24. 'THE ONION THIEF'
Champaran being in a far-away
corner of India, and the press having been kept out of the campaign, it
did not attract visitors from outside. Not so with the Kheda campaign,
of which the happenings were reported in the press from day to day.
The Gujaratis were deeply interested
in the fight, which was to them a novel experiment. They were ready to
pour forth their riches for the success of the cause. It was not easy for
them to see that Satyagraha could not be conducted simply by means of money.
Money is the thing that it least needs. In spite of my remonstrance, the
Bombay merchants sent us more money than necessary, so that we had some
balance left at the end of the campaign.
At the same time the Satyagrahi
volunteers had to learn the new lesson of simplicity. I cannot say that
they imbibed it fully, but they considerably changed their ways of life.
For the Patidar farmers, too,
the fight was quite a new thing. We had, therefore, to go about from village
to village explaining the principles of Satyagraha.
The main thing was to rid the
agriculturists of their fear, by making them realize that the officials
were not the masters but the servants of the people, inasmuch as they received
their salaries from the taxpayer. And then it seemed well-nigh impossible
to make them realize the duty of combining civility with fearlessness.
Once they had shed the fear of the officials, how could they be stopped
from returning their insults? And yet if they resorted to incivility it
would spoil their Satyagraha, like a drop of arsenic in milk. I realized
later that they had less fully learnt the lesson of civility than I had
expected. Experience has taught me that civility is the most difficult
part of Satyagraha. Civility does not here mean the mere outward gentleness
of speech cultivated for the occasion, but an inborn gentleness and desire
to do the opponent good. These should show themselves in every act of a
In the initial stages, though
the people exhibited much courage, the Government did not seem inclined
to take strong action. But as the people's firmness showed no signs of
wavering, the Government began coercion. The attachment officers sold people's
cattle, and seized whatever movables they could lay hands on. Penalty notices
were served, and in some cases standing crops were attached. This unnerved
the peasants, some of whom paid up their dues, while others desired to
place safe movables in the way of the officials so that they might attach
them to realize the dues. On the other hand, some were prepared to fight
to the bitter end.
While these things were going
on, one of Sjt. Shankarlal Parikh's tenants paid up the assessment in respect
of his land. This created a sensation. Sjt. Shankarlal Parikh immediately
made amends for his tenant's mistake by giving away for charitable purposes
the land for which the assessment had been paid. He thus saved his honour
and set a good example to others.
With a view to steeling the
hearts of those who were frightened, I advised the people, under the leadership
of Sjt. Mohanlal Pandya, to remove the crop of onion from a field which
had been, in my opinion, wrongly attached. I did not regard this as civil
disobedience, but even if it was, I suggested that this attachment of standing
crops, though it might be in accordance with law, was morally wrong, and
was nothing short of looting, and that therefore it was the people's duty
to remove the onion in spite of the order of attachment. This was a good
opportunity for the people to learn a lesson in courting fines or imprisonment,
which was the necessary consequence of such disobedience. For Sjt. Mohanlal
Pandya it was a thing after his heart. He did not like the campaign to
end without someone undergoing suffering in the shape of imprisonment for
something done consistently with the principles of Satyagraha. So he volunteered
to remove the onion crop from the field, and in this seven or eight friends
It was impossible for the Government
to leave them free. The arrest of Sjt. Mohanlal and his companions added
to the people's enthusiasm. When the fear of jail disappears, repression
puts heart into the people. Crowds of them besieged the court-house on
the day of the hearing. Pandya and his companions were convicted and sentenced
to a brief term of imprisonment. I was of opinion that the conviction was
wrong, because the act of removing the onion crop could not come under
the definition of 'theft' in the Penal Code. But no appeal was filed, as
the policy was to avoid the law courts.
A procession escorted the 'convicts'
to jail, and on that day Sjt. Mohanlal Pandya earned from the people the
honoured title of 'dungali chor' (onion thief) which he enjoys to
The conclusion of the Kheda
Satyagraha I will leave to the next chapter.