Mahatma Gandhi’s first Satyagraha in India is being marked this April. It was undertaken in the erstwhile undivided Champaran district in northern Bihar. He went there in April, 1917 on learning about the abuses suffered by the cultivators of the district, forced into growing indigo by British planters/estate owners. ‘The Champaran tenant’, informs Gandhi, ‘was bound by law to plant three out of every twenty parts of his land with indigo for his landlord’. This system was called Tinkathia.
Champaran has an important mark in India’s freedom struggle because:
- First time peasants issues were raised at national level. First time focus on agrarian crisis.
- Success of satyagraha increased the acceptance of Mahatma Gandhi as mass leader and he paved the way for future struggle. Beginning of Gandhian phase.
- Gandhiji famously gave a statement in Trial that law of conscience is greater than law of land.
- It shows the way to congress that mass participation is key to achieve desired goals.
Successful abolition of tinkathia system a major blow to the British planters who became resentful. But they could not prevent the passage of Champaran Agrarian Act in Bihar & Orissa Legislative Council on March 4, 1918. The scourge of coercive indigo plantation passed into history.Gandhi’s association with Champaran lasted for a year. Towards the end he had got busy with another agrarian Satyagraha at Kaira (or Kheda) in Gujarat. He did not limit his stay in Champaran to indigo issue. He promoted primary education in a poorly literate district by inviting volunteers, who came from as far as Maharashtra and Gujarat. The victory at Champaran established Gandhi’s repute in Indian politics.