12 March 1930: Gandhi and the Dandi Salt March

At 6:30am on 12 March 1930 seventy-eight Indian National Congress volunteers joined Mahatma Gandhi at the start of a march from Ahmedabad to Dandi on the Indian Ocean. Organised as the first part of Gandhi’s non-violent protest, Satyagraha, the Dandi March was an act of civil disobedience against the British salt tax.

The Salt Act had been passed in 1882 and gave a monopoly on the production of salt to the British. Even where salt was freely available the Indians had to buy it from the government and pay a tax.

When the Indian National Congress issued its Purna Swaraj, or declaration of independence, on 26 January 1930, Gandhi was called upon to organise the first act of civil disobedience. Four days later he offered to call off the campaign if the government agreed to a series of concessions including a reduction in military expenditure, the freeing of political prisoners and the end of the salt monopoly.

His demands were rejected and so the plans for the salt march to Dandi were published in the newspapers on 5 February. On 2 March Gandhi wrote to Lord Irwin, the Viceroy of India, informing him that he intended to break the salt laws. Irwin did not see a threat in the stand Gandhi was making and so offered no concessions.

As the marchers left Ahmedabad on 12 March around 100,000 people gathered to see them depart. At each of the forty villages and towns they passed on the route Gandhi addressed the crowds, attacking the salt tax and British rule.

After twenty-five days of marching, covering a distance of 241 miles, the marchers arrived in Dandi on 5 April. At 8:30am the following day, after swimming in the sea, Gandhi collected a handful mud from a pit which he boiled in sea water to produce salt. Brandishing the mud in front of the assembled crowds and press he claimed, “With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire.”

In the salt protests that followed, thousands of Indians were arrested and jailed for producing their own salt and refusing to pay the tax. Public opinion around the world was sympathetic to the Indian cause after almost daily reports in European and American newspapers. The march marked the first steps on the long road to independence.

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