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HindustanTimes Fri,25 Apr 2014

Tackling Pathans

RK Kaushik   January 30, 2013
First Published: 10:28 IST(30/1/2013) | Last Updated: 10:29 IST(30/1/2013)

The year was 1947. Freedom was in the air in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). The government of Dr Khan Sahib, premier and younger brother of Frontier Gandhi Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, had been dismissed in March by British Governor Sir Francis Mudie.

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Frontier Gandhi was the supreme leader of Khudai Khidmatgars, also called the Red Shirts. They were a force to reckon with in the NWFP. They were agitated against the British government and were looking for a pretext to start an agitation.

One day in June, Dr Khan Sahib with his British wife went to Delhi Cloth Mill shop on Mall Road in Peshawar when suddenly a stray bullet grazed past Mrs Khan's ear. Though a slight injury did occur, there was no damage to the head and neck. The lady created a ruckus on the Mall and a rumour spread that the British Government wanted to kill her and her husband, and only providence, nay the grace of Allah, had saved them.

The next day, the Red Shirts started an agitation against the government. Soon the agitation spread. Governor Sir Mudie acted with sagacity and advised the deputy commissioner and SSP of Peshawar not to use force and overreact and deal with the situation calmly and wisely. Sir George Cunningham, a former governor of NWFP, was staying with Mudie and he also gave his advice.

The agitation took place every day. But the agents of SSP Herold Forbes Scroggie penetrated the Red Shirts organisation, and two of their generals started working for him. The SSP had them take charge of the food arrangements at the Red Shirts headquarters.

One day they added crouton oil, a very strong purgative, to the huge cauldrons outside their camp containing the morning tea. Having consumed large quantities of tea and watched by a huge crowd, including senior government officials and the police, the Red Shirt leaders prepared their men for the march on the city. About a thousand Red Shirts paraded in splendour before their commanders in full uniform.

Suddenly all hell broke loose as the purgative took effect. Red Shirts were seen breaking ranks and running helter-skelter to relieve themselves on the banks of the canal. Having tightly secured their trousers around their waist with layers of turbans to deaden police baton blows, they were unable to remove their trousers in time.

The great show was soon reduced to a scene from a comic opera. Soiled trousers are not a pleasing sight in any society. But, to a proud Pathan, known for cleanliness, it is the ultimate disgrace. This spectacle watched by large crowds of Peshawar was the peak of humiliation. Henceforth, no Red Shirt could venture forth in his uniform in the city for fear of being ridiculed.

Nine doctors sat in solemn conclave to review the Red Shirts' plight. They then gave their verdict: the sudden attack of violent dysentery was the aftermath of a severe epidemic of malaria.

And the anti-government Red Shirts did not pose a threat to the government for some time.

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