Undying resilience

August 07, 2022

Peshawar played a historical role in the independence movement

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KP Youth Parliamentarians. — Photos by the Author


he historic city of Peshawar has witnessed numerous ups and downs throughout its existence. Some residents call it the oldest living city of South Asia and the gateway to the Indian subcontinent. The city has absorbed a multitude of cultures and civilisations. Today, it stands out as a medley of diversity steeped in centuries-old traditions. The city has survived brutal oppression and revolutionary changes at the hands of invaders from Alexander the Great to Ahmed Shah Abdali.

Its Mughal rulers were followed by the British. Peshawar took a new turn and its dwellers raised their voices for freedom from the shackles of foreign rulers. At the dawn of the 20th Century, a new spirit shaped their aspirations – liberation from their rude and possessive masters. However, the independence came at a heavy cost.

Local scholars say that tough times have only enhanced the patriotism among Peshawar’s residents.

Everyone from political leaders, religious scholars, literati, the youth, women and minority communities played a significant role in the independence movement and made the necessary sacrifices. For over 40 years, Peshawar has been on the frontline and paid the price for peace and stability in the region. From the gory Qissakhawani incident to the tragic massacre at Army Public School (APS), Peshawar is still on its journey to freedom from deprivation and insecurity.

The Qissakhawani massacre occurred on April 23, 1930. Over 400 unarmed protestors were shot dead and many others were seriously injured. The shock of this tragedy still reverberates in the minds of Peshawar’s residents who have heard about it from their grandparents. Shah Bagh, Chowk Yadgaar, Qissakhawani Bazaar and Cunningham (Jinnah) Park have now become popular venues for public meetings.

The Qissakhwani tragedy only strengthened the resolve of Peshawarites. The city had already become centre stage for all kinds of resistance and protests against British oppression and its once thriving theatre industry had begun engaging in combat, using weapons of non-violence introduced by Khan Abdul Ghaffar, fondly called the Bacha Khan in the early 1920s.

The residents of narrow city streets welcomed political leaders and religious scholars of all hues to converge in Peshawar. They showed great enthusiasm for the movement and raised their voice for the freedom of Pakistan. The central leaders of the All India Muslim League were thoroughly impressed by Peshawar.

It is said that during the public meeting in Lahore on March 23, 1940 the All India Muslim League leaders contacted the Muslim League National Guard Peshawar chapter to arrange a contingent of stout youth to provide security for the venue, around the stage and for the Quaid-i-Azam.

Pehlawan Tillah Mohammad, a resident of Peshawar, was tasked with leading a contingent of 160 to 200 young to Lahore.

After Quaid’s powerful presentation at the Roundtable Conference in London for the constitutional rights of the erstwhile North West Frontier Province, the freedom narrative of the All India Muslim League had gained ground. The Quaid-i-Azam made some historic visits to present day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the merged tribal districts.

Today’s Qissakhawani Bazaar.

“After partition, women remained deprived of their rights. However, with the passage of time, most families migrated to Peshawar and improved their lives and now Pashtun women enjoy social and political participation, and can raise their voice on relevant forums.

His memorable speeches won the hearts of many. His visit to the historic Islamia College motivated the youth to join the vanguard of freedom.

On that occasion he said, “I am indeed very happy to be present here today to have the privilege of meeting and addressing the students of this great Dar Ul Uloom (seat of learning) who are the future builders of Pakistan. On this occasion the thought that is naturally uppermost in my mind is the support and help that the movement for the achievement of Pakistan received from the student community, particularly of this province shall remain a precious asset.” These words were recorded by Prof Noshad Khan, chairman of the Department of Pakistan Studies at Islamia College, Peshawar.

Prof Fakhrul Islam, director of the Pakistan Study Centre, University of Peshawar, says that the youth of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have adopted the country’s culture and proudly own this identity. “Many have already proved their mettle in the armed forces and civil services,” he says.

“The Quaid’s love for the people of the Frontier was deep. In his will, he bequeathed one third of his assets to them,” he adds.

Saqib Ali, a founding member of Federal Youth Parliament (FYP) and currently a member of the KP Youth Parliament, says that the youth are more creative, progressive and patriotic than ever. “The youth in the KP are particularly proud of their national identity. They are striving for the bright and prosperous future of Pakistan,” says Ali.

“We are determined to guide our peers to work towards bolstering a positive image of our beloved country. We are planning to celebrate the 75th Independence Day with the locals out on the streets,” says Dr Iqra Jabbar Awan, an active Youth Parliament member. “The KP Youth Parliament has nearly 400 members, 40 of them are women. They are equal participants in promoting a unified identity and tackling social issues. Upholding the dreams of Allama Muhammad Iqbal and Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, is our first priority. Our determination will help us beat the anti-peace narrative,” she says.

Wagma Feroz, an award winning activist, says that women in KP, though fewer in number, have rendered services alongside men for freedom from British rule. “After partition, many women remained deprived of their rights. However, with the passage of time, many families have migrated to urban centres like Peshawar and improved their lives. Now Pashtun women enjoy social and political participation and can raise their voice on relevant forums,” she says.

Haroon Sarab Diyal, a scholar of Hinduism tells The News on Sunday that minority groups enjoy full freedom in KP and in Pakistan. “Our forefathers had participated in the movement for liberation of Pakistan in accordance with the vision of Quaid-i-Azam. I can confidently assert that minority groups have more freedom and enjoy equal rights to worship and social justice,” he says.

Monument of Qissakhawani martyrs.

Historian Mohammad Ibrahim Zia says that independence gave much to the people of KP, but it also took a heavy toll. He says his grandfather had witnessed numerous tragedies. “But the resilience of KP remained intact despite terror attacks. I have penned down everything Peshawar has suffered over 75 years since 1947 and before that. I see boys and girls growing up with an even greater spirit to serve our country,” he concludes.

The writer is a Peshawar based journalist who covers art, culture, education and minority rights.

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