Mahatma Gandhi’s visit to Madras in 1917 was crucial to the reforms in Champaran.

Tamil had a special place in the heart of Mahatma Gandhi. He had many Tamil friends in South Africa during his formative years when he began his Satyagraha. He visited Tamil Nadu 20 times.

On September 14, 1917 he came to Madras for a day en route to Ranchi from Pune. He always travelled third class by train. This one-day visit may have been to consult legal luminaries in Madras (now Chennai) for his Champaran work.

He had been persuaded by Raj Kumar Shukla, a farmer who had heard that M.K. Gandhi was successful as a lawyer in South Africa. Gandhiji had helped thousands of farmers who had been forced by the British to grow Indigo and other cash crops and sell them at cheap prices to rich landlords. Gandhiji had called for young lawyers to come over and conduct extensive interviews with every person in that area and give him a full report. He realised that one of the reasons why the farmer suffered was because of lack of education. He organised a school there to teach health and hygiene, reading and writing. He wanted the farmers to live with dignity.

The Gandhi Study Centre in Chennai is launching a website with details of all the places visited by Mahatma Gandhi in Tamil Nadu. This will be launched on October 2 — Gandhi Jayanthi. A complete information site on Mahatma Gandhi was inaugurated in September this year.

Log on to Gandhi Heritage Portal for more information.