GANDHI’S SALT MARCH, 1930 Term paper

In the spring of 1930, Mohandas K. Gandhi walked with seventyeight followers more than 200 miles to the sea, where he symbolically defied the British monopoly on the production and distribution of salt in India. This marked the beginnings of a dramatic nonviolent civil disobedience campaign. Although the British did not grant independence to India until 1947, the Salt March may be said to be the beginning of the end of British colonial rule in India.

At the time of the Salt March, Gandhi was sixty-one years old. Educated in England, he gained a reputation as an activist on behalf of the rights of Indians in South Africa. From 1915, he worked in India, transforming the Congress Party into a mass movement and conducting his first large nonviolent civil disobedience movement from 1920 to 1922. His method of nonviolent civil disobedience is known as Satyagraha, “Hold fast to the truth.”

On 12 March 1930, Gandhi and his followers began the march to the sea to challenge the Salt Act, which symbolized the injustice of British rule to many Indians. Salt was a necessity in India’s hot climate, and the British tax made it much more expensive than it otherwise would have been.

Gandhi hoped not merely to end the salt tax but also to convince the British of the injustice of colonial rule. Marching twelve miles a day, Gandhi and his followers reached the sea on 6 April. Gandhi walked into the surf and picked up a lump of natural salt. In a public statement, he confessed he had broken the law by evading the tax on salt, and he urged Indians to do the same. The government responded with wholesale arrests, finally arresting Gandhi on 4 May. After Gandhi’s release from prison in January 1931, he attended talks with the Viceroy, which led to the Gandhi-Irwin Pact in March. Civil disobedience was “discontinued” and Gandhi agreed to attend the second Round Table Conference in London. Very little came out of the conference. A government White Paper in 1933, which only slightly reflected the discussions at the Round Table Conference, led to the Government of India Act in 1935 and elections in 1937. The Salt March was the most dramatic, widely publicized, and successful of Gandhi’s civil disobedience campaigns. Although it indirectly caused the British to grant a measure of self-government in 1935, yet another campaign from 1940 to 1942 and the effects of World War II were needed to convince the British the time had come to grant India independence. Nonetheless, the Salt March effectively displayed Gandhi’s talent for symbolic action and probably came closer than the other major campaigns to matching the high standards he set for his followers. It was the beginning of the end of British rule in India and a crucial step toward independence. Gandhi, influenced by the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy and the American essayist Henry David Thoreau, in his turn served as an inspiration for Martin Luther King, Jr., and the American civil rights movement.
Suggestions for Term Papers
1. Compare the depiction of the Salt March in the 1982 film Gandhi with historical accounts. How accurately does the film portray the Salt March and events following it?
2. Investigate Gandhi’s daily routine before and after the Salt March and try to determine the reasons for various activities he undertook on a daily basis.
3. How did the British colonial administration in India respond to the Salt March? What were their views on Gandhi?
4. Read about some of the other major figures associated with Gandhi such as Jawaharlal Nehru. What roles did they play in the Salt March and in the activities that followed it?
5. Find out more about Gandhi’s years in South Africa. What was the importance of his work there to his later efforts in India?
6. Trace the influence of Gandhi on Martin Luther King, Jr. To what extent did Dr. King model his civil rights campaigns on Gandhi’s idea of Satyagraha?

Research Suggestions

In addition to the boldfaced items, look under the entry for “The Independence of India and Pakistan, 1947” (#42). Search under Jawaharlal Nehru, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, London Round Table Conferences, and Government of India Act (1935).

SUGGESTED SOURCES

Primary Sources

Gandhi, Mohandas K. An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiment with Truth. Boston: Beacon Press, 1957. Gandhi’s own account of his work.

———. The Essential Gandhi: An Anthology. Edited by Louis Fischer. New York: Vintage Books, 1962. A useful collection of Gandhi’s writings.

———. The Gandhi Reader: A Source Book of His Life and Writing. Edited by Homer A. Jack. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1956. Another useful collection.

Secondary Sources

Brown, Judith M. Gandhi and Civil Disobedience: The Mahatma in Indian Politics, 1928–1934. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977. An indispensable source for the history of the Salt March and events surrounding it.

Erikson, Erik H. Gandhi’s Truth: On the Origins of Militant Nonviolence. New York: W. W. Norton, 1969. An influential study of Gandhi’s methods. The epilogue provides a short account of the Salt March.

Fischer, Louis. The Life of Mahatma Gandhi. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1950. An older but still useful biography of Gandhi.

Gandhi. Directed by David Lean. 1982. An epic film biography of Gandhi. A good introduction to Gandhi as a person and a leader.

Gopal, S. The Vice-Royalty of Lord Irwin, 1926–1931. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957. Gandhi and the Salt March from the British perspective.

Mehta, Ved. Mahatma Gandhi and His Apostles. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993. A fascinating introduction to Gandhi and his work. Originally published by Viking Press in 1977.

Wolpert, Stanley. Nehru: A Tryst with Destiny. New York: Oxford University
Press. 1996. A recent and useful biography of a man who worked closely with Gandhi and was a major figure in the independence movement in his own right.

———. A New History of India. 6th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. The standard history of India. Probably the best starting point for those wishing to investigate Indian history in the twentieth century.



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