Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, born on October 2, 1869, stands as one of the pivotal figures of the twentieth century, orchestrating India’s march to independence through one of the most significant mass movements in history.
Gandhi’s historic visit to Champaran, a district in North Bihar, is etched in the annals of India’s national movement, particularly remembered for the Champaran Satyagraha, an uprising of Indian farmers against colonial planters and policies.
Gandhi’s foray into civil resistance had antecedents in South Africa, where he spearheaded an anti-indenture movement for Indian farmers toiling on sugar plantations abroad.
The indenture system, known as ‘girmit pratha,’ originated in 1834 to address the British Empire’s plantation labor shortage after the abolition of slavery. Over 1.3 million Indian farmers ventured abroad between 1834 and 1917, working in places like Mauritius, Trinidad, Demerara, Guyana, South Africa, Surinam, and Fiji.
The anti-indenture movement culminated in the abolition of the system in March 1917, spearheaded by Indian nationalist leaders, including Gandhi, through mass agitation and an anti-indenture resolution in the Imperial Legislative Council.
Gandhi’s efforts and public mobilization compelled the Governor-General of India, Lord Hardinge, to announce the termination of the indenture system, garnering unprecedented public support.
Gandhi’s Champaran movement in India drew inspiration from his South African experiences and his Satyagraha for equal rights. He vocally criticized the colonial policy of indentured labor emigration in 1915, leading to the eventual termination of emigration under the indenture system.
Historian K I Gillion notes that the anti-indenture movement, though historically significant, is often overlooked in popular narratives of the national movement.
On February 27, 1917, Raj Kumar Shukla, representing Champaran’s tenants, invited Gandhi to witness their deplorable living conditions.
Responding to the invitation, Gandhi arrived in Patna on April 10, marking the initiation of the Champaran Satyagraha. Although the ultimate goal wasn’t fully achieved, Gandhi’s visit injected newfound energy and awareness among Indian farmers, elevating him to the revered status of ‘Mahatma’ among the masses.