SALT MARCH OF MAHATMA GANDHI IN INDIA
The Salt March was one of the most significant examples of Indian resistance during the time of British Imperialism in India. In fact, at the time, India was controlled by the British, which was referred to as the ‘British Raj’. The British Raj is generally considered to have occurred from 1858 until 1947. This is important to note, because the Salt March occurred in 1930, during the time of the British Raj. At its height, the British Raj controlled almost all of modern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
BEFORE THE SALT MARCH
India was an important part of the British Empire in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In fact, India was often considered to be Britain’s most important colony from an economic standpoint and as a result was referred to as the ‘Jewel in the Crown’. Britain viewed India as a source of raw materials that could be used to fuel the factories in England. At the time, India economy was largely centered around agriculture, which would then be exported to England. The most common of these agricultural resources included: jute, cotton, sugar, tea, coffee and wheat. Second, India proved to be an important market for the goods that were developed in British factories. As a result, the British benefitted from selling goods to the people of India.
The Indian Independence Movement began to grow in protest of British control over India. Historians consider the Indian Independence Movement to have occurred over a period of about 90 years from 1857 until 1947. This time period mirrors the period of the British Raj. In fact, the Sepoy Rebellion of 1858 is considered to be one of the earliest examples of Indian revolt against British rule in India. With that said, the Indian Independence Movement gained steam throughout the 1880s and beyond due to the establishment of the Indian National Congress.
This Indian Independence Movement led to the eventual creation of the Indian National Congress in 1885. The initial goal of the Indian National Congress was to promote Indian nationalism and give a voice to the independence movement that was aimed at British imperialism in India. In fact, the early actions of the Indian National Congress focused on promoting self-government for Indian people. The concept of self-government in India is referred to as ‘swaraj’. The term swaraj became particularly important to Mahatma Gandhi in the 20th century, as he and the Indian National Congress tried to achieve independence for India from British imperial rule.
Mahatma Gandhi is one of the most important figures in India’s history and played a vital role in both the Indian Independence Movement and Indian National Congress. Gandhi became the leader of the Indian National Congress in 1920, and quickly began to organize and carry out protests calling for an end to British imperialism in India. Gandhi’s concept of independence is often referred to as ‘swaraj’. In general, the term sawarj means self-government or self-rule and refers to the idea that Gandhi (along with other members of the Indian Independence Movement) wanted India to gain its independence from British imperial rule. He did this through several different ways, but Gandhi is most famous for his non-cooperation movement based on civil disobedience.
Gandhi’s non-cooperation campaign focused on protesting Britain’s economic and political control over India. He argued that in order for Indians to force Britain out of India, the people of India had to practise civil disobedience through non-violence. As such, he advocated techniques such as hunger strikes and other forms of protest that did not involve the Indian people responding with violence.
One of the ways that Gandhi promoted the idea of economic non-cooperation was through the concept of ‘swadeshi’. In general, it involved Indians producing their own goods (or consuming domestically made goods) and rejecting foreign goods. At the time, Britain benefitted economically by selling goods to India from their factories in England. This arrangement deprived India from developing its own economy and sent large amounts of wealth back to England. As a result, members of the Indian National Congress (including Gandhi) began to express the importance of swadeshi.
OVERVIEW OF THE SALT MARCH
One of the most famous examples of Gandhi’s economic non-cooperation was the Salt March. This event took place from March 12th to April 6th in 1930 and saw Gandhi lead a non-violent protest against British laws related to salt harvesting in India. More specifically, the British effectively had total control over the harvesting of salt in India due to the 1882 Salt Act. Because of this act, Indians were forced to pay taxes on salt and could face harsh criminal punishments if they didn’t follow the law. This law angered many in the Indian National Congress because salt had been freely available to Indians for centuries, especially for those who lived along the coastlines of India. As a result, Gandhi and other members of the Indian National Congress decided to carry out a non-violent protest of the law by carrying out a salt march. The goal of the salt march was to openly disobey the British law and gain momentum for the Indian Independence Movement that was being supported by both Gandhi and the Indian National Congress.
In total, the Salt March that Gandhi led, lasted for 24 days in the spring of 1930. It saw Gandhi, along with about 80 other volunteers, march approximately 240 miles (384 km) from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi in western India. Many others joined Gandhi and the volunteers along the route until finally, when they arrived in Dandi on April 6th, there were thousands of participants in the Salt March. When the group arrived at the coast on April 6th, Gandhi broke the British laws by collecting salt.
Gandhi used the local and international press (including New York Times and Time Magazine) to his advantage during the timeframe of the Salt March. For instance, he gave interviews to international journalists along the route of the Salt March in order to grow interest in the protest and put pressure on the British. For example, at the end of the Salt March he famously declared “I want world sympathy in this battle of right against might.” Furthermore, when he collected the salt from the Indian coast, he stated that “With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire.” He then called on his supporters and others from across India to non-violently disobey the British salt laws and collect their own salt. For his efforts, international news outlets produced profiles on him and the Salt March. For example, Time Magazine declared Gandhi the “Man of the Year” in 1930.
Millions of Indians began to break the salt laws in the days and weeks after the Salt March. Some collected their own salt, while others purchased it illegally. The British responded harshly by imprisoning over 60,000 people in the month after Gandhi carried out the Salt March. Furthermore, the British arrested and imprisoned Gandhi on May 5th, 1930. They accused him of creating protests and revolt in the country. The British hoped that by arresting Gandhi they could slow or stop the ongoing protests, but it did not work, as Gandhi’s supporters carried on the mission. Furthermore, Indians began boycotting other British goods and refusing to pay other British taxes imposed upon them as a part of British Imperialism. The tensions reached such a high point that in some locations that violence broke out between the Indian people and the British officials. There were even instances of British soldiers opening fire on non-violent Indian protesters.
One of the most famous instances of non-violent civil disobedience in the Salt March occurred on May 21st of 1930, when a group of over 2,500 supporters raided the Dharasana Salt Works in Gurat, India. As stated earlier, Gandhi was imprisoned on May 5th, and no longer able to participate in the protests. However, the group of supporters, led by Indian poet and political activist Sarojini Naidu, carried out the protest in hopes of shutting down the British-run facility by using only non-violent techniques. For instance, they marched at the guards protecting the gate of the Dharasana Salt Works, where they were beat with clubs. American journalist Webb Miller, reported on the incident:
“Not one of the marchers even raised an arm to fend off the blows. They went down like ten-pins. 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... Finally the police became enraged by the non-resistance... They commenced savagely kicking the seated men in the abdomen and testicles. The injured men writhed and squealed in agony, which seemed to inflame the fury of the police... The police then began dragging the sitting men by the arms or feet, sometimes for a hundred yards, and throwing them into ditches.”
Miller’s report spread around the world and was eventual featured in over 1300 different newspapers. This, along with other reports and interviews made the Salt March a success for Gandhi and the other supporters of the Indian Independence Movement, as it made British imperialism in India look violent and repressive. While, it didn’t immediately gain any new freedoms for Indians, the Salt March was a pivotal step towards self-rule for India. Gandhi was eventually released from prison in 1931.
Historically, the Salt March by Mahatma Gandhi was a significant event. Not only was it an important moment in India’s progress towards independence from British rule, but it also inspired other historical figures, such as Martin Luther King Jr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an American activist and Christian minister that played a significant role in the 1950s and 1960s Civil Rights Movement in the United States. The Civil Rights Movement essentially saw people in the United States protesting for equal rights for African Americans. Martin Luther King Jr. was inspired by the non-violent civil disobedience expressed by Gandhi in the Salt March and used similar methods in his own protests.
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