Champaran Satyagraha Introduction
Champaran Satyagraha was a pivotal event in India’s struggle for independence led by Mahatma Gandhi in 1917. It focused on the exploitation of local farmers forced to grow indigo by British planters. Gandhi’s leadership and non-violent resistance tactics led to negotiations and ultimately fairer terms for the farmers, making it a landmark in India’s fight for freedom and a precursor to larger independence movements.
Champaran Satyagraha History
Champaran Satyagraha, an important episode in India’s quest for independence, unfolded in the Champaran district of Bihar in 1917. It emerged from the oppressive system of indigo cultivation imposed by British colonial rulers on local farmers. These farmers were pressurize into cultivating indigo, a cash crop, instead of food crops, through exploitative contracts and harsh working conditions. Mahatma Gandhi’s arrival in Champaran marked a turning point in the region’s history.
He employed the principles of satyagraha, or nonviolent resistance, to mobilize the oppressed farmers against British oppression. Gandhi’s efforts included organizing mass meetings, gathering evidence of exploitation, and advocating for peaceful resistance. The Champaran Satyagraha ultimately led to negotiations with British authorities and the approval of the Champaran Agrarian Act of 1918, which addressed some of the farmers’ grievances. This historic event not only helped alleviate the suffering of the Champaran farmers but also showcased the power of nonviolent protest, shaping the trajectory of India’s fight for independence.
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 the 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 the 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 underpaid 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 compensate for their losses by shifting the burden on the poor peasants.
Gandhiji’s Role in Champaran
Mahatma Gandhi played a pivotal and transformative role in the Champaran Satyagraha, leaving an indelible mark on the history of India’s struggle for independence. His involvement in Champaran had several key aspects:
- 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 an awakening among the peasants against exploitative planters, he launched the Champaran Peasant Movement in 1917–18. It was Gandhiji’s first Satyagraha in India.
- 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 the law and being 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 the 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.
- 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 Gandhiji as a member along with a representative of the planters and of the zamindars and three British officials was formed. All the pieces of evidence that Gandhiji had so far collected with regard to the peasants’ grievances were placed before it.
- Gandhiji agreed to terminate any further inquiry 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, of 1918 came into existence.
Champaran Satyagraha, a watershed movement
- 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 abolishment of the exploitative Tinkathia system.
- 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, the Champaran Movement marked the beginning of the mass movement era as from now onwards masses became a part of the national movement.
- The 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.
- 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.
In conclusion, Champaran Satyagraha stands as a historic testament to the transformative power of nonviolent resistance and the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi in India’s struggle for independence. Although the term, ‘Satyagraha’ for the first time, was used against the ‘Rowlatt Act’, Gandhiji sowed the seeds of the Satyagraha movement for freedom struggle during his Chamapran campaign.
This movement not only challenged the exploitative indigo system but also paved the way for a larger revolution against British colonial rule. Champaran Satyagraha highlighted the principles of truth and nonviolence as potent tools for social and political change, setting the stage for future campaigns and inspiring a nation to rally against injustice. The legacy of Champaran Satyagraha endures as a symbol of courage, unity, and the indomitable spirit of a people striving for freedom and justice.
Champaran Satyagraha UPSC
Gandhiji’s triumph in Champaran elevated his standing among the local population and the existing leadership, who had already held him in high regard for his earlier endeavors in South Africa. This newfound recognition provided him with the opportunity to continue leading the campaign until its ultimate success.
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