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100 years of Champaran Satyagraha: Facts to know about Mahatma Gandhi’s first movement against British Raj

  • Photo: PIB

Photo: PIB

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate an exhibition titled “Swachhagraha – Bapu Ko Karyanjali – Ek Abhiyan, Ek Pradarshani” in the national capital on Monday to mark the 100 years of Mahatma Gandhi’s first experiment of Satyagraha in Champaran.

The Bihar government will kick off the year-long commemorative celebrations today, as it was on April 10, 1917 that Gandhi set foot in the state for the first time.

Patna has several landmarks and heritage trails associated with the legacy of Gandhi and his stay in the capital 100 years ago after he had alighted from a third-class compartment at Patna railway station (then Bankipore station).

Mahatma Gandhi’s first Satygraha was undertaken in the erstwhile undivided Champaran district in northern Bihar in April 1917 after he learned about the abuses suffered by farmers, who were forced into growing indigo by British planters/estate owners. ‘The Champaran tenant’, informed Gandhi, ‘was bound by law to plant three out of every twenty parts of his land with indigo for his landlord’. This system was called Tinkathia.

Gandhi was initially reluctant to commit himself to the task but he was so thoroughly persuaded by indigo cultivator Rajkumar Shukla that he decided to investigate the matter.

Gandhi’s plan was to carry out an extensive inquiry in the district and demand action based on its findings. The local authorities did not find Gandhi’s visit welcoming and they unsuccessfully tried to dissuade him from undertaking his inquiry. But Gandhi began his work from the house of Babu Gorakh Prasad in Motihari, headquarters of the district.

During this time, Gandhi was served with a court summon while he was making a spot visit to a village on an elephant back. Gandhi was charged with violating Section 144 of CrPC but he refused to leave Champaran. The announcement of his inquiry had already captivated the imagination of the peasants and his popularity skyrocketed as the news of his prosecution broke.

On April 18, 1917 when Gandhi appeared in Motihari Court, nearly 2000 local people accompanied him. The magistrate wanted to defer the trial and as a result, the Motihari trial collapsed. The then Lieutenant Governor of Bihar had ordered the withdrawal of case against Gandhi, and the Collector wrote to Gandhi saying he was free to conduct the inquiry. This small step was a giant leap forward in the history of freedom struggle and heralded the advent of Gandhian era.

Gandhi’s method of inquiry was based on surveys by the volunteers. The respondents who willingly gave statements should sign the papers or give thumb impressions. For those unwilling to participate, the reasons must be recorded by the volunteers.

In the meantime, the Bihar administration grew anxious at Gandhi’s prolonged stay in Champaran. Thus on June 4, 1917, Sir Edward Gait, the Lieutenant Governor of Bihar, declared the formation of a formal inquiry committee with Gandhi aboard. But Gait had to concede that Gandhi and volunteers could remain in the district and Gandhi would not cease to be an advocate of the ryats (tenants).

On July 11, 1917, the Champaran Inquiry Committee began its preliminary meeting and after several sittings and spot visits, it submitted its final report on October 4. The government accepted almost all its recommendations to the benefit of the ryats. The principal recommendation accepted was the complete abolition of Tinkathia system.

On November 29, the Champaran Agrarian bill was submitted in the Bihar Legislative Council. On March 4, 1919, with the formal signature of the Governor General, this bill turned into a law. Almost a year after Gandhi’s arrival, the exploitative tinkathia system had finally been abolished.

The victory at Champaran established Mohandas Karamchand  Gandhi in India’s struggle against the British raj.

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