Abdul Ghaffar Khan: The Great Pakhtun Of The Indian Subcontinent

My life and struggle, The autobiography of Abdul Ghaffar Khan is the story of a brave man who not only fought non-violently to free India from the yoke of British colonialism. But throughout his life he stood for Hindu-Muslim unity, women empowerment, and the reformation of Pakhtuns for a better and just society. 

Mahatma Gandhi and the creed which he used during the Indian struggle for independence is non-violence. But, miniscule number of his followers followed this Gandhian philosophy through thick and thin.

Although, out of those few people who followed this creed in totality was Abdul Ghaffar Khan. That’s why Gandhiji himself said about Ghaffar Khan that he is my ‘Conscience Keeper’ in the Frontier (Now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, In Pakistan).


Autobiography of Abdul Ghaffar Khan.

The Frontier Gandhi, Ghaffar Khan.

Be it India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and to a some extent Afghanistan. The name of Abdul Ghaffar Khan resonates in all of these nations. Although, like our history books which pinpoints towards four or five people and their importance in the struggle for independence. People like Ghaffar Khan became oblivion, isn’t it.

But, it’s the responsibility of a curious person to go to back to history and analyse about those people because of whom we are able to live freely without any kind of fear. And I’m glad that the first time an English translation has come out of the autobiography of Abdul Ghaffar Khan. The original text was written by him in Pashto.

I wanna say to those readers who will read this book in the near future that have some patience when you read this autobiography. There are chances that you will get bored but the end result is enlightening.

And before we start talking about frontier Gandhi. I wanna say thanks to one my friends who gifted me this beautiful book. So, let’s talk about him.


Who was Abdul Ghaffar Khan?

Abdul Ghaffar Khan was an Indian freedom fighter, social reformer and the founder of the Khudai Khidmatgar (Red Shirts, or Servants of God) movement. He is also known as the Frontier Gandhi, or Bacha Khan.


An image of Abdul Ghaffar Khan with Mahatma Gandhi.

Ghaffar Khan (Left) with Mahatma Gandhi (R).

Early life of Frontier Gandhi:-

Abdul Ghaffar Khan was born in 1890 in the village of Uthmanzai, Peshawar. He was a Pakhtun (or Pashtun or Pathan) from the Muhammadzai tribe. His father Bahram Khan was the Khan of the village.

Ghaffar Khan was the youngest child of his parents and he was the Apple of his mother’s eyes. Bacha Khan completed his early schooling from Peshawar but somehow he couldn’t complete his studies because he decided to serve in the service of mankind.

In fact, he was selected in the British India army but he refused to join them. Because, destiny had planned something else for him.

Although, he couldn’t finish his graduation but Bacha Khan used to read diligently the newspaper of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Al-hilal. In fact, this reading helped him to understand the real meaning of Islam. This changed his outlook which helped him throughout his life.

From a very young age Ghaffar Khan realised that how the so-called self proclaimed contractors of religion used to fool people in the name of God. That’s why he decided to reform the society in which he was born.



The Khudai Khidmatgar Movement and Abdul Ghaffar Khan

Ghaffar Khan used to think that through violence he can bring a change in the society. But, he realised that an eye for eye will make the whole world blind. When Gandhiji gave his call for an all India movement against the Rowlatt acts, the people of Frontier also gave their contributions in it.

And during the Khilafat movement. Abdul Ghaffar Khan participated in it and for this he was jailed by the British authorities.

The British colonialists used to torment a lot to the people of Frontier. They were scared that the Pakhtuns (Pashtuns) will be awakened from their deep slumber if they participate in the Indian freedom struggle.

That’s why they used different methods to stop them from participating in the freedom movement.

Ghaffar Khan realised that because of the disunity amongst the various tribes of Pakhtuns they were not able to achieve the freedom and the development which they deserve. That’s what he started touring the entire province of frontier and the tribal areas where Pakhtuns were in majority.

He also started a school by the name of Azad madarsa in Uthmanzai. In fact, in 1928 he started publishing the monthly Pakhtun magazine from Uthmanzai. This was the first periodical in the Pukhto language published in the land on the Pashtuns.

Because of his awareness campaign amongst his brethren the British officials were scared. They tried to spread vicious propaganda against him but to no avail.

To counter the atrocities which the British were committing in the Frontier province of British India, Abdul Ghaffar Khan went to the leaders of the Muslim league first to sought out their support and help.

But, he was shocked when the Muslim league leaders told him that their party was created by the British to counter the Indian National Congress (INC) so they can’t help him.

After the refusal of the Muslim league it was decided to apprise the Congress leadership about the atrocities which the British were committing against the Pakhtuns with impunity.

When Bacha Khan told the Congress leaders that their philosophy was based on the creed of nonviolence and they should help him in achieving the same goals for which both were fighting. After this meeting an alliance was formed between Indian National Congress and the Khudai Khidmatgar.

So, some of you might be thinking when Khudai Khidmatgar movement was started.

In 1930, Abdul Ghaffar Khan along with his close associates started the Khudai Khidmatgar (or Servants of God) movement.


Abdul Ghaffar Khan with his Khudai Khidmatgar volunteers, or the Red Shirts.

Bacha Khan with his Khudai Khidmatgar volunteers, or the Red shirts.

A Khudai Khidmatgar would serve his land and people for the sake of God. He would have no other objective in mind. He will abandon customs and rituals and would do physical labour for two hours every day. When he would take this oath, only then would that person’s name will included in the list for the Khudai Khidmatgar.

When the Khudai Khidmatgar movement was started at that time their uniform was made of white homespun cotton. But, because of the white colour it get dirty easily.

So, one day a Khudai Khidmatgar volunteer dyed his dress with the red colour and it was liked by all. From then onwards all the volunteers of the Khudai Khidmatgar movement started wearing that Red coloured dress. And because of their attire the movement was also renowned by the name of Red Shirts movement.

In fact, the British government was so scared of the Khudai Khidmatgar volunteers that they tried to discourage people to join them. They beat them mercilessly. They jailed them for no reason.

And within few months of the movement, the British officials arrested Abdul Ghaffar Khan on flimsy charges. In fact, Ghaffar Khan was one of those freedom fighters who most of their lives spent in Jail. The hardships which they have faced for the freedom of their motherland is surreal.

The treachery of the Congress and the Partition of India

Under the Government of India act of 1935, the elections were conducted in 1936 in the eleven provinces of British India.

These were the following eleven provinces of British India- Central province, United province, Bombay presidency, Madras presidency, Bihar, Orissa, Assam, Punjab, Bengal, Sindh, and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

Out of eleven provinces the Indian National Congress formed the government in eight provinces including the NWFP.

In NWFP, The Khudai Khidmatgar was allied with the Congress. And it was a Muslim majority province. Still, they formed the government easily. The so-called Muslim league was nowhere to be seen during the 1936 elections.

In the Frontier, the government of Khudai Khidmatgar was formed and the elder brother of Ghaffar Khan, Dr Abdul Jabbar Khan who was famously called as Dr Khan Saheb became the Chief Minister.

Although, during the World War II, the ministries which was formed by the Congress resigned to protest against the British India government decision to enter into the war without taking into confidence the people of India and their representatives.

But, the alliance of the Khudai Khidmatgar and the Congress proved that Hindus, Muslims and other minorities can live and coexist peacefully. It was a tight slap on the faces of communal forces who were trying to divide Hindustan.

Although, Muslim league did badly in the 1936 elections but their patron the British didn’t left a stone unturned to help them achieve their heinous motives.

During the World War II, to gain the support of the Indian National Congress, The British government sent many proposals.

In 1942, Crips Mission was sent to India but it was failed. But, the cabinet mission of 1946 was accepted not only by the Congress but the Muslim league also accepted it. It was the best plan at that time which didn’t propose the partition of India.

People like Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and to a certain extent, Mahatma Gandhi was happy with the cabinet mission plan.

According to Cabinet mission plan of 1946 only three subjects were to be allocated to the central government i.e defence, foreign affairs and communications.

But the cabinet mission divided Hindustan into three zones i.e A, B and C.

In Zone B were included the Provinces of the Punjab, Sindh, NWFP and British Balochistan. These were the areas where Muslims were in a majority.

In Zone C were included the provinces of Bengal and Assam. In this Zone the Muslims online had a slight majority.

In Zone A, all the other provinces of Hindustan were included.

Although, the cabinet mission plan was accepted by both Congress and the Muslim league. But, in 1946, Jawaharlal Nehru was the president of the Indian National Congress and he made a blunder when someone asked him about the cabinet mission.

This is what Nehru said –

‘When the Congress sits in the constituent assembly, it will not consider itself as bound by these agreements and, at the time, it will decide in accordance with the prevailing situation, with complete freedom.’

When Muhammad Ali Jinnah got wind of this naive statement which was made by the then Congress president. He immediately withdrew Muslims League from the cabinet mission plan and with that withdrawal the dream of a United India shattered forever.

Within few months of the failure of the cabinet mission, the Muslim league and its leaders announced a Direct action day in Kolkata. The riots started in Calcutta (Now Kolkata). Uncountable number of people lost their lives. When the Bengal, Bihar and few pockets of North India were burning at that time the British sent Lord Louis Mountbatten to India as the Viceroy.

Mountbatten already made his mind that he will partition India sooner than later. So, he started talking with the leaders of the Congress and Muslim league.

The first Congress leader who was convinced by Mountbatten for the partition of Hindustan was Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.

Some of you might be shocked when you read this, isn’t it. Even Maulana Abul kalam Azad said in his autobiography, India wins freedom, that Sardar Patel was the real founder of the India’s Partition.

After Sardar Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru was the next to fall in line. When both of these stalwarts of the Congress accepted the partition of India then who can challenge them. Although, Ghaffar Khan tried whatever he could do to prevent India from partition but to no avail.

And when he realised that India is going to be partitioned soon he put forward a proposal in front of the Congress that they should pressurise Lord Mountbatten that the people of Frontier should be given a choice for referendum for an independent Pakhtunistan. But his proposal was rejected by majority of the stakeholders.

It’s a tragedy and the folly of the Congress leaders that they left Ghaffar Khan and his Khudai Khidmatgar when they needed their support the most.

Although, India was partitioned on 3 June 1947. But, the love and respect which Ghaffar khan had for Hindustan never decreased even an inch. That’s why in 1987, Abdul Ghaffar Khan was given independent India’s highest civilian award, The Bharat Ratna (The jewel of India).


Bacha Khan in Pakistan and his message for the Pashtuns

When Pakistan was formed on 14 August 1947, Ghaffar Khan and his supporters told the leaders of Muslim league that now they were part of Pakistan and they accepted it but they just want autonomy.

But, what you can expect from those leaders of the Muslim league who throughout their lives spread venom against Bacha Khan and his movement. In fact, when Ghaffar Khan was in Pakistan he was either in Jail Or he was confined to his home. That’s how they treated him.

In the year 1962, Bacha Khan was declared Amnesty International’s Prisoner of the year.

Ghaffar Khan throughout his life spread the message of nonviolence. That’s why he is also called as the Frontier Gandhi or the Sarhadi Gandhi.

Being a Pakhtun he tried to reform the strict code of Pashtuns which is known as the ‘Pashtunawali’. He said that ‘Nonviolence’ is not for the faint hearted people. It’s a weapon of the brave. And who can be more brave than the Pathans.

In fact, The British used to say that, ‘The non-violent Pathan is more dangerous than the violent’. Although, Ghaffar Khan couldn’t finish his studies, but he strongly believed in the power of education, especially women education.

Frontier Gandhi used to say that he would always try to remove the sense of inferiority from the minds of women, which had been inculcated in them by ignorant and selfish men.

Because of deeds like these, Ghaffar Khan became an inspiration for uncountable number of people including the youngest Noble Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai.

Although, he couldn’t see a United India and an independent Pashtunistan. But, his life is an example for those people who wanna do something good for his or her nation and in general for the entire mankind.

Ghaffar Khan breathed his last on 20 January 1988 in Peshawar. He is buried in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

I’ll conclude with this bon mot-

‘The best among you is the one who serves people.’

I hope you like this, Thanks for reading, Jai Hind.

My Ratings: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4/5) 

Order your copy from here-

Yash Sharma

Namaste reader, My name is Yash, and books for me are like a medicine, which removes my ignorance and also helps me in behaving more like a human.Though I live in the world’s largest democracy, India, but when I look around, I realized that this democratic nation of mine has turned into a kind of feudal oligarchy or kleptocracy, where people from a particular community or I would say particular surname has hijacked this democracy, and the political parties in India has turned itself into a kind of family enterprises where the family members are the only shareholders. And I want to change this, and books are a weapon which is helping me, so that I can help others and my nation.Shukriya for reading this Thought of mine.

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10 Responses

  1. Aishwarya says:

    We all can keep complaining about the shortcomings of our society but To reform the society we are born in is certainly the most challenging and brave deed to do which most of us are incapable of… What an inspirational and unputdownable personality he was. Well done👍👍👍 You have put so much of effort and it’s showing.

    • Abdul Ghaffar Khan was a great personality indeed. No doubt about it. And thanks for going through this article and giving your precious feedback. Glad that you enjoyed reading it.

  2. Tyra says:

    Amazing autobiography of Abdul Ghaffar Khan. I even admire his advocacy on women empowerment. Additional knowledge again Yash you’ve shared to us. Good job!!! 🙂

  3. Sinthiya Oishi says:

    Nice one. Thanks for this amazing article. Keep it up bro..✌️

  4. Prabal Singh Nain says:

    Well written brother….this time I am very late to read this and i’ll promise that this will not repeat in future again….This time I don’t have any question….and you give complete pack of knowledge….keep it up bro

  5. Ritika Jain says:

    Beautifully compiled..!!
    The people like him become immortal.
    The greatest service is the service to mankind.
    He was,he is and he will always be an inspiration for the agents of change.
    Thank you for reading about him and letting us know certain things we didnot know.
    Keep doing the good work👏👏👏

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