Gandhi’s Life – Part 11
|January 9, 2007||Posted by Staff under Uncategorized|
Biography of M.K. Gandhi
The Salt March
Gandhi said he had an inner voice which counseled him. For more than a month he searched for the way to begin his campaign, and then in February, 1930, his voice spoke. He began to attack the salt laws. The British government had a monopoly on salt; no one could make it or purchase it from any other source. It was a cardinal example of colonial exploitation and the sort of oppression understood by every Indian, from the intellectual who objected to the principle to the peasant who objected to the price.
On March 2, Gandhi wrote the Viceroy politely indicting the British for their crimes against India and warning that unless some of the wrongs were righted he would begin his civil disobedience campaign in nine days. The Viceroy’s secretary acknowledged the letter coldly; the British conceded nothing. Gandhi commented, “On bended knee I asked for bread and I received stone instead.”
A fever mounted in India and around the world as everyone wondered what Gandhi would do. Local and foreign newspapermen clustered at the ashram and cables flashed to an audience of curious or concerned observers.
On March 12, after prayers, Gandhi and seventy-eight disciples, both men and women, left the satyagraha ashram and headed south on foot. “We are marching in the name of God,” said Gandhi.
Along the way peasants prostrated themselves in the dust to receive the blessing of the Mahatma’s presence and kiss his footprints. Each day more volunteers joined the small army until it swelled to several thousand. Leaning on a long staff, sixty-one-year-old Gandhi led the marchers to a place on the seashore called Dandi. It was a two-hundred-mile trek, and Gandhi, a superb dramatist, covered it in twenty-four days in an atmosphere of mounting veneration and excruciating suspense.
Gandhi reached Dandi on April 5. He and his followers prayed all that night. At dawn he walked into the sea. Then he returned to the shore and picked up a pinch of salt. This was the signal all India had awaited. Gandhi had defied the salt laws and was telling his countrymen to do the same. This was his chosen path of civil disobedience without violence.
“It seemed as though a spring had been suddenly released,” wrote Nehru. All over India the war of independence began. The armor of the Indians was the teaching of Gandhi and their weapon was common salt. On the coast they produced it illegally; in the interior they bought and sold it illegally. The exasperated British responded with mass arrests and beatings, but they could not rewind the spring.
The Indians also resumed noncooperation. They quit their government jobs, boycotted English goods, and refused to pay taxes. India was nearly paralyzed, and all the British could think of was to pack the jails. Within a month after Gandhi held his pinch of salt aloft nearly one hundred thousand Indians, including most of the leaders of the Congress party, were political prisoners. But the Indians continued to wage their war fearlessly and nonviolently.
Gandhi and his disciples remained camped near Dandi and there, on the night of May 4, thirty armed policemen, two officers, and a magistrate came to arrest the gentle old pacifist.
Gandhi asked for and received permission to brush his few remaining teeth. He was then taken directly to jail. There was no accusation, no trial, and no sentence; he was simply imprisoned. Before his arrest he had planned to lead a march against the Dharasana Salt Works. In his place a woman nationalist, Mrs. Sarojini Naidu, addressed the twenty-five hundred volunteers. “You must not resist,” she warned them. “You must not even raise a hand to ward off a blow.”
One of Gandhi’s sons led the marchers to the salt works, which were guarded by four hundred native policemen commanded by six British officers. An American correspondent who was present wrote, “… at a word of command, scores of native policemen rushed upon the advancing marchers and rained blows on their heads … Not one of the marchers even raised an arm to fend off the blows. They went down like ten-pins … sprawling, unconscious or writhing with fractured skulls or broken shoulders … Hour after hour stretcher-bearers carried back a stream of inert, bleeding bodies.”
The world observed in horror. The conquering British were not morally superior to the subjugated Indians after all. Even the British were shaken. No civilized person continues to strike a man who won’t strike back. It was apparent that if the British weren’t violent they would lose and if they were violent, they would lose anyway. Though seventeen years were to pass before India became formally independent, Gandhi and satyagraha — the force of truth — had broken the chains.
END OF PART ELEVEN
This biography was written by Roberta Strauss Feuerlicht and is reprinted here with the permission of the copyright holder.
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