the Spirit of Mahatma Gandhi lives through every nonviolent action
Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav
Senior Gandhian Scholar, Professor, Editor and Linguist
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Mailing Address- C- 29, Swaraj Nagar, Panki, Kanpur- 208020, Uttar Pradesh, India
Dyerism in Champaran – Mahatma Gandhi
Champarn is that made famous to Mahatma Gandhi. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi became Mahatma here. Everybody called him Mahatma during Styagraha. During Non-Co-Operation movement, he read this news by a paper, inquired about it, and then wrote this article.
India is a land full of tragedies. Champaran probably contributes the largest number of them. The Searchlight of Patna has just reported one such awful tragedy. It is being investigated by a local Congress Committee of which Mr. Mazharul Haq is the chairman. I do not propose to anticipate the verdict. I understand that the matter is also engaging the Bihar Government’s attention. But as I happened to be in Bettiah, together with Maulana Shaukat Ali in connection with our non-co-operation tour, I venture to give my own impressions gathered from a hurried visit to the spot.
The tragedy took place about fourteen miles from Bettiah, about the 30th November, 1920 last. I do not think that the Government, i.e., the high officials, had any part in its enactment nor had the English planters. This seems to have been peculiarly a police matter, in which the police have acted in an irresponsible manner and without the knowledge of the higher authorities.
Its origin lies in a petty dispute between villagers that resulted in a petty assault. In connection with it a local man of influence was arrested by the police. The villagers appear to have resented it and rescued the man, and even surrounded the constables who arrested him. This proved too much for the wounded dignity of the police. The local Daroga, i.e., Sub-Inspector of Police, is said to have organized a loot in which, under the guidance and direction of the police, men from a neighboring village also are said to have taken part. Houses were denuded of their contents—grain and ornaments.
Women are reported to have been molested and robbed of their jewellery. One woman told me that she was made naked and dust was thrown into her eyes. Another was equally grossly maltreated while she was in the act of easing herself. The villagers had fled in a cowardly manner. Houses were shown to us in which the grain kothis were found to be emptied and broken, grain scattered about, big
boxes unlocked and opened—with the contents removed. Needless to say that the rescued man was almost immediately rearrested and several other men, too, were arrested by the police.
Among them is a local brahmachari. He is a man of considerable influence. He has succeeded in organizing Panchayats settling local disputes. His activity bids fair to popularize the principle of arbitration among the villagers. The police, naturally wanting to undermine his influence and suspecting him of having had a hand in
inciting the people to defy their authority (so it appears from the evidence given to me), have arrested the brahmachari who is now out on bail.
I am unconcerned with the result of the trials that will now probably take place. Some of the arrested men will no doubt be convicted on concocted evidence. Of all the places in India, the most perjury committed on either side is in Champaran. Incredible as it may appear, the occurrence I have reported is not the first of its kind.
The Champaran peasantry is the most helpless and the most terror-stricken of all I have seen. They dread the approach of the police and leave their villages as soon as they appear on the scene. The police have become equally demoralized: bribery and corruption are rampant among them. And each time the people have resented the police treatment, as in the case in point, they have been reduced to greater helplessness by a system of terrorism, in which the magistracy has taken no mean part on behalf of the local Dyers. At times the police have been reprimanded by magistrates or the Government. That they do not mind. The lower police never even know anything about such reprimands; and they care less. The system of terrorism continues and flourishes.
How are the people to be helped? How is the corruption to be removed? Certainly not by courting an official inquiry. That must result in only strengthening the police. Already the police is fortifying its position. Certainly not by the villagers seeking the protection of the courts. It is my settled conviction, based on a study of the records of cases, that in the vast majority of them the people have lost both in
money and in power. An isolated discharge of an innocent man is all they can show as a result of paying fortunes to the lawyers and the bribe-takers.
This police, composed mainly of our own men, must be reformed and won over by non-resistance. We have unnecessarily vilified them instead of pitying them. They are victims of a vicious and even inglorious system. I decline to believe that the Indian policemen are inherently bad and that the Government are powerless to reform them. On the contrary, the system of the Government is such as to corrupt even the most honest of men. It is based upon the practice of securing the greatest immunity for itself. It has made of prestige a fetish and has arrogated to itself the position of infallibility and protection.
Local men everywhere must therefore befriend the police, and the best way of befriending them is to cease to fear them or their authority. In the present case, the village must be advised to forget the wrong. If they can recover stolen property by seeking the intervention of friends, they must do so. They must patiently suffer imprisonment. As defendants, they must resolutely decline to be represented by
pleaders. They must give an unvarnished version to the court. They must submit to misrepresentation, even to the taunt of having no case.
And in future, if and when such incidents happen, they must be prepared to defend themselves. It is better if they can manfully stand persecution and allow themselves to be robbed, instead of hitting in defence of their persons or property. That would indeed be their crowning triumph. But such forbearance can only be exercised out of strength and not out of weakness. Till that power is acquired, they must be prepared to resist the wrongdoer by force. When a policeman comes not to arrest but to molest, he travels beyond his authority. The citizen has then the inalienable right of treating him as a robber and dealing with him as such. He will therefore use sufficient force to prevent him from robbing. He will most decidedly use force in order to defend the honour of his womanhood. The doctrine of non-violence is not for the weak and the cowardly; it is meant for the brave and the strong. The bravest man allows himself to be killed without killing. And he desists from killing or injuring, because he knows that it is wrong to injure. Not so the villagers of Champaran.
They flee from the police. They would strike and even kill a policeman if they had no fear of the law. They gain no merit of non-violence but on the contrary incur the reproach of cowardice and unmanliness, they stand condemned before Government and man. But the workers among a people so fallen as in Champaran will have to be most careful about what they do. They and the people will put themselves in the wrong if they resist the police in the lawful execution of their office, even though the execution may prove or appear to them to be unlawful. The police must not be resisted if they arrest without a warrant. They must not take the law into their own
hands but scrupulously obey it. The safeguard against any serious blunder lies in the fact that on no account are they to seek the protection of the law. If, therefore, they are in the wrong, they will invariably suffer punishment. And when they are in the right, they will most probably not suffer punishment, and they will always have the satisfaction of having saved, or attempted to save, the property, or, what is infinitely better, the honour of their women. In the case in point, it was wrong to rescue the man who was arrested even though in the opinion of the villagers he was innocent. It was wrong because thepolice had the authority in law to effect arrests. It was cowardly on their part to have fled on the approach of the police; it would have been right for them to have defended their women and their goods. If they had not fled, they, being so numerous, would easily have saved their property and protected their women merely by standing their ground. In no case would the villagers have been justified in doing more bodily injury than was needed on the occasion. It is invariably a sign of cowardice and madness to use excessive force. A brave man does not kill a thief but arrests him and hands him to the police. A
braver man uses just enough force to drive him out and thinks no more about it. The bravest realizes that the thief knows no better, reasons with him, risks being thrashed and even killed, but does not retaliate. We must at any cost cease to be cowardly and unmanly.
Young India, 15-12-1920