Gandhi’s first great experiment in satyagraha came in 1917 in Champaran, a district in Bihar. The peasantry on the indigo plantations in the district was excessively oppressed by European planters.
They were compelled to grow indigo on at least 3/20th of their land and to sell it at prices fixed by the planters. Similar conditions had prevailed earlier in Bengal, but as a result of a major uprising during 1859-61 the peasants there had won their freedom from the indigo planters.
Having heard of Gandhi’s campaigns in South Africa, several peasants of Champaran invited him to come and help them. Accompanied by Babu Rajendra Prasad, Mazhar-ul-Huq, J.B. Kripalani, Narhari Parekh and Mahadev Desai, Gandhiji reached Champaran in 1917 and began to conduct a detailed inquiry into the condition of the peasantry.
The infuriated district officials ordered him to leave Champaran, but he defied the order and was willing to face trial and imprisonment.
This forced the government to cancel its earlier order and to appoint a committee of inquiry on which Gandhiji served as a member.
Ultimately, the disabilities from which the peasantry was suffering were reduced and Gandhiji won his first battle of civil disobedience in India. He also had a glimpse into the naked poverty in which the peasants of India lived.