This Day in History: April 6, 1930 and Gandhiji’s Salt Satyagraha

On April 6, 1930, Gandhiji’s salt Satyagraha culminated in him picking up a lump of mud and salt and boiled it in seawater to make the commodity which no Indian could legally produce salt

The arbitrary British salt tax, one of the many improprieties used to generate revenue, became the focal point of Gandhiji’s civil disobedience movement. Britain had decided it would confirm its despotism by strengthening its monopoly on the salt tax in India. It dictated that the sale or production of salt by anyone but the British government was a criminal offense punishable by law. 

On March 12, 1930, Gandhiji and approximately 78 male satyagrahis left Sabarmati, on foot, about 250 kilometres towards the coastal village of Dandi near the Rann of Kutch. The are has been a rich source of salt for the last 5000 years. It’s extensive marshland gets cut off from the rest of the Indian subcontinent during monsoons as the Arabian sea  inundates the low-lying areas. However, when the water evaporates during summer, there is a thick crust of salt that appears 

There were several reason why the salt tax was such an aberration, why it was considered as an ingenious source for tax by the British and why Gandhiji took it up as the first step towards civil disobedience:-

 Everyone from peasants, to the gentry to the rich all needed salt. India has always had s a famously temperate climate, which made it necessary for salt to be an essential staple in their diet, since the immense heat and humidity caused profuse sweating. Especially as most of the working populace was made up of agricultural labour and required the mineral for metabolism. Salt was available easily throughout low-lying coastal zones of India, which surrounded 2/3rds of the Indian peninsula(over 7500 kilometres) . Laborers were forced to pay money for a mineral which they could easily collect themselves for free. So, this way Gandhiji’s acted as a catalyst for the civil disobedience as it appealed to masses spanning regional, class, and ethnic boundaries. Everyone needed salt!

M. J. Schleiden, a German scholar in his book Das Salz said that there was direct correlation between salt taxes and despots and traces highly despotic civilizations that have at some point taxed salt production and trade. This originated in ancient China. The book Guazni written 300 BC that its recommendation became the official salt policy of early Chinese Emperors. The Chinese salt tax at a point constituted for over one half of China's revenues and financed the construction of the Great Wall of China. Though taxation of salt was present in India for many years this tax became highly inflated when the British East India Company began to establish its rule over provinces in India. In 1835, special taxes were imposed on Indian salt to facilitate its import. This facilitated huge dividends for the traders and when the Crown took over the administration of India from the Company in 1858, the taxes stayed.

In 1885, at the first session of the Indian National Congress in Bombay, a prominent Congress Leader S.A.Swaminatha Iyer raised the issue of the salt tax after which there were scattered protests throughout running into the beginning of the turn of the century. culminating in Mahatma Gandhi's Salt Satyagraha in 1930. 

This sathyagraha was followed by other sathyagrahas in other parts of the country. C. Rajagopalachari broke the Salt Laws at Vedaranyam in the same year. Thousands of Indians risked arrests and were even imprisoned in hoardes. The administration eventually relented and invited Mahatma Gandhi to England to attend the Second Round Table Conference. Gandhi's Dandi March got wide news coverage and proved to be a turning point in the history of Indain Independence Movement.

The salt tax, however, continued to remain in effect and was repealed only when Jawaharlal Nehru became the President of the Interim Government in 1946.

One of Gandhi's principal concepts, "satyagraha" went beyond "passive resistance”, it represented “resolution” For him, it was crucial that Satyagrahis found strength in their non-violent methods:

The Satyagrahis mandate was “we are Satyagrahis and offer Satyagraha, beleveing ourselves to be strong ... we grow stronger and stronger everyday. With our increase in strength, our Stayagraha too becomes more effective, and we would never be casting about for an opportunity to give it up.”

In an effort to amend the salt tax without breaking the law, on March 2, 1930 Gandhi wrote to the Viceroy, Lord Irwin: “ my letter makes no appeal to your heart, on the eleventh day of this month I shall proceed with such co-workers of the Ashram as I can take, to disregard the provisions of the Salt Laws.  I regard this tax to be the most iniquitous of all from the poor man's standpoint.  As the Independence movement is essentially for the poorest in the land, the beginning will be made with this evil.”

When he did reach Dandi Gandhiji is said to have spoken to a reporter, where he said, “God be thanked for what may be termed the happy ending of the first stage in this, for me at least, the final struggle of freedom. I cannot withhold my compliments from the government for the policy of complete non interference adopted by them throughout the march. I wish I could believe this non-interference was due to any real change of heart or policy."

He implored his thousands of followers to begin to make salt wherever, along the seashore, "was most convenient and comfortable" to them.  This "war" on the salt tax was to be continued during the National Week, that is, up to the thirteenth of April. There were also simultaneous boycotts of cloth and khaddar.  Salt was sold, illegally, all over the seacoast of India.  A pinch of salt from Gandhi himself sold for 1,600 rupees, perhaps $750 dollars at the time.  In reaction to this, the British government had incarcerated over sixty thousand people at the end of April 1930.

This was clearly considered the most powerful significant organized challenge to British authority after the non-cooperation movement of 1920-22, and the Purna Swaraj declaration of independence by the Indian National Congress on December 31, 1929. 

Over 80,000 Indians were jailed as a result of the Salt Satyagraha.
Tags: this day in history, salt satyagraha, gandhiji

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