Gandhi, the exponent of the Satyagraha movement, staged his first satyagraha in Champaran, in Bihar. It was in 1917. The poor peasants, the indigo growers, of the district invited Gandhi to go there to see for himself the grievances of the much exploited peasants there.
Champaran was on the North-western corner of the Bihar Province. The River Gandak flows through this area. The river changed its course from time to time, leaving large lakes along its dried up courses. It was along the banks of these lakes the indigo factories were set up.
There were two towns and three thousands villages in Champaran. 98 per cent of the people out of the 2 million lived in villages. And most of them were Hindus. Indigo farming was going on there for almost two centuries.
In the beginning, the land was owned by the local people. But the white people from Britain grabbed the land and instead of the traditional sugar cane cultivation, the land grabbers compelled the people to enter into indigo cultivation.
The British Indigo planters coerced the poor people to grow indigo on 15 per cent of their land and part with the whole crop for rent. Indigo cultivation was profitable only for the British. The local peasants had only misery and penury and poverty.
It was on hearing about this predicament of the poor farmers there that Gandhi decided to go there. He left for Champaran along with a Bihari called Rajkumar Shukla.
Babu Rajendra Prasad, who was to become the chairman of the Constituent Assembly for drafting a constitution for the new Republic of India, and who became the first President of the Republic of India, was not there, as he was practicing in the far away Patna as an advocate. He was a special person with lot of interest in public affairs and so Gandhi went straight to his house to find that he was away in Patna.