Now Gandhi heard about an obnoxious system of agricultural labour prevailing in Bihar.
In the Champaran district of Bihar, the
cultivators were forced by Europeans to grow indigo, a blue dye, and this
imposed on them untold sufferings. They could not grow the food they needed,
nor did they receive adequate payment for the indigo.
Gandhi was unaware of this until an
agriculturist from Bihar, Rajkumar Shukla, met him and told him of the woes
of the people of Champaran. He requested Gandhi to go to the place and see
for himself the state of affairs there. Gandhi was them attending the
Congress meeting at Lucknow and he did not have time to go there. Rajkumar
Shukla followed him about, begging him to come and help the suffering
villagers in Champaran. Gandhi at last promised to visit the place after he
had visited Calcutta. When Gandhi was in Calcutta, Rajkumar was there too,
to take him to Bihar.
Gandhi went to Champaran with Rajkumar early
in 1917. On his arrival the District Magistrate served him with a notice
saying g that he was not to remain in the district of Champaran but must
leave the place by the first available train.
Gandhi disobeyed this order. He was summoned
to appear before the court.
The magistrate said, ‘If you leave the
district now and promise not to return, the case against you will be
‘This cannot be.’ replied Gandhi. ‘I came here
to render humanitation and national service. I shall make Champaran m y home
and work for the suffering people.’
A large crowd of peasants was outside the
court shouting slogans. The magistrate and the police looked nervous. Then
Gandhi said, ‘I shall help you to calm these people if I can speak to them.’
Gandhi appeared before the crowd and said,
‘You must show your faith in me and in my work by remaining quiet. The
magistrate had the right to arrest me, because I disobeyed his order. If I
am sent to jail, you must accept that as just. We must work peacefully. And
violent act will harm out cause.’
The crowd dispersed peacefully. The police
stared at Gandhi in admiration as he went inside the court.
The Government withdrew the case against
Gandhi and allowed him to remain in the district. Gandhi stayed there to
study the grievances of the peasants.
He visited many villages. He cross-examined
about 8,000 cultivators and recorded their statements. In this way he
arrived at an exact understanding of their grievance and the causes
He came to the conclusion that the ignorance
of the cultivators was one of the main reasons why it was possible for the
European planters to repress them. Gandhi therefore set up voluntary
organizations to improve the economic and educational conditions of the
people. They opened schools and also taught the people how to improve
The government realized Gandhi’s strength and
his devotion to causes. They themselves then set upon a committee to enquire
into the grievances of the cultivators. They invited Gandhi to serve on that
committee, and he agreed. The result was that within a few months the
Champaran Agrarian Bill was passed. It gave great relief to the cultivators
and land tenants.
Gandhi could not stay longer in Bihar. There
were calls from other places. Labour unrest was brewing in Ahmedabad and
Gandhi was requested to help settle the dispute.