What Was Gandhi's Salt March?

Just by filling these bottles with intent to make salt, Gandhi's supporters broke colonial law
Followers of Gandhi fill plastic bottles with seawater during the Salt March of 1930 in India, to protest British colonial salt taxes. Hulton Archive/Archive Photos/Getty Images

It began with something as simple as table salt.

On March 12, 1930, a group of Indian independence protesters began to march from Ahmedabad, India to the sea coast at Dandi some 390 kilometers (240 miles) away. They were led by Mohandas Gandhi, also known as the Mahatma, and intended to illegally produce their own salt from the seawater.  This was Gandhi's Salt March, a peaceful salvo in the fight for Indian independence.

The Salt March was an act of peaceful civil disobedience or satyagraha, because, under the law of the British Raj in India, salt-making was banned. In accordance with the 1882 British Salt Act, the colonial government required all Indians to buy salt from the British and to pay a salt tax, rather than producing their own.

Coming on the heels of the Indian National Congress's January 26, 1930, declaration of Indian independence, Gandhi's 23-day-long Salt March inspired millions of Indians to join in his campaign of civil disobedience. Before he set out, Gandhi wrote a letter to the British Viceroy of India, Lord E.F.L. Wood, Earl of Halifax, in which he offered to halt the march in return for concessions including the abolition of the salt tax, reduction of land taxes, cuts to military spending, and higher tariffs on imported textiles. The Viceroy did not deign to answer Gandhi's letter, however.

Gandhi told his supporters, "On bended knees I asked for bread and I have received stone instead" - and the march went on.

On April 6, Gandhi and his followers reached Dandi and dried seawater to make salt. They then moved south down the coast, producing more salt and rallying supporters.

On May 5, the British colonial authorities decided that they could no longer stand by while Gandhi flouted the law.

They arrested him and severely beat many of the salt marchers. The beatings were televised around the world; hundreds of unarmed protesters stood still with their arms at their sides while British troops smashed batons down on their heads. These powerful images stoked international sympathy and support for the Indian independence cause.

The Mahatma's choice of the salt tax as the first target of his non-violent satyagraha movement initially sparked surprise and even derision from the British, and also from his own allies such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel. However, Gandhi realized that a simple, key commodity like salt was the perfect symbol around which ordinary Indians could rally. He understood that the salt tax impacted every person in India directly, whether they were Hindu, Muslim or Sikh, and was more easily understood than complex questions of constitutional law or land tenure.

Following the Salt Satyagraha, Gandhi spent nearly a year in prison. He was one of more than 80,000 Indians jailed in the aftermath of the protest; literally millions turned out to make their own salt. Inspired by the Salt March, people across India boycotted all kinds of British goods, including paper and textiles.

Peasants refused to pay land taxes.

The colonial government imposed even harsher laws in an attempt to quell the movement. It outlawed the Indian National Congress, and imposed strict censorship on Indian media and even private correspondence, but to no avail. Individual British military officers and civil service employees anguished over how to respond to non-violent protest, proving the effectiveness of Gandhi's strategy.

Although India would not gain its independence from Britain for another 17 years, the Salt March raised international awareness of British injustices in India. Although not many Muslims joined Gandhi's movement, it did unify many Hindu and Sikh Indians against British rule. It also made Mohandas Gandhi into a famous figure around the world, renowned for his wisdom and love of peace.

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Szczepanski, Kallie. "What Was Gandhi's Salt March?" ThoughtCo, Feb. 5, 2017, thoughtco.com/what-was-gandhis-salt-march-195475. Szczepanski, Kallie. (2017, February 5). What Was Gandhi's Salt March? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-was-gandhis-salt-march-195475 Szczepanski, Kallie. "What Was Gandhi's Salt March?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-was-gandhis-salt-march-195475 (accessed November 24, 2017).