Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Why was the Champaran episode a turning point for Gandhi?

The lesson, Indigo describes the Gandhi's tryst with the landlords and the sharecroppers of Champaran. The sharecroppers of Champaran wanted a refund of the amount that they had given to the landlords in lieu of the indigo harvest. The peasants’ grievance was that they had been made to pay more than what the indigo was worth after scientists in Germany had developed synthetic Indigo. When Gandhi met the secretary of the Landlord’s association, he was told that, ‘they could give no information to an outsider’. The British official commissioner of the Tirhut division bullied Gandhi suggesting that he should leave Motihari forthwith!
It was in light of all the opposition that Gandhi experienced that he probably decided to experiment with Non-Cooperation. The first instance of Non-Cooperation took place when Gandhi was served with an order to  quit Champaran while on a trip to a village to investigate an incident of a harassment of a sharecropper by his Landlord. Gandhi signed a receipt for the order and added that he would not comply with the order. Gandhi was then served with a notice from the Magistrate ordering him to appear for a hearing the next day. The next day, we are told that Motihari was, “black with peasants” who wanted to see a, ‘Mahatma’  who had come to fight for them. The presence of the peasants in such large numbers  put the administration into a tizzy. Gandhi went on to manage the crowd. Looking at the tense situation, the magistrate decided to adjourn the court hearing. Gandhi, however didn’t wait for a judgement to be passed on him. He went on to declare himself guilty for breaking the laws of the land, but then he claimed that he was upholding the higher laws of humanity. This was the second instance when Gandhi used the tool of non-cooperation in so far as he didn’t wait for the judge to pass a judgement on him.The judge then announced an adjournment for two hours and asked Gandhi to furnish a bond for that period. Gandhi refused. This was the third instance when he used the tool of Non-Cooperation. The end result was that the case against Gandhi for refusing the order order to leave Champaran was dropped by the British administration. This was a major victory for Gandhi!
What happened next was that an enquiry commission was  set up by the British Administration and it resulted in the acceptance of the fact that the share-croppers had indeed been wronged. What happened next was that the landlords decided to enter into a stalemate with Gandhi about the percentage of the amount to be returned. Gandhi however relented on a demand for a fifty per cent refund and agreed to a twenty-five per cent refund, thus breaking a possible deadlock with the Landlords. Gandhi later stated that the amount of refund was not as important as even a twenty-five per cent refund would prove that the Landlords were not above the law, and moreover he wanted to pass on the message to the peasants that they had rights and had people who would fight for their rights! Ultimately, the landlords quit Champaran being unable to face the the peasants whom they had been compelled to compensate.
The whole Champaran episode became a turning point for Gandhi because it had taught Gandhi about the effectiveness of Non-Cooperation, and Satyagraha. He had succeeded in teaching the peasants a lesson in courage, he had been able to pass on a message to the British that they could not order him about in his own country. He had proved to the Landlords that they were not above the law, and most important of all he had taught the share-croppers that they had rights. The battle was fought and the peasants were victorious, all through a revolution that was based not on blood-shed, but on the tenets of Non-Cooperation, Satyagraha and Non-Violence. His success in Champaran convinced Gandhi that some wars can be fought successfully not with violence and bloodshed, but through more humane means. The Champaran Episode was and eye-opener not just for Gandhi, but also for the common people who rose to the occasion in their own way to support their Mahatma. The Champaran episode proves to the world that what might not be achieved through violence and blood shed might be in fact achieved through more peaceful means. This is a potent message for all of those who are aggrieved that the tools of Non-Violence, Non-cooperation and Satyagraha are more potent than the tools of violence, namely, guns, bombs and knives-an important lesson for us in times of  impatience and shortened tempers!

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