Gandhi's Salt March to the Sea Favorite 



Mar 1 1930



In 1930, the Indian National Congress adopted satyagraha (essentially, nonviolent protest) as their main tactic in their campaign for independence. Mahatma Gandhi was appointed to develop a plan of action; he proposed marching to the sea to make salt in defiance of the Salt Act of 1882. Violation of the Salt Act, which made it illegal for anyone to collect or produce salt except for authorized British nationals, did not immediately catch the imagination of the delegates, and was reportedly met with some laughter in the Congress. The Raj (as the British empire in India was known) did not take this idea as much of a threat either. Viceroy Lord Irwin actually wrote back to London to report, “At present the prospect of a salt campaign does not keep me awake at night.”

This would soon change, however, as the salt march, which began with about eighty men, quickly gathered supporters on its way to the Indian Ocean. Gandhi framed the 240-mile march from his ashram to the sea within a traditional cultural practice known as the padyatra (a long spiritual march). Not only did this help make the whole program more understandable to the Indian public, it opened up the possibility to do outreach, gather more supporters, educate and provide training, and work the national and international press. Advance teams worked the route and followers slept out in the open in each town to be more accessible.

When he and more than 12,000 supporters finally reached the sea, the day chosen to make salt was the ten-year anniversary of the first round of national resistance actions. The British were slow to react at first, allowing more Indians to join in the protest. As salt making spread, and the British responded brutally, the empire’s facade of civility slipped and then fell away entirely.

The salt march had profound cultural resonance for Indians across lines of caste and class because Gandhi did his strategic planning homework by traveling (always third class) all over India for a year. In the process of talking the pulse of the country, he recognized that in order to attract unified masses across caste and religious lines, the campaign to win something as ethereal as independence needed to be linked to a tangible manifestation of that demand. The more it affected or appealed to the poor and lower classes, and the greater the benefit for the majority of Indians, the greater the chance of expanding the movement, and therefore winning.

When people could hold the physical distillation of their labor — salt — in their hands, the esoteric, long-term goal of independence became concrete and immediate. This was action design at its most brilliant.

The act of marching and the culminating act of making salt by the sea’s edge, while seemingly simple, actually offered the masses a chance to act courageously through both coordinated and dispersed action. As the march attracted more adherents, and as the movement grew, so the pillars of the empire’s power were seriously undermined. The salt march set the stage for India’s eventual independence as Indians and Brits alike realized that rule was not practicable without the consent of the governed. That consent had dissolved into the sea.


Lesson #1: Find something that appeals to a broad audience
Salt had broad appeal in two ways. First, as a key and necessary ingredient in food, salt united people across religious and class lines. Second, when Western audiences heard about a tax on poor people for something as common as salt, they were shaken out of the apathy they had showed until then toward Indian independence efforts. They now became more sympathetic toward India’s struggle.

Lesson #2: Make it easy for people to participate in your campaign
The British salt law banned a long list of actions. Making salt, possessing, buying, or selling illegally-made salt, or even encouraging others to break the salt law—all these actions were banned. For Gandhi, this meant that people across India could participate in the nonviolent resistance in many ways—they could make salt, carry it, or even just write about how to make salt.

Lesson #3: Script your campaign like a drama with several acts
Gandhi scripted the action as “a salt march”—a drama that would unfold in several acts. Gandhi and a few select nonviolent followers would walk 390 km in 24 days to Dandi, a small village on the west coast of India, and make salt. Thousands across India would simultaneously break the salt law along India’s long coastline.

From even before the march began, the media and the country were fed with reports about how the nearly 80 marchers were being strictly trained to be nonviolent, or about how Gandhi had decided on a band of activists who would take over if the marchers were arrested. After the march started, the already primed media reported each day’s events with greater fervour.

Imitating a successful drama, there was tremendous suspense. On March 12, Gandhi and his followers began their march, walking briskly at 6:30 a.m. from Gandhi’s ashram in Ahmedabad in Gujarat. There was a sense of imminent danger; memories were fresh of Jallianwala Bagh, eleven years before, where the British army had shot and killed more than 600 unarmed Indians. People followed the events of the salt march in nail-biting tension. However, the British administration was now caught in a dilemma: was the march momentous enough to require them to arrest Gandhi or would it unnecessarily make him a martyr?

And so, when Gandhi reached Dandi, there were no British policemen there. And when he held up his fistful of salt, tens of thousands of people across India broke the salt law, thousands were arrested, and many resigned from government jobs.

Lesson #4: Lead up to a climax
Gandhi was arrested soon. But, following the plan he had drawn up earlier, in the early hours of May 21, 1930, a group led by Sarojini Naidu, the woman-poet, raided the British-run salt factory at Dharasana, near Dandi. Here, the British made a remarkably unintelligent move—well-armed policemen attacked the nonviolent activists with steel-tipped batons, cracking skulls and spilling blood.

Lesson #5: Recruit an influential agent to spread your news
Gandhi had instructed his activists to ensure that there were Western journalists watching when they began the raid on the salt factory. Webb Miller, an American journalist, watched in horror as unarmed rows of volunteers moved forward to the factory’s fences and were felled by the policemen. Other nonviolent protesters simply replaced the fallen ones. As the sickening drama unfolded, Miller started to telegraph his reports to New York. More than 1,350 newspapers across the world republished his reports, and they were even read into the US Senate records.

The result was exactly what Gandhi had planned. World sympathy was now firmly with the Indians; the British were now seen not as benevolent and caring but as the ruthless, savage and exploitative tyrants they were. The British began to lose control over India, and 17 years later they left the country.

Posted by Molly on

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The British began to lose control over India, and 17 years later they left the country.

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