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When Rajaji defied the salt law

P.V. Srividya
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This is the place where Rajaji was convicted consequent on breaking the salt law on April 30, 1930,at Agasthiyampalli in Vedaranyam—Photo: B. Velankanni Raj
This is the place where Rajaji was convicted consequent on breaking the salt law on April 30, 1930,at Agasthiyampalli in Vedaranyam—Photo: B. Velankanni Raj

In the summer of 1930 at the break of dawn, C. Rajagopalachari picked up a fistful of spontaneous salt at Agasthyampalli and belted out “Vande Mataram.” It was April 30 that year, Gandhi’s deputy led the salt march from Tiruchi to Vedaranyam against the draconian salt law.

The event triggered marathon acts of nationalists’ defiance leading to month-long arrests of satyagrahis starting from April 30 through the end of May in 1930.

The history of Vedaranyam salt satyagraha harbours its own tales of valour. The success of the salt march was drafted by Sardar Vedarathinam Pillai and his deputies.

Rajaji began his march from Tiruchi on April 13 and reached Vedaranyam on April 28. To help Rajaji break the salt law without attracting any surveillance, Sardar Vedarathinam deputed his men to smuggle Rajaji to Agasthyampalli - some six km from the sathyagraha camp, says A. Vedarathinam, grandson of Sardar Vedarathinam. At the stroke of dawn, Rajaji picked up a fistful of salt and history was made.

Rajaji was temporarily lodged in a cell inside the salt office of Agasthyampalli till the arrival of the magistrate from Mannargudi. Today, the six-by-six foot cell tucked away in a corner of the salt department’s office is a silent testimony of a historic moment.

The nationalistic turf that already laid out by Sardar Vedarathinam was the reason for Vedaranyam being chosen for sathyagraha.

Sustained acts of rebellion by the nationalists tired the administrative apparatus of the British Raj. The salt department’s diary entries of the day speak of a vexed administration. ‘The villagers in Vedaranyam boycotted the administration and refused to render any help to the officials. This forced them to write to the higher officials to depute class IV staff from Adiramapattinam including blacksmiths, carpenters, babars, to provide their services,” says Vedarathinam, who has saved the diary.

Unlike Dandi march, Vedaranyam salt march witnessed four-five women participants, the famous among them being Rukmini Laxmipathi and Sucheta Kripalani.

“There were 99 satyagrahis, and we are still working to find out the names of each satyagrahi. We have tried to take the help of Nehru Memorial Library and any help from anywhere is welcome,” says Vedarathinam, who hopes to build a memorial with the names of each satyagrahi inscribed.

Vairappan, a barbar in his teens, had vowed not to render his services to anybody employed under the Raj. It is recorded that Vairappan walked away midway leaving behind a half-shaven sepoy after he realised that he was an employee of the Raj. Vairappan was later remanded for refusing to obey the orders of the magistrate. Today, a bust honouring Vairappan stands tall here at the satyagraha memorial.

At the stroke of dawn on April 30, Rajaji picked up a fistful of salt at Agasthyampalli

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