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  • Cary Donham


Updated: Jul 16

Anyone willing to make a 241-mile march in boiling heat under constant

threat of government violence to protest a tax on salt is a tower of strength. Yet

that was the Mahatma Gandhi-led Great Salt March in India, an early example of a

nonviolent protest that mobilized Indian people and set the stage for negotiations

that led to Indian independence.

In 1889, the British, having taken control of India’s government from the

East India Tea company in 1857, implemented the Salt Laws and imposed a

government monopoly on the production and sale of salt, and a tax on its sale. Salt

was a necessity for Indians, since most Indians were laborers who needed salt in

their diet to balance their physical labor in India’s humid climate. The Indian

people strongly resented the heavy tax on a dietary necessity.

Gandhi, a lawyer who had returned to India in 1915 after a successful

campaign in South Africa on behalf of Indians living there, had developed a

nonviolent strategy and philosophy, based on both truth and strength:

“Truth (satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha) engenders and

therefore serves as a synonym for force. I thus began to call the Indian

movement 'satyagraha', that is to say, the Force which is born of Truth

and Love or non-violence[.]”

In January 1930, Gandhi announced an Independence Day on January 26,

1930. Hundreds of thousands of Indians pledged that it was a crime to submit to

British rule. Buoyed by this support, Gandhi began what he hoped would lead to a

mass movement by calling for a march from his ashram 241 miles to Dandi on the

Arabian Sea to obtain salt in defiance of the Salt Laws. Although some, including

the British rulers, ridiculed Gandhi for focusing on something seemingly as minor

as salt, Gandhi reasoned that the universal need for salt would unite those of

different classes and castes.

Gandhi first wrote to the British viceroy Irwin seeking a repeal of the Salt

Tax. When Irwin failed to respond, on March 12, 1930, Gandhi and 79 followers

set off on foot from his ashram toward Dandi. As the march passed through

villages, many joined and eventually the procession was more than a mile long.

The British government did not interfere with the march.

When the group arrived in Dandi on April 5, Gandhi found a piece of mud

with embedded salt, and boiled the mud to remove the salt. He also encouraged

people living along the coast to emulate him and make their own salt 1 Millions of

Indians engaged in civil disobedience involving making their own salt, and 60,000

were arrested. Gandhi announced a plan to march peacefully to and take over a

government salt plant at Dharasana, but before the march took place, Gandhi was

arrested. However, 2500 followers carried out the march and did not fight back

even after government police attacked them:

“American journalist Webb Miller was on the scene, and he

later described what followed. “Suddenly,” he wrote, “at a word of

command, scores of native police 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-


Gandhi and other followers were released in January 1931, pursuant to an

agreement that called for Indian protests to be suspended while members of the

protest movement, including Gandhi, were given a seat with the British

commission negotiating toward Indian independence. Although it was 16 more

years, 1947, before Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan obtained independence from

Britain, the Great Salt March set the stage for India’s independence.

The Great Salt March and its aftermath gained large participation among

both educated and uneducated Indians. It also had a fledgling supportive

organization, the National Congress Party, that eventually became the ruling party

in India post-independence. It also had multi-generational leadership. In addition to

Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, 20 years younger than Gandhi, became the President of

the Congress Party in 1929 and eventually India’s first prime minister in 1947.

While Nehru at times felt Gandhi should pursue a more aggressive approach to

pursuing independence, there was no disagreement over nonviolent tactics.

Further, the tactic and philosophy of satyagraha began to turn the views of British

authorities unhappy with the sight of police clubbing marchers who offered no

resistance but who did not retreat.

And like the Women’s Suffrage Movement discussed in a previous blog,

Gandhi’s satyagraha philosophy required truth, strength and patience to ultimately



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