A turning point in history

Print edition : May 06, 2005

ON March 12, 1930, a frail old man of 61 started a long walk from Ahmedabad to the remote seaside village of Dandi, with 78 other men, most of them far younger. Their aim was to make salt on the seashore, a criminal offence for any Indian in British India. The image of Gandhi with his stick, marching to Dandi, has become one of the most enduring images of India's struggle for independence.

In the days after the Congress' Declaration of Independence on January 26, 1930, Gandhi seized upon the British salt tax as a focal point of non-violent political protest. The sale and production of salt by anyone but the British government was a criminal offence punishable by law, which meant that Indians were forced to pay for a commodity liberally available along the extensive, low-lying coastal zones of the country. It was a powerful symbol, its appeal cutting across regions, castes, classes, ethnic and religious identities, for everyone needed salt. The salt tax affected all of India.

Still, Gandhi did not start his Civil Disobedience without informing the government. On March 2, he wrote to the Viceroy, Lord Irwing: "If 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."

There was no response from the government, so 10 days later Gandhi started out on his march from the Sabarmati Ashram. Hundreds joined him on the way. Gandhi and his 78 followers stopped at villages and mingled with the people, urging them to join the Civil Disobedience movement.

The march reached Dandi on April 5. The next morning, Gandhi picked up a handful of salt from the shore and said, "With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire." The satyagrahis boiled sea water to make salt, which was auctioned for the cause. Gandhi urged his followers to make salt wherever it was "most convenient and comfortable" to them.

There was panic in the government as Civil Disobedience spread across the country. By the end of the month, more than 60,000 people were in jail. It took the British government a little longer to arrest Gandhi. Indeed, the government spent weeks deliberating whether it should arrest him. Finally, he was arrested at Karadi, a village near Dandi. On the night of May 4, Gandhi was sleeping under a mango tree when the District Magistrate of Surat drove up with two officers and 30 armed constables, to arrest him under a 1827 regulation.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor