Salt March: Gandhi's First Big Victory

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Gandhi on the Salt March

On March 12, 1930, a group of Indians, led by Mohandas Gandhi, staged a large protest against a salt tax imposed by ruling Great Britain by starting a march.

Gandhi, looking to emphasize a policy of civil disobedience, disdained violence in his pursuit to expose what he and others saw as unfair treatment of Indian people by the British Raj, which had ruled India since 1858. In this particular case, the protesters were taking issue with a tax on salt. The Raj had passed a series of laws the net effect of which was that Indians could not make or sell salt but, instead, had to buy it from Britain, which placed a high tax on it. Poor people certainly couldn't afford to pay the tax, and people who had more money didn't appreciate the high tax or the British monopoly. Yet salt was a necessary element of the diet of people who lived in hot, steamy India; and gathering and producing salt was something that Indians had done themselves for many, many years.

Salt March map

Gandhi set out from his religious retreat at Sabermati with a few dozen fellow marchers. As they passed through various villages on their way to the sea, they would stop and address gathered crowds; when the march resumed, the number of marchers had increased. By the time that Gandhi and company reached the town of Dandi, on the Arabian Sea coast, the number of marchers was in the hundreds. The entire journey was 240 miles; close to 80 people made the entire journey.

On April 6, the protesters picked up salt by the handfuls from the shore. Technically, they were breaking the law; they were not, however arrested. Gandhi urged a continuance of the protest against the salt tax by commiting other acts of civil disobedience. The Raj responded by arresting and imprisoned thousands of protesters. Lord Irwin, the British viceroy, ordered Gandhi arrested when the protest leader said that he would march on a saltworks at Dharasana on May 21. That protest went ahead without Gandhi; police responded to the peaceful protest of 2,000 or so by attacking and administering beatings. Nonetheless, an estimated 80,000 people took part in the salt protest.

Gandhi was held for some time in jail but was released in January 1931. He was the recognized leader of the civil disobedience movement in India and, by this time, a well-known figure in other countries as well, and he met with Lord Irwin to try to find a way forward. An agreement between the two leaders, known as the Gandhi-Irwin Pact, was hammered out on March 5. It was the beginning of a series of measures that would ultimately end in Indian independence, in 1947. More protests would follow, and more negotiations would be made. The Salt March, however, is considered by many historians to be the first big step that Gandhi and others took toward independence.

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