12. THE STAIN OF INDIGO
Champaran is the land of King
Janaka. Just as it abounds in mango groves, so used it to be full of indigo
plantations until the year 1917. The Champaran tenant was bound by law
to plant three out of every twenty parts of his land with indigo for his
landlord. This system was known as the tinkathia system, as three
out of twenty (which make one acre) had to be planted with indigo.
I must confess that I did not
then know even the name, much less the geographical position, of Champaran,
and I had hardly any notion of indigo plantations. I had seen packets of
indigo, but little dreamed that it was grown and manufactured in Champaran
at great hardship to thousands of agriculturists.
Rajkumar Shukla was one of the
agriculturists who had been under this harrow, and he was filled with a
passion to wash away the stain of indigo for the thousands who were suffering
as he had suffered.
This man caught hold of me at
Lucknow, where I had gone for the Congress of 1916. 'Vakil Babu will tell
you everything about our distress,' he said, and urged me to go to Champaran.
'Vakil Babu' was none other than Babu Brajkishore Prasad, who became my
esteemed co-worker in Champaran, and who is the soul of public work in
Bihar. Rajkumar Shukla brought him to my tent. He was dressed in a black
alpaca achkan and trousers. Brajkishore Babu failed then to make an impression
on me. I took it that he must be some vakil exploiting the simple agriculturists.
Having heard from him something of Champaran, I replied as was my wont:
'I can give no opinion without seeing the condition with my own eyes. You
will please move the resolution in the Congress, but leave me free for
the present.' Rajkumar Shukla of course wanted some help from the Congress.
Babu Brajkishore Prasad moved the resolution, expressing sympathy for the
people of Chamaparan, and it was unanimously passed.
Rajkumar Shukla was glad,
but far from satisfied. He wanted me personally to visit Champaran and
witness the miseries of the ryots there. I told him that I would include
Champaran in the tour which I had contemplated and give it a day or two.
'One day will be enough,' said he, 'and you will see things with your own
From Lucknow I went to Cawnpore.
Rajkumar Shukla followed me there. 'Champaran is very near here. Please
give a day,' he insisted. 'Pray excuse me this time. But I promise that
I will come,' said I, further committing myself.
I returned to the Ashram. The
ubiquitous Rajkumar was there too. 'Pray fix the day now,' he said. 'Well,'
said I, 'I have to be in Calcutta on such and such a date, come and meet
me then, and take me from there.' I did not know where I was to go, what
to do, what things to see.
Before I reached Bhupen Babu's
place in Calcutta, Rajkumar Shukla had gone and established himself there.
Thus this ignorant, unsophisticated but resolute agriculturist captured
So early in 1917, we left Calcutta
for Champaran, looking just like fellow rustics. I did not even know the
train. He took me to it, and we travelled together, reaching Patna in the
This was my first visit to Patna.
I had no friend or acquaintance with whom I could think of putting up.
I had an idea that Rajkumar Shukla, simple agriculturist as he was, must
have some influence in Patna. I had come to know him a little more on the
journey, and on reaching Patna I had no illusions left concerning him.
He was perfectly innocent of everything. The vakils that he had taken to
be his friends were really nothing of the sort. Poor Rajkumar was more
or less as a menial to them. Between such agriculturist clients and their
vakils there is a gulf as wide as the Ganges in flood.
Rajkumar Shukla took me to Rajendra
Babu's place in Patna. Rajendra Babu had gone to Puri or some other place,
I now forget which. There were one or two servants at the bungalow who
paid us no attention. I had with me something to eat. I wanted dates, which
my companion procured for me from the bazaar.
There was strict untouchability
in Bihar. I might not draw water at the well whilst the servants were using
it, lest drops of water from my bucket might pollute them, the servants
not knowing to what caste I belonged. Rajkumar directed me to the indoor
latrine, the servant promptly directed me to the outdoor one. All this
was far from surprising or irritatating to me, for I was inured to such
things. The servants were doing the duty which they thought Rajendra Babu
would wish them to do.
These entertaining experiences
enhanced my regard for Rajkumar Shukla, if they also enabled me to know
him better. I saw now that Rajkumar Shukla could not guide me, and that
I must take the reins in my own hands.