If it’s March, it must be salt…

One historic day in March, 85 years ago, salt was used to break the British resistance. Gandhiji had taken yet another giant step towards India’s freedom. The Dandi March proved a day of reckoning….

March 12, 2015 06:26 pm | Updated March 14, 2015 08:32 pm IST

Historic: Walk to freedom. Photo: The Hindu Photo Library

Historic: Walk to freedom. Photo: The Hindu Photo Library

A king once asked his daughters what they thought of him.

The first two were profuse with praise: “Oh, you’re the brightest jewel in the universe!”

“You’re the kindest, handsomest, most brilliant father and king that ever lived!”

The third daughter said he was like salt.

The king growled angrily and waved her away. But one day someone served him a magnificent lunch that had only one thing missing — salt! It made the king realise the startling importance of the common grainy white powder in our lives.

And that is why people who love you will say, “You’re the salt of the earth!”

Salt is so important that it even shook an empire.

Let’s go back in time and see how it happened. Eighty five years, to be exact. On March 12, 1930, Mahatma Gandhi left his Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, and took a walk with his followers. As he walked, many supporters joined him and the walking crowd swelled. And swelled. He stopped now and then to explain to people what he was doing. It must have been a sight to see. The March was called the ‘white flowing river’ because of the thousands of people marching in white khadi clothes.

Battle for truth

They reached Dandi, a coastal town by the Arabian Sea, on April 5. They had walked 240 miles in all! Early next morning, there was a prayer meeting. After that, they walked down to the beach. Gandhiji bent down and picked up a handful of salt-laden mud. It was a small, ordinary act, but it shook the British Empire because it was one of the most important links in Gandhiji’s peaceful resistance against the foreign rulers of our country.

His Satyagraha, the battle for truth, was simple. “You hit me, I’ll stay quiet. I won’t hit you back, but I won’t obey you either!” That was the spirit of the Indian Independence movement.

The British had put a heavy tax on salt. The Government not only had a monopoly on the making of salt, they also required anyone who used salt to pay tax. Everyone needed salt in their food, but there were many Indians who couldn’t afford to pay the tax. It was a totally unjust law. Why should you pay the Government for something that’s freely available in Nature!

The freedom fighters seized the opportunity. Gandhiji decided to break the law openly. It would not only be a protest against the unjust Salt Law, it would also send out a message to the British and to everyone else, all over the world. When he bent down that morning and picked up salt from the beach, he was raising the flag of rebellion. Peacefully, by a great symbolic act.

The British wanted to stop him at any cost. Before he arrived they had crushed all the salt into the mud. But Gandhiji picked up salt from the mud and broke the law anyway. It was a major victory. Every day of the march was covered by American newspapers, sending the news all over the world.

About 60,000 people, including Gandhiji, were arrested. But the movement spread. A month later, the fiery poet Sarojini Naidu with 2,500 volunteers courted arrest at a salt works more than a hundred miles from Bombay. And so it went. All across the country, people were openly rising in defiance against the British and making salt. Even though Gandhiji was in jail, the Satyagrahis kept up the struggle.

There’s an interesting story behind the choice of salt for the struggle. The Indian National Congress would have preferred to fight against other laws like the land revenue laws, for example. But Gandhiji chose salt. In a warm country like India, men and women sweated it out in the sun. They needed to replace the salt in their bodies that was lost through perspiration. How could you ask them to pay for it?

It was a simple truth. Turn the mirror to the people and show them how they’re being treated. And they will rise up along with you.

Seventeen years after the symbolic Salt Satyagraha, India got her freedom from the British.

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