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Story Of An Unsung Hero Of The Champaran Satyagraha

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The year 2017-18 is being observed as the one marking a century after the Champaran Satyagraha. A series of events are being organised in the country on this occasion and Prime Minister Narendra Modi also attended one of these events – Sawacchhagrah – that was held at Motihari, where the movement had started hundred years ago.

On the occasion of Independence Day, I would like to share some untold stories about the hero of Champaran Satyagraha, because of whom the whole movement had been possible. No, I’m not talking about Mahatma Gandhi.

Those who know enough about Gandhi’s Satyagraha will also hopefully know about Rajkumar Shukla. Over one dozen people have helped Gandhi in the Satyagraha movement relentlessly, making a barrister Karamchand Gandhi, a ‘Mahatma’. However, an endless debate will start if one actually questions how different the Gandhian era of politics would have been had Karamchand Gandhi not arrived at Motihari in 1917.

Even if history didn’t register the episode of Champaran before Gandhi, it is true that people like Shekh Gulab, Rajkumar Shukla, Harvansh Sahay, Pir Mohammad Munish, Sant Raut, Domraj Singh, and Radhumal Marvadi had been leading the movement there.

This is the episode that took place about a decade ago when Gandhi first arrived at Champaran:

A conflict had taken place between the farmers and the British who forced them to cultivate indigo in 1907-08. This incident holds significant historical importance. Around 50 cases had been lodged and 250 people had been sent to jail. Columnist Pir Munish had been constantly reporting and highlighting every incident in his column for the  newspaper ‘Pratap’; and Rajkumar Shukla was arranging everything for a healthy movement against those indigo evils.

All the names mentioned above have played their role in their own way, to let his movement show impact. In 1909, an officer named Gorele was sent to control the movement. Panchakhiya practice was going on in the cultivation of indigo, (the cultivation of indigo was mandatory in five ‘kattha’ of land per one ‘bigha’ land). It was the effect of this movement that ‘Panchakathiya’ practice turned into ‘Teenkathiya’ where farmers were asked to cultivate indigo in three  ‘kattha’ of land instead of five ‘kattha’. Before Gandhi had arrived in the area, the role of all these heroes of Champaran was important. It was difficult to decide who was the important hero in this. Everyone had their own role, everyone had their own importance. But after this movement of 1907-08, Rajkumar Shukla ended up playing the most important role as he brought Gandhi to Champaran and convinced him to do the Satyagraha. Everyone that talks about Champaran Satyagraha, admits this story as true. From writing letters to attending Congress’ meeting, Shukla had done some rather hard work to make sure Gandhi came to Champaran.

He didn’t just write letters, he also visited Gandhi many times, even though he hadn’t had the money to travel. He used to borrow money from others and made sure he went to meet Gandhi with that money. Gandhi himself has written a dedicated chapter to Rajkumar Shukla in his autobiography ‘My Experiments with Truth’.

Gandhi only wrote a little about him but there are people who talk in detail about Shukla. Even people like Rajendra Prasad, Anugrah Narayan, and JB Kriplani joined Gandhi and took the Satyagraha movement forward, it was only Rajkumar Shukla who forced Gandhi to come Champaran in the first place, told people about the works of Gandhi, convinced them that they a believe in him, and connected every string of Satyagraha. However the main episode in Shukla’s life began when Gandhi returned from Champaran.

There’s very poignant episode in ‘Diary of Rajkumar Shukla’, edited by Bhairaw Lal das. “After Gandhi left from Champaran, the work of Shukla’s organisation continued from Bhitiharwa. Against the Rowlatt ​​Act, he kept spreading public awareness in the villagers. His activism among the villagers remained them of the non-cooperation movement in 1920. He kept working as a Kisan Sabha in Champaran. In the year 1919, the 11th session of the Bihar Provincial Association was held in Laheriyasarai where they participated. An English officer who went to spy here wrote that Rajkumar Shukla is its leader. After this, all the letters Shukla wrote to Gandhi to return to Champaran were unanswered. This is when Shukla decided to travel to Sabarmati Ashram in the beginning of 1929. He finally met Gandhi, who had then been travelling, after 15 days. When he did see Gandhi, his eyes were filled with tears. Gandhi told him that his austerity must be painted, to which Shukla replied saying, “Will I get to see that day?” Gandhi was left stunned.

After returning from Sabarmati, Shukla didn’t go back to his village Satwariya. Instead, he went to the same Sahu’s house where Gandhi used to stay during the movement. Shukla’s health had been giving up. At the age of 54, in 1929, he died in Motihari. At the time of his death, his daughter Devapati lived there. Prior to his death, Shukla expressed his wish that his last rites be performed by his daughter. Motihari people gave donations for the same. Shukla’s last rites were performed in Rabababu’s garden in Motihari.

When Emmen, the English official who lodged false cases against Shukla, heard the news of Shukla’s death, he was stunned and said “the only man in Champaran has passed away.”

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