Ghandhi and Bihar
Gandhi Circuit in Bihar
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.”
"Mahatma Gandhi- Autobiography"
Champaran has a unique importance in the history of Indian freedom. It was here that the Father of the Nation, after his return from Africa, made his first successful experiment in India’s new nationalism, characterized in its unique way by emphasis on non-violence and truth of awakening and salvation of the down-trodden masses, on complete eradication of the economic iniquities that turn man against man and on purification of society.
Mahatma Gandhi’s advent at Champaran imbued the people of this area with consciousness and moral faith in the factors for the progress and successful consummation of a creative revolution.
As has been the case with most of the great revolutions in history, the Champaran movement was the product of discontent and protest against the grievous anomalies of a grinding economic system. It had been prevailing there for years under the influence of a capitalistic system, in which the foreign indigo planters were guided solely by the inordinate lust for wealth and profit through extensive indigo cultivation and manufacture in this area, utterly regardless of the interests of the ;poor and unsophisticated raiyots. Injustice was writ large in all the transactions of the indigo planters in Bihar. Their dealings with the poor tenants form a tale of notorious atrocities.
British demand for Indian indigo revived after the American source was closed on the outbreak of the War of American Independence (1775-83) and indigo became henceforth a profitable article of export of the English Company from India.
In Champaran, the Europeans started indigo cultivation and factories in the lands which they 0obtained on leases, temporary or permanent, from the Bettiah Raj and Ramnagar Estates. Colonel Hicky established an indigo factory at Bara in 1813. Subsequently other factories sprang up at Turkaulia, Peepara, Motihari and Rajpur, and in about 1875 the Europeans began to settle also in t6he northwestern part of the district. Thus numerous factories sprang up throughout the district. European indigo planters in north Bihar carried on indigo cultivation under two systems. Under the Zerait system they managed cultivation of indigo under their direct management using their own ploughs and bullocks. They had to engage the tenants to work for them and also impressed their ploughs. Such tenants were entirely ill paid for their labour and so naturally remained discontented. According to the Assamiwar system, the factory-chiefs got indigo lands cultivated by the tenants. The most prevalent method under this system was known as Tinkathia.
Under the Tinkathia method, a tenant had to cultivate indigo on three kathas per bigha (units of land measurement) of his holding or the factory lands during a long period (20-30 years) and was formally entitled to get a price for it, according to the written agreements between them and the factory. It was calculated to promote maximum interests of the planters but on the other hand entailed enormous hardships on the tenants in various ways. Coercion on them for converting their lands into indigo-producing fields, extortion of forced labour from them under all kinds of threat, extremely meager payment and sometimes even no payment to them, inflictions of heavy fines for failure to grow indigo for any reason whatsoever, were some of the notorious features of this oppressive and grinding system. Their occasional protests and cries for protection against the harsh treatment of the planters mingled with the air.
Groaning under intolerable tyranny of the planters, the raiyots of Champaran were seeking relief from different quarters. They soon selected the right path and Providence gave them the right man for their deliverance. They placed the question before the Indian National Congress, and brought it to the notice of a great personality, the story of whose fearless fight for the cause of oppressed Indians in South Africa had already reached their ears. He was Mahatma Gandhi.
Gandhi Ji’s mission to Champaran was undertaken at the request of the people of Bihar, some of whom had the privilege of contacting him at Lucknow during the thirty-first session of the Indian National Congress, which met there in December 1916. Bihar also sent a number of delegates to this session of the Congress. Those who accompanied Babu Braj Kishore Prasad from Darbhanga were Shri Lakshman Prasad, Shri Bhuvaneshwar Misra, Shri Kamaleshwai Charan Sinha and Shri Ram Bahadur Prasad Gupta. Shri Rajkumar Shukla, who had felt the full lbrunt of indigo planters’ tyranny and who, in the words of Gandhi Ji, was “ filled with a passion to wash away the stain of indigo for the thousands who were suffering as he had suffered,” went to the Lucknow congress as a representative of the tenants of Champaran. After the Congress had unanimously passed a resolution, the Bihar delegates requested Gandhi Ji to come to Champaran. Shri Raj Kumar Shukla, in particular, urged him to visit Champaran personally and witness the miseries of the raiyots there. Gandhi Ji promised to tour Champaran.
In the company of the simple but resolute peasant-leader, Shri Raj Kumar Shukla, Mahatma Gandhi started from Calcutta on the 9th April 1917 and reached Patna in the morning of the next day. Shri Shukla escorted Mahatma Ji straight into the house of Shri Rajendra Parasad at Patna, who after independence became the first President of India. Rajendra Babu had then gone to Puri (Orissa) after attending the meeting of the All-India Congress Committee in Kolkata ( then Calcutta) and his one or two servants at the Patna house, who could not recognize the great man, paid no attention to him but treated him as an ordinary visitor. All this was far from surprising or irritating to Gandhi Ji, as he later wrote in his Autobiography. Shri Mazharul Haque, whom Gandhi Ji knew in London soon offered his hospitality to him, which he thankfully accepted and requested him to send him to his destination by the first available train. Th Hon’ble Babu Krishna Sahay also saw Mahatma Ji at the house of Shir Mazharul Haque. The same evening Gandhi Ji, accompanied by Shukla Ji, took the train for Muzaffarpur and reached there in the night. Shri J.B.Kripalani, who was a Professor at the G.B.College, Muzaffarpur, received Mahatma Ji at the railway station with a crowd of students along with others. The people gave a reception to Mahatma Ji at the station.Gandhi Jhi stayed at Muzaffarpur till the midday of the 15th April 1917 and made necessary inquiry. Then he started by train for Motihari with Babu Dharanidhar and Babu Ramnavami Prasad in his company. When the train reached Motihari at 3 P.M.he was taken straight to the house of Babu Gorakh Prasad, a local pleader.
On hearing that a respectable tenant of village Jasaulipatti had received harsh treatment, Mahatma Gandhi at once decided to proceed there on the next day, and the tenants who had come to Motihari were asked to turn up on Thursday next for getting their statements recorded. At 9 A.M. on the 16th Ajpril, Mahatma Gandhi started for this village with Babu Dharanidhar and Babu Ramnavami Prasad on an elephant. By noon the party had covered fourteen kilometers and reached a village called Chandrahia, which chiefly fed the Motihari factory. While Mahatma Gandhi was talking to a villager, who, being evidently connected with the factory, a police sub-inspector in ordinary dress reached there and informed him that the Collector had sent salams to him. Mahatma Gandhi asked the Sub-Inspector to arrange for a conveyance and said to his companions, that he was expecting that something of that sort would happen. He requested them to proceed to Jasaulipatti and do the work there. The Sub-Inspector brought a bullock cart. Mahatma Gandhi started on it for Motihari and his two companions went to Jasaulipatti. After they had gone a short distance, the Deputy Superintendent of Police showed a notice, dated 16th April, 19176, to Mahatma Ji, who quietly read its contents. He was thereby the notice ordered to abstain from remaining in the District and was required to leave by the next available train.
The news of the notice and the summons served on Mahatma Gandhi spread like wild fire and Motihari witnessed unprecedented scenes on the 17th April when a vast crowd of peasants had reached there and recording the their statements began. The companions of Mahatma Gandhi did their best to control the assembled people. The Government officers too utilized their co-operation in regulating them, because Mahatma Gandhi had made it perfectly clear to them that it was never his intention to offend any of them personally and that he had decided to offer civil resistance to their order. But it was, in the words of Mahatma Gandhi, an ocular 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 powers of love, which their new friend exercised. Thousands of peasants were baptized by Mahatma Gandhi’s love. It was a miracle- a great triumph of moral force. “It is no exaggeration, but the literal truth, to say”, observed Mahatma Gandhi, “ that in this meeting with the peasants I was face to face with God, Ahimsa and Truth.”
On the 17th April 1917, Mahatma Gandhi started for visiting some villages near about Motihari. Very soon the summons came calling upon Mahatma Gandhi to appear before the Sub-divisional Officer of Motihari on the 18th April 1917.
The 18th of April 1917 is a memorable day in the history not only of Champaran, but also of the whole of India. It was on this day that Mahatma Gandhi was preparing himself to go to jail for the sake of the poor and suffering people of the province of Bihar. On this day the whole of India was to get her first lesson and her first modern example of Satyagrahas, which was to open new floodgates of light and of vision before her.
The news of the proceedings against Mahatma Gandhi had spread far and wide into the corners of the distant villages and naturally caused stir among the people. Large number of them flocked to the court compound to have a darshan of the great man, who had formed the noble resolve to court imprisonment to alleviate their woes. When Mahatma Gandhi entered the courtroom, about 2000 men followed him. At this the Magistrate asked him to wait for some time in the Mokhtar’s library and requisitioned armed police to keep the crowd away from the courtroom.
The Government pleader pressed the court to postpone the case. But Mahatama Gandhi intervened and requested the Magistrate not to postpone it, as he wanted to plead guilty to having disobeyed the order to leave Champaran. In his own characteristic way Mahatma Gandhi made his statement showing why he had taken the very serious step of seemingly disobeying the order passed under section 144 Cr.P.C.
At Mahatma Gandhi’s fearless and unvarnished statement of truth, to which he had selflessly dedicated himself for the service of humanity, both the Magistrate and the Government pleader had been taken by surprise.
Mahatma Gandhi appeared in the Magistrate’s Court at about 3 P.M. and was told by the Magistrate that he would pass orders on the 21st April but would release him in the meanwhile on a bail of Rupees 100/-. When Mahatma Gandhi pointed out that he had no bailer and he could offer no bail, the Magistrate offered to release him on his personal recognizance. Mahatma Gandhi then returned to the place where he was putting up, and communicated to his friends and newspaper reporters what had happened there, requesting them at the same time to refrain from making any agitation in the Press till Government orders were known.
At 7 A.M. n the 21st April, the Magistrate, Mr. Heycock, sent a written message to Mahatma Gandhi that the Lt. Governor had ordered the case against him to be withdrawn.
Mahatma Gandhi continued his efforts and at last cowed down the British Government to set up a Committee of Enquiry to examine and report on the agrarian conditions in Champaran. Mahatma Gandhi was also made a member of that Committee. His inclusion in the Committee evoked high hopes in the minds of the tenants. The Committee had its first public sitting at Bettiah on the 17th July 1917. The Committee signed a unanimous report on the 3rd. October 1917, and placed it next day before the Government of Bihar. Ultimately the Champaran Agrarian Act was passed in March 1918 that put an end to the atrocities being inflicted upon the tenants by the indigo-planters. And, Mahatma Gandhi left for his another mission in Ahmedabad.
During his stay in Champaran Mahatma Gandhi visited several villages and done a lot of social works which are:
Motihari (East Champaran)
Motihari was the first laboratory and probably it will not be very incorrect to say that it has been the spring board for India's independence. Gandhi Ji's visit in April'1917 and work in the villages of Champaran district sent a wave of enthusiasm and inspiration to the people who were thirsting for a selfless leader. The technique followed by Gandhi Ji in Champaran was what attained later on the name of Satyagraha. It is here also that he gave the training to a few young men including Late Dr. Rajendra Prasad who were later to throw their lot completely in his Non-cooperation Movement and ultimately won freedom for India. Mahatma Gandhi's stay in Champaran inspired his associates with noble ideals in several ways, and helped them to receive under his guidance an excellent training, which proved to be the most valuable asset for some of them in their role of leaders in the country's battle for liberty.
Hazarimal Dharmshala, Betia (West Champaran)
It is at Bettiah in the Lal Bazar area. Gandhi Ji and his companions used to camp here and it was the epicenter of his “Satyagrah”. The State Government has declared this building a protected monument.
The Betia Raj Kutcherry and the Dharamshala where Mahatma Gandhi stayed are well worth visit.
Bhitiharwa Ashram,West Champaran
It is a village in the Betia sub-division under Gaunaha block. This was one of the centers for social work selected by Gandhi Ji when he was in Champaran in 1917. Amolwa concern under the management of Mr. Ammon was located here. He was considered to be a terror to the locality. Gandhi Ji put this center under the charge of some of his co-workers from outside Bihar such as Srimati Awantika Bai Gokhale, Soman Ji, Mahadeo Desai and others. Besides teaching alphabets, etc., the teachers did a lot of social work and did their own scavenging. They took upon themselves the problem of illiteracy. At present there is a Khadi center working under direct control of the Bihar Khadi Samiti. There is a Gandhi Ashram where Mahatma Gandhi had stayed during the Indian freedom struggle.
Brindaban, West Champaran
It is a small village in the Betia subdivision under Chanpatia block. It has the Gram Seva Kendra which had been planned to work out the deals of the Gandhi Seva Sangh. The All-India Gandhi Seva Sangh held their annual conference at this village in 1937. It was attended by Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Rajendra Prasad. Gandhi Ji stayed here in 1939 and started an Ashram, which is still functioning.
Shri Rampur West Champaran
This place is situated in the Gaunaha block of Bhitiharwa Panchayat. Gandhi Ji had stayed here on 16th November 1917.
Koeldih, West Champaran
It is a place also under Gaunaha Block in the Belwa Panchayat. Gandhi Ji had visited this place on 16th November 1917.
Amolwa, West Champaran
It is a place under Gaunaha Block in the Majharia Panchayat where Gandhi Ji spent a night on the 27th April 1917 with his other companions. It was native place of Pandit Raj Kumar Shiukla who had been a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi during the Champaran Satyagrah Movement. Pandit Shukla took a lead role in bringing Mahatma Gandhi to Champaran.
Sariswa, West Champaran
This place is in Ratanmala Panchayat under Majhaulia Block. Gandhi Ji and his companions had taken statement of Raiyots in a open yard in front of the temple.
Hardiya Kothi, West Champaran
It is under Bishunpur Panchayat of the Nautan Block. It was house of Mr G.P. Edward, a British Indigo Planter. Remains of this building are somewhat in better condition in comparison to other such old buildings.
It is situated in Digha area on Patna-Danapur Road and in pre-independence days guided the freedom movement in Bihar. It is associated with the memories of Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Maulana Mazharul Haque and other leaders.