15. CASE WITHDRAWN
The trial began. The Government
pleader, the Magistrate, and other officials were at a loss to know what
to do. The Government pleader was pressing the Magistrate to postpone the
case. But I interfered and requested the Magistrate not to postpone the
case, as I wanted to plead guilty to having disobeyed the order to leave
Champaran, and read a brief statement as follows:
With the permission
of the Court I would like to make a brief statement showing why I have
taken the very serious step of seemingly disobeying the order passed under
Section 144 of Cr. P. C. In my humble opinion it is a question of difference
of opinion between the Local Administration and myself. I have entered
the country with motives of rendering humanitarian and national service.
I have done so in response to a pressing invitation to come and help the
ryots, who urge they are not being fairly treated by the indigo planters.
I could not render any help without studying the problem. I have, therefore,
come to study it with assistance, if possible, of the Administration and
the planters. I have no other motive, and cannot believe that my coming
can in any way disturb public peace and cause loss of life. I claim to
have considerable experience in such matters. The administration, however,
have thought differently. I fully appreciate their difficulty, and I admit
too that they can only proceed upon information they received. As a law-abiding
citizen my first instinct would be, as it were, to obey the order served
upon me. But I could not do so without doing violence to my sense of duty
to those for whom I have come. I feel that I could just now serve them
only by remaining in their midst. I could not, therefore, voluntarily retire.
Amid this conflict of duties I could only throw the responsibility of removing
me from them on the Administration. I am fully conscious of the fact that
a person holding, in the public life of India, a position such as I do,
has to be most careful in setting an example. It is my firm belief that
in the complex constitution under which we are living, the only safe and
honourable course for a self-respecting man is, in the circumstances such
as face me, to do what I have decided to do, that is, to submit without
protest to the penalty of disobedience.
There was now no occasion to postpone
the hearing, but as both the Magistrate and the Government pleader had
been taken by surprise, the Magistrate postponed judgement. Meanwhile I
had wired full details to the Viceroy, to Patna friends, as also to Pandit
Madan Mohan Malaviya and others.
I venture to make this statement
not in any way in extenuation of the penalty to be awarded against me,
but to show that I have disregarded the order served upon me, not for want
of respect for lawful authority, but in obedience to the higher law of
our being, the voice of conscience.
Before I could appear before
the Court to receive the sentence, the Magistrate sent a written message
that the Lieutenant Governor had ordered the case against me to be withdrawn,
and the Collector wrote to me saying that I was at liberty to conduct the
proposed inquiry, and that I might count on whatever help I needed from
officials. None of us was prepared for this prompt and happy issue.
I called on the Collector, Mr.
Hyecock. He seemed to be a good man, anxious to do justice. He told me
that I might ask for whatever papers I desired to see, and that I was at
liberty to see him whenever I liked.
The country thus had its
first direct object-lesson in Civil Disobedience. The affair was freely
discussed both locally and in the press, and my inquiry got unexpected
It was necessary for my inquiry
that the Government should remain neutral. But the inquiry did not need
support from press reporters or leading articles in the press. Indeed the
situation in Champaran was so delicate and difficult that over-energetic
criticism or highly coloured reports might easily damage the cause which
I was seeking to espouse. So I wrote to the editors of the principal papers
requesting them not to trouble to send any reporters, as I should send
them whatever might be necessary for publication and keep them informed.
I knew that the Government attitude
countenancing my presence had displeased the Champaran planters, and I
knew that even the officials, though they could say nothing openly, could
hardly have liked it. Incorrect or misleading reports, therefore, were
likely to incense them all the more, and their ire, instead of descending
on me, would be sure to descend on the poor fear-stricken ryots, and seriously
hinder my search for the truth about the case.
In spite of these precautions
the planters engineered against me a poisonous agitation. All sorts of
falsehoods appeared in the press about my co-workers and myself. But my
extreme cautiousness and my insistence on truth, even to the minutest detail,
turned the edge of their sword.
The planters left no stone unturned
in maligning Brajkishorebabu, but the more they maligned him, the more
he rose in the estimation of the people.
In such a delicate situation
as this I did not think it proper to invite any leaders from other provinces.
Pandit Malaviyaji had sent me an assurance that whenever I wanted him,
I had only to send him word, but I did not trouble him. I thus prevented
the struggle from assuming a political aspect. But I sent to the leaders
and the principal papers occasional reports, not for publication, but merely
for their information. I had seen that even where the end might be political,
but where the cause was non-political, one damaged it by giving it a political
aspect, and helped it by keeping it within its non-political limit. The
Champaran struggle was a proof of the fact that disinterested service of
the people in any sphere ultimately helps the country politically.