Khudai Khidmatgar (literally “servants of God”) was a predominantly Pashtun nonviolent resistance movement known for its activism against the British Raj in colonial India; it was based in the country’s North-West Frontier Province (now in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan).
Also called Surkh Posh or “Red Shirts” or “red-dressed”, this was originally a social reform organisation focusing on education and the elimination of blood feuds; it was known as the Anjuman-e-Islah-e Afghania (society for the reformation of Afghans/Pashtoons).
The movement was led by Abdul Ghaffar Khan, known locally as Bacha Khan, Badshah Khan, or Sarhadi Gandhi.
It gradually became more political as its members were being targeted by the British Raj. By 1929 its leadership was exiled from the province and large numbers were arrested.
Seeking allies, leaders approached the All-India Muslim League and Indian National Congress; after being rebuffed by the former in 1929, the movement formally joined the Congress Party and played an important role in the Indian independence movement.
Due to pressure across India, the British colonial government finally released Bacha Khan and lifted restrictions on the movement.
As part of the Government of India Act 1935, a limited male franchise was for the first time introduced in the North-West Frontier Province. In the 1937 elections, the Khudai Khidmatgars won in alliance with the Congress Party. Bacha Khan’s brother Khan Abdul Jabbar Khan (Dr.Khan Sahib) was elected as the Chief Minister of the NWFP.
The Khudai Khidmatgar movement faced another crackdown for its role in the Quit India Movement after 1940; in that period it started facing increasing opposition from the Muslim League in the province. The Khudai Khidmatgars also won the 1946 elections in alliance with the Congress Party, and Dr Khan Sahib was re-elected as the Chief Minister.
The Khudai Khidmatgars strongly opposed the proposal for the partition of India, siding with the Indian National Congress and All India Azad Muslim Conference.
When the Indian National Congress declared its acceptance of the partition plan without consulting the Khudai Khidmatgar leaders, Bacha Khan, the leader of the Khudai Khidmatgars, felt very sad and told the Congress “you have thrown us to the wolves.”
In June 1947, the Khudai Khidmatgars declared the Bannu Resolution, demanding that the Pashtuns be given a choice to have an independent state of Pashtunistan, composing all Pashtun territories of British India, instead of being made to join Pakistan. However, the British Raj refused to comply with the demand of this resolution.
In response, the Khudai Khidmatgars boycotted the 1947 NWFP referendum about the province joining Pakistan or India, citing that it did not have the options of the NWFP becoming independent or joining Afghanistan.
After the partition of India, the Khudai Khidmatgars faced a backlash from the new Pakistani government. The government of the Khudai Khidmatgars was dismissed and their movement banned, with many members of the organisation being targeted in the Babrra massacre that occurred on 12 August 1948.
In Delhi, the Khudai Khidmatgar was revived by Faisal Khan in 2011 with a focus on promoting communal amity and aiding in disaster relief; it has a membership of around 5,000 persons.
Abdul Ghaffar Khan
Abdul Ghaffar Khan (1890-1988), the foremost 20th-century leader of the Pashtuns ( a Muslim ethnic group of Pakistan and Afghanistan) was a follower of Mahatma Gandhi and was called the “Frontier Gandhi”.
Ghaffar Khan met Gandhi and entered politics in 1919 during agitation over the Rowlatt Acts, which allowed the confinement of political dissidents without trial.
In 1920 he joined the Khilafat movement, which sought to strengthen the spiritual ties of Indian Muslims to the Turkish sultan
In 1921 he was elected president of a district Khilafat committee in his native North-West Frontier Province.
Soon after attending an Indian National Congress (Congress Party) gathering in 1929, Ghaffar Khan founded the Red Shirt movement (Khudai Khitmatgar) among the Pashtuns.
In 1987 he was awarded the Bharat Ratna Prize, the highest Indian honour that can be given to civilians. He was the first non-Indian to receive this honour.
Another non-Indian to receive Bharat Ratna is Nelson Mandela (1990).
Mother Teresa, in 1980, became the first and only naturalised citizen to be awarded the Bharat Ratna.