Saturday, 6 June 2015

Gandhi's protest against the British over exorbitant salt tax



Gandhi picking up salt, Dandi, India, April 30, 1930.en.wikipedia.org

Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi had written his first article on the salt tax in 1891 in the periodical "The Vegetarian." While in South Africa, he wrote in "The Indian Opinion":
  

  "The tax levied on salt in India has always been a subject of criticism. This time it has been criticized by the well-known Dr. Hutchinson who says that 'it is a great shame for the British Government in India to continue it, while a similar tax previously in force in Japan has been abolished. Salt is an essential article in our dietary. It could be said that the increasing incidence of leprosy in India was due to the salt tax. Dr. Hutchinson considers the salt tax a barbarous practice ...."

News report on Gandhi's Dandi yatra, India www.rarenewspapers.com

When the British Crown took over the administration of India from the Company in 1858,  native Indians thought that the British would reduce the taxes soon after the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 and would decently run the country and not burdening them with heavy taxes. On the contrary the greedy British, under the direct administration, did not reduce the taxes. Nor did they give a damn to people's resentment and country wide protests. The British higher ups stood the ground unmoved, with their their eyes  glued on the enormous profit they could get through salt tax. As for Indians salt is an important ingredient in their food items. 

 
 Map showing Dandi. bluejayblog.wordpress.com  

Above image: January 26, 1930 the Congress promulgated the Declaration of Independence of India from Great Britain. map showing Dandi............
 
At the first session of the Indian National Congress in Bombay in 1885, for the first time a congress leader one  S.A. Swaminatha Iyer raised the issue of the 'salt tax' and  its impact on the people and the British government's poor response to address this issue.   Subsequently, no steps whatsoever was taken by the British crown. Literally, the British rulers were unmoved and became mute. Various protests and severe criticism made a little dent on their policies.

Mahatma Gandhiji, having lost his patience with the British government and their  sustained adamant attitude,  announced salt satyagraha in 1930 and on 12 March, 1930, Mahatma Gandhi embarked on a salt march with 79 followers from Sabarmathi Ashram near Ahmedabad to Dandi, a coastal village located at a small town called Navsari, on the Arabian Sea coast in present day Gujarat (it was then under the Bombay Presidency). It was a strenuous 24-day, 240-mile (390 km) march to Dandi under the hot sun.  More and more people joined him  along the way despite the rough weather conditions.  The salt march, ever undertaken to defy the tough British law, became a sensational news  and numerous international new agencies picked up this  politically sensitive scoop. Print news, film clippings and pictures of Mahatma Gandhi were transmitted  to distant corners of the world.  Gandhi reached Dandi on 6 April, 1930 after a long walk under the tropical sun. After his morning Bhajan (prayer), at 6:30 am, he waded in to the sea shore and collected  a handful of salt, thus tolling the first death knell for the downfall of the British empire.

The police arrived and arrested thousands of national leaders including Gandhi. Gandhi's bold defiance of the salt law shook the British rulers  and also encouraged other Indians to break the law as well. This caused  wide spread civil disobedience movement  against the British Raj. Yes, it was the most important well organized and orchestrated challenge to the defiant  British authority since the Non-cooperation movement of 1920–22.   Yet there was no sign of British government's intention to reduce the salt tax. So, Gandhi intended to lead a group  of sathyagrahis to the Dharasana Salt Works in Gujarat to collect salts to express his protest, but was arrested on the way by the police. A few days later, prominent Congress leader Abbas Tyabji was also arrested for the same reason.


Gandhi, dead against salt tax. he fought for the freedom of India.ancientindians.in

In order to continue the protest march to the Dharasana Salt Works, Sarojini Naidu, in her capacity as a disciple of Gandhiji took upon herself the responsibility of leading a group of patriots to collect tax. On the way they marchers were stopped by a posse of police force. The police warned them not to cross the police line. Undaunted, unmoved with firm determination, the unarmed marchers  inched towards the police line. They were severely beaten up and pulled down. 
 
Mahatma Gandhi. sembury.weebly.com


American journalist Webb Miller, true to his American spirit of justice, fairness and freedom of expression, reported  the entire gruesome, inhuman scene as a prime witness to the British atrocities on the soils of India. He reported that there were around 320 bodies on the scene of violence and chaos. Miller's timely, unbiased reporting of the violence at the Dharasana Salt Works was later picked up by the international media and his honest reporting was mainly instrumental in  turning the  world opinion against British colonial rule in  India and exposed the stoic suffering of the Indian natives for centuries. This salt march showcased to the world how indifferent and tyrannical the British were all in the name of democracy.

Archibald WavellViceroy/Governor General www.pinterest.com

Above image: Archibald Wavell (right), 1st Earl Wavell, Viceroy/Governor General of British rejected the proposal to abolish salt tax in British India ...............

Sir Archibald Rowlands, the finance member of the Viceroy's Executive Council, wanted to remove the oppressive salt tax. He formally issued an order abolishing the salt tax, but the order was vetoed by the Viceroy, Lord Wavell. The salt tax continued in force until March 1947, when it was finally abolished by the Interim Government of India headed by Jawaharlal Nehru, by the then Finance Minister Liaquat Ali Khan.

Tit -Bits:

The Salt Satyagraha campaign was  Gandhi's  main moral  weapon involving principles of nonviolent protest called satyagraha, roughly meaning  "truth-force." It is  from  the ancient language of India - Sanskrit. Satya means "truth", and agraha means  "force."

 In early 1930, the Indian National Congress chose ''Satyagraha'' as their main modus operandi for winning Indian independence from the British. Gandhiji successfully used it till the British made their last exit in 1947.

 Salt march against  the 1882 British Salt Act  provided him an excellent opportunity to shake the British empire down to the foundation.

 Gandhiji's satyagraha teachings  and the  salt march to Dandi, India on the 6th of April, 1930 had a significant influence on American civil rights  activists Martin Luther King, Jr., James Bevel, and others during the movement for civil rights for blacks and other minority groups in the USA in 1960s. Dr. King was known for his civil rights movements using nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs. He organized  the 1963 nonviolent protests in Birmingham, Alabama, and later peaceful march  on Washington that attracted national attention.
 Ref:

 Ackerman, Peter; DuVall, Jack (2000). A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0-312-24050-3.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salt_March

Wolpert, Stanley (2001). Gandhi's Passion: The Life and Legacy of Mahatma Gandhi. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-515634-X.