Recorded interview with Bihar peasant activist in 1962
Peasant Satyagraha of Reora
(January 1939) told by its leader
[Reported by] Sho Kuwajima [researcher and translator]
Peasant Symposium Presentation, May 1997
He came to our village on his tour from Jahanabad. He was passing through near our Ashram. In his car was his brother-in law who was a friend of mine. Rameshwar Prasad Singh stopped his car and came to our Ashram.
I asked, "Why, Rameshwar Babu?"
He answered, "I came to drink water."
I helped him to drink. After that Rameshwar Babu sat in the seat of the car. I went to his side and, folding my hands, said, "Kisans of Reora came to my place and told their sad story. Make compromise with them. Take some money and let them cultivate their land."
Rameshwar Babu was agitated and said, "I can't do so." I said, "I am going to Reora tomorrow." He retorted, "You can't reach Reora." I said, "Alright, I am going tomorrow."
This is an introduction to the Reora Satyagraha.
I reached Reora. At that time there were some standing crops in the field and there we held a meeting. Both women and men joined the meeting. The largest number of the Kisans in Reora are Bhumihars. Rameshwar Prasad Singh is a Bhumihar. But, he did not allow Kisans to live worthy of Bhumihars. Kisans were really like Fakirs. In want of food to eat, their little children went nearer to the trees early in the morning, and ate Gular, Pipar, Pankar which animals, not men, can eat. They got their money, selling their daughters, and managed their livelihood. On the one hand a six year old daughter, and on the other, thirty or thirty-five year old son. Her father got some money and made her married. The situation reached this miserable condition.
In the meeting it was decided that we would cut standing crops tomorrow, even if we were arrested. At that time Swamiji (Swami Sahajanand Saraswati) was holding a meeting at Masaura. Jaya Prakash Narayan, Dr. Lohia and others were in the meeting. Though it was a duty for me to proceed there, I could not go there because of my work in Reora.
After the meeting I was going back to my Ashram. Then women came, touched my foot, and said that there would be no cutting if you were not here. No men will go to cut crops. Please come back and stay with us. We will cut together. I went back. After going back, next morning we had sickles for cutting and threads for binding with us. I started cutting. Women began to cut crops too. Police got information on this, but by the time they reached, crops were cut and kept in the Kisans's houses. We came back to my Ashram.
After this a case was registered. I sent a telegram to Swamiji stating that Satyagraha was started in Reora and I could not go to the meeting. At that time the District Magistrate Whittaker was an Englishman. He was a first-class rascal and even shot with his gun. I came back to Reora and after the meeting we started cultivating the field with ploughs. Thus Satyagraha was started. Police reached the spot and Whittaker Sahib also reached. They were armed with guns and others, and said that these acts of the Kisans were illegal. We said, "People are going to die of starvation. Which do you care, law or starvation? We are cultivating to fill our stomach. We will not leave this work. They did not say anything at that moment and went back after their observation.
After this incident I came back to my Ashram, and was on the way to Gaya. One Magistrate came from Gaya to arrest me. At Chak and Station this Magistrate called me and said, "Take a seat in our car. I came to arrest you." I took a seat in the car and was moved to a jail. Afterwards I got an information that Swami Sahajanand Saraswati, Jaya Prakash Narayan and almost all leaders reached Reora. Many workers reached too, and a camp was opened at Reora. A police camp was also opened. Whenever someone was going to work, police began to 'interfere'. When a worker entered the field with a hoe, they grabbed it. When someone went with a lathi, they grabbed it. When someone went with a sickle, they grabbed it.
Thus the movement was started. I was then in the jail. It was a very mighty Satyagraha. It was a big stir. Many people began to come to Reora. On the last day, after all the happenings, the police was ready to bury the wells which had been dug. Women were there to obstruct it. Six women were standing near each well. Ten wells were there. Sixty women were standing. Police said that you must bury wells. Women answered, "Alright." Five women jumped into each well and said, "Alright, do bury." Five women were inside each well. And then, how can the police act? Police left the place and later the Magistrate's order reached them that they should close the camp and come back.
Now a way to the settlement was opened. Whittaker wrote to Rameshwar Prasad Singh, Zamindar that you should make a compromise with his Kisans. Some Kisans were arrested and in the jail. I was also in the jail. Whittaker wrote that you should make a compromise with Jadunandan Sharma. Negotiations started. In this the wish of Jaya Prakash Narayan was that there should be a compromise. I was not ready to do so. But, Kisans said that we should make a compromise. A settlement was reached in such a way that three-forths of the land should be allotted to Kisans and one-forth to the Zamindar. We reached the settlement. Whittaker was maneuvering behind the scene and the settlement is known as 'Whittaker Award'. In this Award it was written that three acres should be allotted to every family. All should be allotted the same size of land.
I asked Whittaker, "Are you a socialist or an imperialist?" Whittaker said, "No, I am an imperialist."
"Then why are you adopting socialism ? Three acres to every Kisan is nothing but socialism."
"Sharma Ji, now accept the situation as it is. Then, if you have to fight again, do so."
We talked like this.
Thus ended the Reora Satyagraha. Those Kisan who had no land got their land. The characteristic of the Kisan movement in Gaya District was that landless labourers also co-operated with the Kisan movement. Therefore I provided the land we got to the landless labourers too.
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