Colonial historians and scholars often claim that the Indian Freedom Movement was a disjointed movement with no nationalistic feeling among the people participating in it. This belief, that Indians fought against the British for local communal reasons without any coherence, has been further propagated by the Indian historians as well, after the independence.
Often, we are made to believe that Muslims fought to secure their religion or Caliphate while Hindus to protect regressive social institutions. Similarly, urban elite, peasantry, tribal, and others have their own narrow interests in fighting against the British. The idea may be true and open to debate, but the fact that there was coherence among different groups within India while fighting against the British is an undeniable fact.
During the early 19th century, the British decided to partition Bengal. Hindus and Muslims, together, rose up against the decision which based itself upon religious segregation. India in general, and Bengal in particular, adopted the Swadeshi campaign to oppose this decision. In 1905 Bengal got divided, agitating the youth. It must be noted that the present Bihar was part of Bengal at the time. The youth, led by people like Barin Ghosh, started adopting militant methods to oppose the British.
At the same time, in Champaran of Bengal (now, in Bihar) indigo planters led by Sheikh Gulab started a non-cooperation agitation against the British indigo planters. Gulab defied the tinkathia system, where indigo had to be planted on the best portions of land, on his 60 bigha land which was near Sathi factory in Champaran. It was 1907 & Champaran was part of the Muzaffarpur commissionerate.
More and more peasants joined Gulab in his movement and another Sital Ray rose as another prominent leader. Planter’s Association had their own army called Bihar Light Horse, famous for its cruelties over peasants. In 1907, the government passed an order appointing Gulab and his comrades as the special constables in police. Gulab defied this appointment and did not join. Police arrested him under the Special Police Act, 1861.
Sentence of Gulab was reversed later by Kolkata Court in March, 1908.
Next month, in Muzaffarpur a judge, Kingsford, was transferred from Kolkata. Champaran lied under his jurisdiction. Indians were already angry with the judge for his anti Indian attitude and there was this apprehension that he had been brought to crush the anti British peasant movement. British reports were already pointing towards a collaboration between Kolkata based Bengali revolutionaries and the peasant movement of Champaran.
The arrest of Sheikh Gulab had stirred the local emotions and this transfer of Kingsford acted as a catalyst.
Within a few days, Khudiram Bose, a young boy of 17, and Prafulla Chaki, both of them Bengali tried to assassinate Kingsford with a bomb. Accidentally, they killed two English women.
Khudiram Bose was hanged till death in August, 1908.
Khudiram’s martyrdom instilled a new spirit in Sheikh Gulab. In September, 1908, he organized more peasants at Vijayadashami Mela in Bettiah, Champaran. Now, peasants were openly defying the planters and attacking them. On 16 October, 1908, peasants attacked the Parsa Indigo factory. Government reacted brutally. Sital Ray was arrested along with more than two hundred peasants.
In the Legislative Assembly of Calcutta, it was argued that Bengali and Bihari have worked in unison against the British in Champaran during 1907 – 1908. Further reports that a Burkha clad Muslim woman provided shelter and help to Khudiram Bose during his attempt on Kingsford’s life also point towards an association between Sheikh Gulab’s movement and Bengal revolutionaries.
P.C Roy, implicitly, contends that the arrest and case against Sheikh Gulab may be one of the reasons that Khudiram Bose attacked Kingsford in Muzaffarpur.
(Writer is a well known historian)