An honest and authentic account of Mahatma Gandhi’s first major work in the country after his return from South Africa, ‘Satyagraha in Champaran’ is a well documented book that narrates in graphic details the entire Champaran story—geography and history of the region, the nonviolent crusade against the injustice perpetrated by the indigo planters, emancipation of ryots from the age-long tyranny, and the constructive work begun to improve the lot of the villagers. It is also An effective delineation of Mahatmaji’s method of work—the technique of Satyagraha, which, later organized through the length and breadth of the country, won India freedom from foreign rule.
Coming from the pen of an active participant in the Champaran Satyagraha and later the Freedom Movement, this book acquires the significance of an important document in the history of Indian nationalism.
One of the foremost Gandhian leaders, Dr. Rajendra Prasad was born on December 3, 1884 at Zeradei, a village in the then district Saran of Bihar. Schooling in District School Chapra, and higher education in Presidency College, Calcutta. A brilliant student, topped the list in successive examinations of Calcutta University. Started career as a lawyer in 1911 in Calcutta High Court, later Shifted to Patna.
Right from student days engaged in activities of public concern. Founder of the ‘Bihari Sudents’ Conference’. Rendered valuable assistance to Mahatma Gandhi in Champaran Satyagraha (1917-18). Gave up a flourishing legal practice join the Non-Cooperation Movement (1920. A top-rank Congress leader and freedom-fighter, Thrice elected Congress President, Prominent role in the rebuilding of the country, Food and Agriculture Minister in the Interim Government. President of the Republic of India from 1950 to 1962. An erudite scholar, serious and constructive thinker, and speaker and writer of great distinction, Honoured with various distinguished titles in the country and abroad. Conferred with Bharat Ratna in 1962.
After relinquishing office on May 13, 1962, retired to his old hermitage in Sadaqat Ashram, Bihari Vidyapith, Patna, where he breathed his last on Feburary 28, 1963.
This book was written in Hindi in 1919 and published for the first time in 1922. Its English version was published in March, 1928. I wrote in the preface to the Hindi edition as follows:
"On reading this book it will be clear to the reader that a glimpse of what Mahatma Gandhi had been doing between 1920 and 1922 regarding the Satyagraha and N on-co-operation Movement had been seen in the Champaran Movement. The first big work which Mahatma Gandhi took up in India after his return from South Africa was the work in Champaran. At that time the Home Rule agitation was at its height in India. When we used to ask Mahatmaji to let Champaran also join that movement, he used to tell us that the work that was being done in Champaran was the work which will be able to establish Home Rule. At that time the country did not perhaps realize the importance of the work nor did we who were there do so. But today when we look back upon the method of work pursued there and consider the history of the National Struggle during the last three or four years, then we can see that the great movement of today is only an edition of the work in Champaran on immensely vaster scale. If we read the history of Champaran and Kaira Satyagraha, we shall see that whatever the Non-co- operation-Satyagraha Movement has done or proposes to do is to be found in this movement. Mahatmaji has started the Non- co-operation Movement to free India from injustice and tyranny under which she has been groaning; even so had he considered it his duty to save the tenantry of Champaran from the load of injustice and tyranny under which it was being pressed. Just as India has taken to Satyagraha and Non-co-operation after she had failed to get redress by' agitating in the press and on the platform and by resolutions and questions in Legislatures, even so had the tenantry in Champaran invited Mahatmaji after it had failed in similar efforts. Just as in the present agitation Mahatmaji has invited the country to accept his programme based entirely on Truth and ahimsa (Non-violence), even so had he taught the simple and illiterate tenantry of Champaran the lesson of truth and non-violence, not by speeches but by his action. Just as he has now filled the people of the country with a determination to win freedom of the country by taking upon themselves knowingly and intentionally suffering and distress, even so had he taught the tenantry of Champaran the same lesson by showing his readiness to suffer the hardships of jail life. Just as the Government officials while knowing the suffering and distress of the tenantry and knowing the injustice done to it, still wanted to obstruct Mahatmaji and were prepared even to send him to jail, even so have they been following a similar course in regard to the Non-co-operation Movement. Before Mahatmaji set his foot in Champaran, the tenantry of the district had at times carried on strong agitation and had sometimes attempted non-co-operation also. But the foundation of that agitation and non-co-operation was not based on ahimsa (non- violence). The Government, and planters who pin their faith in violence and force and who have resources to use it effectively always succeeded in suppressing their agitation which was not free from violence. In the Non-co-operation Movement also wherever we have departed from the basic principle of non- violence, we have ourselves supplied the material for our own defeat. If we always keep before us the principle of non-violence and carry forward our movement with determination, there can be no doubt that just as success was achieved in Champaran and, just as the Akalis of the Punjab are setting before the country a true example of non-violent struggle and appear to be succeeding, even so shall this countrywide movement of non-cooperation succeed. Just as the Government themselves ultimately accepted all that the tenantry of Champaran had been pressing upon them, sometimes in sorrow, sometimes in anger, even so shall the Government and its officers ultimately accept whatever the country demands today."
In the preface to the English edition which was published in 1928 I wrote as follows:-
"To enable the reader to further appreciate the effect of the intensive work of 1917 I may state here that within the last ten years indigo has practically ceased to be grown in Champaran, that the biggest indigo factories have either been sold or are being sold, that many of the smaller ones have disappeared and the ryot of Champaran is a bolder and more self-respecting individual than he was ten years ago."
I need hardly add that what happened in Champaran has been repeated, as I had hoped, on a vast scale in the country as a whole. Champaran became free from planters' tyranny, India today is free from foreign rule. The work in Champaran was completed in a year. The freedom movement there started by Mahatma Gandhi has taken some 30 years to bear fruit. The Mahatma lived to see the fruition of his labours so far as freedom from foreign rule is concerned. He could not complete the work of reconstruction in Champaran as he was called away elsewhere by more pressing demands from the country at large. Even so has remained unfinished the work of reconstruction of India after the winning of freedom. I pray to God that his spirit may guide the people and make them worthy of the great inheritance of his teachings and of the great country to which they belong.
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