A hundred years ago, on a day very much like this, Mohandas Gandhi travelled in a train with no AC to reach Champaran, to hold India’s first civil disobedience movement.Under the British rule, many farmers in the Champaran district of Bihar were forced to grow indigo in their lands, much to their dismay. To fight this, a money lender named Raj Kumar Shukla reached out to Gandhiji and requested him to come and help them.As Gandhi wrote in his autobiography , he did not even know of Champaran before this. Nonetheless, he came down to this district on April 10 of 1917 with a band of lawyers, including Dr. Rajendra Prasad, to fight it out with the British.
There had been the Indigo Riots in 1859-60, but this was a new struggle altogether.Preparations began. Gandhi and his lawyers travelled across the district to different villages, meeting farmers and taking note of their sufferings and complaints against the forced indigo cultivation.Ever since Gandhi arrived in Champaran, the British rulers started keeping a close eye on his moves. Finally, on April 15, he was given an ultimatum at Motihari by the commissioner to leave Champaran.To that, Gandhi responded that he wouldn’t leave, but was ready to bear “the penalty of civil disobedience”.It was apparent now that Gandhi would be taken to jail for this resistance. As a response, scores of Champaran tenants turned up in protest outside the jail, police stations and courts.
In the end, troubled by this unusual form of resistance that spilled no violence, the government was forced to let go of Gandhi.”The country, thus, had its first direct object-lesson in Civil Disobedience,” Gandhi wrote in his autobiography.The struggle against forced indigo cultivation continued. Now, however, the possibility of Gandhi’s arrest was more eminent. But he put together a plan, a chain of people who would take over the work if he, or anyone after him, was arrested. This way, the struggle would go on, with or without him.The struggle went on, the civil disobedience continued. The protests and hunger strikes ultimately ended with the abolishing of the cultivation of Indigo, or as it was known then, the tinkathia system.
The landlords under the British government were made to sign an agreement that granted the farmers more control over what they wanted to grow on their own lands, among other benefits.It was during this movement when Gandhi was first referred to as Bapu and Mahatma, or so goes the legend. And that was the story of India’s first civil disobedience movement, Champaran Satyagraha, which completes 100 years this month.