The Champaran tenant was bound by law to plant three out of every twenty parts of his land with indigo for his landlord. This system was known as tinkathia system as, three kathas out of twenty (which make one acre) had to be planted with indigo.
Rajkumar Shukla was one of the
agriculturists who had suffered under
this system. He wanted me
personally to visit Champaran and
see the miseries of the ryots there.
So early in 1917 we left
Calcutta for Champaran. My object
was to inquire into the condition of
the Champaran agriculturists and
understand their grievances against
the indigo planters. For this purpose
it was necessary that I should
meet thousands of the ryots. But I
thought it essential, before starting
on my inquiry, to know the planters'
side of the case and see the
Commissioner of the Division. I
sought and was granted appointments
The Secretary of the Planters'
Association told me plainly that I
was an outsider and that I had no
business to come between the
planters and their tenants, but if I
had any representation to make, I
might submit it in writing. I politely
told him that I did not regard
myself as an outsider, and that I
had every right to inquire into the
condition of the tenants if they desired me to do so.
The Commissioner, on whom I
called, advised me forthwith to
I acquainted my co-workers with
all this, and told them that there
was a likelihood of Government
stopping me from proceeding further,
and that I might have to go to
jail earlier than I had expected, and
that, if I was to be arrested, it
would be best that the arrest
should take place in Motihari or if
possible in Bettiah. It was advisable,
therefore, that I should go to
those places as early as possible.
Champaran is a district of the
Tirhut division in Bihar, and
Motihari is its headquarters.
Rajkumar Shukla's place was in
the vicinity of Bettiah, and the tenants
in its neighbourhood were the
poorest in the district. Rajkumar
Shukla wanted me to see them and
I was equally anxious to do so.
So I started with my co-workers
for Motihari the same day. The
very same day we heard that about
five miles from Motihari a tenant
had been ill-treated. It was decided
that, in company with Babu
Dharanidhar Prasad, I should go
and see him the next morning, and
we accordingly set off for the
place on elephant's back. We had
scarcely gone half way when a
messenger from the Police Superintendent
overtook us and said that
the latter had sent his compliments.
I saw what he meant. Having
left Dharanidhar Babu to proceed
to the original destination, I
got into the hired carriage which
the messenger had brought. He
then served on me a notice to
leave Champaran, and drove me to
my place. On his asking me to acknowledge
the service of the notice,
I wrote to the effect that I did
not propose to leave Champaran
till my inquiry was finished.
Thereupon I received a summons
to take my trial the next day for
disobeying the order to leave
The news of the notice and the
summons spread like wildfire, and
I was told that Motihari that day
witnessed unprecedented scenes.
Gorakhbabu's house and the courthouse
overflowed with men. Fortunately
I had finished all my work
during the night and so was able to
manage the crowds. My companions
proved the greatest help. They
occupied themselves with regulating
the crowds, for the latter followed
me wherever I went.
A sort of friendliness sprang up
between the officials – Collector,
Magistrate, Police Superintendent
– and myself. I might have legally
resisted the notices served on me.
Instead I accepted them all, and my conduct towards the
was correct. They thus saw that I
did not want to offend them personally,
but that I wanted to offer
civil resistance to their orders. In
this way they were put at ease, and
instead of harassing me they gladly
availed themselves of my and my
co-workers' co-operation in regulating
the crowds. But it was a visible
demonstration to them of the
fact that their authority was
shaken. The people had for the
moment lost all fear of punishment
and yielded obedience to the
power of love which their new
It should be remembered that no
one knew me in Champaran. And
yet they received me as though we
had been age-long friends. It is no
exaggeration, but the literal truth,
to say that in this meeting with the
peasants I was face to face with
God, Ahimsa, and Truth.
That day in Champaran was an
unforgettable event in my life and
a red-letter day for the peasants
and for me.
The trial began. The Government
pleader, the Magistrate and
other officials were at a loss to
know what to do.
Before I could appear before the
Court to receive the sentence, the
Magistrate sent a written message
that the Lieutenant Governor had
ordered the case against me to be
withdrawn, and the Collector wrote
to me saying that I was at liberty
to conduct the proposed inquiry,
and that I might count on whatever
help I needed from the officials.
None of us was prepared for this
prompt and happy issue.
Crowds of peasants came to
make their statements, and they
were followed by an army of companions
who filled the compound
and garden to over-flowing.