The 1930 Salt March
Gandhi began a new campaign in 1930, the Salt Satyagraha.
Gandhi and his followers set off on a 200-mile journey from Ashram Ahmedabad to
the Arabian Ocean where Gandhi wanted to pick up a few grains of salt. This
action formed the symbolic focal point of a campaign of civil disobedience in
which the state monopoly on salt was the first target. Prior to the beginning of
the action, Gandhi sent a letter to the Lord Lieutenant "Dear Friend (...)
Whilst, therefore, I hold the British rule to be a curse, I do not intend harm
to a single Englishman or to any legitimate interest he may have in India (...)
My ambition is nothing less than to bring round the English people through non-violence
to recognize the injustice they have done to India. I do not intend to be
offensive to your people. Indeed, I would like to serve your people as I would
my own (...)."
Yet the Lord Lieutenant didn't even reply
personally to his letter. Gandhi held his last prayer meeting on the evening of
the 11th of March 1930. "There can be
no turning back for us hereafter. We will keep on our fight till swaraj is
established in India. Those of them that are married should take leave of their
wives. We are as good as parting from the Ashram and from our homes.--- Let
nobody assume that after I am arrested there will be no one left to guide them.
It is not I but Pandit Jawaharlal who is your guide. He has the capacity to lead."
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It was hoped that this action would spread
across India. Wherever possible, civil disobedience was to be used to counter
the salt laws. It was illegal to manufacture salt, regardless of the location.
The possession and trading of smuggled salt (natural salt or salt earth) was
also illegal. Anyone caught selling smuggled salt was liable to prosecution. To
collect salt from the natural deposits at the coast was also illegal.
Gandhi had a large group of well-trained Satyagrahi
available to him; as well trained in observation as they were in spreading propaganda
among the masses. They were bound by a joint pledge and by the principles of the
"Ashram in Exodus", which encompassed three points: prayer, spinning
and keeping a diary. They wore uniform clothing (a sort of Khaki uniform) and
wore the headwear of prisoners.
After a 24-hour long march to the Indian Ocean,
Gandhi picked up a few pieces of salt - a signal to the rest of the
sub-continent to do the same. This raw material was carried inland before being
processed on the roofs of houses in pans and then sold. Over 50,000 Indians were
imprisoned for breaking the salt laws. The entire protest was carried out almost
without violence. Indeed, it was this that annoyed the police.
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A report from the English journalist, Webb
Miller, who witnessed one of the clashes, has become a classic description of
the way in which Satyagraha was carried out at the forefront of the battle
lines. 2,500 volunteers advanced on the salt works of Dhrasana:
"Gandhi's men advanced in complete silence
before stopping about one-hundred meters before the cordon. A selected team
broke away from the main group, waded through the ditch and neared the
barbed-wire fence. (...) Receiving the signal, a large group of local police
officers suddenly moved towards the advancing protestors and subjected them to a
hail of blows to the head delivered from steel-covered Lathis (truncheons). None
of the protesters raised so much as an arm to protect themselves against the
barrage of blows. They fell to the ground like pins in a bowling alley. From
where I was standing I could hear the nauseating sound of truncheons impacting
against unprotected skulls. The waiting main group moaned and drew breath
sharply at each blow. Those being subjected to the onslaught fell to the ground
quickly writhing unconsciously or with broken shoulders (...). The main group,
which had been spared until now, began to march in a quiet and determined way
forwards and were met with the same fate. They advanced in a uniform manner with
heads raised - without encouragement through music or battle cries and without
being given the opportunity to avoid serious injury or even death. The police
attacked repeatedly and the second group were also beaten to the ground. There
was no fight, no violence; the marchers simply advanced until they themselves
were knocked down. (...)"
Following their action, the men in uniform, who
obviously felt unprotected with all their superior equipment of violence, could
think of nothing better to do than that which seems to overcome uniformed men in
similar situations as a sort of "natural" impulse: If they were unable
to break the skulls of all the protesters, they now set about kicking and aiming
their blows at the genitals of the helpless on the ground. "For hour upon
hour endless numbers of motionless, bloody bodies were carried away on
stretchers", according to Webb Miller.
What did the Satyagrahi achieve? Neither were
the salt works taken, nor was the Salt Act in its entirety formally lifted. But
the world began to realize that this was not the point. The Salt Satyagraha had
demonstrated to the world the almost flawless use of a new instrument of
[Taken from: Günther Gugel, Wir werden
nicht weichen. Erfahrungen mit Gewaltfreiheit. Eine praxisorientierte
Einführung, Verein für Friedenspädagogik e.V., Tübingen 1996, 51ff.]