Gandhi Sangrahalaya (Museum), Motihari, Champaran , Bihar
Gandhi Sangrahalaya (Museum), Motihari, Champaran , Bihar :
Motihari was the first laboratory of Gandhian experiment in Satyagraha. It was Champaran that turned Mohandas into the Mahatma. If Porbandar is his janmabhoomi (birthplace) , then Champaran is Gandhi’s karmabhoomi.
After his return from South Africa in 1915, Gandhi, on his mentor, Gopal Krishna Gokhale’s suggestion, embarked on a journey to discover India. He travelled to Calcutta and Shantiniketan in Bengal, to Rangoon, Cawnpore and Hrishikesh. But it was in 1916, at the 31st session of the Congress in Lucknow, Gandhi met Raj Kumar Shukla, a representative of farmers from Champaran, who requested him to go and see for himself the miseries of the indigo raiyyats (tenant farmer) there. During the British era, the town flourished and it became one of the important centers of North Bihar. Mahatma Gandhi came to Champaran to see the condition of farmers who were forced by the British to cultivate indigo in place of food grains. Later on, Mahatma Gandhi started his satyagraha aandolan for indigo farmers against British.
The colonial rulers in the region had imposed a system called tinkathia. Tenants were mandated by law to plant three out of twenty parts of their land with indigo; that is, they were under obligation to grow indigo in three kathas of every bigha. ‘It is no exaggeration to say that this system (tinkathia) was at the root of all the troubles and miseries of the farmers of Champaran’, wrote Rajendra Prasad, who became the first president of India, in his book Satyagraha at Champaran.
Farmers suffered as they got poor compensation or faced heavy taxation if they refused to plant indigo. The landlords (mostly British) would enforce this system with their agents, called Gumasta, who executed the terms brutally. The reduced production of food crops and exclusive indigo farming had led to a famine-like situation.
The news of Gandhi’s arrival spread like wildfire and he was greeted by large crowds of peasants at railway stations all along the way from Muzaffarpur to Motihari. The morning after Gandhi reached Motihari, he left for a village, Jasaulipatti, on elephant back for he had heard that a tenant there had been beaten and his property destroyed just a day ago. On his way, in Chandrahia village, he was served a notice from the then district magistrate WB Heycock with orders to leave Champaran by the next available train. Gandhi refused. He was arrested and produced before a court on April 18. With the kind of support he had already received, the British government, fearing unrest, released him. Two days later the case was withdrawn and the government promised to look into the farmers’ sufferings. Later, a formal committee was constituted, of which Gandhi was a part. After months of recording testimonies, the committee submitted its report. Almost a year after Gandhi’s arrival, the report was accepted and the tinkathia system was abolished.