[ 23 April 1930 ]
On 23 April 1930, British and Gurkha troops opened fire on an unarmed crowd in Peshawar killing at least 20, according to the official estimate, and as many as 400, according to Indian sources.1 A large crowd had gathered at the Qissa Khwani Bazaar to protest the arrest that morning of Ghaffar Khan and other leading activists in the non-violent resistance movement to British rule. In an initial attempt to disperse the demonstration, two British armoured cars drove into the gathering at speed, killing several. This provoked a furious reaction from those nearby leading to the death of two soldiers who were unable to escape. However, the overwhelming majority of the crowd remained resolutely peaceful, offering to disperse if the soldiers would also leave the square. The authorities, however, refused this offer and the protesters accordingly stood their ground quickly testing the patience of the commanding officer who gave the order to opened fire with machine guns.
To the astonishment of the troops, the demonstrators didn’t run away but as those near the front of the crowd fell, others walked forward bearing their chests as willing martyrs. Shocked medics later discovered that some of the dead had as many as twenty bullet wounds. From 11 am until 5 pm the chilling sound of gunfire continued to echo through the streets. Two platoons of the Royal Garwhal Rifles were ordered to embark on buses to reinforce the army lines, but on understanding that they might be asked to fire on their own countrymen, they mutinied and had to be disarmed by Gurkhas. The NCOs of both platoons received sentences of up to eight years in prison.
The British press had no hesitation in siding with those who had ordered the massacre. A report, published in several British newspapers, explained that troops ‘were obliged to fire on an unruly mob.’ The Aberdeen Press and Journal, declared simply that ‘it was found necessary to open fire with machine guns and rifles.’ The Scotsman similarly insisted that the ‘troops had to be called out and were compelled to open fire.’ The same explanation was given by the Portsmouth Evening News, which informed its readers that ‘demonstrators soon got out of control, and police and troops were rushed to the scene to restore order. The situation got so serious however that they had to open fire on the mob.’ All in the cause supposedly of law and order and preservation of the Empire.
A Press Association correspondent optimistically predicted that ‘when the weaker peoples on the (North West) Frontier (of India) – like the Hindus – realise that it is only the strong arm of the law which stands between them and anarchy, they will think twice before countenancing Civil Disobedience.’ The Lancashire Evening Post was equally exuberant at the news of the crackdown – ‘All Quiet in Peshawar,’ was its reassuring headline, although it confessed that ‘revolutionary slogans’ were ‘still chanted occasionally in certain parts of the city,’ while urging people to remember that ‘Peshawar has long been a favourite haunt of “Bolshies”.’
- ‘Casualties in Peshawar,’ The Scotsman, 28 April 1930, p. 9.
- ‘Grave steps in India,’ The Liverpool Echo, 25 April 1930, p 16, ‘Serious View Taken of Situation,’ The Scotsman, 26 April 1930, p. 13, ‘India Situation,’ The Hull Daily Mail, 25 April 1930, p. 16 and ‘Grave News from Peshawar,’ The Nottingham Evening Post, 25 April 1930, p. 12.
- ’20 Rioters Shot Dead,’ The Scotsman, 25 April 1930, p. 9.
- ‘Deadly Encounters with Troops,’ The Portsmouth Evening News, 24 April 1930, p. 12.
- ‘The Moral of Peshawar,’ The Belfast News-letter, 28 April 1930, p. 7 and ‘The Moral of the Situation,’ The Scotsman, 28 April 1930, p. 9.
- ‘All Quiet in Peshawar,’ The Lancashire Evening Post, 26 April 1930, p. 6.
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