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STUDENTS' PROJECTS > THE STORY OF MY LIFE > PART X : CHAMPARAN > The Stain of Indigo

 

46. The stain of indigo

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 with both.

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 leave Tirhut.

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 Champaran.

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 officials 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 friends exercised.

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.