The Champaran Satyagraha is considered to be a vital event in the history of India’s freedom struggle. This movement demonstrated the Gandhian political strategy of an attack on the existing structure using constitutional space available within the structure. It was the combination of an elements of extra-constitutional struggle as well as the employment of moral force against an adversary, an exemplar of the rule of law; and the use of compromise as a gambit. It marked as the first India’s Civil Disobedience movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi to protest against the injustice meted out to tenant farmers in Champaran district of Bihar.
Champaran district was the part of permanent settlement area which consists of the large zamindari estates under rich and influential landlords. Most of the villages were leased out by the zamindars to thikadars of whom the most influential were European Indigo Planters. Though, the planters were temporary tenure holders, they not only extracted rent from the peasants, but also exercised civil and criminal jurisdiction.
Before Champaran Satyagraha, the farmer of Champaran used to follow the "panchkathiya" system, whereby five katthas of land in a bigha had to be planted with indigo. The local agitators and leaders like Sheikh Gulab, Harbans Sahay, Pir Mohammed Munsi, Sant Rawat and Lomrah Singh agitated against the "panchkathiya" system and managed to extract some concession and the system that came to be practised was the "tinkathiya" system (three, instead of five, katthas of land was to be planted with indigo).
Raj Kumar Shukla was not happy with concession and wanted to change the obnoxious system of agricultural labour prevailing in Champaran. They could not grow the food they needed, nor did they receive adequate payment for the indigo.
It was Ganesh Vidyarthi who had mentioned about Gandhi's work in Africa to Shukla. Brajkishore Prasad and Rajendra Prasad who were the sympathetic lawyers of Patna suggested him to meet Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who was attending the 31st Session of the Congress in Lucknow (held between December 26 and 30, 1916).
Therefore, Raj Kumar Shukla and Sant Raut persuaded Gandhi to go to Champaran and thus, the Champaran Satyagraha began. Gandhi arrived in Champaran 10 April 1917 and stay on the house of Sant raut in Amolwa village with a team of eminent lawyers: Brajkishore Prasad, Rajendra Prasad, Anugrah Narayan Sinha Ramnavmi Prasad, and others include J. B. Kripalani.
Gandhiji reached Champaran in 1917 with Raj Kumar Shukla. On his arrival the District Magistrate served him with a notice saying that he was not to remain in the district of Champaran but must leave the place by the first available train.
Gandhi disobeyed this order. He was summoned to appear before the court. The magistrate said, ‘If you leave the district now and promise not to return, the case against you will be withdrawn.’
‘This cannot be.’ replied Gandhi. ‘I came here to render humanitation and national service. I shall make Champaran m y home and work for the suffering people.’
The charismatic attributes of Gandhi can be judge when he appeared before the crowd and said, ‘You must show your faith in me and in my work by remaining quiet. The magistrate had the right to arrest me, because I disobeyed his order. If I am sent to jail, you must accept that as just. We must work peacefully. And violent act will harm out cause.’
The crowd dispersed peacefully. The police stared at Gandhi in admiration as he went inside the court.
The Government withdrew the case against Gandhi and allowed him to remain in the district. Gandhi stayed there to study the grievances of the peasants.
He took up residence at Hazarimal Dharmashala in Bettiah village. He then visited many villages in the region to study the grievances of the peasants. He recorded the statements and testimonies of 8,000 indigo cultivators to understand their issues and the causes underlying them.
He came to the conclusion that the ignorance of the cultivators was one of the main reasons why it was possible for the European planters to repress them.
He established the first-ever basic school at Barharwa Lakhansen village, 30 km east from the district headquarters at Dhaka, East Champaran, on November 13, 1917 to improve the economic and educational conditions of the people. He also set up two more basic schools at Bhitiharwa with the help of Sant Raut in West Champaran and Madhuban in this district on November 30, 1917 and January 17, 1918, respectively.
Then, he led organised protests and strike against the landlords, who with the guidance of the British government, signed an agreement granting more compensation and control over farming for the poor farmers of the region, and cancellation of revenue hikes and collection until the famine ended. It was during this agitation, that first time Gandhi called Bapu (Father) by Sant Raut and Mahatma (Great Soul).
For the first time in India, Gandhi was displaying that magnetic personality, which was to draw multitudes to him and to earn him the title of Mahatma and the nickname of Bapu. Under pressure from the Government of India, the Government of Bihar appointed a committee of enquiry (June, 1917).
The recommendations of the committee were implemented, partly by the Champaran Agrarian Act of 1917 and partly by executive orders which contains several concessions and prescription of limits for enhancement of rents.