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Monday, April 6, 2015

the importance of 'salt' in Indian history - Dandi and Vedaranyam protests !!

Today is 6th April, and do you know its significance !!......   Away in US, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a warning about the salt content found in packaged and processed food, saying that food producers are knowingly and dangerously ignoring the long-standing salt content guidelines.

Common salt is a mineral composed primarily of sodium chloride (NaCl), a chemical compound belonging to the larger class of salts; salt in its natural form as a crystalline mineral is known as rock salt or halite. Salt is present in vast quantities in the seawater.  Salt is essential for animal life, and saltiness is one of the basic human tastes. Salt is one of the oldest and most ubiquitous of food seasonings, and salting is an important method of food preservation.

Yet,  Gandhi's choice of the salt tax was met with incredulity by the Working Committee of the Congress,  Jawaharlal Nehru and Dibyalochan Sahoo were ambivalent; Sardar Patel suggested a land revenue boycott instead.  The Statesman, a prominent newspaper, wrote about the choice: "It is difficult not to laugh, and we imagine that will be the mood of most thinking Indians." The British establishment too was not disturbed by these plans of resistance against the salt tax. The Viceroy himself, Lord Irwin, did not take the threat of a salt protest seriously !

Gandhi was firm though.   The salt tax was a deeply symbolic choice, since salt was used by nearly everyone in India, to replace the salt lost by sweating in India's tropical climate.  The salt tax represented 8.2% of the British Raj tax revenue, and hurt the poorest Indians the most significantly.  After the protest gathered steam, the leaders realised the power of salt as a symbol. Nehru remarked about the unprecedented popular response, “it seemed as though a spring had been suddenly released.”

Britain’s Salt Acts prohibited Indians from collecting or selling salt, a staple in the Indian diet. Citizens were forced to buy the vital mineral from the British, who, in addition to exercising a monopoly over the manufacture and sale of salt, also exerted a heavy salt tax.  Defying the Salt Acts, Mohandas Gandhi reasoned, would be an ingeniously simple way for many Indians to break a British law nonviolently.

The Dandi March, also known as the Salt Satyagraha, began on 12th  March 1930 and was a direct action campaign of tax resistance triggering the wider Civil Disobedience Movement. Gandhi himself,  led the Dandi march from his base, Sabarmati Ashram near Ahmedabad, to the coastal village of Dandi, located at a small town called Navsari, in the state of Gujarat. As he continued on this 24-day, 240-mile (390 km) march to Dandi to produce salt without paying the tax, growing numbers of Indians joined him along the way.

~ -  and on this day [6th April] in 1930 at 6:30 am, Gandhi broke the salt laws sparking  large scale acts of civil disobedience against the British Raj salt laws.  After making salt at Dandi, Gandhi continued southward along the coast, producing salt and addressing meetings on the way. Gandhi was arrested on the midnight of 4–5 May 1930, just days before the planned action at Dharasana.  The satyagraha against the salt tax continued for almost a year, ending with Gandhi's release from jail and negotiations with Viceroy Lord Irwin at the Second Round Table Conference.  Over 80,000 Indians were jailed as a result of the Salt Satyagraha. However, it failed to result in major concessions from the British.

Down under in our own Tamilnadu,  his close associate Sri C. Rajagopalachari, who would later become independent India's first Governor-General, organized the Vedaranyam salt march in parallel on the east coast. His group started from Tiruchirappalli, in Madras Presidency, to the coastal village of Vedaranyam.  Rajaji  too was arrested by the British. There was another hero - Sardar Vedaratnam Pillai, famous philanthropist who was alongside Rajaji.  In the year 1931 Vedaratnam was conferred with the title of ‘Sardar’ at the meeting of the Tamil Nadu Agriculturists and labourers at Tirunelveli, for his exploits in the Vedaranyam Salt March.
Sri Rajaji at VEdaranyam – The Hindu photo

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

6th April 2015.

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