Champaran Satyagraha (1917)—First Civil Disobedience
- Gandhi was asked by Rajkumar Shukla, a local man, to look into the difficulties of farmers in Champaran, Bihar, who were indigo planters. The villagers had been forced to cultivate indigo on 3/20 of the total land area by European colonists (called tinkathia system).
- When German synthetic dyes supplanted indigo near the end of the nineteenth century, European planters sought high rents and illegal dues from peasants in order to maximize their profits before the peasants could switch to other crops.
- Furthermore, the villagers were obliged to sell their produce at European-set prices. When Gandhi arrived in Champaran, accompanied by Rajendra Prasad, Mazharul Haq, Mahadeo Desai, Narhari Parekh, and J.B. Kripalani, to investigate the problem, the authorities ordered him to leave immediately.
- Gandhi refused to obey the instruction and instead chose to face the consequences. At the time, passive resistance or civil disobedience in the face of an unjust command was an unique tactic.
- Finally, the authorities backed down and allowed Gandhi to conduct an investigation. The government has now formed a committee to investigate the situation, and Gandhi has been selected to serve on it.
- Gandhi was able to persuade the authorities that the tinkathia system should be abolished and that peasants should be reimbursed for illegal dues. He agreed with the planters that only 25% of the money seized should be paid as a compromise.
- The planters fled the area within a decade. Gandhi had triumphed in India’s first civil disobedience war. Brajkishore Prasad, Anugrah Narayan Sinha, Ramnavmi Prasad, and Shambhusharan Varma were some of the other well-known leaders engaged with Champaran Satyagraha.
- The British planters expanded their indigo plantations to Bihar, where they exploited their peasant tenants through the Zamindari System.
- They purchased leases from local zamindars in regions where they were unable to purchase zamindars, allowing them to have the same privileges over peasants as Thekedars.
- Most European planters in Bihar’s Champaran area received thekas, or leases, for the entire hamlet from the powerful Bettiah Zamindari.
- To meet the growing demand for indigo as a result of increased textile imports, the planters imposed the exploitative Tinkathia System, which required peasants to grow indigo on the best areas of their rented farms.
- When Germany created synthetic dye in the late 1880s, it faced stiff competition from the natural indigo dye farmed by Indian peasants. As a result, demand for and prices of Indian indigo fell.
- Planters shifted the burden to the peasants in the form of increased rents to compensate for their loss of profits owing to the drop in indigo prices, thus asserting their rights as zamindars.
- Planters also used begar, or forced unpaid or underpaid labor, to oppress peasants by seizing their cattle, ploughs, and carts.
As a result, the planters went to great lengths to make up for their losses by shifting the burden on the poor peasants.
The role of Gandhiji in Champaran
- Gandhiji returned to India on January 9, 1915, after acquiring over 21 years of experience in agitational methods in South Africa.
- During the Congress’s Lucknow Session in 1916, Gandhiji met Rajkumar Shukla, a spokesman of Champaran farmers, who invited him to visit Champaran and see for himself the plight of the indigo ryots.
- Gandhiji was persuaded to travel to Champaran.
- Gandhiji landed in Champaran in April 1917 and assembled a team that included prominent local leaders like as Rajendra Prasad, Anugraha
- Narayan Sinha, Acharya Kripalani, and Brajkishore Prasad. His visit was solely for the purpose of researching the poor conditions of indigo ryots.
- In 1917–18, he founded the Champaran Peasant Movement to raise awareness among peasants against exploitative planters. In India, it was Gandhiji’s first Satyagraha.
- On June 5, the Lt. Governor of Bihar and Orissa, E.A. Gait, and the Chief Secretary, H.McPherson, met with Gandhiji at Ranchi. A settlement was reached here.
- An Enquiry Committee was constituted, with Gandhiji as a member, as well as representatives from the planters, zamindars, and three British officials. It was presented with all of Gandhiji’s facts pertaining to the peasants’ problems up to that point.
- If the Committee’s recommendations were followed, Gandhiji agreed to halt any further investigation into farmer problems.
Certain revisions to the law were made in response to the Committee’s recommendations, and the Champaran Agrarian Act, 1918 was enacted.