Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Pinch of Salt rocks an Empire

Civil disobedience movement of 1930-34, initialized by the epic Dandi march and Salt Satyagraha was the first mass movement of its kind wherein different sections and regions of India came together to disobey the British laws. The movement didn’t achieve its immediate goal of 'Poorna Swaraj' or complete independence. However, it succeeded in raising the nationalist spirit among Indian masses and for the first time the Viceroy of British empire in India was compelled to negotiate with Indians on equal terms.

The Lahore INC session,Dec 1929 under the presidentship of J.L.Nehru called for ‘poorna swaraj’ and mass civil disobedience movement to attain the goal.Indians were asked to celebrate 26th Jan,1930 as Independence day.Gandhi placed 11 points of administrative reform before the Viceroy, Lord Irwin.His response was negative.On March 12,1930, 61 year old Gandhi started the historic Dandi salt march along with 78 satyagrahis.All along the route Gandhi communicated with the masses through public speeches.

In the words of Madhu Dandwate Dandi march was Gandhi’s 'Dialogue with the Nation'.

Gandhi looked at the Dandi March not only as a non-violent weapon of struggle against injustice but also as a medium of dialogue and communication with the people along the route of the march. On their way to Dandi, Gandhi and his satyagrahis halted for night rest at various villages. He used this interlude to speak to the satyagrahis, the residents of the villages and accompanying journalists about the background of the Salt Satyagraha and wider issues of national importance. He treated the Dandi March as an educative process. He continued this dialogue with the people during all the 25 days of the march. Thrilled by the march, several journalists sent elaborate reports every day. These were well displayed by newspapers and journals. Thus what Gandhi said during the Dandi March became a dialogue with the nation.

After reaching Dandi on April 6,Gandhi broke the salt law by picking up handful of salt from Dandi beach.The satyagrahis followed him to manufacture salt by boiling the sea water.

Gandhi chose salt as the very basis of the mass civil disobedience for a greater reason.Salt invariably formed part of the food of every Indian,rich or poor,Hindu or Muslim. It was one basic necessity of the life of an average Indian. Even after having an extensive sea coast, Indians were barred by the British laws from making salt. Salt tax formed much part of the government revenue. At the beginning of Dandi march no one could visualize the effectiveness of this pinch of salt.

Vedaranyam salt satyagraha

Many leaders and masses broke the salt law by manufacturing salt in different parts of India.
C.Rajagopalachari led the Vedaranyam march from Tiruchirapalli to Vedaranyam in Tamil Nadu.

Known as the Vedaranyam Salt Satyagraha, it was a landmark event in the annals of freedom movement in South India. The peace brigade braved all the hazards of Government's repressive measures — lathi blows, prohibitory orders, arrests and imprisonment.

Payyanur Satyagraha

In Kerala, Kelappan led the march from Kozhikode to Payyanur.

Like the other parts of India Uppu Satyagraha was organized in Kerala also and Payyanur was the location selected for it.The Volunteers of the Satyagraha started their march from Kozhikode on13th April, 1930 under the leadership of K. Kelappan to Payyanur.

After receiving warm reception and blessings from the people all the way from Kozhikode to Payyanur. The patriotic songs by P. KrishnaPillai and Kelu Nair motivated the volunteers a lot. The march received a warm welcome at Payyanur when it reached here on 24th April 1930 and The march proceeded to the venue of Satyagraha, Uliyathu Kadavu After the addressing by Kuroor Neelakandan Namboothiripad, the Satyagraha was started. The volunteers, violating the rules of the British Government, processed the salt and sold to the people. Leaders like TR Krishna Swamy, Muhammad AbdulRehiman Saheb, Moidu Moulavi, Moyyarath Sankaran also participated in this agitation.

So many volunteers were arrested and brutally tortured by the Police. PC Kunhiraman Adiyodi and Andra Kanna Poduval, who were students, were arrested and put in Kannur Jail. Later they were shifted to Madhura and then to Bellary Jail. In Bellary, Kunhiraman Adiyodi started hunger strike against the cruel and brutal torture. After 43 days of his 'upavasa' Adiyodi breathed his last in the Jail itself and was cremated in the Jail compound itself by the authorities.


The Dandi march and its consequences demonstarted the effectiveness of non-violent mass struggle.The march was followed by social boycott of police,lower level administration.After realising the gravity of the situation,the British started repressing the movement brutally.Gandhi was arrested on May 4,1930.A memorable event of satyagrahis taking lathi blows in batches,one after another at Darshana salt works was reported widely in the world media.

Webb Miller, an American correspondent who was an eye-witness of the heroic non-violent fight at Dharasana salt depot, wrote a detailed account of the police atrocities. Excerpts from his account of the events of 21 May 1930 are reproduced below.

MME. NAIDU called for prayer before the march started, and the entire assemblage knelt. She exhorted them: "Gandhi’s body is in jail but his soul is with you. India’s prestige is in your hands, you must not use any violence under any circumstances. You will be beaten but you must not resist: you must not even raise a hand to ward off blows." Wild, shrill cheers terminated her speech.

Slowly and in silence the throng commenced the half-mile march to the salt-deposits. A few carried ropes for loosening the barbed-wire stockade around the salt pans. About a score who were assigned to act as stretcher-bearers wore crude, hand-painted red crosses pinned to their breasts, their stretchers consisted of blankets. Manilal Gandhi, second son of Gandhi, walked among the foremost of the marchers. As the throng drew near the salt pans they commenced chanting the revolutionary slogan, " Inquilab Zindabad", intoning the two words over and over.

The salt-deposits were surrounded by ditches filled with water and guarded by four hundred native Surat Police in khaki shorts and brown turbans. Half a dozen British officials commanded them. The police carried lathis- five foot clubs tipped with steel. Inside the stockade twenty-five native rifle-men were drawn up.

In complete silence the Gandhi men drew up and halted a hundred yards from the stockade. A picket column advanced from the crowd, waded the ditches, and approached the barbed-wire stockade, which the Surat Police surrounded, holding clubs at the ready. Police officials ordered the marchers to disperse. The column silently ignored the warning and slowly walked forward.

Suddenly, at a word of command, scores of native police rushed upon the advancing marchers and rained blows on their heads with their steel-shod lathis. Not one of the marchers even raised an arm to fend off the blows. They went down like ninepins. From where I stood I heard the sickening whacks of the clubs on unprotected skulls. The waiting crowd of watchers groaned and sucked in their breaths in sympathetic pain at every blow.

Those struck down fell sprawling, unconscious or writhing in pain with fractured skulls or broken shoulders. In two or three minutes the ground was quilted with bodies. Great patches of blood widened on their white clothes. The survivors, without breaking ranks, silently and doggedly marched on until struck down.

Then another column formed while the leaders pleaded with them to retain their self-control. They marched slowly towards the police. Although everyone knew that within a few minutes he would be beaten down, perhaps killed, I could detect no signs of wavering or fear. They marched steadily with heads up, without the encouragement of music or cheering or any possibility that they might escape serious injury or death. The police rushed out and methodically and mechanically beat down the second column. There was no fight, no struggle; the marchers simply walked forward until struck down. There were no outcries, only groans after they fell... The blankets used as stretchers were sodden with blood...

When salt satyagraha was at its peak,there were other events like Chittagong Armoury raid by Bengal revolutionaries,mass movement of pathans under the leadership of frontier Gandhi- Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan at Peshawar,textile workers' strike at solapur etc.,After the onset of monsoon, INC started other forms of mass struggle like non-payment of land revenue,forest satyagraha-violation of forest laws,no-tax campaigns. The movement saw large scale mobilisation of peasants,house hold women,even business groups who had pledged to give up the import of foreign goods.

The success of any mass movement shouldn’t be seen through its immediate consequence. Freedom movement was about nation making, from nowhere to a stage where people from diverse sections and regions united to fight the colonial rule.It was not a single day process.India as a single 'political' entity didn't exist in the historical period.The nature of Indian freedom struggle with grassroot participation over a period resulted in the development of a sense of belonging among the masses. It was the real binding force responsible for anything called Indian nationalism.
With wide spread participation of peasants,women,youth in the movement, the concerns of peasants,workers,land reforms etc.,entered the INC programme of action.INC swept the provincial polls in 1937.There was great enthusiasm among the people.The curbs on civil liberties were removed.Though the provincial ministries didn't have adequate powers and financial resources, steps were taken towards agrarian reforms,social welfare programme etc.Indians were better positioned and continued their fight against the British for complete independence.


Few Links:

'Remembering Dandi'

'A Turning Point in History'

'A Witness to History-Dandi'

Find out titbits of interesting information about the Salt March. Who were the 78 marchers selected by Gandhiji? What they ate during the march? Their daily routine, the route they took to reach Dandi, where they halted, the way Gandhiji planned the Salt March,Press reports associated with the march,more photographs of Dandi march.

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