20. IN TOUCH WITH LABOUR
Whilst I was yet winding
up my work on the Committee, I received a letter from Sjts. Mohanlal Pandya
and Shankarlal Parikh telling me of the failure of crops in the Kheda district,
and asking me to guide the peasants, who were unable to pay the assessment.
I had not the inclination, the ability, or the courage to advise without
an inquiry on the spot.
At the same time there came
a letter from Shrimati Anasuyabai about the condition of labour in Ahmedabad.
Wages were low, the labourers had long been agitating for an increment,
and I had a desire to guide them if I could. But I had not the confidence
to direct even this comparatively small affair from that long distance.
So I seized the first opportunity to go to Ahmedabad. I had hoped that
I should be able to finish both these matters quickly and get back to Champaran
to supervise the constructive work that had been inaugurated there.
But things did not move as swiftly
as I had wished, and I was unable to return to Champaran, with the result
that the schools closed down one by one. My co-workers and I had built
many castles in the air, but they all vanished for the time being.
One of these was cow protection
work in Champaran, besides rural sanitation and education. I had seen,
in the course of my travels, that cow protection and Hindi propaganda had
become the exclusive concern of the Marwadis. A Marwadi friend had sheltered
me in his dharmashala whilst at Bettiah. Other Marwadis of the place
had interested me in their goshala (dairy). My ideas about cow protection
had been definitely formed then, and my conception of the work was the
same as it is today. Cow protection, in my opinion, included cattle-breeding,
improvement of the stock, humane treatment of bullocks, formation of model
dairies, etc. The Marwadi friends had promised full co-operation in this
work, but as I could not fix myself up in Champaran, the scheme could not
be carried out.
The goshala in Bettiah
is still there, but it has not become a model dairy, the Champaran bullock
is still made to work beyond his capacity, and the so-called Hindu still
cruelly belabours the poor animal and disgraces his religion.
That this work should
have remained unrealized has been, to me, a continual regret, and whenever
I go to Champaran and hear the gentle reproaches of the Marwadi and Bihari
friends, I recall with a heavy sigh all those plans which I had to drop
The educational work in one
way or another is going on in many places. But the cow protection work
had not taken firm root, and has not, therefore, progressed in the direction
Whilst the Kheda peasants' question
was still being discussed, I had already taken up the question of the mill-hands
I was in a most delicate situation.
The mill-hands' case was strong. Shrimati Anasuyabai had to battle against
her own brother, Sjt. Ambalal Sarabhai, who led the fray on behalf of the
mill owners. My relations with them were friendly, and that made fighting
with them the more difficult. I held consultations with them, and requested
them to refer the dispute to arbitration, but they refused to recognize
the principle of arbitration.
I had therefore to advise the
labourers to go on strike. Before I did so, I came in very close contact
with them and their leaders, and explained to them the conditions of a
1. never to resort to violence,
2. never to molest blacklegs
3. never to depend upon alms,
4. to remain firm, no matter
how long the strike continued, and to earn bread, during the strike, by
any other honest labour.
The leaders of the strike understood
and accepted the conditions, and the labourers pledged themselves at a
general meeting not to resume work until either their terms were accepted
or the mill-owners agreed to refer the dispute to arbitration.
It was during this strike that
I came to know intimately Sjts. Vallabhbhai Patel and Shankarlal Banker.
Shrimati Anasuyabai I knew well before this.
We had daily meetings of the
strikers under the shade of a tree on the bank of the Sabarmati. They attended
the meeting in their thousands, and I reminded them in my speeches of their
pledge, and of the duty to maintain peace and self-respect. They daily
paraded the streets of the city in peaceful procession, carrying their
banner bearing the inscription 'EkTek' (keep the pledge).
The strike went on for twenty-one
days. During the continuance of the strike I consulted the mill-owners
from time to time, and entreated them to do justice to the labourers. 'We
have our pledge too,' they used to say. 'Our relations with the labourers
are those of parents and children. . . . How can we brook the interference
of a third party? Where is the room for arbitration?'