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Champaran Satyagraha – Background, Gandhiji’s Role and Outcome

“Champaran Satyagraha is a watershed in the freedom struggle.” Elucidate.

Elucidate: You have to justify the statement.

 

Introduction: Mention about Champaran issue in brief.

 

Body:

a.       Give the detailed background of the Champaran crisis.

b.      Explain the role played by Gandhiji.

c.       Mention the outcome of Chamaparan Satyagraha.

d.      Explain why is Champaran Satyagraha, a watershed.

 

Conclusion: Mention the broader outcome of the movement that impacted the freedom struggle to a larger extent.

 

Introduction

The victory of the British East India Company in the Battle of Plassey(1757) marked the commencement of nearly two centuries of economic exploitation of India by the foreign oppressors. The poor peasants, artisans and laborers who worked in mines and plantations were the worst hit. Among plantations, it was the indigo plantations where such oppression had the longest history.

 

Background: Exploitation of the farmers

  • The British planters extended the plantations of indigo to Bihar where they used the Zamindari System to exploit their peasant tenants.
  •  In places where they failed to buy the zamindars, they obtained leases from local zamindars thereby exercising the same rights over peasants, now as Thekedars.
  • In Champaran district of Bihar, most of the European planters obtained thekas or leases for the entire village from the large Bettiah Zamindari
  •  To meet the increasing demand for indigo due to increased textile import, the planters imposed the exploitative Tinkathia System under which peasants were forced to raise indigo on the best parts of their rented lands.
  • A crisis occurred when in the late 1880s, Germany developed Synthetic dye which offered a tough competition to the natural indigo dye cultivated by Indian peasants. Thus, the demand for and the prices of Indian indigo declined.
  • To cover up for their loss of profits due to decline in indigo prices, the planters shifted the burden on the peasants in the form of increased rents, thus invoking their rights as zamindar.
  • The planters also practiced the traditional zamindari practice of begar, forced unpaid or under paid labour, seizing the peasant’s cattle, plough and carts thereby oppressing them to serve their own economic interests.
  •  Thus, the planters left no stone unturned to commensurate for their losses by shifting the burden on the poor peasants.

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Gandhiji’s role in Champaran

  • After gaining over 21 years of experience in agitational methods in South Africa, Gandhiji returned to India on January 9, 1915.
  • In 1916, during the Lucknow Session of the Congress, Gandhiji met Rajkumar Shukla, a representative of farmers from Champaran, who requested him to come to Champaran and see for himself, the miseries of the indigo ryots there.
  • Gandhiji was convinced to visit Champaran.
  • In April, 1917, Gandhiji arrived in Champaran and formed a team comprising of eminent local leaders like Rajendra Prasad, Anugraha Narayan Sinha, Acharya Kripalani and Brajkishore Prasad. The sole objective of his visit was to study the poor conditions of indigo ryots.
  • In order to create awakening among the peasants against exploitative planters, he launched the Champaran Peasant Movement in 191718. It was Gandhiji’s first Satyagraha in India.

Civil Disobedience

  • No sooner did Gandhiji arrive at Champaran, the District Magistrate served him with a notice to not stay there and to leave the place by the first available train. However, Gandhiji refused to submit.
  • Despite being charged with violation of law and been told to leave Champaran, Gandhiji refused to leave.
  • On April 18, 1917 when Gandhiji appeared in the Motihari Court, he was accompanied by nearly 2000 local people.
  • The then Lieutenant Governor of Bihar ordered the withdrawal of case against Gandhi, and the Collector wrote to Gandhi saying he was free to conduct the enquiry.
  • He along with his team began to interact with the peasants and record their grievances. 
  • This was the form and substance of the Champaran Satyagraha.

 

Outcome

  • A meeting was held by E.A. Gait, the Lt. Governor of Bihar and Orissa and H.McPherson, the Chief Secretary, with Gandhiji on June 5 at Ranchi. Here, a settlement was worked out.
  • An Enquiry Committee comprising of Gandhiji as a member along with a representative of the planters and of the zamindars and three British officials was formed. All the evidences that Gandhiji had so far collected with regard to the peasants’ grievances were placed before it.
  • Gandhiji agreed to terminate any further enquiry into peasants’ grievances if the recommendations of the Committee were honored.
  • On the Committee’s recommendation, certain changes were made to the law and the Champaran Agrarian Act, 1918 came into existence.

 

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Champaran Satyagraha, a watershed movement

  1. Beginning of the Gandhian Era: Success at Champaran established Gandhiji as a strong leader in India’s struggle for freedom. It was during this movement that he was called ‘Bapu’ and ‘Mahatama’ for the first time. Credit goes to him for the abolish of the exploitative Tinkathia system.
  2. Beginning of the Mass movement Era: Gandhiji’s ability to efficiently mobilize the oppressed peasants at Champaran, convinced the otherwise reluctant Congress to start a mass movement against the British rulers. Thus, Champaran Movement marked the beginning of the mass movement era as from now onwards masses became a part of the national movement.
  3. Emergence of Gandhiji as a Mass leader: Building on his experience in South Africa and establishing his reputation as a leader of the masses, firstly during the Champaran Satyagraha and later on in Ahmedabad and Kheda Satyagraha, Gandhiji found his feet among the masses. He now understood the strengths and weaknesses of the masses better.
  4. First demonstration of Non- violent Satyagraha: Through Champaran Satyagraha, Gandhi demonstrated to the people that even the strongest oppressor can be overthrown without the use of violence. 

 

Conclusion 

Although the term, ‘Satyagraha’ for the first time, was used against the ‘Rowlatt Act’, Gandhiji sowed the seeds of Satyagraha movement for freedom struggle during his Chamapran campaign. 

 

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