The History of India: Dandi March, the Beginning of Civil Disobedience and Mass Movement in Modern India The History of India: Dandi March, the Beginning of Civil Disobedience and Mass Movement in Modern India

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Dandi March, the Beginning of Civil Disobedience and Mass Movement in Modern India

At midnight on 31st December, 1929, the Indian National Congress raised the tricolor for the first time on the banks of Ravi in Lahore and on 26th January 1930, led by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, it publicly issued the Declaration of Independence, or ‘Purna Swaraj’. But with the coming of these revolutionary events, the Congress was also in a dilemma. A new anti-government campaign was needed to unite the people of India and lay the foundations of a mass movement against the British Raj. By feburary, 1930 Gandhi’s mind was set to start a civil disobedience movement targeting the British salt tax. The 1882 Salt Act gave the British a monopoly on the collection and manufacture of salt, limiting its handling to government salt depots and levying a salt tax. Even though salt was freely available to those living on the coast (by evaporation of sea water), Indians were forced to purchase it from the British government. The choice of salt tax for satyagraha was ingenious on part of Gandhi and the Congress Working Committee for a number of reasons:
  • The salt tax affected almost every Indian, irrespective of class, caste or religion
  • Being an item of daily use salt was expected to resonate more with the masses than abstract demands of greater constitutional rights
  • The Salt tax represented around 8% of the British Raj tax revenue
Gandhi felt that the protest would be meaningful to the lowliest Indian and would also build unity between the Hindus and Muslims by fighting for a cause that affected both the communities equally. Explaining his choice Gandhi had said “There is no article like salt, outside water, by taxing which the state can reach even the starving millions, the sick, the maimed and the utterly helpless. The tax constitutes, therefore, the most inhuman tax, the ingenuity of man can devise.” However, the British establishment did not take the treat of a salt tax resistance seriously. Lord Irwin, the Viceroy of India, wrote to London that “At present the prospect of a salt campaign does not keep me awake at night”.
From February, 1930, the preparations for the salt satyagraha began in ernest. The salt satyagraha would begin on March 12th from Sabarmati Ashram and end in Dandi with Gandhi breaking the Salt Act on April 6th. Gandhi chose April 6th to launch the mass breaking of the salt laws for a symbolic reason—it was the first day of "National Week", begun in 1919 when Gandhi conceived of the national hartal (strike) against the Rowlatt Act. The 24 day march of 390 km would pass through 4 districts and 48 villages. The route of the march was planned so as to maximize the recruitment potential for the march. Gandhi’s talks and events at each of the villages were scheduled and publicized in Indian and foreign press. On March 2nd, Gandhi wrote to Lord Irwin, laying down a 11 point Charter of Demands in his letter. These included a considerable reduction in the Pound-Sterling-Rupee exchange rate, curtailing of military budget, a fifty percent reduction in land revenue, preservation of indigenous textile machinery, abolition of Salt Tax and releasing political prisoners. Lord Irwin, however held the salt protest in disdain and ignored the demands laid down by Gandhi in his letter. As a result, on 12th March 1930, the salt satyagraha march to Dandi was set in motion.
Gandhi on Dandi March
On 12th March 1930 at 6:10 am Gandhi came out of his room, calm and composed. He offered prayers, looked at his watch and exactly at 6:30 am commenced his march with 78 volunteers. Following the commencement of his epic Dandi March, a tremendous wave of enthusiasm swept over the entire country. In cities like Clacutta, Madras, Bombay, Lahore, Delhi, Peshawar, Nargur, Ahmedabad and Allahabad, the ‘Satyagraha Day’ was celebrated by taking out processions, holding public meetings and unfurling of the tricolor. Meanwhile thousands of men, women and children accompanied the marching column for a few miles and thousands lined the route and showered flowers, coins, currency notes and kum kum at the satyagrahis. According to The Statesman, the official government newspaper which usually played down the size of crowds at Gandhi's functions, 100,000 people crowded the road that separated Sabarmati from Ahmedabad. At each of the stopovers across the route, Gandhi held public meetings with the villagers, emphasized the importance of salt and criticized the salt tax levied by the government. Each night the satyagrahis slept in the open, asking of the villagers nothing more than simple food and a place to rest and wash. Gandhi felt that this would bring the poor into the battle for independence, necessary for eventual victory.

Each day thousands of volunteers and prominent leaders like Sarojini Naidu joined the march. Foreign journalists closely followed the Dandi march and made Gandhi a household name in Europe and America. The New York Times wrote almost daily about the Salt march, including two front page articles on 6th and 7th April. When Gandhi reached Dandi on 5th April, he was greeted by a crowd of more than 50,000 people. The following morning, after a prayer, Gandhi raised a lump of salty mud and declared, "With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire." He then boiled it in seawater, producing illegal salt. He called upon all his followers to likewise begin making salt along the seashore, "wherever it is convenient" and to instruct villagers in making illegal, but necessary, salt.
The effects of the salt march were felt across India. Millions broke the salt laws by making salt or buying illegal salt. What began as a salt satyagraha quickly grew into a mass movement of civil disobedience. British cloth and goods were boycotted, unpopular forest laws were defied in the Maharashtra, Carnatic and Central Provinces, Gujarati peasants refused to pay tax, under threat of losing their crops and land. As a reaction the British government imprisoned over 60,000 people in less than a month. The campaign also had a significant effect on changing world and British attitudes toward Indian independence and caused large numbers of Indians to join the fight for the first time. The satyagraha against the salt tax continued for almost a year, ending with negotiations with Viceroy Lord Irwin and the Second Round Table Conference.

No comments:

Post a Comment