It is uncommon for politicians to strive for social reforms in their nations; rather they utilize their people’s social gaps for their own interest. Very rarely, politicians pay attention to their people’s social issues. Only leaders with long lasting visions for their people and leaders, who do not exclusively think about their self interest; Rather, they love their people to death and try social reforms in their people’s lives. The work of Bacha Khan proves that he was deeply concerned not only with the political but also social lives of his people. He believed that if Pashtoons got rid of the rotten and unwanted customs, only then they can progress in political, economic and other venues of their lives. He, therefore, began his struggle with social reforms and tried to convince Pashtoons to leave the wrong customs that consume their energy and potential as well as exhaust all their resources just to placate their ego.
Pashtoons’ habit of fighting with each other for decades over minor differences was one of the issues that alarmed Bacha Khan. While narrating his episode of jail in Dera Ghazi, Khan Bacha Khan said that the jailer would insult the Pashtoon prisoners who had entered the jail for fighting with their cousins and other neighbors over minor issues, kicked them; Then Bacha Khan would remind them that if they had not fought with their fellow brothers they would not have seen the insults. In the gatherings and meetings with Pashtoons, Bacha Khan would always insist on solving their differences with each other and not bribing the government. He knew that Pashtoons’ lust for vengeance is one of the major problems that have pushed them to the darkness of backwardness and slavery in India. He not only preached against taking revenge and in favor of forgiveness but also practiced them in his life. Bacha Khan has termed the internal rivalry and the thirst for vengeance of Pashtoons as very effective means of exploitation by Mughals and British, who would not have been able to rule strategically important and topographically hard areas of Pashtoons otherwise.
Since his early childhood Bacha Khan was not in favor of class differences. While studying in the Mission School in Peshawar, he would make friends with the cleaners and sweepers who were considered untouchables and low class. Such an act was considered disrespectful for people from noble families like him. He always preached equality among all the people regardless of their religious affiliation or economic status.
Pashtoons at that time looked down at trading and business professions. The ones who were businessmen were not Pashtoon and thus a huge amount of money would go, according to the main stream Pashtoons, to non Pashtoons. Hindus were mainly involved in business at that time. Bacha Khan advised Pashtoons to engage in trader ship and establish markets in their areas. Bacha Khan himself established a huge market where he used to sell local products and began to earn a lot of money. Other Pashtoons also changed their behavior and began to adopt tradership as a profession. With this change, the local market was not only connected to national market but Pashtoons also earned a lot of money and got the opportunity to play at the national stage economically.
Some religious scholars, though being sufficiently well up, would get donations from ordinary Pashtoons in the name of religion. Bacha Khan not only preached against this practice but also gave practical examples in his own life that it was not a right thing to do. A number of rituals that were considered a part of culture were practiced after the death of a family member, they were against the religion but had been sold to Pashtoons for religion, they were so deep rooted under the name of Pashtoon culture to the extent that everyone had to practice them even in difficult and impossible circumstances. Such practices would only serve interests of not only Khans, land lords, but of also some selfish and half educated religious leaders whose authority was unquestionable yet they were a big burden over ordinary Pashtoons; Bacha Khan opposed those practices. Opposing such rituals meant opposing authority of Khans and religious scholars in the society which was not an easy thing to do. However, Bacha Khan fought bravely against such rituals. Bacha Khan wanted to empower ordinary people to get rid of the slavery of Khans and Maliks and that shows how Bacha Khan believed in democracy and opposed local autocrats.
Women were considered second class members in every Pashtoon family, at least in areas where Bacha Khan and his fellows were struggling at that time. Women had to feed their male family members and guests first and then eat afterwards; sometimes, they would have to stay hungry when there was no food left for them. Women would not get shares in the inheritance of their fathers and husbands. He advocated for the women’s rights and started reform from his own family. He set up an example of eating with his female members of the family at the same time and setting up educational centers for girls and advocated for women’s’ rights. His example was followed by his close followers and thus paved the way for changing the practice on a larger scale.
Spying on each other, bribing officials to put fellow Pashtoons down and getting attention from the British Raj was another social problem at least among the elite and feudal classes of that period. Bacha Khan struggled against that practice and tried to convince his compatriots to shun it. Bacha Khan would warn Pashtoons against divisions and tell his followers that they can get respect from others only when they are united and are strongly bonded with each other.
Bacha Khan termed Pashtoons as lion cubs, who were capable of anything and everything, and the khans and half educated scholars, who were on the British Raj payroll in return for subjugation by not only themselves but also of their fellow Pashtoons, as sheep, who were not able of doing anything but only lick the blood of their people for centuries for their own interest.
Bacha Khan always advocated for simplicity in life. He always opposed spending a lot of money in weddings and other important rituals. Though Bacha Khan had inherited a huge piece of land from his father and was literally considered a Khan he still worked in his fields with his farmers shoulder to shoulder and did not consider it as an insult for himself. Bacha Khan led a simple life and always advocated simplicity in life. Asadullah Ghazanfar, Afghan writer and journalist, says that his father has hosted Bacha Khan a number of times in his house in Kunduz whenever Khan would visit Kunduz. Though Ghazanfar was very young at that time yet he remembers Khan very well “ He would wear the cheapest clothes and would always ask for the simplest food.” “My father was in a position to provide good food to Khan but Khan would forbid my father from doing so.” Ghazanfar added.
Bacha Khan believed that illiteracy is another big challenge for Pashtoons. He, therefore, established a network of independent schools to educate Pashtoons. Bacha Khan went from door to door and from village to village and garnered support for his mission; he did not let his efforts drown. He called upon Pashtoons to compete positively with other ethnic groups of the sub continent to get their due rights and live happily; to get to that end, he thought that education was the most effective way. Despite of opposition from the British Raj and nominal internal religious leaders who were on the British Raj payroll, he did not give his efforts up. British Raj, knowing the importance of religion in the life of Pashtoons, skillfully employed nominal Pashtoon religious scholars to foil Bacha Khan’s efforts of educating Pashtoons. They would recite poems such as;
They go to school to earn money they would have no place in Paradise and would go to hell
Khan,well aware of the importance of language in the life of nations and its effectiveness in educational system, made Pashto a language of education in his independent schools and thus helped Pashtoons learn easily, it also gave an identity to Pashtoons that saved them from a complete destruction. He maligned British Raj for not giving Pashto education to Pashtoon children in schools. Bacha Khan struggled for the teaching of Pashto when Pashtoon were laterally forgetting Pashto.
Bacha Khan made friends with important religious scholars to achieve his goals. He made Haji Turangzo, an important religious figure, head of his first independent school to thwart British propaganda against his independent schools, and also to equip himself with the Islamic teachings. He would visit in disguise to avoid arrest, Dewband, the biggest Islamic School in India in order to meet important religious figures and important religious scholars to seek their advice from time to time.
As a forward step to introducing reforms in the lives of Pashtoons Bacha khan founded, Anjuman-e- Islah Afaghina, association for the reforms of Pashtoons. The aim of the association is said to have been introducing reforms in social life of Pashtoons and uniting them. When asked by a jirga sent by the British Raj about his mission, Bacha Khan replied that his mission was to introduce reforms in his people’s lives, which should have been done by the government.
Bacha Khan had a multi-track approach to the reforms of Pashtoons .Aside from utilizing the teachings of Islam and formal education, he also used media and established the first Pashtoo newspaper in the sub-continent in 1928, the Pashtoon, which was aimed to increase awareness among Pashtoons on all relevant issues, transform them socially and educate them. Talking about the conditions of Pashtoons at the time of founding the newspaper, Khan has said that Pashtoons were so backward that they could not read and write Pashto and laterally looked down at Pashto.
While commenting on the importance of the newspaper, Khan has said that it not only increased awareness among Pashtoons of the subcontinent and Afghanistan on important political, social and economic issues but also found readership in Australia, US and Europe, from which the readers would send donations for the newspaper. The newspaper globalized the mission of Bacha Khan and connected Pashtoons to the rest of the world.
The newspaper helped Pashtoons update themselves with the developments in the rest of India but also educated them in important political, social, cultural and economic issues. The King of Afghanistan, Amanullah Khan, was impressed with the newspaper to the extent that he promised to give the Pashto language an official status in Afghanistan within three years. On the other hand, the newspaper also changed the behavior of Pashtoons who would not spend money on newspapers and books, they would buy the newspaper and read it. It was after a struggle for social reforms of few decades when Bacha Khan stepped forward to founding Khudai Khidmatgar, the servants of God, in 1929, to begin his political struggle.