A True Global Citizen, Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s Message Remains More Relevant Than Ever

In present times, when intolerance and violence seek to take deep roots in our society,  the teachings of Abdul Ghaffar Khan are more relevant than ever. He was born on February 6, 1890 in the Northwest border city of Utmanzai, located in today’s Pakistan. His father was a Pathan tribal chief.

In early age, he inclined towards activism of eradicating poverty and spreading education. He realised quick that the British Raj treats their community as a second class citizen. Frontier Gandhi began his political activism in 1919 by protesting the Rowlatt Act. It was at this time that he met Gandhi. In the following year, he also joined the Khilafat movement, a campaign launched by Muslims of India to influence the British government not to abolish the Ottoman Caliphate.

Gandhi and Khan at a public meeting of the Khudai Khidmatgar. (Photo: wikipedia.org)

In 1921, he was made the president of a district Khilafat committee in his native North-West Frontier Province. He played a prominent role in the formation of ‘Anjuman-e-Islāh-e Afghānia’ (Afghan Reform Society) and the youth movement in 1927. In 1929, Khan Saab organized the Pathans with red uniforms – they were called the Red Shirts movement, popularly known as Khudai Khidmatgar. It envisaged a non-violent nationalist movement in support of Indian independence and tried to mobilize Pashtun political consciousness.

He attended the Karachi session of the Congress in 1930, by which time he had become a close comrade of Gandhi. The Khudai Khidmatgar actively supported the Congress’ action for independence. On April 23, 1930, he called a mass meeting of people to act on civil disobedience and they marched to Peshawar.

On the way, Khan Saab was arrested and put in the Hazaribagh jail in Bihar. Once he was freed from jail, he went to the Sabarmati Ashram.  When Gandhi found out Khan Saab had lost too much weight, he thought of allowing meat on the ashram grounds, for him to recover from his weakness, but Khan Saab was reluctant to accept this offer.

Abdul Ghaffar Khan was a staunch believer in a united India, but he rejected the partition plan because he felt he should not be part of creating a country based on religion. He was also afraid of Pashtun autonomy because he had a hunch his community would victimise the Punjabis and others. Subsequently, Khan Saab put forth the idea of an autonomous Pashtunistan within the federation of Pakistan but this was not accepted.

Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel after the Cabinet Mission. (Photo: wikipedia.org)


He continued his activism and was arrested several times between 1948 and 1956 for his opposition of the one unit scheme which sought to merge the four provinces of West Pakistan into a single province.  He visited India on the occasion of the centenary celebration of Indian National Congress in 1985,  along with Wali Khan and his grandson Zulfiqar Ali Khan. Later, he was honoured with India’s highest civilian award, Bharat Ratna. He was the first non-Indian to receive this honour.

A true world citizen, he passed away on January 20, 1988.

In the current global atmosphere, not only South Asia but the world can draw a lesson from him, particularly the Muslim world. I have seen there is a non-recognition of Muslim social leaders like him by the community itself. I can see a lot of strength and energy one can draw from the life and actions of Khan Saab. His philosophy is based on service and compassion for humanity.

Mahatma Gandhi’s personal secretary Mahadev Desai described him long time back, “I have the privilege of having a number of Muslim friends, true as steel and ready to sacrifice their all for Hindu-Muslim unity, but I do not yet know one who is greater than or even equal to Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan in the transparent and the ascetic severity of his life, combined with extreme tenderness and living faith in God.” 

Featured image source: Indian Diplomacy/YouTube.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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