By Vijay Darda | 17-04-2017
100 years ago Mahatma Gandhi had launched his first satyagraha in Champaran to solve the problems of farmers
The date of April 16 is very significant in the history of India. On April 16, 1917, Mahatma Gandhi sowed the first seeds of satyagraha against the oppression of farmers in Champaran, Bihar. On that day, Bapu had left Motihari for Jaslalpatti village when the British District Magistrate of Champaran gave him the order to leave the district. The order said that Gandhi can create turmoil. Bapu refused to obey this order and he was arrested.
The next day in court, when the judge asked Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who is your lawyer, he said no one! His answer was: “I have sent a reply to the notice of the Collector!” When the judge said that the reply did not reach the court, Gandhiji took out a paper and started reading. Written therein was: “I will not accept any restrictions on the freedom to work or go anywhere in my country. Yes, I accept the crime of not accepting the order of the District Magistrate and also demand punishment for that.” The judge wondered what it was! The judge asked Gandhiji to obtain bail. Gandhiji said, “I do not have the money to obtain bail!’ The judge advised him to leave the district and promise not to come again. The case will be closed then, the judge said. Gandhiji said, “How can this happen! After you release me from jail, I will make my permanent house here in Champaran.” In the meantime, the direction came from Delhi not to fight with this man.
Indeed, Gandhiji came to Champaran very thoughtfully. An anonymous farmer, Rajkumar Shukla had complained in 1916 during the Congress convention that the British were cultivating indigo. The British had made rules that farmers should cultivate indigo in some part of their farm land. At that time, synthetic indigo had not hit the market and the demand for indigo was very much there in Europe’s markets. Farmers did not have any special benefit from this farming, but the British were definitely getting rich. Farmers’ land was also becoming barren due to the cultivation of indigo. Apart from this, 46 types of taxes were being collected from farmers. Shukla had requested Gandhiji to lead the movement on this issue. Gandhiji first understood the problems of the indigo cultivators and felt that since this is a cash crop, the farmers will be ready to join him in satyagraha. His assessment was right.
On account of the legal acumen he displayed in the court, Gandhiji’s fame spread throughout the area. The then deputy governor of Bihar Edward Gate called Gandhiji for a discussion and ‘Champaran Agrarian Committee’ was formed to solve the problems of the farmers. The government also made Gandhiji a member of this committee. Based on the recommendations of the committee, there was reduction in the taxes of the farmers and they also received compensation.
Perhaps no one at that time could have even realised that the initiative by Gandhiji to solve the problems of farmers would become the cause of the British departure. This satyagraha of Gandhiji became the weapon of freedom movement. Thousands and thousands of people got ready to go to jail on his call. Personally, I feel proud that my father freedom fighter Jawaharlal Darda alias Babuji was among those who went to jail on the call of Gandhiji. I have heard a lot of stories from Babuji about Gandhiji. It seems that today the countrymen though remember Gandhiji, they do not follow his path. Gandhiji knew that to change the fate of this country, it will have to start with the farmers only. Maybe that is why he went to Champaran. What is the condition of our farmers today?
In my article last week I had put this fact in black and white. Thousands of farmers commit suicide each year because they take loans for farming but the crop yield is not such that they could repay the loan and also eat two square meals a day! It is a dream for them to give good education to their children and live a life of little comfort. As a result, the distressed farmers commit suicide. I think that if we want the farmers to stop committing suicide and create better conditions, then Gandhiji and his Champaran satyagraha can show a new direction.
But the point here is that we need to try honestly to find a way to improve the conditions of the farmers. When Gandhiji was included in the committee, Edward had not even realised that Gandhiji would present before him such facts that it would not be possible for him to refute. Then, Gandhiji had called a lot of workers from all over the country and prepared a complete data of injustices sufferred by the farmers.
Are we preparing such data which can show us a real picture of our farmers? The truth is that neither the government nor the society, regardless of the problems of the farmers, is worried. I am sad to see that Gandhiji’s name is used by all the parties. All are seen bowing down before him in reverence in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, but no one remembers the path he had shown. Bapu’s path of secularism seems to have gone missing somewhere in the darkness. On the completion of hundred years of the Satyagraha of Champaran, will we follow the path of Bapu?
Before I conclude…
It is a worrisome news that over two-third of the Great Barrier Reef located in Australia, the world’s largest coral system, has been damaged. Before the news of the scientists arrived, the length of this wall was approximately 2300 kilometres. Most of it is under water but some part is also visible outside. Its specialty is that it is the only living thing on Earth that can also be seen from space. Scientists have said that due to the bad effects of climate change, there are lesser chances for survival of the Great Barrier Reef, and there is a possibility that the reef will be completely destroyed by 2050. Nature has given us many unusual gifts but we don’t care. All creatures are creatures of nature, then why is man destroying nature?
One hundred years ago, the satyagraha that Mahatma Gandhi had launched in Bihar’s Champaran was for the indigo cultivators who were being exploited by the British traders. The exploitation of farmers is continuing in free India too. Following Gandhiji’s path, we can change this situation. But unfortunately, we only use Gandhiji’s name. We worship him but do not follow his path.