In January 1915, Mahatma Gandhi returned to India after two decades of residence abroad. On the advice of Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Gandhiji spent a year travelling around British India, getting to know the land and its people. After that, ‘Gandhi’s rise to power’ marks his involvement in three ‘local issues’ i.e. Champaran Satyagraha, Ahmedabad Mill Strike and Kheda Satyagraha.
Champaran Satyagraha is the first significant non-political activity of Gandhiji for the cause of poor and exploited peasants in Champaran district in North Bihar. The British planters invaded the Indigo (Neel ) factories in the Champaran area and took over the cultivation from Zamindars and Thekedars. They forced the tenant farmers to cultivate indigo (Neel ) in three twentieth part of a Bigha of their land, and this called tinkathia system, i.e. one-third of a hectare. Unit of measuring land called Bigha.
When the end of the Nineteenth-century German synthetic dyes replaced indigo, the European planters demanded high rents and illegal dues from the peasants to gain profits. Also, Europeans forced the peasants to sell the produce at a price fixed by them. A similar situation had prevailed earlier in Bengal, but a major uprising during 1859-61, the peasants there had won their freedom from the indigo planters.
The Champaran Inquiry Committee
Rajendra Prasad, Mazhar-ul-Haq, Mahadeo Desai, Narhari Parekh, and J. B. Kripalani reached Champaran to inquiry into the matter. The authorities order Gandhiji to leave the area at once. But Gandhiji did not leave and defined the order, and preferred to face the punishment. In the end, authorities permitted Gandhi to make an enquiry, and then the government-appointed a committee for the matter and nominated Gandhi as a member. Gandhi was able to convince the authorities that the tinkathia system should be abolished and that the peasants should be compensated for the illegal dues extracted from them. As a compromise with the planters, he agreed that only 25 per cent of the money taken should be compensated.
The Champaran Inquiry committee submitted its reports on October 4, 2017. The government accepted all recommendation to the benefit of the rytas, and the main proposal was the complete abolition of the Tinkathia system. It was a major blow to the British planters, who became resentful. But they could not prevent the passage of the Champaran Agrarian Act in Bihar & Orissa Legislative Council on March 4, 1918. The scourge of coercive indigo plantation passed into history.
Within a decade, the planters left the area. Gandhi had won the first battle of civil disobedience in India. Other popular leaders associated with Champaran Satyagraha were Brajkishore Prasad, Anugrah Narayan Sinha, Ramnavmi Prasad and Shambhusharan Varma.