Gandhi Heritage Sites - Writeups

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Courtroom, Motihari

Connection with Gandhiji 
Gandhiji pleaded guilty in the courtroom of Motihari, Bihar, for intending to disobey the notice served upon him. It heralded a new era of Civil Disobedience in the independence movement.

Motihari was the headquarter of the Champaran district of the Tirhut division. Gandhiji went there to inquire into the condition of the Champaran agriculturists and understand their grievance against indigo planters. He and his co-workers settled at Babu Gorakh Prasad’s home at Motihari on April 15, 1917. That day they heard about the ill-treatment of a tenant in a nearby village Jasauli Patti. Gandhiji decided to visit the tenant the next morning with Babu Dharnidhar Prasad.

The Summons
Gandhiji wrote, ‘[On April 16] we accordingly set off for the place on elephant’s back. An elephant, by the way, is about as common in Champaran as a bullock cart in Gujarat. We had scarcely gone halfway when a messenger from the Police Superintendent overtook us and said that the latter had sent his compliments. I saw what he meant. Having left Dharnidharbabu to proceed to the original destination, I got into the hired carriage [A bullock cart] which the messenger had brought. He then served me a notice to leave Champaran and drove me out of my place. On his asking me to acknowledge the service of the notice, I wrote to the effect that I did not propose to comply with it and leave Champaran till my inquiry was finished. Thereupon I received a summons to take trial the next day for disobeying the order to leave Champaran.” 

Returning of the Gold Medal
Gandhiji wrote his Maganlal Gandhi, administrator of Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmedabad, to return the gold medal he received from the British government for his services in South Africa, to the secretary of the Viceroy. Informing his chances to get arrested, he used the popular Gujarati expression, ‘Lakshmi has come to apply the auspicious tilak sooner than expected and I have not stopped even to wash my hands.’

The Trial
As Gandhiji noted, ‘I kept awake whole night [of April 16] writing letters and giving necessary instructions to Babu Brijkishore Prasad [in case his imprisoned next day.]  He wrote, ‘According to the law, I was to be on my trial, but truly speaking Government was to be on its trial.’

The trial was in Motihari Court on April 17. The government side was confused. The government pleader tried for postponement of the case. But Gandhiji requested the Magistrate not to postpone the case as he wanted to plead guilty. He read a statement in the court. He termed disobeying of the order passed under sec.144 of Cr.PC as ‘question of the difference between the Local Administration and myself.’

He assured that he had no other motive than to study the problem of indigo planters. He stated, ‘As a law-abiding citizen my first instinct would be, as it was, to obey the order served upon me. But I could not do so without doing violence to my sense of duty to those for whom I have come.’

The concluding part of his statement set the tone not only for Champaran but for the national movement in the coming years. It said, ‘I venture to make this statement not in any way in extenuation of the penalty to be awarded against me, but to show that I have disregarded the order served upon me not for want of respect for lawful authority, but in obedience to the higher law of our being, the voice of conscience.’

The Result
The magistrate and the Government pleader were surprised by the statement. The Magistrate postponed judgment. Meanwhile, Gandhiji sent details of the case to the Viceroy and some friends. Before Gandhiji could appear before the court again, he received a written message from the Magistrate that the Lieutenant Governor had ordered the case to be withdrawn and the Collector wrote to Gandhiji, informing him that he was at liberty to conduct the inquiry and assured help of government officials.

As Gandhiji noted, ‘The country thus had its first direct lesson in Civil Disobedience.’

Site Address
Courtroom, Motihari, Bihar
Civil Court,
Bihar - 845 401
Phone: +91 062 5223 2631

 Additional Details 
Chapters on Champaran Satyagraha in Gandhiji’s autobiography.
Gandhi in Champaran by D.G. Tendulkar
Satyagraha in Champaran by Rajendra Prasad
चम्पारण का उद्धार (लेखकः गणेश शंकर विद्यार्थी)