Salt Politics: A Maritime Perspective

By Janhavi Vilas Lokegaonkar, Research Associate, Maritime History Society

Imagine a plate of delectable food in front of you that turns out to be an unpleasant experience on your palate due to inappropriate use or rather absence of salt! Even in our imagination, food without salt paints such a bland picture. That’s the power of salt. In the Indian independence struggle, salt had a significant role to play.

Salt is so important that it even shook the British empire! Around ninety years ago, on March 12, 1930, Mahatma Gandhi left his Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, and marched out with his followers. The result by the end of this historic walk, indeed made it a walk to remember. Many supporters joined him and the walking crowd swelled. He stopped now and then to explain to people what he was doing. It must have been quite a sight to see. The March was also called the ‘ white flowing river ’ because of the thousands of people marching in white khadi clothes.[1]

The Maritime Dimension:

The entire crowd reached Dandi, a coastal town by the Arabian Sea, on April 5, 1930. Early next morning, there was a prayer meeting after which, they walked down to the beach. Gandhiji 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 levied a heavy tax on salt. The daily essential commodity on a high price was hard to afford for the commoners. The Government not only had a monopoly on the making of salt, but the unjust rules that were imposed upon the Indian subjects also required payment of taxes by anyone who used salt. Everyone needed salt in their food, but there were men who couldn’t afford to pay the tax. Why should one pay the Government for something that’s freely available in Nature! Right?

The freedom fighters seized this opportunity. Gandhiji decided to break the law amenably. It would not only be a protest against the unjust Salt Law but also send out a strong message to the British and to everyone else. When he picked up a fistful of salt from the beach that morning, he was raising the flag of rebellion albeit peacefully.

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 began. The act of defiance gained momentum and spread all across the country. People were openly rising in disobedience against the British and making salt. Even though Gandhiji was in jail, the satyagrahis continued their moral fight.

The choice of Salt ; a regular commodity as a means to offer resistance was in a way symbolic. The Indian National Congress would have preferred to fight against other laws like the land revenue laws, for example. But, Gandhiji chose salt. Salt represented the common man and his sufferings. Claiming that salt was equated to salary, M.J.Akabar had summarised that, “Gandhiji’s Dandi salt march in 1930 was an important aspect of the last push. Salt is equated to salary. After all, we still say ‘apka namak khaya hai’ .” [2]

Seventeen years after the symbolic salt satyagraha, India got her freedom from the British. This asserts the startling importance of the common household commodity in our lives. An atypical connection to the maritime expanse but a vital aspect nonetheless. As an aside, I wonder if this is why people who love us also say, “ You’re the salt of the Earth !”

References

[1] https://www.thehindu.com/features/kids/if-its-march-it-must-be-salt/article6986221.ece

[2] https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/gandhi-s-miracle-was-defeating-colonialism-with-an-indian-idea-m-j-akbar-117101300006_1.html

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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