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‘Mahatma Gandhi’s work at Champaran gave voice to peasants’

He enabled us to visualise their condition in the indigo fields: historian Shahid Amin

August 25, 2022 01:20 am | Updated 01:21 am IST - NEW DELHI

Prof. Shahid Amin delivering the Mushirul Hasan Memorial Lecture on ‘Gandhi and Peasant: A Re­look at Champaran’ at Jamia Millia Islamia on Wednesday. 

Prof. Shahid Amin delivering the Mushirul Hasan Memorial Lecture on ‘Gandhi and Peasant: A Re­look at Champaran’ at Jamia Millia Islamia on Wednesday.  | Photo Credit: SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

Shahid Amin, former professor of history at Delhi University and A.M. Khwaja Chair (Jamia Millia Islamia) on Wednesday delivered the second Mushirul Hasan Memorial Lecture on ‘Gandhi and Peasants: A re-look at Champaran, 1917’. 

In his lecture, Mr. Amin said that it is rare that thousands of peasants in Champaran sought out a Mahatma in the making to recount the onerous conditions under which they toiled for their indigo masters.

Act as transcribers

“Mahatma Gandhi asked lawyers to act as mere transcribers of the spoken word, registering what peasants were facing that led to eight volumes of handwritten testimonies without the luxury of rewriting. It is this huge volume of testimonies that give us an insight into the world of indigo farmers and their troubles,” Mr. Amin said.

Calling it a radical move by Mahatma Gandhi to encourage peasants to speak out their grievances, Mr. Amin said that it is difficult to capture the voices of peasants from a colonial and pre-colonial past as peasants of those times did not write but were written about.

“Voices of ordinary folk usually did not make their way into historical records,” Mr. Amin said. The conduits through which their voices made their way into record in those days, he said were through petitions and memorials framed by scribes, confessions in police lock-ups or through depositions uttered nervously before the magistrate.

Mahatma Gandhi’s work, along with his team of lawyers, that has been archived and therefore enables us to visualise the peasants working in the indigo fields beaten into submission. “The peasant archive provides us with tremendous power and richness. For when the peasant speaks, the whole world speaks. One has to incline to one side to hear the small voice of history,” Mr. Amin said.

Vice-Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia Najma Akhtar and Professor Emeritus from JNU Zoya Hasan were present at the lecture. Ms. Hasan thanked the Department of History and Culture at JMI for organising the memorial lecture and helping set up an endowment in his name. Ms. Akhtar remembered Mushirul Hasan’s contribution to the university as its Vice-Chancellor and contribution towards building several buildings on campus.

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