Champaran Movement: The first Civil Disobedience

Back to History: Everything you need to know about the Champaran Movement

The Champaran Movement, 1917: an overview

The first act of civil disobedience of British rule can be seen with the Champaran Movement in 1917. The movement was spearheaded by Mahatma Gandhi in the district of Champaran. This satyagraha was a clear representation of Gandhigiri. This protest was a none violent and passive resistance of masses against the colonial rule of British. The Champaran movement started to address the pathetic condition of farmers of Champaran. The British government forced the tenant farmers to grow indigo crops on a large scale. Gandhi Ji took to the mobilization of farmers with the help of lawyers. Gandhi Ji helped the farmers in becoming self-sustainable.

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Champaran Movement

In the District of Champaran

Champaran is a small district in the state of Bihar. Champaran was a permanent settlement area with influential landlords who further had zamindars to influence the trade. The most influential of these was the European Indigo Planters

Champaran Movement: Step by step

1.After the return of Mahatma Gandhi from South Africa, he took the initiative of making the peasants of Champaran self-sustainable to fight the suppression of the British Government.

2. In April 1917, he learned the abuse to the farmers of Champaran. The British government forced the farmers to grow indigo crops to flourish their trade.

3. In the initial stage, Gandhi was initially reluctant to make any commitment to create a dissent but later, he was motivated and persuaded by Rajkumar Shukla, indigo cultivator to look into the matter.

4. The peasants were supposed to grow three out of every 20 parts of their land with Indigo crops

Champaran Movement

What is Indigo?

Indigo is a blue coloured dye. The East India Company had a huge demand for indigo from countries like Italy, France, and Britain to dye cloth. Hence, the EIC forced the Indian farmers to grow indigo crops so as to meet the high demand for Indigo.

Why were the peasants reluctant to grow Indigo?

1. The peasants were reluctant to grow indigo because of they get a very low price for the indigo crop by the EIC.

2.   Since there was no cost recovery, the planters we’re insisting on rice production, which at least helps them in earning a living.

3. The indigo plant has deep roots which absorb nutrients of the soil, makes it less fertile and hence unfit for the production of rice.

Gandhi’s Plan

1.  Gandhi wanted to start an extensive enquiry on this issue to drive an action plan. Gandhi’s visit was not really welcomed by the village local authorities and hence he was dissuaded but didn’t stop. He started off with Babu Gorakh Prasad in Motihari.

2.   Gandhi even faced a court summon while he was making a spot visit. He got charged under the violation of Section 144 of Crpc and was asked to leave Champaran but he refused. This, to some extent, captivated the imagination of the peasants.

3. Gandhiji appeared in Motihari court and was accompanied by another 2000 people. The Motihari trial collapsed and LG of Bihar ordered from the withdrawal of the case against Gandhi.

4.   Gandhi’s action plan was based on the research survey conducted by the volunteers. Those respondents who were willing to give a statement we’re to sign the paper or give their thumb impression and for the unwilling ones, the volunteer records the reason.

5. The volunteers who took these surveys were generally lawyers like Babu Rajendra Prasad, Dharmindhar Prasad, Ramnawami Prasad, Sambhusaran and Anugraha Narasimha etc. In a month, they got nearly 4000 statements.

6. The Bihar government, though was unhappy with Gandhi’s stay in Champaran and hence, the LG of Bihar, Sir Edward Gait declared the formation of an enquiry committee where Gandhi board was to be enquired. This was fixed for June 4, 1917. In the final term, Gait was meant to agree upon Gandhi and his volunteers stay in Champaran.

7. The preliminary session of Champaran inquiry Committee started on July 11, 1917. After several sittings and visits, the government agreed to the recommendations for the results. The key recommendation was the abolition of Tinkathia system.

Tinkathia system

 – Tinkathia was the system under which the peasants of Champaran were actually forced to cultivate 3 parts of indigo out of every 20 parts(Bigha) of land. A Bigha is a little less than an acre. It is a popular term for landholding in Bihar.

Conclusion– Finally, on November 29, 1917, the Champaran Agrarian bill was submitted and on March 4, it got the final signature of the Governor which made it a law. It took Gandhi, almost a year to abolish this system. This was the first step by Gandhi in the array of movements for freedom. This whole incident was a display of how mass agitation can bring big changes in the system. Hence, this incident is a highly important part of Indian History and is an expected topic in competitive exams like SSC, CHSL, UPSC etc.

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