Eight decades ago, this day, at the strike of dawn, C.Rajagopalachari, picked up a fistful of spontaneous salt at Agasthyampalli in Vedaranyam in defiance of the British Raj and blazoned out “Vande Mataram”.
An unnerved British sepoy posted there asked Rajaji why he chose that spot, putting his job in jeopardy. An amused Rajaji is said to have assured the sepoy that he would wait to court arrest till he returned with his officer. And so says popular history. In Vedaranyam, April 30, 1930 also marked the beginning of marathom arrests, with each day, sathyagrahis picking up salt to court arrest - recorded to have continued for over a month.
The Vedaranyam Salt Satyagraha had always been a footnote in the large narrative of Gandhi's salt Satyagraha. However, it hosts other tales of valour that seek to be recorded. The success of the Satyagraha - defying the hawk-eyed sepoys stationed at every nook and corner of Vedaranyam to prevent the marchers- would have been chequered had it not been those footsoldiers, who drafted its success in a familiar terrain. Pertinent among them was Sardar Vedarathinam Pillai, a salt merchant and ardent Gandhian, who is said to have laid the pitch for nationalistic struggles from the fringes here.
According to popular and recorded history, the Satyagrahis, who had camped in Vedaranyam (what now hosts Rajaji Poonga) after reaching on April 28, were oblivious to Rajaji's plan to pick up salt before dawn – a plan that saw fruition due to Sardar Vedarathinam's ingenuity. Sardar Vedarathinam Pillai deputed Naganandha Desikar, Marimuthu Thevar, and Rajagopala Iyer to smuggle Rajaji before dawn to Agasthyampalli through gullies and lanes to avoid surveillance. It is said that even the Satyagrahis were not aware until Rajaji broke the salt law, says A.Vedarathinam, the grandson of Sardar Vedarathinam Pillai.
Why Vedaranyam, while there was a larger salt-making centre in Tuticorin? A nationalistic turf was already laid in Vedaranyam by Sardar Vedarathinam Pillai. Earlier, in 1929, Sardar Vedarathinam had personally invited Gandhi to preside over the Madras Provincial Congress Committee meet at Vedaranyam. Citing his inability to travel from the heartland of struggle, Gandhi deputed Mahadev Desai and Sardar Vallabhai Patel for the meet.
Such was the impact of the Vedaranyam struggle that Gandhi is recorded to have delayed his trip to the Second Round Table Conference in 1932, on grounds that Lord Irwin had not kept his promise of ensuring return of all confiscated property. Gandhi had taken up Sardar Vedarathnam's case, and his property was returned. On receipt of a telegram from Sardar Vedarathinam, Gandhi is said to have embarked on his journey, says A.Vedarathinam.
Unlike Dandi, here women marched alongside men to the lyrics of Poet Namakkal Ramalingam Pillai, “Kathiyindri, rathamindri, yudham ondru varugudhu” (Sans sword, sans blood, a war is being waged), written for the occasion eight decades ago.
And there were other heroes, who from the fringes did their bit to tire the administration out. Vairappan, a barber in his teens had vowed not to render his services to any one in the service of the British Raj that he once walked off mid-way, leaving behind a sepoy with his half shaven face on realising that he was a British servant. Today, there is a bust in honour of Vairappan in Vedaranyam.
Just as envisioned by Gandhi, sustained acts of rebellion during the course of the struggle did tire the administration out, like day-to-day entries made by the Salt department here reveals. Photographs of these entries along with other priceless records – that includes photographs and name rolls, a few retrieved from the Nehru Memorial Museum Library in New Delhi, have been documented by Mr.A.Vedarathinam to the extent possible.
Keywords: Remembering the martyrs