“If their own salt; it could merely be

“If my letter makes no appeal to your heart, on
the 11th 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. As the
Independence movement is essentially for the poorest in the land the beginning
will be made with this evil.”


Mahatma Gandhi, letter to Lord Irwin, March 2, 1930

 

Introduction

 

            In the year of 1858, the British administration
claimed authority over India successively after the supremacy of the East India
Company, whose regulations spiked rebellion throughout the country (Kuhn 11-12).  A vast empire was created and the British
government soon levied a salt monopoly in which the people of India were no
longer allowed to collect, sell, or manufacture their own salt; it could merely
be acquired under the rule of the British for their set price (Andrews). This edict
resulted in widespread panic, for salt was a essential to the Indian diet and
needed to remain at an inexpensive price (Andrews). Yet, as the dominance of
the British Raj increased, one man refused to be overwhelmed by the growing
conflict presented by the regulations of the British; this man was Mohandas
Karamchand Gandhi, a member of the Indian National Congress, and the first
Indian in history to ever oppose the pronouncement of the British government
(Adams 3). Though Gandhi’s effort to compromise peacefully with the British
regime would cost him his life, it profoundly influenced the rights of the
Indian citizens, leaving behind a name for himself and the rest of his country.

Despite the fact that India didn’t gain independence for the next seventeen
years, Gandhi’s legacy of non-violent protesting left behind by The Salt March
was proved effective to have brought India’s independence, and his legacy paved
way for the actions of succeeding world peace activists who found inspiration
from Gandhi’s credence in nonviolence.

Mahatma Gandhi was born on October 2,
1859 in the city of Porbandar, Gujarat (M. Gandhi 3). When Gandhi was a boy,
the British reigned over just a fragment of India, while the rest of the
country was fragmented into states, governed by a native ruler (Kuhn 9). The
British Empire had formerly arrived in India as merchants alongside the British
East India company in the early 1600s, and over the next era, linked with
Dutch, Portuguese, and French traders for power in this massive, resourceful
country (Kuhn 9-10). By the late 1700s, the British East India company had widespread
influence over India; this however erupted in immense rebellion, to which Great
Britain reacted by depriving the company of control and attaining it for
themselves (Kuhn 10).

The British founded a new empire in India
in efforts to gain new marketplaces to sell the goods they produced. Salt
served as one of these valuable commodities because of the immense deposit of
salt in England (Kuhn 13). To retail the salt in this nation, the British perpetrated
a salt monopoly and tax which commanded the Indians to be forbidden to make or
sell their own salt; instead the salt acquired must be manufactured by the
British (Adams 188). The citizens found this order to be particularly
inequitable, for they could amass their own salt on the coastal regions of
India for a fraction of the price; this lead to much conflict with both
opposing sides (Kuhn 12). Gandhi had shared equivalent antipathy of the British
as the rest of the people, and yearned to find a way to overcome the British rule.

 

The Birth of Satyagraha

Gandhi journeyed to London in 1888 to
study law, and had hopes of returning to his country to obtain a job in civil
service (M. Gandhi 32). However, in 1893, he was requested to represent a small
Indian society in South Africa (Adams 50). Many of the Indian settlers were
recruited by British and Dutch colonies to function as laborers in sugarcane
fields; they were required to work diligently for five years before returning
to their homeland (Kuhn 23). Gandhi acknowledged this proposal, but upon his
arrival, experienced discrimination when he was thrown out of a first-class booth
at the Pietermaritzburg Train Station in South Africa (Kuhn 24). Despite the first
class ticket he seized, Gandhi was Indian and a man of color, and therefore
could not travel in first class. Gandhi plighted to fight this conflict by
forming the Natal Indian Congress in 1894, an organization that was directed to
improve the lives of Indians in South Africa (Adams, 53). Throughout these
years, Gandhi learned about the Hindu and Christian religion, and explored the
teachings of many philosophers including Henry David Thoreau and Leo Tolstoy
(M. Gandhi 71-72). In the subsequent years, Gandhi unified his knowledge and research
from the East and West into a new philosophy of revolution called satyagraha, a
type of nonviolent confrontation that directly translated to ‘firmness in truth’
(Adams 98-99). It was created as a source of peacefulness that was based on a
sense of self determination, and would be the weapon to challenge the laws of
the British (Adams 98).

 

The Establishment of Civil
Disobedience

Using his new philosophy, Gandhi returned
to India in January of 1915 and suggested to lead a group of his devotees on a
march to the Arabian Sea in to dispute the salt tax, starting at Ahmadabad and
ending at Dandi (R. Gandhi 303). Upon reaching the banks of the Arabian sea, he
would scoop up a handful of salt in defiance regarding the salt laws (Chopra).

Before fulfilling his plans, Gandhi had means to compromise with the British. He
sent a letter to the Viceroy Lord Irwin in March of 1930 regarding his plans to
infringe the salt laws, especially emphasizing the curse the British held upon
India (M. Gandhi “Letter to Lord Irwin”). Gandhi added that he would call off
his plan only if he would respond with a clear reason to cease his actions
(Kuhn 70). The Viceroy’s secretary responded with “regrets to learn that
Gandhi contemplateed a course of action which is clearly bound to involve
violation of the law and danger to the public peace” (R. Gandhi 305). The march
was to advance, and many people all over India were willing to join Gandhi in
his act of nonviolent civil resistance that could bring the British down.

At 6:30 am on March 12, 1930, an enormous
crowd at the foot of Gandhi’s Sabarmati ashram witnessed their leader and
seventy-eight other marchers leave their city of Ahmadabad and cover
two-hundred and forty miles to the city of Dandi on the Arabian Sea (Adams 189).

Many sobbed in distress for their leader who might not return, but Gandhi stated
that “He would rather die a dog’s death that return to the ashram a broken
man” (Kuhn 77). Once the march had taken form, Gandhi kept his marchers on an austere
agenda. Everyone must cover roughly twelve miles a day, and should be sparing
with their needs; living extravagances, he believed, were displeasing in the
eyes of the British (Kuhn 78).  In the
face of violence or the police, they must prove no defiance. Gandhi’s reasoning
behind this was to elucidate the sovereign India he envisioned, where every
citizen was treated equally, regardless of class, religion, or the color of
their skin. With every town visited, he recited their predicament: “We shall
prepare salt, eat it, sell it to the people, and while doing so, court
imprisonment, if necessary” (Kuhn 79). These words indicated that the British
had no power over the Indians, and the resistance would just keep growing
regardless of their laws.

Gandhi’s disputes had done good to the
motives of the marchers, and each and every protester displayed vigor, tenacity
and willpower throughout their journey. On April 5, the marchers set out on
their four-mile walk from Matwad to Dandi (Khun 84). Upon arrival, the word had
spread that many government leaders had voyaged to Dandi the previous week in
efforts to extinguish the salt residues on the banks of the Arabian Sea (Kuhn
87-88). However, it was impossible with the tide that washed in and out every
day. Many anticipated the arrests of the marchers, but Gandhi believed that the
British were scared of the country’s opinions, enough to hold off the arrests (Adams
190). He insisted his disciples to continue civil disobedience even if he was
taken away, indicating that “The Salt March was based on the faith that when
a whole nation is roused and on the march, no leader is necessary” (Kuhn 89).  Everyone in India were unified as one, but if
one left, the rest must go on. The British observed Gandhi’s crusade, but were
the slightest bit concerned, for the knowledgeable class of India thought
nothing of it (R. Gandhi 305). They dismissed the march as a childish strategy
to gain independence and took no action, hoping that the protest would cease by
itself (Adams 189). After all, it was dubious that a small man dressed in a
white loincloth had the authority to bring British rule to curtail.

Early on April 6, 1930, Gandhi executed
the biggest act of civil disobedience in India. He stood on the banks of the
Arabian Sea, and scooped up a clump of salt, reciting the words that the
government feared: “With this salt I am shaking the foundations of the British
empire” (Kuhn 91). With this said, many volunteers began to draw water from the
sea, simmered it down to leave only the salt, and bundled it up to later
distribute it to those in their country (Adams 190). The British responded by confiscating
the collected salt, and whipping many workers; however, no one was daunted
(Kuhn 92). With Gandhi’s act of civil disobedience, many other Indians along
the coast were producing salt, and began selling their own packages of it (Kuhn
93). The police, infuriated, detained many helpers, Gandhi’s son, administrator,
and Jawaharlal Nehru (Kuhn 93-94). Many movement leaders were also apprehended,
children and women were expatriated, and many protesters were killed (R. Gandhi
310). Gandhi witnessed the upheaval, but asked more people to contribute in the
movement; it was too early to back down. Gandhi remained free until May 4, 1930,
when he was arrested. He was charged under Regulation XXXV of 1827, which designated
that Gandhi would be under the government’s supervision for as long as they demanded
(Kuhn 97-98).

 

The End of the British Raj

Gandhi was freed from jail on January 25,
1931 after the first Round Table Conference (Kuhn 106). The Indian delegates
compromised with the British and claimed that they were willing to join a confederacy
of sovereign states in British India, which indicated that Britain would
control India’s military, distant communications, and stocks, while India would
maintain the rest (Adams 192). Although India still were placed under a low
status against the British, they agreed (The Open University). On January 19,
1931, Prime Minister Macdonald of Britain broadcasted an announcement of the
second Round Table Conference. Due to governmental requests, and Gandhi was liberated
from prison (Kuhn 107).  He soon established
an affiliation with Lord Irwin in efforts to be able to join the conference and
provide his thoughts behind his principle of satyagraha to Britain (R. Gandhi
323). Irwin suggested that in exchange for the end of civil disobedience, the British
would release prisoners, and return any confiscated belongings (Kuhn 107). They
however didn’t agree to annihilate the salt tax completely, but agreed to let
Indians collect and sell their own salt in villages. It was added that Gandhi
would attend the conferences, being the sole delegate for the Indian National
Congress (The Open University). The end of this intervention formed the Gandhi-Irwin
pact, which was endorsed on March 5, 1931 (R. Gandhi 323). Many Indians were dissatisfied
with the treaty, believing that the British would have at least, adjourned the
salt laws (Kuhn 110). This compromise, however, heavily signified India
breaking free from British autocracy.

On August 29, 1931, Gandhi navigated to
London to attend the Second Round Table Conferences (The Open University).

Although the British were hospitable, they discreetly abstained from granting
India ascendancy (Kuhn 112-113). Gandhi argued that an independent India
indicated that everyone would be treated equally, but the conference ended in
no such arrangement (Adams 200). By the time Gandhi returned to India, the
British declared the Indian National Congress to be unlawful, and therefore, many
congress members were imprisoned (Kuhn 113). Soon, global struggles intensified
which lead to Britain’s connection with Germany, and later, Japan during the outburst
of the Second World War (Kuhn 114-115). India, under British rule, was also
receiving threats from these countries. To save the republic, Gandhi launched
the Quit India movement, a campaign targeting the British to depart India (R.

Gandhi 452-453). Britain reacted viciously, and Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and
many other movement leaders were imprisoned (Adams 234-235). Throughout the
next decade, the inhabitants of India continued to use nonaggressive methods to
protest against the British rule, and on August 15, 1947, India gained her
independence, proving to the rest of the world that satyagraha is an effective
form of resistance (Kuhn 119).

Shortly after Gandhi was released from
jail in 1948, he was shot three times on the chest while traveling to New Delhi
by a ruthless Hindu who was infuriated by Gandhi’s claims for a unified India
(Adams 268). In the killer’s mind, a world where everyone of every rank and
religion was treated equally was unideal. Gandhi died instantly, without
fulfilling all his ambitions for India, but he did encourage many people around
the advocate nonviolently to bring peace and harmony to the world.

 

 

A Message for the World

Gandhi’s death sent much of the nation
dejection, but his legacy had stretched out all over the world, inspiring
activists such as Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Dr. King (Kuhn 126-127).  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an American
minister and activist heavily based his philosophies off of Gandhi’s (The
Global Freedom Struggle). This was imitated in Dr. King’s many civil rights
movements, one of them being the March on Washington of 1963, a march aimed to
provide enhanced job opportunities for African Americans and lessen black
discrimination (Kuhn 132-133). Afterwards, Dr. King presented his “I Have a
Dream” speech, which pulled in more Americans to be involved with Gandhi’s
original satyagraha campaign (The Global Freedom Struggle). After Dr. King’s poignant
speech, the U.S. Congress established the Civil Rights Act, making segregation,
especially against African Americans, illegal (Kuhn 134). Although the word ‘satyagraha’
didn’t catch on, Gandhi’s belief of diplomatic resistance was paving its way in
the United States.

Over the last century, Gandhi’s faith of
satyagraha has been a great inspiration and changed the world both politically
and socially. The world saw that the Salt March made the cruelty of the British
very evident, and demonstrated that an ethical force can stand up against a colossal
empire. Even though Gandhi’s beliefs were a fundamental form of protest for the
times, it was encompassed and seen effective and immensely infulenced society’s
view of nonviolent resistance. Gandhi’s legacy was so far reaching that it
seems like he is still trooping on dusty paths today. He will continue to be acknowledged,
mostly for picking up a handful of salt on the coast of Dandi that deteriorated
and ultimately brought down an empire.

Author: