Motihari was the first laboratory of Gandhian experiment in Satyagraha. It was Champaran that turned Mohandas into the Mahatma. If Porbandar is his janmabhoomi (birthplace) , then Champaran is Gandhi’s karmabhoomi.
The Gandhi Sangrahalaya situated in Motihari town has a wide collection of relics and photographs of the Champaran Satyagraha. The Gandhian Memorial Pillar in the ashram was designed by Nand Lal Bose, a famous artist of Shantiniketan. The foundation stone of the pillar was laid on 10th June 1972 by the then Governor, D. K. Barooch. It is a 48 ft tall stone pillar and is situated at the same site where Mahatma Gandhi was presented in court. Gandhi Sangrahalaya has two Conference Halls for its regular meeting, seminars, symposiums, and temporary exhibitions. It’s a unique museum of its kind, which is dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi. The museum consists of a modest Guest House for its own purpose. It has a perfectly maintained lawn to accommodate its own huge gatherings on 2nd October, 30th January and other events.
Apart from the museum, its non - lending regular library that houses almost fifteen thousand titles, all basic Reference books on and by Mahatma Gandhi, files of old papers and periodicals, Constituent Assembly Debates, Parliament Debates, Collected and Selected Works of famous leaders and literary legends apart from 2000 photo copy pages of the original writings of Gandhiji and reports of various Commissions, organized by State and Central Government at regular intervals that form to be valuable collection of the Research Section. Its competition wing is catering the requirement of hundreds of youth looking for various jobs through different State and All India competitive examinations. Most of the needed magazines, journals and books are available for the regular members.
After his return from South Africa in 1915, Gandhi, on his mentor, Gopal Krishna Gokhale’s suggestion, embarked on a journey to discover India. He travelled to Calcutta and Shantiniketan in Bengal, to Rangoon, Cawnpore and Hrishikesh. But it was in 1916, at the 31st session of the Congress in Lucknow, Gandhi met Raj Kumar Shukla, a representative of farmers from Champaran, who requested him to go and see for himself the miseries of the indigo raiyyats (tenant farmer) there. During the British era, the town flourished and it became one of the important centers of North Bihar. Mahatma Gandhi came to Champaran to see the condition of farmers who were forced by the British to cultivate indigo in place of food grains. Later on, Mahatma Gandhi started his satyagraha aandolan for indigo farmers against British.
The colonial rulers in the region had imposed a system called tinkathia. Tenants were mandated by law to plant three out of twenty parts of their land with indigo; that is, they were under obligation to grow indigo in three kathas of every bigha. ‘It is no exaggeration to say that this system (tinkathia) was at the root of all the troubles and miseries of the farmers of Champaran’, wrote Rajendra Prasad, who became the first president of India, in his book Satyagraha at Champaran.
Farmers suffered as they got poor compensation or faced heavy taxation if they refused to plant indigo. The landlords (mostly British) would enforce this system with their agents, called Gumasta, who executed the terms brutally. The reduced production of food crops and exclusive indigo farming had led to a famine-like situation.
The news of Gandhi’s arrival spread like wildfire and he was greeted by large crowds of peasants at railway stations all along the way from Muzaffarpur to Motihari. The morning after Gandhi reached Motihari, he left for a village, Jasaulipatti, on elephant back for he had heard that a tenant there had been beaten and his property destroyed just a day ago. On his way, in Chandrahia village, he was served a notice from the then district magistrate WB Heycock with orders to leave Champaran by the next available train. Gandhi refused. He was arrested and produced before a court on April 18. With the kind of support he had already received, the British government, fearing unrest, released him. Two days later the case was withdrawn and the government promised to look into the farmers’ sufferings. Later, a formal committee was constituted, of which Gandhi was a part. After months of recording testimonies, the committee submitted its report. Almost a year after Gandhi’s arrival, the report was accepted and the tinkathia system was abolished.