XXIV. 'THE ONION
Champaran being in a far away corner of India, and the
press having been kept out of the campaign, it did not
attract visitors from outside. Not so with the Kheda
campaign, of which the happenings were reported in the
press from day to day.
The Gujaratis were deeply interested in the fight,
which was to them a novel experiment. They were ready to
pour forth their riches for the success of the cause. It
was not easy for them to see that Satyagraha could not be
conducted simply by means of money. Money is the thing
that it least needs. In spite of my remonstrance, the
Bombay merchants sent us more money than necessary, so
that we had some balance left at the end of the campaign.
At the same time the Satyagrahi volunteers had to
learn the new lesson of simplicity. I cannot say that
they imbibed it fully, but they considerably changed
their ways of life.
For the Patidar farmers, too, the fight was quite a
new thing. We had, therefore, to go about from village to
village explaining the principles of the Satyagraha.
The main thing was to rid the agriculturists of their
fear by making them realize that the officials were not
the masters but the servants of the people, inasmuch as
they received their salaries from the taxpayer. And then
it seemed well nigh impossible to make them realize the
duty of combining civility with fearlessness. Once they
had shed the fear of the officials, how could they be
stopped from returning their insults? And yet if they
resorted to incivility it would spoil their Satyagraha,
like a drop of arsenic in milk. I realized later that
they had less fully learnt the lesson of civility than I
had expected. Experience has taught me that civility is
the most difficult part of Satyagraha. Civility does not
here mean the mere outward gentleness and desire to do
the opponent good. These should show themselves in every
act of a Satyagrahi.
In the initial stages, though the people exhibited
much courage, the Government did not seem inclined to
take strong action. But as the people's firmness showed
no signs of wavering, the Government began coercion. The
attachment officers sold people's cattle and seized
whatever movables they could lay hands on. Penalty
notices were served, and in some cases standing crops
were attached. This unnerved the peasants, some of whom
paid up their dues, while others desired to place safe
movables in the way of the officials so that they might
attach them to realize the dues. On the other hand some
were prepared to fight to the bitter end.
While these things were going on, one of Sjt.
Shankarlal Parikh's tenants paid up the assessment in
respect of his land. This created a sensation. Sjt.
Shankarlal Parikh immediately made amends for his
tenant's mistake by giving away for charitable purposes
the land for which the assessment had been paid. He thus
saved his honour and set a good example to others.
With a view to steeling the hearts of those who were
frightened, I advised the people, under the leadership of
Sjt. Mohanlal Pandya, to remove the crop of onion, from a
field which had been, in my opinion wrongly attached. I
did not regard this as civil disobedience, but even if it
was, I suggested that this attachment of standing crops,
though it might be in accordance with law, was morally
wrong, and was nothing be in accordance with law, was
morally wrong, and was nothing short of looting, and that
therefore it was the people's duty to remove the onion in
spite of the order of attachment. This was a good
opportunity for the people to learn a lesson in courting
fines or imprisonment, which was the necessary
consequence of such disobedience. For Sjt. Mohanlal
Pandya it was a thing after his heart. He did not like
the campaign to end without someone undergoing suffering
in the shape of imprisonment for something done
consistently with the principles fof Satyagraha. So he
volunteered to remove the onion crop from the field, and
in this seven or eight friends joined him.
It was impossible for the Government to leave them
free. The arrest of Sjt. Mohanlal and his companions
added to the people's enthusiasm. When the fear of jail
disappears, repression puts heart into the people. Crowds
of them besieged the court-house on the day of the
hearing. Pandya and his companions were convicted and
sentenced to a brief term of imprisonment. I was of
opinion that the conviction was wrong, because the act of
removing the onion crop could not come under the
definition of 'theft' in the Penal Code. But no appeal
was filed as the policy was to avoid the law courts.
A procession escorted the 'convicts' to jail, and on
that day Sjt. Mohanlal Pandya earned from the people the
honoured title of dungli Chor (onion thief) which he
enjoys to this day.
The conclusion of the Kheda Satyagraha I will leave to
the next chapter.