Gandhiji’s Champaran Satyagraha

It was in Champaran, North Bihar on the Himalayan slopes bordering Nepal, that the Mahatma’s actual Satyagraha concept materialized

Mahatma Gandhi is well known and remembered for his South African satyagraha movement. Everyone knows that Gandhiji was thrown off the First Class compartment of the train at the Pietermaritzburg Railway Station because he was Indian. Though he could afford a first class ticket still he was denied the right to enjoy the comfort of first class travel. He had to spend the bitter cold night shivering on the railway station. It was there and then that germinated slowly and took shape in his mind the concept of satyagraha – which he applied as a passive tool to defy the Black Act and protest in favour of the Transvaal workers. .

But frankly speaking it was in Champaran, North Bihar on the Himalayan slopes bordering Nepal, that his actual Satyagraha concept materialized. Little is in fact known of this satyagraha movement.

A good number of Mauritians have their origin in Champaran district of Bihar, also a sugar growing region. The Champaran satyagraha movement started in April 1917, and the infamous Indigo plantation was terminated in 1918. But the satyagraha andolan set aflame the larger movement for independence of India and spread like wildfire all over Bihar.

Gandhiji had come back to India from two decades spent in South Africa. His reputation as an upholder of truth and fighter for justice and the rights of the Indian planters and mine workers had reached the whole world including remote Champaran.

Here poor peasants were exploited by not only the British mill owners but the Indian zamindars also. They were forced to practice the tinkathia i.e. cultivate indigo on 3/20th part of their land holding which led to their land becoming barren for more than six years where nothing else would grow. They were thus reduced to abject poverty while also being forced to pay all sorts of taxes. Illegal and inhuman treatment, poor wages and exploitation of all sorts pushed them into a sub-human life.

Pandit Raj Kumar Shukla was moved by the plight of the poor peasants of Champaran. He wrote to Gandhiji and went to meet him at the Lucknow Indian National Congress meeting. Gandhiji came to Champaran, made a survey of the situation, studied the grievances of the Champaran peasantry and was appalled by the plight of the peasants. He mobilized the intellectuals among whom were the young Dr Rajendra Prasad, law student in Patna at the time and others like Anugrah Narayan Sinha, local vakils (lawyers), Ramnavmi Prasad, Sheikh Gulab, Brij Kishore, J.B. Kripalini and others.

The same Dr Rajendra Prasad hailing from Jeeradei Village in Siwan District of Bihar would later become the first President of the Republic of India in 1950. He had his baptême de feu in the Champaran Satyagraha Movement. Gandhiji was jailed. The Champaran movement gathered momentum and was a determining historical event that forms part of the greater national struggle for Indian Independence. The British were forced to stop their inhuman treatment of the Bihari peasants. Gandhiji’s Champaran Satyagraha movement put an end to the oppressive Indigo plantation.

One very touching anecdote in connection with the Champaran impoverished villagers is that passing by Gandhiji saw a woman in a dirty sari. He told Kasturbaben, his wife, to tell the woman to be clean and change her cloth regularly. The woman replied: “Go and tell Gandhiji that if he can give me another sari to wear then only I can change it and have it washed.”

The Champaran and Bihari peasants and intellectuals rallied behind Gandhiji and gave force and impetus to the larger national movement for the liberation of India. The fighting spirit and valour of those Biharis were a noticeable and recognized factor in Indian Independence struggles.

Shri Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister of Bihar has in fact set a calendar of activities throughout the whole year in Bihar to commemorate the 100 years of Gandhiji’s Champaran Satyagraha.

It is no mere coincidence then commemorating the 100 years of Gandhiji’s Champaran Satyagraha movement and 70 years of India’s independence. One finds indeed a strong connection. Furthermore, is it a mere coincidence that this year also marks the centenary of the end of Indian Indentureship?

All three events are taking place this week in Mauritius which is a matter of not only rejoice, but which calls also for reflection.

The other important element to be recalled is that next year we are celebrating the 50 years of the Independence of Mauritius. There is no doubt that the contribution of the Indian indentures in the production of wealth for the plantocracy despite the harsh treatment meted out to them – just like that of the indigo workers – is a recorded fact of history. Their contribution to nation-building is remembered by their descendants with humility and gratitude.

It is worth noting that in the context of a three-week workshop on Bhojpuri Theatre organised by the Bhojpuri Speaking Union and conducted by reputed Bhojpuri Theatre Resource Person of ICCR, India, Shri Mahendra Prasad Singh, the latter is currently in Mauritius from 3rd to 23rd August. The aim of this workshop is the promotion of the vibrancy of Bhojpuri language and culture through theatre including street plays (nukkarnatak), presentation skills, voice modulation, role play, personality development, leadership qualities, confidence building, social and behavioral change, communication, etc. Certificates will be given to all participants.

Fittingly, the workshops will culminate in the Bhojpuri Play “Gandhiji’s Champaran Satyagraha” which is a timely event to be staged by the participants on 21st August at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Indian Culture.

Shri Mahendra Prasad Singh, producer, director, writer, actor and Founder Director of Delhi-based Rangashree Theatre Group has a wide range of experience in empowering the young people in leadership through theatre. His services are sought after by corporate and government bodies, professionals and as well as the grassroots. The Bhojpuri theatre artists of Mauritius as well as the Geet Gawai ladies were thrilled to produce plays and scripts within minutes and at no cost and without props and logistics. This will indeed set a new trend in the days to come in the vibrancy and potency of Bhojpuri language, using theatre as a powerful tool to convey messages about current social maladies gangrening the Mauritian society.


* Published in print edition on 18 August 2017

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