Gandhi's Salt March, the nonviolent journey that changed the world
Thirty-five years before Dr. Martin Luther King marched from Selma to Montgomery, a 60-year-old Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi led dozens of his followers on a 240-mile journey from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi, a small village on the Arabian Sea, to protest British rule.
Leaning on a long walking stick and dressed as always in modest homespun clothes, Gandhi hoped to bring worldwide attention to the growing Indian independence movement by highlighting the injustice of Britain’s colonial salt laws, which forbid Indians from producing or selling their own salt.
The Salt March, also known as the Dandi March or the Salt Sastyagraha, began on March 12, 1930, near Gandhi’s religious retreat in Sabarmati Ashram, and proceeded some 240 miles southward over 24 days toward the coastal village of Dandi, where a crowd of thousands watched as Gandhi and his followers deliberately broke the law by evaporating seawater to make their own salt. Gandhi’s simple act of civil disobedience set off a chain reaction of mass demonstrations and acts of noncompliance throughout the country, leading British forces to arrest tens of thousands of people.
Although the salt laws were just one manifestation of Britain’s repressive colonial rule, Gandhi’s decision to protest the tax was a stroke of political genius. The prohibition against the independent production or sale of salt, an essential mineral found in India’s earth and waters, was perfectly symbolic of control by a foreign power. The simple injustice of the salt laws – like the racial segregation of Montgomery buses – could be understood by anyone.
Gandhi eventually reached an agreement with India’s British viceroy in 1931 to end the protests in exchange for an end to the salt tax and the release of political prisoners. Colonial rule remained intact, but Britain was shaken. India was awakened to the dream of independence, helping fuel the years of struggle that finally led Britain to partition the country into India and Pakistan in 1947.