Gandhi’s Salt March, Part 1: 12-19 March 1930
This month marks 85 years since Gandhi started the second great campaign of non-cooperation in British India, with the famous salt march from his ashram at Sabarmati to Dandi on the Bombay coast. The law prohibited Indians from producing or selling salt. Gandhi regarded the government tax on salt as particularly iniquitous as it affected the poorest most. On 12 March 1930 he set out with 78 followers on a 240 mile march.
'Gandhi and Eighty Martyrs going towards the Jalalpur saltmines' Achille Beltrame (1871-1945), from La Domenica del Corriere, 1930. ©De Agostini/The British Library Board Images Online
The India Office Records has a collection of almost daily telegrams from the Governor of Bombay to the Secretary of State for India, between March 1930 and March 1931, giving details of the salt march, and the increasing unrest in Bombay. Over the coming weeks we will be featuring them on Untold Lives, and following Gandhi’s march through the eyes of an anxious Government.
At 9pm on 12 March 1930, the India Office received a telegram reporting that no further information had been received concerning Gandhi’s march, beyond a press telegram that he had left the Ashram at 6.30 that morning. Three hours later, another telegram arrived with further intelligence “…that Gandhi’s destination is Dandi in Jalalpur Taluk of Surat District. This, we understand might mean march of 20 days as against 5 which we had hitherto been contemplating”.
The march reached Aslali on 13 March, where Gandhi preached non-violence and reaffirmed his intention to break the salt laws at Jalalpur. Passing through Bareja in the Ahmedabad District, Gandhi was reported to have received a poor reception. By 15 March, the Governor of Bombay felt able to make tentative conclusions as to the effect of the three days of marching. Crowds were reported to have been smaller than expected, and Muslims had shown no interest, and Gandhi was said to be feeling the physical strain of the march. In his speeches, Gandhi appealed to villagers with references to village uplift, removal of untouchability and Khaddar.
At Matar, which was reached on the night of 14 March, Gandhi addressed a crowd of 5,000 people. The next day a meeting was held at Dabhan attended by 3,000 people, followed by a meeting of 20,000 at Nadiad. By the evening of 16 March it was reported that the march had reached the town of Anand, where it was expected to halt one day, as it was Gandhi’s day of silence, and to allow the clothing of the marchers to be washed. At Anand Gandhi appealed for volunteers, and asked students and schoolmasters to leave the schools and join the campaign.
The telegram received in the India Office on 19 March stated that “Since the fourth day when Gandhi’s party reached the more populous and disaffected parts of Kaira District more attention has been paid to it and local excitement has been greater”. Gandhi was reported to be suffering from varicose veins, but otherwise was said to be in cheerful spirits and to show no sign of mental breakdown. More village headmen were resigning and more volunteers were enrolled as the campaign gained momentum.
Civil Disobedience Campaign Events in Bombay: reports on demonstrations, rioting and police action; arrests, trials and judgments passed; Parliamentary questions and replies, March 1930 to October 1931 [IOR/L/PJ/6/1998]