Why Frontier Gandhi remains so relevant today

Born on Feb 6, 1890, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, also known as Frontier Gandhi played a significant role in the freedom struggle and was globally revered for his simplicity and adherence to non violence

Why Frontier Gandhi remains so relevant today

Humra Quraishi

February 6 was Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s birth anniversary; he was born in 1890, in Utmanzai, Pakistan. Also, known as the Frontier Gandhi, he played a very significant role in the Independence struggle. Needless to add that today, with the changing political climate, he and his struggles get bypassed, if not sidetracked.

A few years back, Delhi based activist, Faisal Khan had formed the ‘Khudai Khidmatgars’ (Servants of God), in memory of Frontier Gandhi. And in keeping with his philosophy, Faisal Khan and his fellow activists, reached out to anyone and every one in distress. They also set up a ‘home’ in New Delhi, for all people irrespective of religion or region or caste. Justice Rajinder Sachar had inaugurated it and we were all present at that touching ceremony. But what fate awaited Faisal Khan! A few months back he and one of his Khudai Khidmatgar colleagues were jailed. Why? Because he was seen offering namaaz in the premises of a temple!

It makes one wonder: Don’t we all belong to the same Creator! Don’t we all come up with prayers from the heart, whether rendered in any language or at any place! Don’t we all rush towards a peaceful place for solace, where we can pray!

While writing this, nostalgia is tightening its hold. I recall in school, Lucknow’s Loreto Convent, I would rush towards the school chapel to sit there and pray. This was whenever I would be hurt and going through emotional lows. Mind you, no upheavals nor threats that a Hindustani Musalmaan girl was seen sitting praying in the confines of the chapel of a missionary school. Nah, none of those communally surcharged apprehensions were in circulation along the strain that the selfless nuns were trying to convert, from a this to that! Those were the good old days when the political mafia wasn’t hounding on any given alibi or pretext!

Getting back to Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, and with that to his grandson, Asfandyar Wali Khan. I met Asfandyar Wali Khan in 2004, in New Delhi, when he had visited, at the invitation of Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, Rajmohan Gandhi.

I had done a detailed interview with Asfandyar Wali Khan for a national daily and I loved the forthright blatant way he spoke out. He was of the firm view that non- violence is the only way forward, “See, there are only two ways to sort out any issue --- using the military or through dialogue. Military or warfare do not sort out a thing and sooner or later one has to resort to the non-violent methods, which means to have a dialogue. That is what both the Gandhis --- Mahatma and Ghaffar Khan --- had strongly believed in and practised. It is better to have a dialogue in the first place to avoid the destruction and pain that war unleashes on people.”

When I asked why liberals like his grandfather have been forgotten, he corrected me, “This is not entirely true. There are groups of students in Germany and in the US who are doing research on him. Then let me tell you this incident. In the mid – the 90s I was travelling in India and on way to Agra we stopped at a motel where a young man came up to me, touched the thick khadi weave kurta I was wearing, and kept saying ‘ Frontier Gandhi used to wear such Khadi.’ ”

And when I’d asked him about his recollections of his grandfather, he looked lost in thoughts, before detailing, “Most of the time he was in prison. In fact, he spent almost 33 years in jail ( in Pakistan) and for about seven years he lived in exile in Afghanistan. I managed to spend only about two years with him. There was one aspect to him that always stood out: his simplicity. Once when we were invited for dinner at an Afghan friend’s home, my grandfather ordered all the dishes to be removed from the dastarkhwan except saag. To that the hosts commented that he is stricter than God, for God at least lets his people eat as much as they want! Even to this day, in my family, we have only two dishes for each meal…He always thought about the welfare of the people and that’s about it. He was extremely simple and that particular photograph of his still haunts me --- he alighting from the plane with a little bundle tucked under his arm and Indira Gandhi waiting to receive him …He lived by his convictions and in 1929 when Mahatma Gandhi called for a non- violent struggle against the British rule, he responded by forming an ‘army’ of 1,00,000 men --- the Khudai Khidmatgars (servants of God), who worked with him to take on the British through non- violent ways.”

Then I asked him to comment on the dilemma hitting many --- it surprises many that the Pathans, who are considered to be violent people, could practise non –violence. He said, “ My grandfather had once answered this question. He had said, “There is nothing surprising about a Muslim or a Pathan like me subscribing to the creed of non - violence. This is not a new creed. This was followed 1,400 years ago by the Prophet, all the time he was in Mecca.’ ”

He went on to detail, “This propaganda that the Muslims are a violent community is a fall out of today’s world politics and the games played by the super power. In fact, when I was invited to address a forum in the US, I told the audience that you would have expected to see me, a Pakhtun, with a long flowing beard and a gun on my shoulder but here I am, clean shaven and a strong believer in non- violence. I have no security guards with me. Even when travelling in the interiors of my country, it is just me and my driver. I believe there is a fixed time for death and nobody can change it by even a second. Such is my belief and faith. And though I have been in politics for years but I have never deterred from my principles…”

He had come up with this rather simplistic explanation to the growing turmoil in the world, more so in the Islamic world,“If you have two badmashes in a village its okay because will be busy settling scores with each other. But there will be chaos and confusion if there is only one badmash left! That’s the trouble in today’s world. There is only one badmash left! Also, where’s the leadership of calibre in today’s Muslim world. Religion was used by Americans in Afghanistan to create their base, otherwise, Afghan struggles had been based on nationalism and not religion. Post 9 /11, the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan are being looked at as if they are similar, which is not the case. The true essence and meaning of Islam is being overshadowed in this chaos which is unfortunate, for Islam stands for justice and peace.”

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