Champaran and Kheda Satyagraha

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(Sitting L to R)Rajendra Prasad and Anugrah Narayan Sinha, with Ramnavmi Prasad and Shambhusaran Varma (Standing L to R) during Mahatma Gandhi's 1917 Champaran Satyagraha

The first Satyagraha movements inspired by Mohandas Gandhi occurred in Champaran district of Bihar and the Kheda district of Gujarat on 1917 to 1918. Champaran Satyagraha was the first to be started, but the word Satyagraha was used for the first time in Anti Rowlatt Act agitation.

Champaran, is a district in the state of Bihar. Under Colonial era laws, many tenant farmers were forced to grow some indigo on a portion of their land as a condition of their tenancy. This indigo was used to make a dye. The Germans had invented a cheaper artificial dye so the demand for indigo fell. Some tenants paid more rent in return for being let off having to grow indigo. However, during the First World War the German dye ceased to be available and so indigo became profitable again. Thus many tenants were once again forced to grow it on a portion of their land- as was required by their lease. Naturally, this created much anger and resentment.

Many tenants alleged that Landlords had used strong-arm tactics to exact illegal cesses and to extort them in other ways. This issue had been highlighted by a number of lawyer/politicians and there had also been a Commission of Inquiry. Raj Kumar Shukla, a money lender who also owned some land, persuaded Gandhi to go to Champaran and thus, the Champaran Satyagraha began. Gandhi arrived in Champaran 10 April 1917 with a team of[1] eminent lawyers:[2] Brajkishore Prasad, [3] Rajendra Prasad, Anugrah Narayan Sinha[4] Ramnavmi Prasad, and others including Acharya Kripalani.[5]

In Champaran[edit]

Gandhi established an ashram in Champaran (Bihar), organising scores of his veteran supporters and fresh volunteers from the region. His handpicked team of eminent lawyers comprising [6] Dr.Rajendra Prasad, Dr. Anugrah Narayan Sinha & Babu Brajkishore Prasad organised a detailed study and survey of the villages, accounting the atrocities and terrible episodes of suffering, including the general state of degenerate living.

Building on the confidence of villagers, he began leading the clean-up of villages, building of schools and hospitals and encouraging the village leadership to undo purdah, untouchability and the suppression of women. He was joined by many young nationalists from all over India, including Brajkishore Prasad, Rajendra Prasad, Anugrah Narayan Sinha, Acharya Kriplani,Ram Navami Prasad and later Jawaharlal Nehru.

But his main assault came as he was arrested by police on the charge of creating unrest and was ordered to leave the province. Hundreds of thousands of people protested and rallied outside the jail, police stations and courts demanding his release, which the court unwillingly did. Gandhi led organised protests and strike against the landlords, who with the guidance of the British government, signed an agreement granting more compensation and control over farming for the poor farmers of the region, and cancellation of revenue hikes and collection until the famine ended. It was during this agitation, that Gandhi was addressed by the people as Bapu (Father) and Mahatma (Great Soul).

In Kheda[edit]

Gandhi in 1918, when he led the Kheda Satyagraha.

In Gujarat, Gandhi was chiefly the spiritual head of the struggle. His chief lieutenant, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and a close coterie of devoted Gandhians, namely Narhari Parikh, Mohanlal Pandya and Ravi Shankar Vyas toured the countryside, organised the villagers and gave them political leadership and direction. Many aroused Gujaratis from the cities of Ahmedabad and Vadodara joined the organizers of the revolt, but Gandhi and Patel resisted the involvement of Indians from other provinces, seeking to keep it a purely Gujarati struggle.

Patel and his colleagues organised a major tax revolt, and all the different ethnic and caste communities of Kheda rallied around it. The peasants of Kheda signed a petition calling for the tax for this year to be scrapped in wake of the famine. The government in Bombay rejected the charter. They warned that if the peasants did not pay, the lands and property would be confiscated and many arrested. And once confiscated, they would not be returned even if most complied. None of the villages flinched.

The tax withheld, the government's collectors and inspectors sent in thugs to seize property and cattle, while the police forfeited the lands and all agrarian property. The farmers did not resist arrest, nor retaliate to the force employed with violence. Instead, they used their cash and valuables to donate to the Gujarat Sabha which was officially organising the protest.

The revolt was astounding in terms of discipline and unity. Even when all their personal property, land and livelihood were seized, a vast majority of Kheda's farmers remained firmly united in the support of Patel. Gujaratis sympathetic to the revolt in other parts resisted the government machinery, and helped to shelter the relatives and property of the protesting peasants. Those Indians who sought to buy the confiscated lands were ostracised from society. Although nationalists like Sardul Singh Caveeshar called for sympathetic revolts in other parts, Gandhi and Patel firmly rejected the idea.

The Government finally sought to foster an honourable agreement for both parties. The tax for the year in question, and the next would be suspended, and the increase in rate reduced, while all confiscated property would be returned.

People also worked in cohesion to return the confiscated lands to their rightful owners. The ones who had bought the lands seized were influenced to return them, even though the British had officially said it would stand by the buyers..

Champaran Satyagrah Centenary Celebrations[edit]

Government of Bihar under the leadership of Nitish Kumar is organising year round celebrations in commemoration of 100 years of Champaran Satyagrah. The series of celebration began on 10th April 2017 with a National Conclave or Rashtritya Vimarsh where eminent Gandhian thinkers, philosophers and scholars participated. The National Conclave was convened in newly built, multi storeyed Gyan Bhawan with ultra modern facilities, which was inaugurated for this purpose. The national conclave was organised by Education Department and Directorate of Mass Education being the nodal office.[7]

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