On 23 April 1930 at the Qissa Khwani Bazaar in Peshawar, many non-violent Khudai Khidmatgar were killed in Qissa Khwani Massacre.

Qissa Khwani Massacre – Non-violent Khudai Khidmatgar

Qissa Khwani Massacre was a massacre at the Qissa Khwani Bazaar in Peshawar, British India (modern-day Pakistan) on 23 April 1930. 

This massacre was the first extreme confrontation between British troops and demonstrators in the city. These demonstrators belonged to Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s non-violent Khudai Khidmatgar (servants of God) movement against the British Indian government.

The estimated number of deaths from the shooting between the official is 20 while Pakistani and Indian sources give the figure of 400 dead. The gunning down of unarmed people triggered protests across British India and catapulted the newly formed Khudai Khidmatgar movement into prominence.

Background

The Khudai Khidmatgar (literally Helpers in the name of God), led by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, was a group of Muslims committed to the removal of British rule through non-violent methods. 

On 23 April 1930, Ghaffar Khan was arrested after giving a speech in Utmanzai prompting the opposition to British rule. Ghaffar Khan’s reputation for strong integrity and commitment to non-violence inspired most of the local townspeople to take the oath of membership and join the Khudai Khidmatgar in protest.

Simultaneous demonstrations were led by a cross-section of civil society in and around Peshawar, led by Maulana Abdur Rahim Popalzai against discriminatory laws like the Frontier Crimes Regulation against the people of the province.

Clashes at the Qissa Khwani bazaar

After the arrest of other Khudai Khidmatgar leaders, a large crowd gathered at the Qissa Khwani bazaar. As British Indian troops moved into the bazaar, the crowd started throwing stones. 

A British Army dispatch rider was killed and his body burned. Two British armored cars drove into the square at high speed, killing several people. It is claimed that the crowd maintained their commitment to non-violence, offering to separate if they could gather their dead and injured and if British troops left the square. 

The British troops refused to leave, so the protesters remained with the dead and injured. The British ordered troops to open fire with machine guns on the unarmed crowd.

The Khudai Khidmatgar members willingly faced bullets, responding without violence. Many members repeated ‘God is Great'(اللہُ اکبر) and clutched the Qur’an as they went to their death.

After the Clashes

The exact number of deaths remains controversial— official figures give 20 dead while nationalist sources claimed several hundred were killed, with many more wounded. 

Two platoons of a respected British Indian Army regiment, the Royal Garhwal Rifles, refused to board buses that were to take them into Peshawar for anti-riot duty.

A British civil servant wrote later that “hardly any regiment of the Indian Army won greater glory in the Great War (World War I) than the Garhwal Rifles, and the defection of part of the regiment sent shock waves through India, of apprehension to some, of exultation to others.”

The NCOs of the two platoons, including one led by Hawaldar Major Chandra Singh Garhwali, involved were sentenced to terms of up to eight years imprisonment.

The violence continued for six hours. Gene Sharp, who has written a study of nonviolent resistance, describes the scene on that day:

When those in front fell down wounded by the shots, those behind came forward with their chests bared and exposed themselves to the fire, so much so that some people got as many as twenty-one bullet wounds in their bodies, and all the people stood their ground without getting into a panic. . . . The Anglo-Indian paper of Lahore, which represents the official view, itself wrote to the effect that the people came forward one after another to face the firing and when they fell wounded they were dragged back and others came forward to be shot at. This state of things continued from 11 till 5 o’clock in the evening. When the number of corpses became too many, the ambulance cars of the government took them away.

Investigation of Qissa Khwani Massacre

In Peshawar and the surrounding area, the Khudai Khidmatgar suffered some of the most extreme sufferings of the Indian independence movement. 

Ghaffar Khan later wrote that this was because the British thought a non-violent Pashtun was more dangerous than a violent one. Because of this, the British did everything they could to make them into violence, with little effect.

The British action against the local Indian population created unrest. This resulted in King George VI (Emperor of India) launching a legal investigation into this matter. 

The British Commission brought the case forward to Chief Justice Naimatullah Chaudhry, a famous Judge of the Lucknow protectorate.

King George VI subsequently knighted Naimatullah Chaudhry. Naimatullah personally surveyed the area of massacre and published a 200-page report criticizing the British actions.

Report of Olaf Caroe on Qissa Khwani Massacre

Olaf Caroe, then secretary to the Chief Commissioner, gave the following report of the event (‘Public and Judicial Department. Civil Disobedience Campaign in NWFP. Response to Patel allegations’. British Library reference number L/PJ/6/2007):

″I received a note on 23rd April evening from Sir Norman Bolton asking me to do what I could to arrange for the burial of as many of the casualties as possible during the night, in order to avoid the danger of a fresh riot occurring over the funeral procession. I spoke to R.S. Mehr Chand Khanna and asked him to bring me some of the leading Khilafists at the Municipal Library. He brought M. Abdurrab Nishtar; M. Ataullah Jan, Municipal Commissioner; M. Aurangzeb Khan, Vakil; Qazi Mohd Aslam, Vakil.

I informed these persons what was required and asked for their co-operation as peace-loving citizens and good Muslims. They agreed to do what they could and asked me to arrange for lorries, saying they would persuade the relatives to agree. I arranged for lorries through Shahji – one of C.C.’s orderlies – who is I believe a Peshawari and a Syed. During the night in this way we sent away seven or eight bodies in lorries. Some of them had no relatives and arrangements were made to pay for a mullah and to carry through the obsequies with all regard to religious rites. The next day Qazi Mohd Aslam came to see me and said that he was making himself unpopular by assisting in the matter. He gave me to understand that he could do no more. I fancy that the association of these four men with the action taken will put an end to any attempt to make capital of the incident.″

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