XIV. FACE TO FACE
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 with both.
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
The 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 place as
early as possible.
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 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 Champaran.
I kept awake that whole night writing letters and
giving necessary instructions to Babu Brajkishore Prasad.
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
crows. 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 this
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 organization called the
Congress. It was enough, we thought, if they understood
and followed the spirit of the Congress instead of its
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
That day in Champaran was an unforgettable event in my
life and a red- letter day for the peasants and for me.
According to the law, I was to 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.