Gandhi Jayanti Special: Mahatma Gandhi and Bihar

Today, the world is celebrating Gandhiji’s 150th birth anniversary. The 150th Gandhi Jayanti. It is not easy to write on Gandhi, one of the greatest human beings the Planet Earth has ever seen. After Gandhiji’s assassination at the hands of a Hindu fanatic, Albert Einstein commented that coming generations wouldn’t believe that such a man in flesh and blood ever walked on this earth! Such is Gandhiji’s stature, higher than the mighty Himalayas. On the Gandhi Jayanti, I will remember Bapu’s association with Bihar. The first thing that comes to mind is the Champaran Satyagraha of 1917, Gandhiji’s first experiment with truth on the Indian soil. Champaran, on the Indo Nepal border, in the ancient era was a forest where champa flowers grew. Champa aranya (forest). When the Britishers came, champa flowers withered and indigo plants bloomed. The white sahebs introduced the infamous Tinkathia system. It meant that local farmers were forced to cultivate indigo on 3 katthas of land if they had 20 katthas. Indigo, called neel in Hindi, is used to make blue color. The whole Tinkathia system sucked farmers’ blood. Red blood nourished blue indigo plants. White planters lived in big kothis while farmers starved in their mud huts.

When Gandhiji returned to India from South Africa, he was a well known person. One Congress leader from Champaran, Rajkumar Shukla decided to bring him to Champaran. And Shukla followed Gandhiji from one place to another. With total determination. “Sattu baandh ke” as they say in Bihar.

Finally, Gandhiji relented and consented to visit Champaran. Gandhiji arrived in Patna and took a rickshaw to Rajendra Prasad’s house. Rajendra Babu was not at his home and his servants didn’t pay much attention to Mohandas, a Gujarati lawyer. Gandhiji somehow managed to contact Maulana Mazhar ul Haq. Maulana knew Gandhiji since his London days. He came in his car and took Mohandas with him! The next stop was Muzaffarpur where JB Kriplani taught at the Langat Singh College. Kriplani’s wife insisted to welcome Gandhiji in the traditional manner, with coconuts and diyas (earthen lamps). Kriplani climbed up a tree to pluck some coconuts. He fell from the tree and received bad bruises! From Muzaffapur, Gandhiji and other leaders reached Motihari. Poor villagers didn’t know much about Gandhiji. But they composed a Bhojpuri song to welcome him. Gandhiji predictably received a hostile reception from British authorities. A conspiracy was hatched to add poison to his milk. A poor cook Battakh Mian Ansari overheard the conspiracy. He warned Gandhiji against taking the poisoned milk and saved his life. Battakh Mian is now a forgotten figure in our Islamophobic times. But there is still a Battakh Mian Dwar at the Bapu Dham railway station in Motihari.

The British DM ordered Mr. MK Gandhi to immediately leave the Champaran district. DM’s orders can still be seen at the Gandhi Museum in Patna. Gandhiji didn’t turn his back, launched Satyagraha and the rest is history.

In 2017, Bihar celebrated the Champaran Satyagraha centenary. The Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, a puppet in the mafia’s hands, led the state in remembering the Satyagraha! Battakh Mian Ansari must be turning in his grave. Three Gandhians from Sweden, two ladies and a gentleman, also arrived in Patna. I hosted them at my tiny apartment NUTSHELL and treated them to the Bihari breakfast: aloo poori! I also took them to the Gandhi Museum and introduced them to the Museum Director Razi Ahmad.

After the Champaran Satyagraha, Gandhiji’s next memorable Bihar visit took place in 1934. Bihar was devastated by an earthquake. Darbhanga, my home town and Munger were the worst hit. Gandhiji visited both places. He came to Madhubani (then a part of Darbhanga). My Babooji, who is now 102, was a teenager studying at Raj Nagar. He attended Gandhiji’s prayer meeting. After prayers were over, Meeraben went to the crowd seeking money for earthquake relief. Born as Madeline Slade, she was an Admiral’s daughter. She lived at the Sabarmati Ashram. Gandhiji named her Meeraben, sister Meera. She followed the Mahatma like a shadow. My Babooji gave her a chavanni (25 paise coin), a princely sum for a poor high school student in the 1930s!

Gandhiji went to Munger also. He visited a village called Ghorghat near Jamalpur. The village was known for its lathis (long sticks) which sold like hot cakes in local markets. Villagers presented a lathi to the Mahatma who made them promise that no lathis would be sold to the Englishmen. Britishers used lathis to lathicharge Indian freedom fighters. For the rest of his life, Gandhiji carried the Bihari lathi!

In 1934, Gandhiji came to Deoghar, a temple town now in Jharkhand. Dalits were not allowed to enter the famous Shiva temple here. Gandhiji challenged untouchability. His car was attacked by the temple pandas at the Jasidih railway station. The damaged car can be seen at the Gandhi Museum in Patna. As a tribute to the Mahatma, I got a Dalit officer posted as the Temple Magistrate on the 30th March,1998. I was SP Deoghar in those days.

Gandhiji ‘s next memorable visit to Bihar took place in 1947 during bloody Partition riots. His prayer meetings were held at the Bankipore Ground. The Bankipore Ground, in the heart of Patna, is known as the Gandhi Maidan!

These days, Bihar is a byword for AK 47s, gang rapes, kidnappings, massacres, scams etc. Nitish Kumar rules the state with the mafia’s blessings as orphan girls are raped at shelter homes. As we celebrate the Gandhi Jayanti today, let’s dedicate ourselves to the Gandhian values of secularism, social justice, peace and non violence. Bihar owes it to the Saint of Sabarmati!

(Mr. Amitabh Kumar Das is a 1994 batch IPS Officer. His views are personal.)

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