|India's struggle for freedom. bangalorecivils.com|
|Vedaranyam salt march, April 30, 1930. Rajaji in the middle. Wikipedia|
This year 30 April marked the 87th anniversary of Vedaranyam Salt March to the coastal area of Vedaranyam by the freedom fighters. In our struggle for freedom from the British, the salt march to Dandi, west coast initiated by Gandhiji in March 1930 was an important turning point in India's political history and it grabbed the attention of the world and the unjust imposition of tax on salt which is quite indispensable for cooking. Stepping into the shoes of Gandhiji, C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji), based on INC's initiative led a salt march in April 1930 to Vedaranyam in the then coastal District of Tanjore. These two political events backed by millions of Indians who lost their patience with the unjust British rule made a dent on the British's grip on India. Mind you, both these two events followed the principles of Satyagraha marked by non-violence and non-cooperation with the ruling government.
The Vedaranyan Salt March - April 30, 1930 led by C. Rajagopala Chari, an eminent lawyer and astute politician was an important political event next to Dandi Salt March led by Gandhiji. As for Tamil Nadu, the congress leaders preferred Vedaranyam town to Thoothukudi town owing to full support given by Vedaranyam Vedaratnam Pillai, Thanjavur District Congress President. It was a nonviolent civil disobedience movement arranged by the Congress party under the leadership of Rajaji, quite similar to Dandi (then in Bombay Presidency; now in Gujarat) Salt Yatra led by Gandhiji earlier in March, 1930. This Salt March in the southern part of India was to protest against the salt tax imposed by the British Government.
|Gandhiji collecting salt in Dandi, Gujarat, March, 1930 en.Wikipedia. org|
The moment the protest was publicly announced by C. Rajagopalachari in April 1930, the Tanjore district administration under the then Collector J.K. Thorn ICS not only banned the salt march to the coastal area of Vedaranyam (now in Nagapatnam district) but also announced that the government would take stern action against the local people that anyone helping the salt marchers - satyagrahis by way of giving food and shelter would be sentenced to six months in prison (under Section 157 of IPC). The propaganda was made through heralds and leaflets. The District Collector was resolved to stop the march midway at any cost, using his full administrative power and the ban was promulgated through out Tanjore District.
As scheduled, the salt march that began on 13 April, 1930 from the residence of Congress leader T.S.S. Rajan at Tiruchirapalli cantonment got a warm welcome in the village of Koviladi, near Thirukattupalli. There were 99 satyagrahis initially and they had to cover a distance of 150 miles passing through Thiruvaiyaru, Tanjore, Kumbakonam, etc., and then towards the east coast. The destination was a small village near Vedaranyam, famous for salt production.
|Gandhiji and Rajaji. Gandhi Ashram|
As the salt marchers were denied food and shelter on their way, with cooperation from the public and freedom fighters, the Satyagrahis had their stomach full all along the route. The food pockets were hidden in certain predetermined and numbered trees and the marchers were secretly informed before hand about the location of food under the trees, etc. In the evening, after the march, Rajaji and others would address the public meeting briefly in the villages on the importance of getting freedom from the British and their protest against salt tax. At meetings, the leaders saw to it that the meeting was over before the arrival of the police. At Thiruvaiyaru town, they were well received by Tamil scholar Va. Ra, businessman Subramanya Mudaliar and other patriots. Despite the ban, the satyagrahis were given warm welcome at Vennar bank, on the outskirt of Thanjavur town with traditional nageswaram and thavil in front of freedom fighter Sabesa Iyer's house. A pandal was temporarily erected for this purpose. Since the collector's office was located in Thanjavur town, the salt march passed through the town peacefully after Rajaji had addressed a meeting in a place now called Rajappa Park. Near Kumbakonam, Rajaji spoke at the meeting near the Town Hall organized by the congress committee member, ex MLC and landlord Pantalu Iyer. He gave them accommodation and grand dinner at his residence in Kumbakonam despite government ban. He was later arrested and sentenced to six months of imprisonment. At semmangudi village near Kumbakonam, some people who were of help to the salt marchers, lost their government jobs. The marchers reached Thirutharaipoondi on 25 April where Ramachandra Naidu gave food and shelter to the marchers and, on the following day, he was arrested by the police. The arrest of Patalu Iyer and Naidu made the people angry.
|Vedaranyam salt march. maduraiavaidyanathaiyer.com|
Iyer (left side in the photo: leading lawyer of Madurai; first to take the Harijans into the Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple) and Kakkan ( right side in the photo. later he became a minister in Tamil Nadu under CM Kamaraj and Bakthavachalam), Vedaranyam salt march April 1930.
Despite various restrictions and ban, the marchers reached Vedaranyam where Vedaratnam Pillai had a shelter with thatched roof erected for the satyagrarhis. Now, the question is where would Rajajii collect a handful of salt without being watched by the police? Here, the family members of Vedaratnam pillai were of help to Rajaji and they had him taken secretly to a place - Edanthevar salt swamp where he collected salt and had broken the Salt act on 30 April, 1930. There were many marchers with him. Thus, for the second time in British India, next to Dandi, Gujarat salt had been collected by Rajaji, in protest against the British India's unjust tax on salt, an ingredient very important for cooking Indian food.
As for the British, the salt march by the marchers was in defiance of laws and if it became a sensational one and got the attention of the international media again, it would amount to losing their strong hold on India and India's independence was not far off. Indians working for the British Raj were caught in the middle as they had to suppress their own nationalistic fervor to comply with their official duties. When Rajaji was facing charges in the court of law under section 74 of salt law, Ponnusamy Pillai, the Magistrate of Vedaranyam, who eventually sentenced Rajaji for the “violation”, was in tears after signing the orders. Upon being asked by the magistrate what the sentence should be, Rajaji, being an eminent lawyer himself suggested it should be the most rigorous one. Rajaji was sentenced to Trichy central jail.
|Kamaraja Nadar, ex CM, Tamil nadu Nadar Mahajana Sangam|
The prominent marchers included Kamaraj Nadar, Bakthavchalam, Kakkan, Madurai Vaidhyanatha Iyer, Rukmani Lakshmipathy (first woman to be sent to jail) and others. An interesting aspect of this salt march was the British were denied essential services. Barbers, washer-men, sweepers, attenders, janitors and others refused to cooperate with them. The British administration had begun to stink like skunk. Thus, our forefathers got us freedom from the British under the most difficult circumstances. But, unfortunately in the last two decades, the Indian political scenario has been not good because criminals have got into politics and presently at stake is the welfare of the people, in particular, people belonging to the lower strata of the society. Nowadays Indian politicians are more interested in amassing their personal wealth, than in nation building and people's welfare and their basic needs.