On Frontier Gandhi’s death anniversary, activist Faisal Khan talks about his efforts to revive the freedom fighter’s Khudai Khidmatgar
“It is not easy to be an activist in a Muslim society…fingers can be pointed at you, you didn’t do things this way, that way….you questioned this, that…you get tested before you can take the community along with you.”
This comment of Delhi-based social activist Faisal Khan is plucked out of his experience, particularly of the last one year. Faisal, on January 20, 2011, quietly rewrote history. Drawing from experience in the social sector through his long association with National Alliance of People’s Movement, Faisal launched a drive at Rajghat with initial support from just 50 people from the community to revive Khudai Khidmatgar, the path-breaking social organisation of pre-partitioned India founded by Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan. Khudai Khidmatgar or servants of God, was started by Frontier Gandhi initially as an organisation aimed at social reform in North East Frontier Province and later joined Gandhiji’s non-violent freedom struggle against the British. Faisal met people, mainly from his community, across the country and convinced them to join the revival movement “to create honest leaders in the social sector, free of political leanings.”
“It is not easy considering what Muslims have gone through. But I am glad that a year later, we have over 5,000 members from across India,” notes Faisal. This January 20, on Frontier Gandhi’s 24th death anniversary, Faisal’s revived Khudai Khidmatgar will distribute uniforms to its active members at a function in Birla House, New Delhi. The members have made a commitment to work selflessly during natural and man-made disasters on the lines of Frontier Gandhi and reinstate belief in Satyagraha. In an interview here, Faisal talks about his movement and what the future holds.
What triggered the idea of reviving Khudai Khidmatgar?
I have noticed that the representation of Muslims, mainly youth, is almost nil in the social sector. Many in the sector want to see Muslims only as victims, so they never created leaders from the community. But if you look at our history, we had great Muslim social workers like Frontier Gandhi, Bibi Amtush Salam, Aamir Subhani, among others. This made me think and I said what better way to start than reviving Khudai Khidmatgar.
What are its aims?
We want to create a platform where Muslims, mainly youth, get a chance to work for society following Sarhadi Gandhi’s ideals. All is welcome but individuals with political leanings can’t be active members because our oath says your boss is only God. Though it is a Muslim majority organisation, we have reserved 10 of the 40 seats in our National Executive for Hindu members. The underlying message is communal harmony. After we re-launched it last January in the presence of Gandhians Tara Gandhi Bhattacharya and V. K. Tripathi, we started a membership drive. Today, our members represent even States like Assam, and Manipur. This January 20, we will distribute our uniform to active members to create a group who can help district administrations during crises such as natural disasters and communal riots. Though the original Khudai Khidmatgar uniform was red, we chose maroon since red is now identified with the Left.
Will Satyagraha be successful in today’s world?
Let me start with an example. Recently, I went on a fast in my house protesting Delhi Police’s manhandling the case of two youths arrested on suspicion of being from Indian Mujahideen, from my neighbourhood in Okhla. We want terrorists to be nabbed but I protested against police violating the D K Basu Committee guidelines while arresting them. People from my community laughed at me for sitting on a fast, that too in my house. But the National Human Rights Commission took note of it and has asked the police to file a report within four weeks. They saw the power of Satyagraha.
How do you see its future?
We don’t want to become an NGO working as per the agenda of the funders. We don’t want it to become a political party either, we want to create volunteers to better the condition of our villages, our women and work towards communal amity.