After his successful stint in South Africa, it was time for Gandhiji to try his tactics in his homeland, India. He tries to experiment with Satyagraha at a smaller scale before he goes for a mass movement. All his experiments were a huge success and thus lay the foundation of the Non-Cooperation movement which shook the British Raj.
Gandhiji was persuaded by Raj Kumar Shukla to study the conditions of the Indigo Plantation workers in Champaran, a district in Bihar.
The system prevalent in the Indigo Plantations was the Tinkathia System*. In this system, the peasants were required to mandatorily cultivate indigo in 3/20th of their land holdings.
Gandhiji did his research. At the same time, the Govt. appointed a Commission of Inquiry to go into the whole issue and nominated Gandhiji as one of its members. Needless to say, it found the Planters guilty of exploitation. A compromise was reached and Planters were ordered to refund 25% of the amount they had illegally taken.
This time Gandhiji was dealing with the workers. Due to plague, the mill owners had increased the pay to 75% to attract workers. However, once the plague conditions subsided, the mill owners wanted to bring down the pay to 20%. The workers didn’t agree with this reduction and wanted 50% of the pay to remain. The logic they sited was that WW1 had increased the prices. Gandhiji didn’t want the interest of the industrialist class to be hurt. He tried hard to persuade Ambalal Sarabhai who was his friend but failed. Left with no option, he asked workers to go on a strike. When Gandhiji saw the strike subsiding, he went on a fast. This put pressure on the mill owners who agreed for the 35% increment.
This is where Gandhiji teams up with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel to help the cause of peasants. The peasants were in extreme distress as their crop produce had been 1/4th of the original. As per the revenue code, they were entitled for a full concession. However, the Govt. wasn’t willing to let go of their revenues and kept pressurizing the peasants.
Gandhiji urged all farmers to fight unto death against this injustice of the British. He appealed the rich farmers to support to the poor farmers by not paying revenues despite having the capability. Later the British came out with a policy asking the rich farmers to pay their due voluntarily. (which backfired as no rich farmer willingly wanted to pay revenue)
British, in the name of curbing terrorist violence, had introduced a Bill that severely curtailed the liberties of the Indians. It had provisions for arrest without warrant and detention for 2 years. Gandhiji called for a nation-wide hartal accompanied by fasting and praying. The Movement went in a different direction than what was expected. There were events of violent outbreaks which feared the Govt.
The Rowlatt Satyagraha was withdrawn on 18th April, 1919 because of the Jaliawala Bagh Massacre that happened on 13th April 1919.
Gandhiji called it a ‘Himalayan Blunder’. It should be noted that NCM was not the first Nationwide Movement, it was the Rowlatt Satyagraha.
*There were two main systems of indigo cultivation – nij and ryoti. A detailed explanation of the same is given in NCERT.
Ref : http://www.ncert.nic.in/ncerts/l/hess103.pdf