freedom he was hoping for. I am talking about that Badshah khan who once famously said “you have thrown us to the wolves” when partition was accepted by congress party. I am talking about a man who stood for words like loyalty, Honour and Pride.
I am talking about Khan Abdul Gafar Khan better known as frontier Gandhi, a patriot, a fighter and a Pathan.
I observed the name “Badshah khan” for the first time when I was just six and since then it has remained with me. If I may add apart from Bhagat Singh he has been another personality who taught me what fighting for your own people means even though if it comes at the cost your own personal loss or your own life. Though both were very different in their approaches but both were inspired by Gandhi in particular and were extremely Patriotic. ( Bhagat Singh was a huge Gandhi fan in his teenage time till the time he disagreed with Gandhi’s taking back of non-cooperation movement.)
Badshah Khan was born in 1890 into a wealthy and aristocratic Muslim family in Mohamadzai Pashtun clan.
He was educated and inspired by British missionaries, he began opening schools among the most impoverished and mostly illiterate Pashtun villages of the Frontier Province while still in his early twenties. In 1919, he led demonstrations against British rule and was imprisoned for sedition for three years in unusually harsh conditions that almost broke his health. Undeterred, he continued devoting himself to education and reform work among the Pashtun, and claimed to have visited all 1000 villages over a period of about ten years.
He completed his education from Aligarh Muslim University and after that he wished to study in London just like his elder brother Dr. Khan Saheb who became a doctor but his mother was afraid of losing her son to an alien culture and namely its women. That left Badshah Khan with no option but to work for his father in their fields.
Badshah Khan’s life was plagued with personnel loss but this did not deter him from being a hope to his people who were tired of the continuous wars amongst themselves.
He married his first wife Meharqanda in 1912. she was a daughter of Yar Mohammad Khan of the Kinankhel clan of the Mohammadzai tribe of Razzar, a village adjacent to Utmanzai. They had a son in 1913, Abdul Ghani Khan, who became a noted artist and poet. Subsequently, they had another son, Abdul Wali Khan (17 January 1917-), and daughter, Sardaro. Meharqanda died during the 1918 influenza epidemic. In 1920, Abdul Ghaffar Khan remarried; his new wife, Nambata, was a cousin of his first wife and the daughter of Sultan Mohammad Khan of Razzar. She bore him a daughter, Mehar Taj (25 May 1921- ), and a son, Abdul Ali Khan (20 August 1922-19 February 1997). Tragically, in 1926 Nambata died early as well from a fall down the stairs of the apartment they were staying at in Jerusalem.
Badshah Khan dreamt of greatness for his people, he dreamt of good life far away from the continuous wars in the modern Khyber-Pakhtunkwa and FATA region. He was tired of the oppression by the hands of the British, the repression of the mullahs, and an ancient culture of violence and vendetta. He wanted to uplift his fellow men and women by means of education. At 20 years of age, Badshah Khan opened his first school in Utmanzai. It was an instant success and he was soon invited into a larger circle of progressively minded reformers who were also determined for a change.
In the late Twenties, after a long period of fasting and meditation, Khan came up with the idea of a “nonviolent army” of Pashtun tribesman who would renounce violence and the code of revenge deeply embedded in Pashtun society. They wore red military uniforms (and were called “Red Shirts”), took an oath foreswearing violence, retaliation and revenge, formed regiments, trained and drilled, and devoted themselves to village uplift, education and reform.
During the civil disobedience movement initiated by Gandhi in the remote Northwest Frontier, the repression was far worse. The British considered Pashtun tribes as savages. They sealed the borders to the province and unleashed a campaign of violent repression unmatched during the civil disobedience movement. “Red Shirts” were publicly stripped and beaten, their property confiscated, their crops burnt.
There was an instance in which on 23 April 1930, Badshah Khan was addressing a gathering during which he was arrested. People started to come from far away to Peshawar’s main square to protest his arrest. The British forces in their panic open fired on the crowd. What occurred during that period left many dumbfounded. When the first layer of people were shot and killed the second layer stood up to face the bullet and they too were shot and killed. This event kept on occurring till it was 5pm (a total of 6 hours of shooting on armless people). This whole situation resulted in the loss of 200 to 300 Pashtun lives. Many of the soldiers who refused to fire were court-martial and were served hard prison sentences.
This made Gandhi stand up and say that Britishers have no moral right in India where innocent were killed just because they are protesting for their rights. Badshah Khan became a close confidant of Gandhi. Gandhi took many of his important decisions upon consulting with him.
Badshah Khan strongly opposed the Muslim League‘s demand for the partition of India. After partition, Badshah Khan was frequently arrested by the Pakistani government in part because of his association with India and his opposition to authoritarian moves by the government. He spent much of the 1960s and 1970s either in jail or in exile.
In 1985 he was nominated for the Nobel peace prize. In 1987 he became the first person not holding the citizenship of India to be awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award. He died at home near Peshawar in 1988, at the age of 98, having served thirty years in prison. Upon his death in 1988, he was buried in Jalalabad, despite the heavy fighting at the time, both sides in the Afghan war declared a ceasefire to allow his burial.
Just to keep things in perspective the famous khan market in which most of “new high society children” venture out smoking,drinking and doing all the crazy “stuff” was named after Khan baba in his honour so that even though he was far apart still he will remain close to our heart. Though I would be surprised if Khan Baba would have loved what it has become among the future generation for which he fought. Still the market named after him stands out to be the richest in India and is listed 16th in the list of richest markets in the world. Badshah Khan’s name seems enough to make it rich in life, not to mention world.
To honour him there was a bollywood movie made in 1992 in which Amitabh Bachchan played the role of Badshah Khan, the movie portrayed Bachchan as the Pathan of Kabul for whom a word given must be kept at any cost and for who love is his religion. It showed him living in jail term for most of his life till returning back to Kabul. Though it had all the bollywood masala but none the less till now it remains the only movie made on Badshah Khan, a true Pathan. My beloved Pathan.