In 1950, when Dr Rajendra Prasad alighted at Bihar’s Motihari railway station, he was greeted by a huge crowd that had gathered to welcome him.
Amidst them was a haggard old man who tried to make his way towards India’s first president.
Dr Prasad walked up to him, hugged him, and escorted him to the dais where he gave him a chair next to his.
To the baffled crowd, he explained that this was the man who had saved Mahatma Gandhi’s life.
Prasad was referring to an incident in 1917 when Batak Mian had saved Gandhi from being poisoned.
As the story goes, in April 1917, Gandhi was in Motihari to probe the appalling conditions under which landlords were forcing local farmers to grow indigo.
According to the book
Champaran ke Swatantatra Senani
, during this visit, Gandhi got a dinner invitation from a British manager of an indigo plantation named Erwin.
He was aggravated by Gandhi’s interference in the workings of the exploitative
system, which forced farmers to cultivate indigo in three parts of their land due to its economic viability.
The Englishman planned to assassinate Gandhi during this dinner and ordered his cook Batak Mian to serve Gandhi a glass of milk laced with poison.
The deeply patriotic cook followed the instructions but also warned Gandhi about the poison at the time of serving.
Dr Rajendra Prasad had witnessed the entire episode.
While Gandhi escaped the assassination attempt to successfully lead the
, the man who had saved his life had to pay dearly for it.
Dismissed from work, Batak Mian was thrown behind bars and tortured; his house was turned into a crematorium; and his family was driven out of their village (Siswa Ajgari, a hamlet near Motihari).
Batak Mian never received his dues for his heroic deed nor compensation for what he and his family had to endure.
Today, the tombs of Batak Mian and his wife lie unattended in the nondescript village of Siswa Ajgari.
His grandchildren live on a patch of land near the Valmiki Tiger Reserve forest and make a living as labourers.
But it begs to be asked, what the country is doing for Mian. It’s time India gives this unsung hero the respect and recognition he deserves.
As actor Farooq Sheikh wrote in a letter to his family in 1996, “If it weren’t for Batak Mian, India’s history would have been different.”