12 March 1930
Mahatma Gandhi started the 24-day march from his Sabarmati Ashram to the coastal town of Dandi to produce salt from the sea and defy the salt law. This is known as the Dandi march or the Salt march.
- During the 1929 Indian National Congress session at Lahore, the party exhorted the use of civil disobedience in order to attain Purna Swaraj or complete independence.
- The party asked Mahatma Gandhi to organise the movement. Gandhi decided to defy the British salt tax. An Act passed in 1882 granted British the monopoly to collect and produce salt from the seas. The people were subject to a salt tax. Despite the commodity being freely available to be produced from the sea, Indians had to buy it from the government. Salt was chosen as the symbol of protest because it was a basic commodity and one that everybody needed irrespective of religion, caste, economic status, etc.
- In the beginning, when Gandhi suggested the breaking of the salt law, a lot of people from the Congress as well as the press were sceptical. While Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel recommended a land revenue boycott, the press almost laughed it away.
- The British government was also not too miffed about the whole impeding resistance.
- But gradually, people began to realise the power of the simple white powder. In Gandhi’s own words, “Next to air and water, salt is perhaps the greatest necessity of life.”
- On 2nd March 1930, he wrote a letter to the viceroy, Lord Irwin announcing his decision to defy the salt tax law and also wrote about the injustices of the British Raj. The viceroy ignored the warning and did not meet Gandhi.
- On 12 March 1930, Gandhi started the famous march from his ashram at Sabarmati in Ahmedabad. He was accompanied by 80 satyagrahis, all of whom were inmates of his ashram.
- All along the path where they walked, people crowded to offer support to the cause. The first day, they covered 21 km and reached Aslali. On reaching the village, Gandhi addressed a 4000-strong gathering.
- They continued the journey to Dandi 390 km (240 miles) away halting at different villages to stay for the night. They were joined by people as they proceeded. The procession became longer and longer and it was called the White Flowing River since everybody in it were donned with white khadi.
- Sarojini Naidu also joined Gandhi for the march.
- The villagers gave them food and water. Many also resigned their government jobs and joined the Satyagraha.
- The march reached Dandi on 5 April where about 50000 people were waiting for them. On 6 April, Gandhi broke the salt law by raising salt from the sea. He then declared, “With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire.”
- The march received widespread coverage in national and international media.
- With the salt march, the civil disobedience movement spread like wild fire throughout India. People all over began producing illegal salt. There were similar marches in other places. Gandhi’s associate and friend, C Rajagopalachari conducted another salt march from Trichy to Vedaranyam.
- People boycotted foreign goods and clothes. Other unpopular laws were defied. By the end of April, the government had arrested over 60000 people.
- Sporadic violence did break out in a few places, but unlike the non-cooperation movement in 1922, Gandhi did not suspend the movement this time.
- Ghaffar Khan or ‘Frontier Gandhi’ started a Satyagraha in Peshawar. There, about 250 Satyagrahis (known as Khudai Khidmatgar) were fired upon and killed by the government.
- A great number of women also entered the Satyagraha and broke the salt law. This was seen an alarming tendency by the viceroy.
- The British were on the whole shaken by the Satyagraha. They were confused as to how to deal with non-violent protests. They also received a lot of bad press in the international community.
- The movement went on until early 1931. Then, Gandhi was released from jail and Lord Irwin held talks with him as ‘equals’. This resulted in the Gandhi-Irwin Pact which led to the Second Round Table Conference.
- The Dandi March was a watershed in the history of the Indian independence movement.
Also on this day
1993: 12 bomb blasts rock the city of Bombay (now Mumbai) resulting in over 150 deaths and over 700 injuries. The attacks were the mastermind of Dawood Ibrahim.
See previous ‘This Day in History’ here.