Kumar Prashant

FROM MK TO MAHATMA

The epic struggle for liberating the farmers of Champaran, from the torture of forced indigo farming, turned into a much wider struggle for education, sanitation and testing the weapon of satyagraha

HISTORY does not pass away, it repeats itself in new forms and references and forces us to open our eyes wide and recognize our surroundings. Some pages of history are such that whenever they touch you or you open them, they move you. The chapter of Champaran is an example of this touch which changed everything, especially Gandhi and he got what he was looking for

On April 15, 1917, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi reached Champaran with an unknown person like Raj Kumar Shukla. Gandhi did not even know the name of Champaran and had no knowledge about indigo farming. He had merely been told of the farmers’ crisis.

Earlier, as is well known, he had been to England to study law, and then in South Africa where he opened up his practice. Everything was going on well. Advocacy came to a standstill when at Moritzsburg station, the ticket checker threw Gandhi out of the compartment. Little did he know that by throwing this black man out of the compartment, he would shake the foundations of the British empire. 

In South Africa, he experimented with the weapon of satyagraha, which he had sharpened and used it against colour discrimination. He made his family imbibe his way of life, developed his own ashrams and methods to live accordingly. 

Before coming to Champaran, Gandhi had also entered the battleground. During the Zulu rebellion, he had raised an ambulance brigade for the British Army and served as Sergeant Major. He wrote the book ‘Hind-Swaraj’. After winning his own struggle in South Africa, he came to India and found his mentor, Guru Gokhale. For an entire year, Gandhi travelled the length and breadth of the country to study the conditions of Indians. He saw how the slavery of a hundred years has afflicted Indians. During this phase of seeing India, he recognised that this slavery has changed the state of mind of Indians.

CHAMPARAN VISIT

Rajkumar Shukla took Gandhi to Champaran to show him the plight of the indigo farmers. He saw the scourge called slavery. Interestingly, Gandhi avoided a direct confrontation with either the British government or the indigo farm owners.  He started the fight against the mentality of slavery. He kept on teaching Indians about their mentality. Bihar’s first grade lawyers came up and joined him which included Babu Braj Kishore Prasad, Ramanavami Prasad, Rajendra Prasad, Dharnidhar Babu etc., all came closer to Gandhi. These were the lawyers who used to charge Rs 10,000/- as their fees. Gandhi made these people realize one thing: that they should not get carried away by the worldly treasures and nobody should fight the battle half-heartedly. Professor Kripalani was also around, but he was more concerned about watching Gandhi speak.

Gandhi called the people as per his requirement from Gujarat, Maharashtra, etc. and told them to live with cleanliness, start studies and reading, and cooking etc. He requested as well as insisted that food should be cooked at one central place, that is in a common kitchen. Every reputed lawyer had brought his convoy which included his servant and his cook etc. Gandhi insisted to do away with this tradition as it was unnecessary and explained that they can all do the work together with the help of each other and there is no need for anyone to depend upon others.

It is only on one occasion that he allowed others to cook. CF Andrews, educator and social reformer, was to go to Motihari one day. He hurriedly cooked some half-baked chapatis and boiled potatoes. At that point, Gandhi walked in and on seeing the poorly cooked food, he asked people to cook and himself sat down with Andrews.

VICTORY, FINALLY

But before Gandhi reached Champaran, his fame had reached there. The image which was created in the minds of the public was that he was a very effective weapon against oppression. Even those people who did not know what Gandhi did in South Africa had this picture of him in their minds that he was a miracle man. Not only farmers but also government officials kept on coming to see Gandhi on his way to Champaran. The British officers and the administration shocked. They knew, more than Indians did, what Gandhi had achieved with his methods in satyagraha. They were highly apprehensive where Gandhi would take the farmers, for they knew well the extent to which the farmers had been crushed.

Gandhi reached Motihari on April 15 and stayed at the house of Babu Gorakh Prasad. He apprehended being arrested, as he had seen how the British function while he was in South Africa. 

The supporters were eager to know how Gandhi would start satyagraha. He replied with a calm voice: “Tomorrow I will be going to Jasauli Patti.” he said. He had heard that people of a reputed family had been tortured there. But the lawyers rightly pointed out that such torture is rampant all over Motihari and Champaran, so he should start his struggle from Motihari. 

The night passed and the morning dawned. Gandhi got ready to go to Jasauli Patti. Dharnidhar  Babu and Ramnavami Babu came out with him. They were to ride on an elephant in the scorching summer heat. Gandhi had never ridden an elephant before, and that too with three men sitting stifled. Gandhi started his discussions. He was worried about the position of the women.

He had been shocked by what he had seen as the condition of women. During his journey, an official from the District Magistrate told him that he would have to leave the area as he was an outsider and was creating trouble. Gandhi informed that he was not an outsider and that he had no intention of creating trouble by working for the upliftment of the local women. However, he anticipated further trouble and drew up a list of things to do and the path to be taken by his followers just in case he is arrested. 

COURT DRAMA

The next day, the real picture opened in the courtroom. The fame of Gandhi spread all over. Farmers thronged the court room. The public prosecutor came prepared to teach a lesson to the foreign returned Indian. The judge asked Gandhi as to who was his counsel. Gandhi replied ‘nobody’. He further said that he had already sent the reply to the District Collector’s notice. There was silence in the court room. The judge said that the answer has not reached the court. Gandhi took out the paper containing his reply and started reading it out. There was pin drop silence in the courtroom. 

And he said that he would not accept any restrictions by anyone on the freedom to visit and work anywhere in his country. But he accepted that he had broken the District Magistrate’s order and would also accept punishment for it. 

Gandhi’s written answer was complete and there was silence in both the camps and everything went topsy-turvy. The government lawyers were astonished to see how a person who was being tried turned the tables on them, and even demanded punishment for himself. But there were no grounds on which he could be tried. The government and the administration had got ensnared in its own trap.  

The judge told Gandhi to apply for the bail but Gandhi replied that he has nobody who can be his guarantor and take his surety. The judge got confused and further said that if Gandhi assures that he will leave the district never to come back again, then all the charges levelled against him will be taken back. Gandhi then told the judge that if he passes a jail sentence, then after finishing his term, he would permanently reside in Champaran. In the meanwhile, orders were received from Delhi cautioning the judge not to involve himself with Gandhi and let him do what he wishes. 

In many ways, this sums up the concept of satyagraha: non-cooperation without violence, but with absolute firmness. Gandhi took a vow from everybody that if the time comes for them to go to jail, they will not hesitate. All these lawyers were till date fighting cases to save their clients from going to jail and sending their opponents but now the time had come for them to go to jail. Going to jail was considered to be a disrespectful thing, but Gandhi made them understand that going to jail for a noble cause is not considered bad but is a matter of honour and respect. 

The epic struggle for liberating the farmers of Champaran, from the torture of forced indigo farming, turned into a much wider struggle for education, sanitation and testing the weapon of satyagraha

-KUMAR PRASHANT

HISTORY does not pass away, it repeats itself in new forms and references and forces us to open our eyes wide and recognize our surroundings. Some pages of history are such that whenever they touch you or you open them, they move you. The chapter of Champaran is an example of this touch which changed everything, especially Gandhi and he got what he was looking for

On April 15, 1917, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi reached Champaran with an unknown person like Raj Kumar Shukla. Gandhi did not even know the name of Champaran and had no knowledge about indigo farming. He had merely been told of the farmers’ crisis.

Earlier, as is well known, he had been to England to study law, and then in South Africa where he opened up his practice. Everything was going on well. Advocacy came to a standstill when at Moritzsburg station, the ticket checker threw Gandhi out of the compartment. Little did he know that by throwing this black man out of the compartment, he would shake the foundations of the British empire. 

In South Africa, he experimented with the weapon of satyagraha, which he had sharpened and used it against colour discrimination. He made his family imbibe his way of life, developed his own ashrams and methods to live accordingly. 

Before coming to Champaran, Gandhi had also entered the battleground. During the Zulu rebellion, he had raised an ambulance brigade for the British Army and served as Sergeant Major. He wrote the book ‘Hind-Swaraj’. After winning his own struggle in South Africa, he came to India and found his mentor, Guru Gokhale. For an entire year, Gandhi travelled the length and breadth of the country to study the conditions of Indians. He saw how the slavery of a hundred years has afflicted Indians. During this phase of seeing India, he recognised that this slavery has changed the state of mind of Indians.

CHAMPARAN VISIT

Rajkumar Shukla took Gandhi to Champaran to show him the plight of the indigo farmers. He saw the scourge called slavery. Interestingly, Gandhi avoided a direct confrontation with either the British government or the indigo farm owners.  He started the fight against the mentality of slavery. He kept on teaching Indians about their mentality. Bihar’s first grade lawyers came up and joined him which included Babu Braj Kishore Prasad, Ramanavami Prasad, Rajendra Prasad, Dharnidhar Babu etc., all came closer to Gandhi. These were the lawyers who used to charge Rs 10,000/- as their fees. Gandhi made these people realize one thing: that they should not get carried away by the worldly treasures and nobody should fight the battle half-heartedly. Professor Kripalani was also around, but he was more concerned about watching Gandhi speak.

Gandhi called the people as per his requirement from Gujarat, Maharashtra, etc. and told them to live with cleanliness, start studies and reading, and cooking etc. He requested as well as insisted that food should be cooked at one central place, that is in a common kitchen. Every reputed lawyer had brought his convoy which included his servant and his cook etc. Gandhi insisted to do away with this tradition as it was unnecessary and explained that they can all do the work together with the help of each other and there is no need for anyone to depend upon others.

It is only on one occasion that he allowed others to cook. CF Andrews, educator and social reformer, was to go to Motihari one day. He hurriedly cooked some half-baked chapatis and boiled potatoes. At that point, Gandhi walked in and on seeing the poorly cooked food, he asked people to cook and himself sat down with Andrews.

VICTORY, FINALLY

But before Gandhi reached Champaran, his fame had reached there. The image which was created in the minds of the public was that he was a very effective weapon against oppression. Even those people who did not know what Gandhi did in South Africa had this picture of him in their minds that he was a miracle man. Not only farmers but also government officials kept on coming to see Gandhi on his way to Champaran. The British officers and the administration shocked. They knew, more than Indians did, what Gandhi had achieved with his methods in satyagraha. They were highly apprehensive where Gandhi would take the farmers, for they knew well the extent to which the farmers had been crushed.

Gandhi reached Motihari on April 15 and stayed at the house of Babu Gorakh Prasad. He apprehended being arrested, as he had seen how the British function while he was in South Africa. 

The supporters were eager to know how Gandhi would start satyagraha. He replied with a calm voice: “Tomorrow I will be going to Jasauli Patti.” he said. He had heard that people of a reputed family had been tortured there. But the lawyers rightly pointed out that such torture is rampant all over Motihari and Champaran, so he should start his struggle from Motihari. 

The night passed and the morning dawned. Gandhi got ready to go to Jasauli Patti. Dharnidhar  Babu and Ramnavami Babu came out with him. They were to ride on an elephant in the scorching summer heat. Gandhi had never ridden an elephant before, and that too with three men sitting stifled. Gandhi started his discussions. He was worried about the position of the women.

He had been shocked by what he had seen as the condition of women. During his journey, an official from the District Magistrate told him that he would have to leave the area as he was an outsider and was creating trouble. Gandhi informed that he was not an outsider and that he had no intention of creating trouble by working for the upliftment of the local women. However, he anticipated further trouble and drew up a list of things to do and the path to be taken by his followers just in case he is arrested. 

COURT DRAMA

The next day, the real picture opened in the courtroom. The fame of Gandhi spread all over. Farmers thronged the court room. The public prosecutor came prepared to teach a lesson to the foreign returned Indian. The judge asked Gandhi as to who was his counsel. Gandhi replied ‘nobody’. He further said that he had already sent the reply to the District Collector’s notice. There was silence in the court room. The judge said that the answer has not reached the court. Gandhi took out the paper containing his reply and started reading it out. There was pin drop silence in the courtroom. 

And he said that he would not accept any restrictions by anyone on the freedom to visit and work anywhere in his country. But he accepted that he had broken the District Magistrate’s order and would also accept punishment for it. 

Gandhi’s written answer was complete and there was silence in both the camps and everything went topsy-turvy. The government lawyers were astonished to see how a person who was being tried turned the tables on them, and even demanded punishment for himself. But there were no grounds on which he could be tried. The government and the administration had got ensnared in its own trap.  

The judge told Gandhi to apply for the bail but Gandhi replied that he has nobody who can be his guarantor and take his surety. The judge got confused and further said that if Gandhi assures that he will leave the district never to come back again, then all the charges levelled against him will be taken back. Gandhi then told the judge that if he passes a jail sentence, then after finishing his term, he would permanently reside in Champaran. In the meanwhile, orders were received from Delhi cautioning the judge not to involve himself with Gandhi and let him do what he wishes. 

In many ways, this sums up the concept of satyagraha: non-cooperation without violence, but with absolute firmness. Gandhi took a vow from everybody that if the time comes for them to go to jail, they will not hesitate. All these lawyers were till date fighting cases to save their clients from going to jail and sending their opponents but now the time had come for them to go to jail. Going to jail was considered to be a disrespectful thing, but Gandhi made them understand that going to jail for a noble cause is not considered bad but is a matter of honour and respect. 

The task of lodging the statements of the farmers was not less than a war. People speaking different languages from all over the country had gathered to help the people of Bihar record the statements of the indigo farmers. Gandhi took a side track, which is very interesting. He started two campaigns: one for sanitation and hygiene and the other for education. He realised that it is ignorance that had enslaved the people of the country. And in these campaigns, he was highly successful. In the end, Gandhi ensured that forced indigo farming was banned and the farmers were paid all their dues. After Champaran, he became the tallest leader in the country. From Mohandas Karamchand to Mahatma Gandhi. 

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