Sometimes, the simplest acts of defiance can prove to be immensely powerful – like Gandhi’s act of raising a handful of salty sand at Dandi (a coastal town in Gujarat) in response to the repressive British salt laws. When the British imposed a hefty tax on the import of salt, it affected the masses; Gandhi equated the taxing of a natural product to an act of human oppression. On March 12, 1930 the 60-year-old commenced one of the most significant civil rights movements of the 20th century – the ‘Salt March’. Gandhi walking with his lathi, leading the protest became a globally recognized visual.
Gandhi travelled village to village with 78 Satyagrahis over 24 days. During this time, he spoke critically of the British salt laws, emphasized the importance of Khadi and self-sufficiency; encouraged his followers to observe the principles of non-violence while embracing non-cooperation; he urged them manufacture salt themselves, and defy the law. Salt thus became the symbol of India’s nationalistic spirit and will to freedom – for it sought to reclaim what belonged to the nation. The same day that Gandhi broke the salt law at Dandi, supporters throughout the Indian subcontinent (at least five million people at over 5,000 meetings) followed suit.
In this painting, Nandalal Bose captures the spirit of the iconic Salt March led by Gandhi
Gandhi has been the subject of many artworks – Nandalal Bose’s black and white print being one of the most easily recognisable ones. However, this painting from the Bharat Kala Bhavan Museum [Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi] collection is a rarely seen one.
Can you slide the pieces to reveal the painting of Gandhi & the Satyagrahis?Show Instructions
This was a moment in world history that remains unsurpassed as a display of what it truly means to stand your ground against oppression.
Read more about the role of women in the Dandi March.
The Salt Satyagraha [Dandi March] in Art
The Dandi March – especially in D.P Roychowdhury’s iconic sculpture (it was even reinterpreted for a Google Doodle), is the symbol of the common citizens’ resistance and anger. There is no ‘flag’ of any Congress / group, but the people themselves are representative of the diversity that India has been known for.
The Dharasana Salt Satyagraha, a step after the Dandi march – and Gandhi’s midnight arrest at Karadi
The philosophy of Satyagraha encouraged people to confront injustice through non-violence. That Gandhi chose to frame the protest around salt, is a testimony to his ability of understanding diverse people and bringing them together. Gandhi saw the salt tax as something that affected people regardless of religious or economic differences.
Gandhi’s act of defiance inspired many to join the ‘Salt Satyagraha’ and his supporters flocked to the sea-side to make salt. Arrests and police-beatings were common.
10 days after the launch of the Salt Satyagraha, Gandhi retired to Karadi with some of his volunteers. This was a few kilometres further down Dandi and was easily accessible for the crowds of visiting volunteers. At Karadi, Gandhi stayed in a hut from where he wrote many letters to coordinate the movement. On April 26, he announced his intention to lead a peaceful raid on the Government salt factory at Dharasana (south of Dandi). However, days before the planned action, Gandhi was arrested on the middle of the night of 4th-5th May 1930!
Gandhi’s midnight arrest is portrayed wonderfully by Vinayak S. Masoji in a painting that is now in the collection of the Allahabad Museum
Rajmohan Gandhi describes the arrest in his biography of Gandhi:
About forty minutes after midnight, three officers (two British and an Indian), accompanied by between twenty and thirty rifle-carrying Indian policemen, entered the camp, walked quietly past marchers sleeping under stars and mango trees, and stepped inside Gandhi’s hut. By now sound asleep… Gandhi was woken up by lights flashed into his face. ‘Do you want me?’ Gandhi asked, even though he knew the answer…” Obtaining the officers’ nod to wash and brush his teeth (yes, they said, but be quick) he then asked his fellow marcher, the musicologist-singer, Pandit Narayan Moreshwar Khare, to sing “Vaishnava Jana” before being removed.
From Karadi, Gandhi was taken to Yeravada Jail in Pune; the Frontier Mail Express made an unscheduled halt at Borivali station and from here Gandhi was frisked off to Pune.
Read more about Gandhi’s arrest in these newspaper archives from the collection of Trove, the National Library of New Zealand.
The movement continued, under the able leadership of Abbas Tyabji and Sarojini Naidu.
Vinayak Masoji had visited one of the Satyagrahi-camps during the movement & wrote an account of the peaceful environment at the site. He painted the scene after a few years of the incident and displayed it as part of an exhibition hosted by the Congress. At the exhibition, when Rajkumari Amrit Kaur asked Gandhi if the painting was a true representation, he is said to have remarked: “Yes yes! Exactly. They came like that!”.
After the Salt March :
Gandhi would remain in prison till 1931. The global press coverage and international support forced the then Viceroy, Lord Irwin to begin dialogue with Gandhi. It led to the Gandhi-Irwin pact. The pact itself would have little impact; what cannot be denied is the momentum that the Salt March helped gather and it’s power to stir – not just the British Government, but importantly, the Indian people.
In the 21st century it might seem impossible to follow Gandhi’s ideas of protests but it is even more crucial. The Salt Satyagraha stands out as a triumphant moment – what should not be overlooked is the aligned building of a structured opposition, and an alternative advocacy that formed Gandhi’s theory of change. A hundred years after the Salt Satyagraha, mass-mobilization is hardly challenging (given social media networks); the challenge however lies in galvanizing a people.