Thursday 30 November 2023



                                By Louis Fischer


·       The chapter ‘Indigo’ is an excerpt from the book 'The Life of Mahatma Gandhi' by Louis Fischer. It is a biographical story based on his interviews of Mahatma Gandhi related to the history of Pre Independence Era in India.

·       Louis Fischer, an American journalist is known for his works ‘God that Failed’ and ‘The Life of Mahatma Gandhi’ which was the strong basis for Academy Award winning film ‘Gandhi’.

·       The writer shares Gandhi’s leadership, struggles and movements during Pre Independence era, offering his tribute to Gandhiji and various other freedom fighters and countless martyrs especially Raj Kumar Shukla, a sharecropper from Champaran.

·       It also mentions about an important episode which happened to become a turning point in the life of Mahatma Gandhi and his struggle to get freedom and social and political justice for his countrymen.

·       This chapters highlights that Gandhi’s life story was a great inspiration to all the strugglers and freedom fighters and, motivated them not to give up ever. His long and exhausting journey to freedom and justice gave everyone an undying hope which pushed Raj Kumar Shukla to fight for his problems.

Summary /  Synopsis:

§  In the chapter 'Indigo' Mahatma Gandhi's journey to Champaran is detailed, marking a significant episode in his life and that of Indian independence movement. Gandhiji himself narrated the episode to the writer. He told that Rajkumar Shukla, an illiterate peasant from Champaran, Bihar approached him during the Indian National Congress party convention in December1916, urging him to address the injustices faced by sharecroppers in his home district. After this episode Gandhiji got a clarity about how the Britishers could be made to leave India forever.

§  Gandhiji had to go to other parts of India such as an appointment in Kanpur and Shukla accompanied him everywhere. He also followed him to the ashram in Ahemdabad. He begged Gandhiji to fix a date for him. Though initially unaware of Champaran's plight, Gandhiji agreed to visit the place on Shukla's insistence and asked him to take him from Calcutta, he waited there and then they both went to Patna where Shukla took Gandhiji to stay at the house of a sympathetic lawyer, Rajendra Prasad, who later became the President of the Congress party, and of India.

    Gandhiji went to Muzaffarpur to obtain information about Champaran, he met J B Kriplani at the station with a large body of students. He stayed there at Professor Malkani's place for two days. The news spread and the peasants from Champaran came to meet Gandhiji there. The peasants, primarily engaged in indigo cultivation under oppressive contracts with British landlords, sought relief. 

§  Facing resistance from British authorities and landlords, Gandhi persisted in his investigations through his meetings with the lawyers at Muzaffarpur. He also scolded the lawyers for collecting high fees from poor sharecroppers. Gandhiji felt that poor peasants' cases should not be taken to law courts as it is useless, rather they must be freed from fear. He got to know that most of arable land in Champaran was occupied by Englishmen and Indian peasants worked there as tenants. According to the earlier agreement sharecroppers had to plant 15% of their land with Indigo and surrender all the indigo crop as rent to the English landlords. Later, when Germany developed synthetic indigo, Indian peasants were forced to pay as compensation for being released from the 15%  arrangement as indigo plantation was no more profitable.  Now, the sharecroppers decided to be free from this forced arrangement.

     When Gandhiji wasn't supported by police and authorities of the British landlords' association rather bullied by them, he opted for civil disobedience, refusing to leave Champaran despite an official notice. He along with some lawyes proceeded to Motihari, the capital of Champaran where a huge crowd welcomed Gandhiji. He was reported that a peasant had been maltreated in a nearby village, he started out to see him on the back of an elephant. He received an order from police superintendent to leave Champaran which he refused to follow. This led to a summon to appear in the court, next day, where huge crowd gathered to show their full support. The officials couldn't control them, Gandhiji helped them to quieten the peasants. Gandhi pleaded guilty, emphasising his "conflict of duties" between obeying authority and serving the humanitarian cause and saying that he heard 'the voice of his conscience' to help the poor peasants.

§  The peasants' spontaneous support outside the courthouse in Motihari marked a turning point, challenging the British authority and instilling courage in the local population. The government, baffled by Gandhi's nonviolent resistance, and huge support by peasants, first delayed the case but eventually dropped the case, marking the success of civil disobedience for the first time in modern India.

§    A group of prominent lawyers which included Rajendra Prasad agreed to follow Gandhiji in jail, if he was sent to jail at which Gandhiji exclaimed, "The battle of champaran is won". Gandhiji had four interviews with the Lieutenant Governor who appointed an official commission of inquiry. Then, they conducted a widespread inquiry into the farmers' grievances. The evidences against landlords were overwhelming. They were exhorting money from the sharecroppers which led to an agreement for refunds to the peasants. Gandhiji asked for a 50% refund, the planters told to give only 25% but Gandhiji agreed and the deadlock was broken. Gandhiji thought that the landlords' agreement to pay was more important than the amount paid. Moreover, all understood and accepted that peasants also have their rights and defenders.

§  The settlement, adopted unanimously, showcased the success of Gandhi's strategy. Within a few years, the British planters abandoned their estates, and indigo sharecropping ceased. Gandhi, not content with political victories, addressed the cultural and social backwardness in Champaran by appealing the teachers for their help in initiating health and sanitation measures. Two young men, Narhari Pareikh and Mahadev Desai joined him as disciples and his son, Devdas also joined in the reformatory works. The primary schools opened there, Kasturba Gandhi taught sanitation there. Doctors also volunteered for the cause. He noticed state of utter poverty resulting in filthy clothes and insanitation. He asked to cover old latrine trenches and dig new ones.

§  This Champaran episode marked a turning point in Gandhi's life, demonstrating his commitment to alleviating the daily struggles of the masses and promoting self-reliance when he opposed C F Andrews as his counterpart in Champaran. He believed the people should learn to be self reliant and fight their own struggle. Gandhi's actions in Champaran exemplify his philosophy of satyagraha and the practical application of nonviolent resistance in achieving social justice and political change. Indian independence struggle, and social reforms were intertwined with his political activism. 


The chapter conveys that effective and efficient leadership can help solve the most intricate problems and come out triumphantly of the most difficult struggles. This leadership quality made Mahatma Gandhi loved by the masses and he could attain India’s political freedom with support of multitude of Indians who were equally motivated with the thought of freedom.

Difficult words and expressions

Convention: agreement

Delegates: Representatives

Peasant: small farmer

Emaciated: thin

Sharecroppers: a tenant farmer who gives a part of each crop as rent.

Resolute: determined

Tenacity: determination

Haunches: thighs

Yeoman: a man who cultivates a small piece of land

Pestered: harassed

En route: on the way

Advocate: one who favours/supports

Advent: arrival

Chided: criticize, scold

Arable: land suitable for farming

Contract: agreement

Compensation: payment to complete the loss

Irksome: irritating

Resisted: opposed, to be against something

Multitude: a large number of people

Maltreated: ill treated

Superintendent: Manager, supervisor

Wired: Telegraphed

Authorities: officials, people in power

Demonstrations: protest

Important Question answers

Q1. Why did Gandhi consider the Champaran episode to be a turning point in his life?

Ans. The Champaran episode relieved poor indigo peasant from torturous burden they had to face and solved their problems due to the forced agreement. Gandhiji received immense support from the peasants and other people. They only required a strong leadership under which they all stood against cruel landlords. Gandhiji considered this episode as a turning point in his life as he could see that non violent and civil disobedience could achieve the larger objective of independence with the support of millions of agitated and motivated Indians. The victory in the battle of Champaran was a sign of freedom from fear and this freedom led him on the longer trail of India's Independence Movement.

Q2. How did Rajkumar Shukla succeed in persuading Gandhiji to visit Chaparan? What made Gandhiji surrender to the wish of Shukla.

Ans. Rajkumar Shukla, an illiterate but deterrent peasant from Champaran, Bihar approached Gandhiji during the Indian National Congress party convention in December1916, urging him to address the injustices faced by sharecroppers in his home district. Gandhiji had an appointment in Kanpur and had to go to other parts of India as well. Shukla accompanied him everywhere like a shadow. He also followed him to the ashram in Ahemdabad. Shukla was illiterate but resolute. He begged Gandhiji to fix a date for him. Being influenced with his deterrence and determination to fight for his cause Gandhiji surrendered to his wish. He agreed to visit Champaran on Shukla's insistence and asked him to take him from Calcutta. Shukla waited there till Gandhiji was free and then they both took train to Patna where Shukla took Gandhiji to stay at the house of a sympathetic lawyer, Dr. Rajendra Prasad. From there Gandhiji was brought to the main battleground, Motihari, capital of Champaran by a resolute, determined and deterrent sharecropper, Rajkumar Shukla. He took every care that Gandhiji shouldn't forget him and followed him everywhere like his shadow. He taught us the lesson of unshakable determination and lived the thought, "When you want something with all your might, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it".


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