WHAT IS DANDI MARCH (SALT MARCH)?
One of the most important events in India’s struggle for independence took place when Mahatma Gandhi launched the Civil Disobedience Movement with his famous Dandi March, which began on 12th March 1930 and ended on April 6th, 1930. Dandi March or Salt Satyagraha was a non-violent means of protest led by Mahatma Gandhi which garnered huge public support and worldwide attention. Gandhiji walked from his ashram in Sabarmati in today’s Gujarat to small town of Dandi near coastal Surat to protest against the repressive salt tax imposed by the colonial government. This march covering the distance of roughly 385 km worked as a catalyst for India’s struggle for Independence. The salt Satyagraha (Sanskrit word meaning ‘holding onto truth’) was based on Gandhi’s principle of non-violence. Gandhi believed that non-violent means of protest with the means of ‘soul force’ was the right method to fight political and social injustice. Dandi March demonstrated Gandhi’s experiments with his non-violent means of political action. This kind of political action has been unprecedented in the history of political protest around the world.
CIRCUMSTANCES LEADING TO DANDI MARCH
During colonial rule, salt production and distribution in India used to be controlled by the British government. Through a series of legislation, Indians were prohibited from producing and selling salt independently, instead, the general Indian population was required to buy heavily taxed imported salt. Majority of the population living in poverty at that time could not afford expensive salt. Therefore, salt taxation and production became a contentious issue in Colonial times. Gandhi through his Dandi March tried to protest against the regressive policies of the British Government and arouse the people of India to fight against the colonialism and its evils through non-violent means. This was the immediate reason for the Dandi March. However, it was a response to British governments increasing exploitations through various repressive laws and taxes and its inability to listen to the voices of the people suffering under the exploitative colonial regime. This March was supposed to demonstrate the ‘soul force’ of the Satyagrahis against the Raj. The non-violent protest march was supposed to be a form of direct action, which demonstrated the strength, and resolve of the people.
PURPOSE OF DANDI MARCH
As mentioned above, British Raj had a monopoly over the production and sale of salt in India. The salt laws prohibited Indians from producing or selling salt without prior permission from the Government. Salt was an important ingredient in the everyday diet of the people. This ban on salt sale and production seemed unreasonable and repressive. The salt laws were something, which affected the entire population of the country. Gandhiji was able to understand the overall system of exploitation and repression under the British Raj of which salt law was an example. Gandhi conceived the plan of launching a salt Satyagraha that would make people aware of the repressive regime of British at the same time would instill in the people confidence to defy British Raj. The non-violent means of protest by marching from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi would try to arouse the consciousness of people against the exploitation of the government. Salt Satyagraha provided the opportunity to unite the nation together for a cause that affected everyone. The purpose of the Salt March was not only to act in defiance of the salt laws enacted by the government but also to unite the people for the larger goal of ‘Swaraj’.
DANDI MARCH: GANDHIJI’S LEADERSHIP
Gandhiji brilliantly conceived the moral and political implications though few realized its importance when it was first announced. Gandhiji, along with a group of 78 members of the Sabarmati Ashram, among whom were men belonging to almost every region, caste, creed, and religion of India, was to march from his headquarters in Ahmedabad (Sabarmati Ashram) through the villages of Gujarat for 240 miles. On reaching the coastal town of Dandi, he would break the salt laws by collecting salt from the beach in Dandi. The novel way of protest was to prove surprisingly effective. Even before the march started, the enthusiasm could be seen as thousands began to throng the Sabarmati Ashram in anticipation of the dramatic events that lay ahead. One of the major contributions of Dandi March led by Gandhi was the overwhelming participation of women in March. This newness of women participation in the freedom movement led many scholars to argue that Dandi March made women visible in the freedom movement.
Gandhiji began his march on 12th March 1930 from Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad with his staff and band of dedicated supporters, there was something peculiar and novel in the image of Gandhiji walking towards Dandi, it stirred the imagination of people across India and outside. The news of his progress, his speeches, huge crowds that greeted and followed the marchers, people spinning Charkas to show support, officials resigning from their posts to respond to Gandhiji’s appeal, was carried every day by the newspapers throughout the country. Congress workers also played an important role to spread the news of Dandi march throughout the country. On 6th April 1930, when Gandhiji finally reached Dandi entire nation was expectant and restless about Gandhiji’s final action. Like a ritual beginning of Civil Disobedience movement on 6th April 1930, Gandhiji by picking up a handful of salt inaugurated the movement. A movement which would change the course of freedom movement by the sheer weight of mass participation that it exhibited.
ROLE OF CONGRESS PARTY IN THE DANDI MARCH
Historian Bipin Chandra written in their book “India’s Struggle for Independence” argue that, “While Gandhiji was marching to Dandi, Congress leaders and workers had been busy at various levels with the hard organizational task of enrolling volunteers and members, forming grass-roots Congress Committees, collecting funds, and touring villages and towns to spread the nationalist message. Preparations for launching the salt Satyagraha were made, sites were chosen, volunteers prepared, and the logistics of battle worked out”. Congress prepared the ground for effective Civil Disobedience Movement, the organizational setup of Indian National Congress proved to be essential for the success of Dandi March and later for Civil Disobedience Movement.
CONTRIBUTIONS OF DANDI MARCH IN INDIAN FREEDOM STRUGGLE
As soon as Gandhiji started the march, the image of Mahatma leading the nation stirred the imagination of the entire nation. This March acquired huge public support and drew the attention of international media. By the time Gandhiji reached Dandi, he had a whole nation, aroused and anticipating, waiting restlessly for the final act. On 6th April 1930, by picking up a handful of salt, Gandhiji started the Civil Disobedience Movement, a movement that was to remain unprecedented in the history of the Indian national movement for the countrywide mass participation that it was able to weave together.
Dandi March led by Gandhi proved to be the major factor in the spread of the Civil Disobedience Movement all over the country. The popular support and media coverage that the march received was unprecedented in the Indian struggle for Independence. Dandi March allowed the women to become an important part of the nationalist movement. People from all caste, religion, and regions participated in March making it a symbol of the inclusive national movement. Salt Satyagraha or Dandi March as it is popularly known provided the necessary pace to the freedom movement and broadened its support base. Gandhiji’s non-violent means of protest began to be adopted all over the country.
Apart from the spread of the Civil Disobedience Movement across the country, that Dandi March initiated. The Salt Satyagraha or Dandi March played an important role in instilling a sense of confidence among the people to stand against the British Raj. It expanded the social base of India’s struggle for independence, people from varied, caste, creed, religion, and region became part of the movement. Dandi march also allowed Gandhi to experiment with his novel ways of political protest, a non-violent mode of protest seemed to be much effective than anyone else could have expected.
AFTERMATH OF DANDI MARCH (SALT MARCH)
Gandhiji’s salt satyagraha led to series of similar movement across the country, defiance of salt laws started everywhere. C. Rajagopalachari in Tamil Nadu led a movement in defiance of salt laws, similar movements took place in Bengal, Andhra, and other places. Government’s initial decision to not arrest Gandhi for breaking the salt laws let to the formation of a popular opinion that government was afraid of such movements. Jawaharlal Nehru’s arrest on 14th April 1930, for defiance of salt laws, led to massive protest and demonstration in all major cities at that time. The arrest of Congress leaders in North-West Frontier Province led to a mass demonstration in Peshawar. Finally, Gandhi was arrested on the midnight of 4-5 May. News of his arrest stirred thousands of people to join the movement. Leaders like Sarojini Naidu continued the movement where they had to suffer police brutality. The Satyagraha continued for a year until Gandhi was released from jail. Finally, Gandhi was released in January 1931 and began negotiations with Lord Irwin regarding the Satyagraha. Gandhi-Irwin pact was signed on 5th March 1931, this led Gandhi to attend the second round table conference in London.