Qissa Khwani Bazaar massacre
|Qissa Khwani bazaar massacre|
British Indian troops in Peshawar during the demonstrations
|Location||Peshawar, British India (modern Pakistan)|
|Date||23 April 1930|
|Target||Khudai Khidmatgar protestors|
|Deaths||20 demonstrators killed according to official reports. Nationalist claims of up to 400 killed.|
The massacre at the Qissa Khawani Bazaar (the Storytellers Market) in Peshawar, British India (modern day Pakistan) on 23 April 1930 was one of the defining moments of the independence movement in British India. It was the first major confrontation between British troops and demonstrators in the city. Estimates at the time put the death toll from the shooting at between the official count at 20, and the figure of 400 dead put forth by Pakistani and Indian sources. The gunning down of unarmed people triggered protests across British India and catapulted the newly formed Khudai Khidmatgar movement into prominence.
The Khudai Khidmatgar (literally Servants of God), led by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, were 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 urging resistance to British rule. Ghaffar Khan's reputation for uncompromising 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 other Khudai Khidmatgar leaders were arrested, a large crowd of the group gathered at the Qissa Khwani bazaar. As British Indian troops moved into the bazaar, the crowd was loud and stones were thrown. 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 continued their commitment to non-violence, offering to disperse 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. At that point, the British ordered troops to open fire with machine guns on the unarmed crowd. The Khudai Khidmatgar members willingly faced bullets, responding without violence. Instead, many members repeated 'God is Great' and clutched the Qur'an as they went to their death.
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 involved were sentenced to terms of up to eight years imprisonment.
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.
In Peshawar and the surrounding area, the Khudai Khidmatgar suffered some of the most extreme suffering 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 provoke 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 distinguished 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.
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.″
- "Peshawar: Qissa Khwani martyrs remembered". Dawn.com. 24 April 2008. Archived from the original on 4 August 2008. Retrieved 24 April 2008.
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- Johansen, p. 62.
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- The Times 28 April 1930
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- Popalzai, Dr Abdul Jalil (24 Apr 2004). [permanent dead link]. Last accessed on 26 February 2008
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