The incident occurred in 1917 when Gandhiji attended the Annual Convention of Indian Congress in 1916. Approximately more than 2300 delegates and many visitors were present. A poor skinny peasant Raj Kumar Shukla approached Gandhiji. He requested Gandhiji to accompany him to Champaran to solve the issues and misery of the poor peasants living there. Raj Kumar Shukla was one of the sharecroppers of Champaran, who had come to appeal against the injustice of the landlord system in Bihar. The peasant accompanied Gandhi everywhere he went and unrelentingly begged him to visit Champaran. In due course, his determination impressed Gandhi and so he asked the peasant to meet him in Calcutta.
At the decided time both of them boarded the train to Patna. They first went to Rajendra Prasad’s house, who was a lawyer and later became the first President of India. The servants allowed them to stay as Rajendra Prasad was not there. However, the servants did not allow them to take out water from the well as they thought Gandhiji and Raj Kumar were untouchables.
Gandhiji stopped at Muzzafarpur to gather more information on the sharecroppers of Champaran. When Gandhiji and Raj Kumar Shukla arrived at the station, they were received by Professor J.B. Kriplani and his students. Gandhiji stayed at Professor Malkani, a school teacher’s house. It was a daring act by Professor Malkani as advocates of homerule were considered unsafe for Indians. When Gandhiji reached Muzzafarpur all the sharecroppers gathered in to meet him. The lawyer briefed him about the conditions. Gandhiji chided the lawyers when he came to know they charged high fees from the poor farmers. Gandhiji decided to change the way things were done. His new plan of action was to stop going to the law courts as the fear-stricken farmers did not get much help from there. The sharecroppers needed to be fearless. Champaran district was divided into large estates owned by Englishmen. The farmers were forced to grow indigo on 15% of the land. Moreover, they had no claim on the indigo harvest as the entire indigo had to be given as rent. Meanwhile, because of the German synthetic indigo, the value of the natural indigo had gone down. The landlord exempted the tenants from the 15% agreement only after a paid compensation. The peasants realised that what they were being asked to do was unjust. However, many of them willingly signed. The ones who tried to resist, engaged lawyers. When the farmers came to know the real reason behind the exemption. The ones who had signed, wanted their money back.
On his arrival, Gandhiji visited the secretary of British Landlord’s Association. But no information was provided to him. So, he went to the British official commissioner of Tirhut division where he was bullied and asked to leave. Gandhiji was determined to help the peasants. He gathered few lawyers and went to Motihari, the capital of Champaran. He carried on further with his investigations.
Once, while investigating a case of a peasant Gandhiji got the message to return. He was issued a notice. Gandhiji wrote back that he would disobey the order issued and would not go from Champaran. As a result, he was asked to appear before the court the next day.
Gandhiji immediately wired Rajendra Prasad to reach Bihar with his influential friends and also wired ashram and sent a detailed report to the Viceroy. Next day, thousands of peasants gathered outside the court. The sharecroppers took the first initiative to be fearless. The court requested Gandhiji to control the crowd and sought to postpone the hearing to which Gandhiji objected. Gandhiji protested against the delay. He read out a statement that he disobeyed not to break law but to render humanitarian and national service. He also claimed to have no disrespect for law but greater respect for law of conscience.
Gandhiji was asked to furnish bail in two hours to which he refused. So, the court had to release him without bail. The court reconvened and withheld the judgement for several days and Gandhiji was allowed to stay free. Prominent lawyers discussed with Gandhiji what they would do if he was sentenced for prison.
Eventually on Gandhiji’s arrest the lawyers went to their native place. Gandhiji questioned them that what would happen to the sharecroppers if they all would return. After contemplating they decided if Gandhiji, as a stranger, can go to the court they should also get court arrested as they were the residents of the nearby districts and knew the case so well. This initiated the winning of battle of Champaran. Several days later Gandhiji learnt that the case against him was to be dropped.
Civil disobedience won for the first time in modern India. Gandhiji and the lawyers prepared cases for about ten thousand peasants and collected relevant documents. The next few days saw a lot of activity where the landlords at Champaran protested violently.
Meanwhile, Gandhiji was summoned by Lt. Governor, Sir Edward Gait. Gandhiji met his associate and chalked out a detailed plan on civil disobedience, in case he got arrested. Lt. Governor appointed commission of inquiry after four interviews with Gandhiji. The inquiry commission consisted of landlords, government officials and Gandhiji, who was the representative of peasants. Numerous evidences were collected against the landlords. Since they were left with no choice, the landlords agreed to make the refund. Gandhiji was asked to quote the amount. Gandhiji demanded only 50% in contrary to the landlords expectations. Landlords’ proposal of 25% was approved by Gandhiji. Gandhiji later justified his stand. He told the peasants that more than the refund amount what mattered most was the surrender of prestige by the landlords. The victory infused courage in the peasants. Later, British landlords abandoned the estates. This proved Gandhiji’s explanation. Land was reverted to the peasants.
Gandhiji wanted to eradicate social and cultural backwardness in the village of Champaran. He sought volunteers for this work. DevdasGandhiji’s youngest son, Kasturba- Gandhiji’s wife, taught the ashram rules on personal cleanliness, community sanitation and general hygiene since the health conditions were really poor. Castor oil, quinine and sulphur ointment were used for curing ailments. Schools were opened in six different villages and several of his disciples and family members volunteered as teachers. Even though living away from it, Gandhiji made regular enquiries about the ashram, sending instructions and asking for financial accounts.
Although what he did would have been an ordinary case but the episode was a decisive movement of his life. The politics was intricately linked with his day to day life. He wanted Indians to stand on their feet fearlessly. He also wanted people to become self-reliant, one must not depend on others to win over battles. Patience, perseverance and constant efforts are sure to pay off one day.