XII. THE STAIN OF
Champaran is the land of King Janaka. Just as it
abounds in mango groves, so used it to be full of indigo
plantations until the year 1917. The Champaran tenant was
bound by law to plant three out of every twenty parts of
his land with indigo for his landlord. This system was
known as the #tinkathis# system, as three #kathas# out of
twenty (which make one acre) had to be planted with
I must confess that I did not then know even the name,
much less the geographical position, of Champaran, and I
had hardly any notion of indigo plantations. I had seen
packets of indigo, but little dreamed that it was grown
and manufactured in Champaran at great hardship to
thousands of agriculturists.
Rajkumar Shukla was one of the agriculturists who had
been under this harrow, and he was filled with a passion
to wash away the stain of indigo for the thousands who
were suffering as he had suffered.
This man caught hold of me at Lucknow, where I had
gone for the Congress of 1918. 'Vakil Babu will tell you
everything about our distress,' he said, and urged me to
go to Champaran. 'Vakil Babu' was none other than Babu
Brajkishore Prasad, who became my esteemed co- worker in
Champaran, and who is the soul of public work in Bihar.
Rajkumar Shukla brought him to my tent. He was dressed in
a black alpaca #achkan# and trousers. Brijkishore Babu
failed then to make an impression on me. I took it that
he must be some vakil exploiting the simple
agriculturists. Having heard from him something of
Champaran, I replied as was my wont: 'I can give no
opinion without seeing the condition with my own eyes.
You will please move the resolution in the Congress, but
leave me free for the present.' Rajkumar Shukla of course
wanted some help from the Congress. Babu Brajkishore
Prasad moved the resolution, expressing sympathy for the
people of Champaran, and it was unanimously passed.
Rajkumar Shukla was glad, but far from satisfied. He
wanted me personally to visit Champaran and witness the
miseries of the ryots there. I told him that I would
include Champaran in the tour which I had contemplated
and give it a day or two. 'One day will be enough,' said
he, 'and you will see things with your own eyes.'
From Lucknow I went to Cawnpore Rajkumar Shukla
followed me there. 'Champaran is very near here. Please
give a day,' he insisted.' Pray excuse me this time. But
I promise that I will come,' said I, further committing
I returned to the Ashram. The ubiquitous Rajkumar was
there too. 'Pray fix the day now,' he said. 'Well,' said
I, 'I have to be in Calcutta on such and such a date,
come and meet me then, and take me from there.' I did not
know where I was to go, what to do, what things to see.
Before I reached Bhupen Babu's place in Calcutta,
Rajkumar Shukla had gone and established himself there.
Thus this ignorant, unsophisticated but resolute
agriculturist captured me.
So early in 1917, we left Calcutta for Champaran,
looking just like fellow rustics. I did not even know the
train. He took me to it, and we travelled together,
reaching Patna in the morning.
This was my first visit to Patna. I had no friend or
acquaintance with whom I could think of putting up. I had
an idea that Rajkumar Shukla, simple agriculturist as he
was, must have some influence in Patna. I had come to
know him a little more on the journey, and on reaching
Patna I had no illusions left concerning him. He was
perfectly innocent of every thing. The vakils that he had
taken to be his friends were really nothing of the sort.
Poor Rajkumar was more or less as a menial to them.
Between such agriculturist clients and their vakils there
is a gulf as wide as the Ganges in flood.
Rajkumar Shukla took me to Rajendra Babu's place in
Patna. Rajendra Babu had gone to Puri or some other
place, I now forget which. There were one or two servants
at the bungalow who paid us no attention. I had with me
something to eat. I wanted dates which my companion
procured for me from the bazaar.
There was strict untouchability in Bihar. I might not
draw water at the well whilst the servants were using it,
lest drops of water from my bucket might pollute them,
the servants not knowing to what caste I belonged.
Rajkumar directed me to the indoor latrine, the servant
promptly directed me to the outdoor one. All this was far
from surprising or irritating to me, for I was inured to
such things. The servants were doing the duty, which they
thought Rajendra Babu would wish them to do.
These entertaining experiences enhanced my regard for
Rajkumar Shukla, if they also enabled me to know him
better. I saw now that Rajkumar Shukla could not guide
me, and that I must take the reins in my own hands.