XX. IN TOUCH WITH
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 protcation 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 was
not become a model dairy, the Champaran gullock is still
made to work beyond his capacity, and the so-called Hindu
still cruelly belabours the poor animal and disgraces his
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 so abruptly.
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
Whilst the Kheda peasants' question was still being
discussed, I had already taken up the question of the
mill-hands in Ahmedabad.
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.
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 successful strike: 1. never o resort to
violence, 2. never to molest blacklegs, 3. never to
depend upon alms, and 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 '#Ek Tek#' (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?'.