Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Pashtun Resistance

Join a special presentation on Friday, August 14 from 9:30-11 am Pacific. Registration below. Free to public.

Reading the vernacular literature of the Khudai Khidmatgars—or the Servants of God—discloses how nonviolence was embodied, conceived and practiced in such large numbers by the majority of people living in the North-West Frontier Province of British India during the 1930s and 40s. Despite racial characterizations of the Pashtuns as an inherently violent and martial peoples, the KK movement led by Abdul Ghaffar Khan—also known as Bacha Khan and the Frontier Gandhi—undertook a radical transformation of their society and their cultural imaginary while also resisting colonial domination and forming their own government in the Province. This talk will try to understand how they did so through their own words by looking at the poems of Ghani Khan, an iconic modern Pashtun poet, some KK women’s poetry and excerpts from Ghaffar Khan’s voluminous—and as yet untranslated—Pashto autobiography. Learning about this little known nonviolent resistance movement also shows us the broad scope and meanings of “nonviolence” and the ways in which these are both universal and contextual.

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Safoora Arbab is an independent scholar who holds a doctorate in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her dissertation, “The Ecstasy and Anarchy of Nonviolence: The Khudai Khidmatgar Resistance in the North-West Frontier of British India,” (2019) focuses on the Pashto literature of this popular, subaltern resistance movement of the 1930s and 40s. She has published an article comparing the Khudai Khidmatgar movement and Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s—(aka the Frontier Gandhi)—utopian vision of a nonviolent community with Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan, in the anthology, Muslims Against the Muslim League: Critiques of the Idea of Pakistan (Oxford University, 2017). And she has translated a selection of poems by the iconic, modern Pashtun poet, “Ghani Khan: A Post-Modern, Humanist, Poet-Philosopher,” (Sagar Journal, 2017). Forthcoming is her article on how alternate frames of knowledge are necessary to interpret life, “Silence, Subversion and the Subaltern in Amitav Ghosh’s The Calcutta Chromosome” in The Culture Chromosome: Time, Space and Transculturality in Amitav Ghosh’s Fiction, (Brill 2020). Her current research focuses on the ecology of the human microbiome and how this points towards a reconceptualization of the human as a part of the natural ecosystem.

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