14. FACE TO FACE WITH AHIMSA
My object was to inquire
into the condition of the Champaran agriculturists, and understand their
grievances against the indigo planters. For this purpose it was necessary
that I should meet thousands of the ryots. But I deemed it essential, before
starting on my inquiry, to know the planters' side of the case, and see
the Commissioner of the Division. I sought and was granted appointments
The Secretary of the Planters'
Association told me plainly that I was an outsider and that I had no business
to come between the planters and their tenants, but if I had any representation
to make, I might submit it in writing. I politely told him that I did not
regard myself as an outsider, and that I had every right to inquire into
the condition of the tenants if they desired me to do so.
The Commissioner, on whom I
called, proceeded to bully me, and advised me forthwith to leave Tirhut.
I acquainted my co-workers with
all this, and told them that there was a likelihood of Government stopping
me from proceeding further, and that I might have to go to jail earlier
than I had expected, and that if I was to be arrested, it would be best
that the arrest should take place in Motihari or if possible in Bettiah.
It was advisable, therefore, that I should go to those places as early
Champaran is a district of the
Tirhut division, and Motihari is its headquarters. Rajkumar Shukla's place
was in the vicinity of Bettiah, and the tenants belonging to the kothis
in its neighbourhood were the poorest in the district. Rajkumar Shukla
wanted me to see them, and I was equally anxious to do so.
So I started with my co-workers
for Motihari the same day. Babu Gorakh Prasad harboured us in his home,
which became a caravanserai. It could hardly contain us all. The very same
day we heard that about five miles from Motihari a tenant had been ill-treated.
It was decided that, in company with Babu Dharanidhar Prasad, I should
go and see him the next morning, and we accordingly set off for the place
on elephant's back. An elephant, by the way, is about as common in Champaran
as a bullock-cart in Gujarat. We had scarcely gone half way when a messenger
from the Police Superintendent overtook us and said that the latter had
sent his compliments. I saw what he meant. Having left Dharanidharbabu
to proceed to the original destination, I got into the hired carriage which
the messenger had brought. He then served on me a notice to leave Champaran,
and drove me to my place. On his asking me to acknowledge the service of
the notice, I wrote to the effect that I did not propose to comply with
it and leave Champaran till my inquiry was finished. Thereupon I received
a summons to take my trial the next day for disobeying the order to leave
I kept awake that whole
night writing letters and giving necessary instructions to Babu Brajkishore
The news of the notice
and the summons spread like wildfire, and I was told that Motihari that
day witnessed unprecedented scenes. Gorakhbabu's house and the court house
overflowed with men. Fortunately I had finished all my work during the
night and so was able to cope with the crowds. My companions proved the
greatest help. They occupied themselves with regulating the crowds, for
the latter followed me wherever I went.
A sort of friendliness
sprang up between the officials--Collector, Magistrate, Police Superintendent--and
myself. I might have legally resisted the notices served on me. Instead
I accepted them all, and my conduct towards the officials was correct.
They thus saw that I did not want to offend them personally, but that I
wanted to offer civil resistance to their orders. In this way they were
put at ease, and instead of harassing me they gladly availed themselves
of my and my co-workers' co-operation in regulating the crowds. But it
was an ocular demonstration to them of the fact that their authority was
shaken. The people had for the moment lost all fear of punishment, and
yielded obedience to the power of love which their new friend exercised.
It should be remembered
that no one knew me in Champaran. The peasants were all ignorant. Champaran,
being far up north of the Ganges, and right at the foot of the Himalayas
in close proximity to Nepal, was cut off from the rest of India. The Congress
was practically unknown in those parts. Even those who had heard the name
of the Congress shrank from joining it or even mentioning it. And now the
Congress and its members had entered the land, though not in the name of
the Congress, yet in a far more real sense.
In consultation with my
co-workers, I had decided that nothing should be done in the name of the
Congress. What we wanted was work and not name, substance and not shadow.
For the name of the Congress was the bete noire of the Government
and their controllers--the planters. To them the Congress was a byword
for lawyers' wrangles, evasion of law through legal loopholes; a byword
for bomb and anarchical crime, and for diplomacy and hypocrisy. We had
to disillusion them both. Therefore we had decided not to mention the name
of the Congress and not to acquaint the peasants with the organization
called the Congress. It was enough, we thought, if they understood and
followed the spirit of the Congress instead of its letter.
No emissaries had therefore
been sent there, openly or secretly, on behalf of the Congress to prepare
the ground for our arrival. Rajkumar Shukla was incapable of reaching the
thousands of peasants. No political work had yet been done amongst them.
The world outside Champaran was not known to them. And yet they received
me as though we had been age-long friends. It is no exaggeration, but the
literal truth, to say that in this meeting with the peasants I was face
to face with God, Ahimsa, and Truth.
When I come to examine my title
to this realization, I find nothing but my love for the people. And this
in turn is nothing but an expression of my unshakable faith in Ahimsa.
That day in Champaran was an
unforgettable event in my life, and a red-letter day for the peasants and
According to the law, I was
be on my trial, but truly speaking Government was to be on its trial. The
Commissioner only succeeded in trapping Government in the net which he
had spread for me.