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How Gandhi’s Salt March Shook The British Empire

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Back in 1930, from March to April, Mohandas Gandhi and 60,000 people walked from Gandhi’s religious retreat near Ahmedabad to the Arabian Sea coast to protest Britain’s Salt Act. To show their peeve they walked 240 miles.

Salt Tax

In 1882 Britain made a rule regarding the salt in India. Britain’s Salt Act of 1882 prohibited Indians from selling, producing, and collecting salt. The only salt that was available was the one imported by the Britain, who also charged a heavy salt tax. In India, salt was and still is a nutritional necessity because of India’s steamy climate. So, everyone had to buy salt salt, including the poorest who suffered the most under the Salt Tax.

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Mohandas Gandhi

Since the late-1910s, India’s former lawyer and civil leader, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was on a mission of setting India from the British Empire. Because of his passion for freedom and Indian people, Indians begun calling him ‘Mahatma’ meaning ‘great-souled’.

When the Indian National Congress doubled it’s efforts for independence in January 1930, everyone was expecting to see Gandhi creating and leading the most ambitious satyagraha campaign to date. Satyagraha was Gandhi’s philosophy which sought to reveal truth confront injustice through nonviolence. This philosophy made him popular globally. However, Gandhi decided to create satyagraha campaign around salt.

Defying The Salt Act

Britain had kept India’s salt trade under its authority since the 19th century, in addition to many other commodities. During that period, Britain forbidden natives in India from manufacturing or selling the mineral. Moreover, Britain forced natives to buy salt at high cost from British merchants. Salt was a crucial necessity in India’s steamy climate, so Gandhi saw the salt laws as an unforgivable evil.

This law affected everyone in India, from rich to poor, and across different class and religious differences, harming everyone. So, on March 2 Gandhi send a letter to British Viceroy Lord Irwin with a series of requests, including the repeal of the salt tax. He also promised a satyagraha campaign if his request are ignored. “My ambition,” he wrote, “is no less than to convert the British people through nonviolence and thus make them see the wrong they have done to India.” However, his requests were ignored and with no official response, at dawn on March 12, 1930, Gandhi started his satyagraha campaign.

Salt March Begins

On March 12, 1930, Gandhi started this religious retreat near Ahmadabad with several dozen followers on a walk of around 240 miles to the coastal town of Dandi on the Arabian Sea. There, Gandhi planned to together with his supporters defy British policy by making salt from seawater.

All along the way, Ganhdi addressed large crowds, and with each passing day new people would join his satyagraha. Gandhi also called upon the government workers to support his cause and to embrace his philosophy of noncooperation by quitting their jobs.

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At the time, Gandhi was 60-years-old and he was worried that he and his accompanies could be physically threatened. However, nothing happened to them, because Britain feared a public backlash and decided not to crush the march or arrest Gandhi.

By the time they reached Dandi on April 5, Gandhi was leading a crowd of tens of thousands. During the march he spoke and led prayers every morning. When they reached Dandi, he walked down to the sea to make salt. He had planned to work the salt flats on the beach, encrusted with crystallized sea salt at every high tide, but the police crushed his salt deposit into the mud. Regardless of that, Gandhi reached down and picked up a small lump of natural salt out of the mud. By doing so he defied British law and he and all the other were arrested.

Gandhi Arrested

Civil disobedience broke out all across India and in no time officials had to arrest more than 60,000 people. Gandhi was arrested on May 5, but his satyagraha continued without him. Twenty days later, the poet Sarojini Naidu led 2,500 marchers on the Dharasana Salt Works, some 150 miles north of Bombay.

Demonstrations were peaceful, but several hundreds British-led Indian policeman meet demonstrators and brutally beat them. The incident was recorded by American journalist Webb Miller and the world condemn British policy in India.

Aftermath Of The Salt March

Gandhi was released from prison in January 1931. Just once he was released he met Lord Irwin, the viceroy of India and agreed to call off the satyagraha in exchange for an equal negotiation role at a London conference regarding India’s future.

That same year, in Avgust, Gandhi traveled to the conference as the representative of the nationalist Indian National Congress.

At that same meeting the British leaders had acknowledged Gandhi as a force that they can’t ignore. That years India couldn’t get its independence. But, India won its independence in August 1947. At that time, Gandhi was 78-year-old and he was assassinated by a Hindu extremist less than six months after India for it’s independence, on January 30, 1948.

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