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Editorial Articles

Volume 2, 2017

Champaran Movement
Demonstration of Power of Truth and Non Violence

A. Annamalai

Mahtama Gandhi started his non violent struggle in Champaran in Bihar for the cause of the peasants. Peasants were compelled to cultivate Indigo which was the source for Indigo dye,  and supply it to the Factories. Tinkathia was the most prevalent system in Champaran.  “According to it the factory owners got the tenant to cultivate indigo in a portion of his holding for which a fixed price was paid.  Earlier, the portion so reserved for indigo used to be 5 kathas per bigha or one fourth of the tenant’s holding.  Sometime later, around 1807, this area was reduced from 5 kathas to 3 kathas per bigha.  Since then the system came to be known as Tinkathia or the system of three Kathas.” (Satyagraha in Champaran, 1928, p 19)
Factory owners mostly Europeans, got the possession of the lands in the villages and through various methods including coercive approach, forced the tenants to agree to grow Indigo plant.  Under the supervision of the factory people, the land would be ploughed and made fit for cultivation. “If the crop was good, a fixed price per bigha would be paid to the tenant.  But if the crop was not bumper, then whatever the reason, the tenant would get only a reduced price.  If the tenant failed to grow indigo, he was liable to pay a heavy sum by way of damages for his breach”. (Satyagraha in Champaran, 1928, p.19)
Crusade against Oppression: Gandhiji’s historic visit came on 10th April 1917 and he came in the III class compartment along with Raj Kumar Shukla.  Shuklaji was the man who brought Gandhiji to the land of Lord Mahavir and Lord Buddha to demonstrate the Power of Non violence to the world once again. This was the beginning of the non violent movement in Champaran to end the century old oppression of the indigo planters.
Champaran mission of Gandhiji was an event of profound significance in the history of the mankind.  It was a noble crusade.
 Gandhiji stayed as the guest of Prof J.B.Kripalani at a College in Muzaffarpur. Kripalani was staying in the hostel and occupied two small rooms. Students were not aware of Gandhiji and his struggle in South Africa.  So he explained to them and they were very enthusiastic to receive Gandhi.  Somebody told we should perform Aarti.  The students collected variety of flowers and all the other requirements for the aarti were met except a coconut. It was night time, therefore it was not possible to buy a coconut from the Bazaar.  But there was a coconut tree inside the campus.  Nobody volunteered to climb the tree and finally Prof Kripalani himself climbed the tree and plucked few tender coconuts!
Many writers including Dr.Rajendra Prasad and D.G.Tendulkar wrote in their books that “Kripalani had never met Gandhi before, although they had corresponded with each other”.    But Kripalani writes ‘My Times’ that he met Gandhiji first time in Calcutta in 1915 and stayed with him and walked with him.  He met him a couple of times later when he was in Bombay and subsequently he met him Lucknow in 1916.
Gandhiji came to this college as Guest of Kripalani.  But in another 20 days Kripalani was sent out of the college.  The Management of the college did not renew his contract for the next year.  Kripalani became unemployed.  That was the destiny.  Kripalani decided to become one of the soldiers of the Non violent army of Gandhiji along with a team of eminent lawyers:  Brajkishore Prasad, Rajendra Prasad, Anugrah Narayan Sinha.
No chest of Indigo reached England without being stained with Human Blood: Planters oppressed the ryots.  Money power, muscle power and the support of the government added advantage of planters to carry on the unjust act.  Violence and counter violence of either side could result in more inhuman form of destruction and we risk tit-for-tat violence that looks hard to get out of this vicious circle. Mr.E.W.L.Tower who was then the Magistrate of Faridpur stated in his evidence before the Commission of Enquiry, “I have seen several ryots sent in to me as a Magistrate who have been speared through the body.  I have had ryots before me who have been shot down by Mr.Forde (a planter).  I have put on record, how others have been first speared and then kidnapped; and such a system of carrying on indigo, I consider to be a system of blood-shed.”
Gandhi was well aware of the ill effects of violence.  He himself was associated with war during Boer War and Zulu Rebellion in South Africa. 1915 to 1945 was the crucial period in the history of the world. The whole world believed in the violent way as the only method to settle the disputes.  War was accepted as an instrument for settling the issues.  The world leaders at that time Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler, Roosewelt, and Churchill all talked about violence and supported the war preparations. But in the same period when the whole world believed in violence Gandhiji was alone who thought there should be more constructive alternative to war and violence.  Therefore he launched the satyagraha, the nonviolent direct action. He successfully demonstrated the power of Truth and Nonviolence to the whole world. Gandhiji evolved carefully and presented to the world the idea of non-violence, the most pragmatic and potent technique of conflict resolution for a civilized society - as an alternative to war and violence. Gandhi’s nonviolence is not static, it evolves and adapts to changing situations.  He used his non-violent resistance against racial discrimination in South Africa and in India, he used non-violent methods to fight against the British Raj.
Justice on Trial: Let us come to Champaran Movement. Gandhi was not arrested in Motihari but he was served a notice and summoned under section 144 of Cr. P.C. to the Court of the Sub-Divisional Magistrate of Motihari on 18th April 1917.  The notice says that “Now therefore I do hereby order you to abstain from remaining in the District, which you are required to leave by the next available train.” Gandhiji replied to this notice immediately when he reached, that “Out of a sense of public responsibility, I feel it to be my duty to say that I am unable to leave the District but if it so pleases the authorities, I shall submit to the order by suffering the penalty of disobedience. In the court also he made a historical statement.  He state, “I venture to make this statement not in any way in extenuation of the penalty to be awarded against me, but to show that I have disregarded the order served on me not for want of respect for lawful authority, but in obedience to the higher law of our being, the voice of conscience.  …..It is firm belief that in the complex constitution under which we are living, the only safe and honorable course for a self-respecting man is, in the circumstances such as face me, to do what I have decided to do, that is, to submit without protest to the penalty of disobedience.”
The Magistrate said that this statement did not contain a clear plea of guilty.  Gandhiji thereupon said, “I do not want to waste the time of the Court and I plead guilty.”  This put out the Magistrate still further.  He told “If you leave the District now and promise not to return, the case against you would be withdrawn.”  Gandhiji replied, “That cannot be.  Not to speak of this time along, I shall make Champaran my home even after my return from jail.”
He put the Magistrate in a fix.  He said the matter required consideration and that he would pass orders later at 3 O’clock.  Court met at 3 and the Magistrate said he will pass the order after three days.  The Magistrate wanted to release on bail but Gandhi refused.  Therefore Magistrate was forced to release him on his personal capacity.  After three days, the district administration decided to withdraw the case against Gandhiji and extended all possible support for the enquiry.
Planters Against the appointment: The Government appointed the Committee to enquire about the grievances of the tenants.  Gandhiji was also one of the members of the committee.  But Planters Association represented by Mr.J.V.Jameson, opposed the appointment of Gandhiji as one of the members of the committee on the ground that “he is a complete stranger to the Province and ignorant of its complicated system of land tenure.” In fact he meticulously collected all the information, cross checked with other sources and interrogated with the concerned and finally came to the conclusion.  “His preliminary report would should how he had mastered the situation and the report of the Enquiry Committee shows that his conclusions were all literally true.”
Returned the Medal and Received Back: In the meantime Gandhi has written a letter to the Private Secretary to Viceroy about the happenings in Champaran and finally he said, “My motive is national service and that, too, so long as it is consistent with humanitarian dictates.  I understand, because my South African work was considered to be humanitarian that I was awarded the Kaisar-i-Hind Gold Medal in 1915.  So long, as my humanitarian motive is questioned, so long must I remain undeserving of holding the medal.  I am therefore asking my people to return the medal to you, and I shall feel honoured to receive it back if it is returned to me when my motive is no longer questioned.” Gandhi returned the medal to Viceroy.
But Viceroy did not accept the argument of Gandhi and sent back the medal again to Gandhiji. That was the history.  Government withdrew the cases, Government did accept the Gandhiji’s offer to return the medal.  Police officers and District Administration were very polite to Gandhiji.  Was it a miracle?  Gandhiji said this is the power of Truth and Nonviolence.  Through Champaran Mission he did not do anything except revealing the Truth. 
Gandhiji wanted to convey the message of Truth and the power of non violence through Champaran.  He made the marginalized and downtrodden masses so powerful.  They became fearless.  The seed of Indian Freedom was sown in Champaran and thus the liberation from the oppression started from peasants of Champaran and spread all over India.

The author is Director, National Gandhi Museum, Rajghat, New Delhi. e-mail : nationalgandhimuseum@gmail.com   
 Image: Courtesy Google