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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Vedaranyam salt satyagraha to be reenacted ... !

On 6th April,  I had posted on ‘salt’... 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.

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.

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.
Rajaji at Vedaranyam – the Hindu photo
The march, coinciding with the Tamil New Year, commenced on 13 April 1930 from TSS Rajan's house in Trichinopoly Cantonment. As the march proceeded towards Tanjore district its "astute and energetic" District Collector J. A. Thorne (ICS) tried to stop it. Using newspapers, Tamil handbills and town-criers, Thorne informed would-be hosts that anyone offering food or shelter to the marchers was liable to six-months' imprisonment and a fine.  Rajaji retorted –  "Thorne and thistles cannot stem this tide of freedom."  Ignoring Thorne's order, Sri Pantulu Iyer, a resident of Kumbakonam,and Sri Krishnaswami Iyer , a resident of Aranthangi provided accommodation for two days and arranged a grand dinner for the group at his house before being arrested.   Iyer's arrest inspired people to invent ways to help the marchers without getting caught. Food packets were found tied to branches of roadside trees, and when the group rested by the Cauvery riverbank, they found indicators where huge food containers were buried.

At Vedaranyam, Rajaji declared that the salt laws would be broken on 30 April 1930 – Rajaji and his group were arrested and sentenced to six-months' imprisonment. Rukmini Lakshmipathy was imprisoned for one year; she was the first woman to serve a jail term for participating in the Salt Satyagraha movement.  The other hero  Sardar Vedaratnam Pillai (1897 - 1961)  who also was imprisoned later as a MLA for three terms over a period of 14 years. 

Times of India, Chennai Edition reports that the grandsons of two freedom fighters and architects of the Vedaranyam salt satyagraha would enact their grandfathers' feat on April 30 to commemorate the 85th anniversary of the event that marked the freedom movement. CR Kesavan, great grandson of C Rajagopalachari, and Vedarathinam junior, grandson of Sardar Vedarathinam Pillai, would walk the last leg of the Trichy-Vedaranyam route. While their grandfathers broke the salt law against the British, Kesavan and Junior would read out 100 names of the participants who took part in the 1930 Satyagraha. This is the first time the 100 names have been compiled and would be read out.

“It was a landmark event of our freedom movement that many youngsters are not aware of. Congress stalwart K Kamaraj was first arrested during the Satyagraha and after this he was imprisoned for a period that was longer than his chief ministerial tenure,“ said Kesavan, a US-returned software professional. On April 30, around 2,000 people would start at 4.30am and reach Agastiyampallam near Vedaranyam, the venue of 1930 salt Satyagraha. Some Congress cadres, salt pan workers and students of Kasthurba Kanya Gurukulam would participate. “The march will be only for 15km and this could be the last leg of the original march. We will read out the names of the participants of the march and pay homage to them,“ said Kesavan. The names would be read out near the Satyagraha memorial at Vedaranyam. The names were collected from various sources, including local revenue records and libraries. “None of the participants are alive now. In 2005, the late Coimbatore-based G K Sundaram, 91, reminisced about his participation. Though Sundaram was 18 years during the Satyagraha, he told the magistrate he was 22 so he could get rigorous imprisonment,“ said Kesavan.

Former Congress MP P V Rajendran has been in the forefront in organizing the march. “This year more people are expected to participate, mainly salt pan workers, students and the general public.On Wednesday , we will have the convocation of the gurukulam in which Kesavan and others will participate,“ said Vedarathinam. Though it is perceived to be an apolitical march, since Kesavan and others are participating, it is expected to provide a boost to the Congress, weakened in the state after it lost power in 1967.

Away from this ET reported in Feb that salt pans of Vedaranyam area in Nagapattinam district have commenced the annual production works after a 90-day lull.  Every year salt production begins with special poojas during the Tamil Month 'Thai'. The production works continue non-stop till the onset of the North East Monsoon, up to late September or early October. During rainy season, salt pans will mostly remain inundated. Again, during late-January or early-February the works will begin with Poojas.  Salt is being produced in about 10,000 acres along the Vedaranyam coast at various villages including Agasthyampalli, Kodiakadu, Kadnelvayal and Vedaranyam. With the production of over 4.5 lakh tonnes of salt a year, Vedaranyam occupies the second position in the state in salt production. More than 25,000 workers are engaged in salt production activities in this area.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
29th Apr 2015.

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