Indigo Class 12 Notes English Chapter 5


In December,1916 Gandhi went to Lucknow to attend the annual convention of the Indian National Congress. There were 2,301 delegates and many visitors. A peasant from Champaran, Rajkumar Shukla, asked Gandhi to visit his district. Shukla followed Gandhi, wherever he went. In 1917,Gandhi and Shukla boarded a train for Patna. Shukla led Gandhi to the house of a lawyer named Rajendra Prasad. They could not see him as he was out of town.

Gandhi decided to go first to Muzaffarpur to obtain complete information about the conditions in Champaran. He reached Muzaffarpur by train at midnight on 15 April 1917. Professor J.B. Kriplani, received him at the station. Gandhi stayed there for two days. The news of Gandhi’s arrival and the nature of his mission spread quickly through Muzaffarpur and to Champaran. Sharecroppers from Champaran began arriving there. Muzaffarpur lawyers briefed Gandhi about the court cases. He chided the lawyers for collecting big fees from the sharecroppers. He thought that lawcourts were useless for the crushed and fear-stricken peasants. The real relief for them was to be free from fear.

Then Gandhi arrived in Champaran. He began by trying to get the facts from the secretary of the British Landlords’ Association. He refused to give information to an outsider. Gandhi said that he was not an outsider. Next, Gandhi called on the British official commissioner of the Tirhut division. The commissioner started bullying Gandhi and advised him to leave Tirhut. Instead of leaving the area, Gandhi went to Motihari, the Capital of Champaran. Several lawyers accompanied him. A large crowd of people greeted Gandhi at the railway station. It was the beginning of their liberation from fear of the British.

A peasant had been maltreated in a nearby village. The next morning Gandhi started out on the back of an elephant. Soon he was stopped by the police superintendent’s messenger and ordered to return to town in his carriage. Gandhi complied. The messenger drove Gandhi home. Then he served him with an official notice to quit Champaran at once. Gandhi signed the receipt for the notice and wrote on it that he would disobey the order. Gandhi received a summons to appear in court the next day. At night Gandhi telegraphed Rajendra Prasad, sent instructions to the ashram and wired a full report to the Viceroy.

Thousands of peasants gathered around the court house. The officials felt powerless. The authorities wished to consult their superiors. Gandhi protested against the delay. The magistrate announced that he would pronounce sentence after a two-hour recess. He asked Gandhi to furnish bail for those 120 minutes. Gandhi refused. The judge released him without bail. The court started again after a break. The judge said he would not deliver the judgment for several days. He allowed Gandhi to remain at liberty.

Gandhi asked the prominent lawyers about the injustice to the sharecroppers. They consulted among themselves. Then they told Gandhi that they were ready to follow him into jail. Gandhi then divided the group into pairs and fixed the order in which each pair was to court arrest. After several days, Gandhi was informed by the magistrate that the case had been dropped. For the first time in modern India, civil disobedience had triumphed.

Gandhi and lawyers conducted an inquiry into the complaints of the peasants. About ten thousand peasants deposed. Documents were collected. Gandhi was summoned by Sir Edward Gait, the Lieutenant Governor. He met the Lieutenant Governor four times. An official commission of inquiry was appointed.

Gandhi remained in Champaran initially for seven months and then came for several shorter visits. The official inquiry assembled evidence against the big planters. They agreed in principle to make refunds to the peasants. Gandhi asked only 50 per cent. The representative of the planters offered to refund up to 25 per cent. Gandhi agreed. The deadlock was broken.

Gandhi explained that the amount of the refund was less important than the fact that the landlords had been forced to give some money and their prestige. The peasant now saw that he had rights and defenders. He learned courage. Events justified Gandhi’s position. Within a few years the British planters abandoned their estates. These now went back to the peasants. Indigo sharecropping disappeared.

Gandhi wanted to do something to remove the cultural and social backwardness in Champaran villages. He appealed for teachers. Two young disciples of Gandhi, Mahadev Desai and Narhari Parikh, and their wives volunteered for work. Several more came from Bombay, Poona and other distant parts of the land. Devdas, Gandhi’s youngest son, arrived from the ashram and so did Mrs. Gandhi. Primary schools were opened in six villages. Kasturba taught the ashram rules on personal cleanliness and community sanitation.

Health conditions were miserable. Gandhi got a doctor to volunteer his services for six months. Three medicines were available: castor oil, quinine and sulphur ointment. Gandhi noticed the filthy state of women’s clothes. One woman told Kasturba that she had only one sari. During his long stay in Champaran, Gandhi kept a long distance watch on the ashram and sent regular instructions by mail.

The Champaran episode was a turning point in Gandhi’s life. It did not begin as an act of defiance. It grew out of an attempt to lessen the sufferings of the poor peasants. Gandhi’s politics was closely connected with the practical day to day problems of the millions. He tried to mould a new free Indian who could stand on his own feet and thus make India free.

Gandhi also taught his followers a lesson in self-reliance. Gandhi’s lawyer friends thought that it would be good idea for Charles Freer Andrews, the English pacifist, to stay in Champaran and help them. Andrews was willing if Gandhi agreed. But Gandhi opposed it forcefully. He said, “The cause is just and you must rely upon yourselves to win the battle.”
Thus self-reliance, Indian independence and help to sharecroppers were all bound together.

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