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Gandhi in a salt memorial at Dandi


1930: On March 12, Gandhiji led the Salt Satyagraha from Sabarmati Ashram. On April 5, Gandhiji and his team arrived at Dandi, Gujarat where he manufactured salt, broke the Salt Law and started the nationwide Civil Disobedience Movement.

1930: On March 12, Gandhiji led the Salt Satyagraha from Sabarmati Ashram. On April 5, Gandhiji and his team arrived at Dandi, Gujarat where he manufactured salt, broke the Salt Law and started the nationwide Civil Disobedience Movement. | Photo Credit: The Hindu photo library

In February 2019, Harmony Siganporia walked from Dandi to Ahmedabad with two friends, retracing the route of Gandhi’s Salt March in reverse to tell the story of modern Gujarat in Walking from Dandi: In Search of Vikas. The Dandi March in 1930 marked one of the high points of Gandhi’s political career. Siganporia and her compatriots walked the route of just under 400 km in 25 days, about the same time Gandhi took.

As Gujarat has come to be described as the “laboratory of Hindutva”, Siganporia wanted to find out if there remained any “memories of the region’s prior avatar as the base that served as the setting against which Gandhi put into practice his ‘experiments’ with truth, non-violent civil disobedience, satyagraha and more.” In 1930, Gandhi had walked with a band of dedicated marchers to the coastal town of Dandi, where they broke the law by ‘making’ their own salt. Gandhi held the British Indian government’s tax on that essential food item — salt — as the most unjust of all levies.

‘Jarring’ reminder

The ostentatious Salt Satyagraha Memorial at Dandi, with its light, lasers and salt crystal structure towering high in the sky, feels “somewhat jarring” to Siganporia and her companions, “given that the mineral’s everydayness is a large part of why Gandhi chose salt for this Satyagraha...” They catch up with Dhirubhai Patel, writer of Dandikuch, who runs a school in Dandi, and tells them to be careful along the way; and that people will ask ‘vahiyat’ (ridiculous or provocative) questions.

At Metwad and Karadi — Gandhi crossed both villages on way to Dandi — there’s a water tank called Gandhi talav, a farm named Gandhi farm: “So many Gandhis. No Gandhi at all.” Three days into south Gujarat, they traverse through sugarcane country — the crop a late entrant in the region — and Siganporia witnesses modern day bonded labour, with migrants, mostly from Dang district in Gujarat, doing the hard work on the fields, living in appalling conditions and their children mostly out of school.

Some of the other things she observed were the “paucity of women in public places”; several Muslim young men running vegetarian establishments; despite idyllic stretches with mango and chikoo orchards, the rivers were “overwhelmingly” dry; there were huge piles of garbage everywhere especially on the outskirts of towns and villages; how polite policemen kept an eye on the modern-day marchers; and that people had varying opinions on vikas or development, for many a better life was elsewhere.

Quest for swaraj

She intersperses her narrative with speeches Gandhi gave on his way to Dandi, relevant now as we reappraise who we are and where we are headed as a polity. Urging people to join the struggle and “free our millions of the burden which the white man has placed on them,” Gandhi said in 1930: “But first we ourselves have to get off the backs of the poor.”

For Gandhi, swaraj could only come “from an engagement with the inequalities we perpetuated, for if we were not prepared to squarely face the caste, class, gender, religious and other divides in our society, no amount of political freedom would ameliorate our lot.” During her march, she found many people apathetic to Gandhi, and sometimes there was downright hostility towards him. To stem the tide against this ‘forgetting’ of Gandhi and his legacy, there’s an antidote — and that is to go back to his words, as Siganporia does throughout her remarkable book.

Walking from Dandi: In Search of Vikas; Harmony Siganporia, Oxford University Press, ₹1,495.

sudipta.datta@thehindu.co.in


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Printable version | Jul 4, 2022 12:45:26 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/gandhi-in-a-salt-memorial/article65570106.ece