Author: Mukulika Banerji
Reviewed by Uzma
The book under review which is written by an Indian author Mukulika Banerji, traces the origin and growth of one of the most significance nationalist movement of the Indian sub-continent, the Khudai khidmatgar (Servants of God), often called as the Red shirts. It was a Pathan organization, practiced non-violence in its anti-colonial struggle against the British and was the ally of the mainly Hindu National Congress during the period from 1930 to 1947. This book is a blend of history and anthropological inquiry, which is based on documents from the Indian office Records, the National Archives in Delhi and the /Nehru Papers, most strikingly it is based on interview with more than 70 veteran members of the Khudai Khidmatgar organization , who described their involvement , experience and love for the Badshah khan. So this is a work of social analysation rather than historiography and broadly thematic rather than chronology.
Mukulika Banerji starts the book with a sketch of the geography and history of the North West Frontier province and the culture of the people of this area. According to her NWFP has played a very significant role in the shaping of the Indian history. Its crucial strategic location made it not only the frontier of India but also an International frontier of the first important, from the military point of view for the whole British Empire. She narrates the different political events and experiments which led to the birth of the Khudai Khidmatgar movement in 1930 in NWFP, where the Pathans lived both in tribal area, indirectly administered by the Central Government and the settled areas under the direct British rule. This province was treated by the British in a special way. Security considerations were given priority over social, economic and political reforms. Unlike other provinces of British India, where reforms were introduced, the NWFP was neglected and intentionally governed through special ordinances, frontier Crimes Regulations, being one amongst them.
The Pathans were considered as brave, wild and warlike and mostly illiterate, having a system of blood feuds, but from the period 1930 to 1947, the Pathans against their wild and martial reputation had employed, the methods of disciplined non- violent civil disobedient against the British and remained united for almost two decades.
Mukulika in her discussion of the Khudai Khidmatgar movement praises the role of Badshah Khan, she remarks that the organization was dominated by Abdul Ghaffar Khan who were having the virtues of humanity and whose charisma was very much there in his followers who saw him as a prophet who possessed magical powers.
Banerji says that the workers of the Khudai Khidmatgar movement were mainly the poor people or peasants of the Peshawar and Mardan, no landlord joined this non-violent movement because they were paid by the British. Banerji also stressed that the Khudai Khidmatgars were suffered very harshly from their Colonial masters, the colonial masters. The atrocities, she was told by the Khudai Khidmatgar informants included sexual humiliation, castration, burning alive, arrest, fines, labeling the Khudai Khidmatgar’s Bolsheviks and so on. Villages of the settled districts which provided the Red shirts with activists and supplies were also fined nearly 20,000 rupees. Such fines weighted very heavily on people who were not so much prosperous, and in case of not paying the tax, their families were insulted.
According to Banerji the ideology of the movement was not different from that of Islam, Pukhtoonwali and Gandhian non-violence. She argued that these three elements were in no way in conflict to each other’s, rather were one and the same. According to her this non-violence organization was comprised of two wings, one was the civil wing and the other was the military wing. In the Civil wing, there were older people who were having higher social status, and its role was to make political decisions and to run the movement efficiently. The military wing consists of younger and lower status people. Their role was to carry out social reforms activities and political protests.
Unfortunately Mukulika did not discuss in details the relation between the Khudai Khidmatgar’s and the people of the tribal area. Although she discussed that the political activities were not allowed in the tribal area and they were prevented to initiate political gatherings and organizations there, through intense surveillance and other measures. Badshah khan was not allowed to visit there. Thus the tribal people never took the idea of non-violence. Khudai Khidmatgar was dubbed as an unlawful organization to discredit it by propaganda against them. Muslim league was allowed and its leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah visited in 1936. Thus the KK movement never gained a firm foothold there. Mukulika discussed the relationship between the Khudai Khidmatgar’s and the native neighboring tribes of the tribal area but it is also a fact that the actual picture she could show more in detail to know more about their relationship, specially the role of Faqir of Ipi.
This book of Mukulika Banerji is a bold effort for young Indian Hindu women to visit the Frontier province of Pakistan and interview elderly Pathans. The most striking element of this book is that it gives first-hand information to the reader.