Nasim Yousaf (Pakistan Observer)
March 19, 1940, the day of the Khaksar massacre in Lahore, was among the most momentous and horrendous days in the history of British India’s freedom movement. On this tragic day, 313 unwavering and indomitable Khaksars marched in protest in the streets of Lahore against the ban on their legitimate activities. It was a thrilling sight when the robust Khaksars, standing tall in their spotless, starched khaki uniforms with sparkling spades on their shoulders, headed in formation towards their final destination, Badshahi Mosque, to offer prayers. By defying the ban, these followers of Allama Mashriqi had challenged the imperialist power of the time, the British Empire.
The British Senior Superintendent of Police, D. Gainsford, assisted by P.C.D. Beatty (D.S.P.), arrived at the venue along with his squad and ordered to stop the march past. The Khaksars took no notice of his command and continued marching. Gainsford became furious and slapped Inayat Shah, a Khaksar leader. Given such attitude of the British officer, the situation was bound to deteriorate and eventually resulted in a serious clash between the police and the Khaksars.
Gainsford ordered his men to open fire; hundreds of rounds of ammunition were indiscriminately and ruthlessly unloaded on the innocent and peaceful protesters. It was a battle of guns, rifles, and revolvers versus spades.
The barrage of bullets pierced Khaksar bodies; however the falling Khaksars embraced death without fear and with a sense of pride, which prevailed on their faces. They knew their blood had not been wasted and had set the stage for freedom. Their dignity and grandeur was apparent in that Mansoor Zaigham Shaheed who was holding the flag, did not allow it to fall, in spite of the fact that bullets had riddled his body. He passed on the flag to Sadiq Shaheed, who also upheld it even after he had taken bullets to his leg. The wounded Khaksars kept passing the flag under the shower of bullets in order to keep it upright.
In an outrageous sense of anger, the policemen mounted on horsebacks climbed over the falling Khaksars and policemen on the ground struck them with their boots, steelhead batons, and rifle butts; some of the blows were so hard that they opened the skulls of many wounded and dead Khaksars or deformed their faces. The site was spattered with pools of blood. Seriously injured and dead Khaksars were dragged by policemen, dumped in vehicles, and whisked away. At night, the dead were moved to the cemetery and buried without informing their relatives. Henry Craik (Governor Punjab) in a secret letter (March 20, 1940) to Lord Linlithgow (Viceroy) reported that police patrolled all night and the dead Khaksars were buried, under police arrangements, in the early hours of this morning before the city curfew was lifted. In the said letter, he stated, “The whole thing was completed before most of the city was aware of it.”
Neither the Punjab nor the Central Government exhibited remorse on the brutal killing. Instead, right after the bloody tragedy, police raided Khaksar premises and arrested Mashriqi, his sons, and many Khaksars. (Ehsanullah Khan Aslam, one of Mashriqi’s sons, died within weeks of the injury received from the tear gas grenade that had struck his head during the raid).
To cover up the truth, censorship on media was imposed the same day. The authorities released contradictory and false information about the tragedy. According to The Times (London, March 20, 1940) twenty five Khaksars died. The New York Times (March 21, 1940) reported twenty nine killed, and The Tribune (India, April, 16, 1940) reported thirty two dead. However, private inquiries revealed that over 200 Khaksars had lost their lives and many had been injured.
The unofficial figure is substantiated by the police register produced on April 24, 1940 before the High Court Inquiry Committee (this report was never published). According to the register, 1,620 rounds were issued to the constables on March 19, 1940 and 1,213 were returned. In other words, 407 bullets were fired. To conceal the crime and draw public opinion against the Khaksar Tehrik, the authorities and the anti-Khaksar circle labeled Khaksars with various names such as the fifth columnists, rebels, fanatics, and radicals.
History is witness that the Khaksars were patriots and staunch nationalists; they never went out to kill or harm anyone. In fact, they had been promoting brotherhood and unity and rendering unparalleled social services to all races. The reason they were given such names was to safeguard colonial rule.
The indiscriminate massacre of innocent men sent a wave of shock and horror across the entire India. However, the authorities put aside public feelings, and from that fatal day onwards, the most outrageous cruelties of the establishment befell on the Tehrik. Orders were issued to take action against Mashriqi and his followers and supporters and to do anything and everything possible to suppress the Khaksar Movement. Public media was filled with anti-Khaksar propaganda; police and intelligence agencies went after the Tehrik.
As a result, thousands of Khaksars were arrested (official figures were misleading and did not go above 2,000). Supporters and even sympathizers were reprimanded of penalties if they did not stop supporting the Movement.
Many Khaksars were tried in courts and sentences were awarded; some received life imprisonment. In prison, what happened with Mashriqi and his followers is again a tragic and heartbreaking tale. Briefly, the treatment included ruthless beatings, solitary confinement, and physical and mental torture; several Khaksars contracted diseases, lost mental equilibrium, or died.
Indisputably, the Khaksars’ sacrifices — their injuries, imprisonment with inhuman treatment, and loss of precious lives — sent a definitive message to the world, that no power on earth could now stop the Khaksars or their nation from rising against the British reign and that the Khaksars would not rest until they brought the British Raj to an end.
Subsequent to this brutal murder, the world witnessed the Khaksars’ resistance against the British Raj and their Muslim and non-Muslim stooges; over the years, desperate efforts from the Government to crush the Khaksar Movement failed. Hence, this sickening and ghastly holocaust of non-violent and unarmed Khaksars on March 19th resulted in a mass public uprising and ultimately led to British India’s freedom.
To conclude, it is not only important to remember and salute the Khaksar martyrs on March 19, but this day should also serve as a reminder to stand up against injustices and fight to bring everlasting peace to the world, as Mashriqi desired. “Long live the ideals of the Khaksars… Peace, amity, brotherhood, service – irrespective of caste or creed, one god, one humanity, one practical religion, —— Yes, one religion, which means goodness in action.” (The Radiance, Aligarh, February 06, 1943). —The writer is an independent scholar