Saturday, August 8, 2015



            The incident, erroneously referred to as the ‘mutiny’ in the 2nd Battalion, 2/18 Royal Garhwal Rifles that occurred in 1930 at Peshawar is an interesting example of the effect that extraneous factors sometimes have on trivial incidents, magnifying their image and distorting the historical perspective. Though the numbers involved were small – two platoons - and the men behaved with exemplary civility, they were treated with uncharacteristic harshness. The context in which the incident occurred – the Civil Disobedience Movement and the Red Shirt rebellion – played an important role in the gravity assigned to it by the authorities. The seemingly innocuous act of ‘debussing’ from a lorry due to the hot weather was mistaken for an act of defiance and refusal to ‘embus’ for duty. The emotional stress that the men had undergone on the previous day was also ignored, leading to an erroneous conclusion about the intentions and subsequent treatment, not only of the men involved but the entire battalion.

            Soon after assuming the office of Governor-General in 1899, Lord Curzon carried out several changes in the north-west frontier. In order to reduce military expenditure, tribal levies under British officers replaced regular troops who were withdrawn from tribal territory and concentrated at bases within the administrative border, to be called forward only when needed. To facilitate their rapid deployment, new roads were constructed and light railways extended. The tribesmen were pleased with the arrangement, since they were now paid regular salaries for service with the levies. In addition, allowances were paid to certain important tribes to keep the roads and passes open. Though Curzon described the arrangement as ‘confidential communication with the tribes’, they were in effect nothing but bribes to induce the tribesmen to refrain from marauding expeditions.1

            Along with the change in policy, Curzon carried out an important administrative change on the frontier by taking it out of the control of the Punjab Government and creating a new North West Frontier Province, which would be administered by a Chief Commissioner directly responsible to the Government of India.  The new province was divided into two parts, with about one third comprising five fully administered districts under deputy commissioners and the remainder continuing as tribal territory lying between the administrative border and the Durand Line, to which political agents were appointed. Though it improved the administration of the frontier, the change had many far reaching implications, one being the transformation in the composition of the hitherto predominantly Muslim province of Punjab. With the passage of time, the inhabitants of the new province began to feel certain deprivations: living in a frontier province, they missed the political reforms that came to Punjab; they could no longer benefit from the Punjab canal colonies; and they did not enjoy as efficient an administration at the district level as was provided by the Punjab cadre of officers.

            Taking note of the resentment among the tribals due to the exclusion of the frontier from political reforms, the Government of India intended to deal with the grievance, but there was a delay in implementing the remedial measures. During this period, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan initiated a movement to bring about political and social changes in the frontier. To help him on this task, he organised a group of volunteers who called themselves Khudai Khidmatgars (Servants of God). From the colour of their dress, they came to be known as the Red Shirts. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was an admirer of Mahatma Gandhi and his creed of non-violence, which he adopted. Though not a member of the Congress parity, he was involved in their activities and attended their annual sessions as a special invitee. In time to come, he became known as the ‘Frontier Gandhi’. 2

            The 2nd Battalion, 18th Royal Garhwal Rifles had moved from its home base at Landsdowne to the Khyber in the North West Frontier Province in November 1927. After tours of duty at Landi Khana and Landi Kotal, the battalion moved to Peshawar on 26 October 1929, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel C.C. Walker. In March 1930, Mahatma Gandhi initiated the Civil Disobedience movement, leading to widespread agitations and arrests of Congress leaders all over the country. Since the population of the North West Frontier Province was predominantly Muslim, it was expected to remain unaffected by the call for civil disobedience. However, authorities at all stations were instructed to remain alert for any sign of trouble, and make preparations to deal with them. At a conference between civil military officials it was decided that the Garhwalis would provide a column to act as a ‘police reserve’ at the disposal of the senior police officer on the spot. Before and after the conference, the men were lectured on their duties and it was impressed upon them that there was to be no firing, nor offensive action, except on a direct order from a British officer or to save their own lives or unless authorized by a magistrate in writing. The results of the incorrect ‘briefing’ were to become obvious a week later.3

            Though Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and his followers were not directly involved in the agitation that was taking place all over the country, the authorities in Peshawar issued arrest warrants for twelve members of the Red Shirt party on 22 April 1930. Early next morning, the police arrested ten of them, including Ghaffar Khan, the remaining two being found and arrested at about 9.30 a.m. by when news of the first arrests had spread. The lorries carrying the last two prisoners and the police were stopped by a crowd and reached the Kabuli gate police station with difficulty, where they were soon besieged by an irate mob, leading to violent protests. The Deputy Commissioner went into the city, escorted by a troop of armoured cars, whose presence further infuriated the mob. As he withdrew, the British motorcycle despatch rider, between the first and second armoured cars, was attacked and killed. The miscreants doused his motorcycle and the second armoured car with petrol and set them on fire. Eventually the Deputy Commissioner, who had been hit on the head by a brick, gave orders for fire to be opened. One of the armoured cars fired two bursts of ten rounds and the crowd immediately dispersed, leaving the street clear. However, seeing no further action being taken except a police cordon being placed round the armoured cars, the crowds began to collect again.

‘A’ Company of 2/18th Royal Garhwal Rifles that had been standing to since the previous day was immediately requisitioned, arriving at Kabuli gate at 11.25 a.m. It was soon relieved by two platoons of the 2nd Battalion, The Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (K.O.Y.L.I.) and proceeded to the Kacheri gate, a mile away, which had been allotted to the Garhwalis in the scheme. However, they had to double back to the Kabuli gate where the situation worsened, needing additional troops. On arrival at the Kabuli gate, the Garhwalis moved up behind the K.O.Y.L.I., who were in support of the police facing the crowd of agitators. When the situation deteriorated, the senior police officer requested the company commander, Captain G.A. Ricketts, to move his men forward through the British troops, whose presence annoyed the crowd more than the Indian soldiers. As they reached their new position close behind the police, they came in contact with the mob and were greeted by a shower of stones and other missiles. Captain Ricketts was hit on the back of his head by a brick. Unlike the topis worn by British troops, the Garhwalis were wearing felt hats, which afforded little protection, resulting in serious injuries to many. Another factor that made them vulnerable was that they advanced with their rifles at ‘high port’, with their swords fixed and maintained this position when in contact with the mob. In this position, they were unable to offer any resistance when the crowd attacked, also risking the loss of their weapons. The ‘on guard position’ would have been more useful. 4

The mob was soon reinforced and began to construct a barricade. They started throwing packing cases at the legs of the troops and gradually forced them back. The police officers tried to persuade them to disperse but failed. At about 12.45 p.m., the column reserve, which included the remainder of the battalion, less the Fort detachment, arrived at the Kabuli gate. The mob, which was reinforced by men armed with ‘lathis’ and iron spiked poles, became more excited and continued throwing missiles including soda water bottles. An armoured car went forward and crashed through the barricade, driving back the crowd.  The mob tried to cut off the armoured car but this was prevented by A Company, which moved forward to occupy the position, allowing the armoured car to pull back. This enraged the crowd, which vent their fury on the Garhwalis. The heavy boxes and crates fell with great force against the men and broke their formation. A man in the crowd seized a lance naik’s rifle, while others hit him on the arms and head. He was then knocked over, when a crate landed on his chest and, as he fell backwards, his rifle was snatched from his hands and carried off. The Jemadar commanding the platoon drew his revolver but was prevented from using it by one of the crowd, who grasped the pistol and prevented the chamber from revolving. Then, at about 1.30 p.m., the crowd made a determined rush; the ranks were broken and many of them were forced back, forming up behind the K.O.Y.L.I. As the line broke, the men fired three or four rounds, and at the same time the platoon commander managed to release his revolver and fired four times, killing two men. The armoured car and the K.O.Y.L.I also opened fire and the mob ran back. Captain Ricketts, who had become unconscious when hit by a brick, and five other Garhwalis were admitted to hospital.

Meanwhile the detachment at the Katcheri gate had also been kept busy by the hostile crowd, though no firing took place. The battalion was withdrawn from the city at 6.30 p.m. but remained under orders to turn out at short notice during the night. The General Officer Commanding Peshawar District complimented the Garhwalis for their steadiness during the day, in the face of heavy odds. The men, who were dazed and confused by the novelty of the situation, were not as quick as usual in acting on orders. However, they themselves were convinced that by maintaining a passive attitude towards the mob, even in the face of grave provocation, they were loyally obeying the orders they had received.

On 24 April 1930 the battalion had one company ‘standing to’ from early morning. At about midday orders were received for the whole battalion, less the Fort detachment, to move to the city in lorries at 4 p.m. for a twenty-four hour tour of duty. Early in the afternoon, there was another incident that was to affect subsequent events. The Subedar commanding No. 4 Platoon, who had been found negligent in his duties in connection with distribution of rations to his platoon earlier in the day, had his increment of pay delayed by six months by the Commanding Officer. Shortly before 4 p.m., Lieutenant Colonel Walker left with the advance party, leaving instructions with Officer Commanding B Company to bring the battalion at the appointed hour. On being ordered to embus, No. 1 and 4 Platoons of A Company did not do so, some of the men stating that they wished to be discharged.

As soon as the Commanding Officer came to know of this incident, he decided to return to the lines. Meanwhile Officer Commanding B Company was informed that the rest of the battalion, who had earlier embussed, had got out of their lorries and that Nos. 2 and 3 Platoons had gone towards the A Company lines. While the first part of the report – the battalion having debussed – was correct, the second part, about the men having moved towards A Company lines was unfounded. The reason for the men debussing was that it was extremely hot inside the lorries and the men only wanted to get into the shade on the side of the road. However, the act of debussing without permission was assumed to be on account of refusal to proceed for duty, in conformity with the actions of No. 1 and 4 Platoons. This, coupled with the report that the Garhwalis had not acted with normal vigour on the previous day, gave rise to the belief that the whole battalion was disaffected.

When the Commanding Officer was apprised of the situation on his return, he immediately issued orders for the battalion to dismiss and return their rifles to the kotes (armouries). Nos. 1 and 4 Platoons were initially unwilling to march to the kotes, but were later persuaded to do so. Except for this, the rest of the battalion returned their weapons in the normal manner and went back to their lines.  At about 6 p.m. the Commanding Officer met the District Commander, who gave orders for the battalion to be disarmed and moved to Abbotabad. After hurried preparations during the night, the battalion entrained for Havelian, from where they would march to Abbotabad. Both 1 and 4 Platoons were sent to Kakul. While packing for the move, loading and unloading and the ten-mile march from Havelian, the men showed utmost keenness and enthusiasm to comply with all orders. The commander of the Abbotabad Brigade, who was at Havelian to receive the battalion, watched them detraining before introducing himself to the Commanding Officer or going near the unit. He was highly impressed by the marked discipline and orderly work of all ranks. In his report he wrote: ‘I could not have wished to see a better example of how a battalion should work. It seemed that such smart and soldierly men could not possibly have been mixed up in an incident’. 5

            A Court of Enquiry comprising four officers was ordered to investigate the occurrences on 23 and 24 April 1930. As regards the events that occurred on 23 April, the members felt that the conduct of the battalion as a whole during the day was above reproach. They were emphatic that the forbearance shown by A Company in the city on 23 April was not due to unwillingness to act against the mob, but was because the men, despite all provocations, were adhering to the orders they had received. In its opinion the Court of Enquiry recorded:

The men concerned were called on to suffer very demoralising and degrading treatment at the hands of a savage mob, in that they for a period between one and two hours were subjected to treatment no soldier wearing The King’s uniform should be asked to stand without retaliation. They were made to stand in closest contact with a raging mob, subjected to a hail of missiles and being struck with staves and iron shod poles. Though their British officer and several comrades were wounded, yet no order to retaliate was received by these dumb-founded soldiers. They were acting on the strictest orders not to take offensive action without a direct order from a British officer or a magistrate. These orders had been instilled into them for the previous three of four days under instructions received from the civil authorities.

Their provocations were long and great. They had their British officer severely wounded, six men admitted to hospital and ten who had to attend for treatment of their injuries. Not until Government property was in jeopardy i.e. a rifle was forcibly wrenched from them, did they fire on their own initiative. This incident synchronized with their ranks being forced and a backward movement to recover their formation. 

As a record of high discipline and devotion to their duty, as understood by them, the action of the 2/18th Royal Garhwal Rifles on the 23rd April, the Court considers, hard to beat.6

The Government of India endorsed the opinion of the Court of Enquiry. Later, in their remarks on the ‘Peshawar Riots Committee Report’ the Government of India noted: ‘the situation in which troops were placed for some time previous to the second firing, emphasizes the difficulties and dangers, which are likely to occur through non-observance of the accepted principle that troops should not be brought in close physical contact with a violent and hostile mob.’

As regards the ‘mutiny’ that took place on 24 April, the Court of Enquiry concluded that the trouble was confined to the non commissioned officers and men of 1 and 4 Platoons and no Garhwali Officer was involved. (At that time, Viceroy’s Commissioned Officers, now known as Junior Commissioned Officers, in the Garhwal Rifles were called Garhwali Officers. A similar practice was followed in the Gurkha Rifles). They named two non commissioned officers as instigators of the trouble, which must have been actuated by some influence outside the battalion, though there was no evidence to back this view.  They were of the opinion that the treatment the two platoons had undergone on the 23 and 24 April gave the ringleaders the opportunity of inciting the men to disobey orders.

The ‘Opinion’ of the Court of Enquiry clearly brought out the fact that the men’s disinclination to act against the mob was attributable to the orders they had received. It also became obvious that only two platoons were involved in the incident on 24 April when they refused to embus for duty. However, the Enquiry had several anomalies. Firstly, there was no evidence to show that any outside influence was responsible for the trouble in the battalion; secondly, the two platoons that had been gravely misused in the city on 23 April were Nos. 2 and 3, whereas the platoons that refused to embus on 24 April were Nos. 1 and 4; and thirdly, the conclusion that no Garhwali officer was involved was incorrect, as evidence to the contrary soon came to light.

Exhaustive enquiries by the Criminal Investigation Department, the Army and the Police in Peshawar, Abbotabad and several other places showed clearly that neither of the two non commissioned officers of No. 4 platoon blamed by the Enquiry nor any other in the battalion had any contact with any political body, nor was there any evidence of outside subversive influence. The true story was revealed after independent investigations within the battalion, which were completed before the police report was received, followed by the confession of the Subedar of No. 4 Platoon, who turned out to be the real instigator of the episode.  This Subedar had long nursed a grievance for the unfair treatment he considered he had received from a senior officer of the battalion. He particularly resented the punishment he was awarded on 24 April, for which he felt the senior officer was responsible. Impelled either by a desire to exact revenge or to display his influence over the men, he engineered the whole incident and induced the men not to obey orders and to demand their discharge. Neither he nor the men involved had imagined that the scheme would turn into a fiasco, with serious consequences for everyone. 7

The non commissioned officers of Nos. 1 and 4 Platoons were tried by general court martial and sentenced to dismissal and terms of imprisonment varying from penal servitude for life to three years rigorous imprisonment. One of them later joined politics and became a nationalist leader. This was later cited as proof of the incident being influenced by outside nationalist elements by some writers, including Lawrence James, who writes: ‘The refusal to perform crowd control duties by a detachment of Garhwalis in 1930 was publicly explained as the consequences of regimental problems. Yet, the Garhwali ringleader, on his release from jail, became an active Indian nationalist.’ However, this conclusion does not appear to be correct. In all probability, the non commissioned officer concerned, after undergoing his term of imprisonment, decided to go into politics in order to seek redress for the injustice done to him. The view expressed by General Sir James Wilcocks, who commanded the Indian Corps in France in World War I and had forty years experience of commanding Indian troops, including the then 39th Garhwalis, is nearer the truth. According to him, ‘Indians of all classes are of any people I know the easiest led when the leader understands their hearts, and the most difficult to manage when he does not.’  8

The riflemen of both platoons were dismissed from service, under orders of the Brigade Commander.  On 17 May 1930 the Commandeer-in-Chief in India issued orders for the battalion, less two platoons, to resume its normal duties. Ten days later, Lieutenant Colonel G.R. Mainwaring was posted as the Commanding Officer, relieving Lieutenant Colonel C.C. Walker, who was posted to another appointment. A month later, the battalion was sent out to Oghi in an emergency column, and subsequently to Razmak for operations against the Mahsuds. During the remainder of its stay on the frontier the battalion performed well and by the time it returned to Landsdowne in December 1932, it had redeemed its reputation in the eyes of the authorities.

The events at Peshawar had several other fallouts. It was ten days before the city was fully under control, after a Gurkha battalion was brought in to replace the Garhwalis. The unrest spread to several other towns on the frontier, and the tribesmen beyond the border, thinking that British authority was collapsing, made incursions into the province with the help of local inhabitants, They were dispersed with difficulty, but the province remained disturbed, and in August 1930, after a further incursion into the Peshawar district by Afridis, the Government declared martial law that remained in force till January 1931. The Peshawar incident also forced the Government of India to rethink its policy regarding the Civil Disobedience Movement. Some of the provincial governments were of the opinion that Mahatma Gandhi should continue to be left alone and the movement allowed to peter out. However, the Bombay government reported that they had information that Gandhi was planning to step up the salt campaign by organizing non-violent raids on salt depots, which could be prevented only by ordering his arrest. The military authorities also favoured his arrest, arguing that the Garhwal Rifles incident could contaminate the armed forces if the movement was allowed to run on and no decisive action was taken to end it. On 5 May 1930 Gandhi was quietly arrested and without any trial, sent to Yervada jail near Poona, invoking an ancient Regulation of 1827 to detain him. 9

            Though the ‘mutiny’ in the 2/18 Royal Garhwal Rifles in 1930 at Peshawar was relatively minor, it was taken very seriously by the authorities due to an apprehension that it was inspired by outside nationalist elements. This was primarily due the timing and location - the incident occurred soon after the commencement of the Civil disobedience Movement and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was present in Peshawar at that time. The incident had far reaching consequences, compelling the British authorities to rethink their policy in India. For the first time after 1857, doubts were expressed about the trustworthiness of Indian troops, as a result of influence nationalist movements in India.


This chapter is largely based on Sir Penderel Moon’s The British Conquest and Dominion of India, (London, 1989); and Lt Gen. Sir Ralph B. Deedes’ Historical Records of the Royal Garhwal Rifles, Vol II, 1923-1947, (New Delhi, 1962).   Specific references are given below:-

1.         Penderel Moon, The British Conquest and Dominion of India, (London, 1989), p. 913.

2.         Moon, p. 1041

3.         Lt Gen. Sir Ralph B. Deedes, Historical Records of the Royal Garhwal Rifles, Vol. II, 1923-1947, (New Delhi, 1962), p.16 

4.         Deedes, pp. 16-17

5.         Deedes, p. 19

6.         Deedes, p. 267

7.         Deedes, p. 21

8.         Lt Gen S.L. Menezes, Fidelity & Honour, (New Delhi, 1993), p.333

9.         Moon, p. 1042

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