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Dandi March with a touch of 2005
Amberish K Diwanji | March 12, 2005 03:13 IST
Last Updated: March 12, 2005 10:31 IST
Salary. Few of us know that salt, besides being part of what we eat daily (unless you are a health freak on a no-salt diet!), is the root of a word that most of us sweat for and look forward to at the end of the month. Come to think of it, few of us would work if we were not paid a salary, or salt for our sweat!
Roman soldiers received a salarium, a packet of salt, to use in their food and to preserve food while out on expeditions conquering barbarian lands. With preserved food, they could march for days. Some historians point out that salt production in Roman lands down came at the same time as the empire's decline set in.
At the end of the 1920s, Mahatma Gandhi was looking for an issue to rally Indians. The Civil Disobedience Movement of 1919-1920 had ended badly in Chauri Chaura. When he called off the movement, many Indians felt betrayed. But Gandhi understood that a movement gone astray would degenerate and lose focus. After calling off the Civil Disobedience Movement, he spent most of the decade working on social reforms, aware that mere political reform without social reform would lead to a flawed India.
To say that salt is important is to state the obvious. But the mark of great leadership is to make the obvious a symbol for battle. Gandhi was aware about the importance of symbolism when he took on the might of the British, whose empire in 1930 was at its zenith.
He had chosen to wear a dhoti and spin cloth on a wheel to empathise for those impoverished by British policy and the mills of Lancaster that could not be bothered about the plight of the Indian masses.
Looking for a cause, Gandhi found one right easily: the British law that made manufacturing salt a crime. Indians, the British Raj decreed, cannot make or sell salt; only British government-approved salt was to be sold, which the traders had to get from British units.
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Mahatma Gandhi, then 61, wrote to then viceroy Lord Irwin that he would break the law as it was patently unfair. So began the historic Dandi March 75 years ago. Gandhi set out from the Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmedabad, at 6.30 am and walked for about 325 kilometres, to arrive in Dandi 26 days later.
He walked for 23 days, taking three days rest.
In Dandi, he made salt, breaking the law. A little later, not surprisingly, Gandhi was sent to jail!
The Dandi March is one of the most celebrated non-violent events in the history of mankind; where a wrong law was deliberately broken without resort to violence.
The effect on India was electric -- across the vast subcontinent, from Peshawar down to the Coromandel coast, people went around making salt and going to jail when nabbed.
1930 was historic for another reason. January 26 , at the Karachi session, the Congress declared it would work for Purna Swaraj (complete independence). Indians would not settle for dominion status.
The march, which started 36 days later, was the first step towards fulfilling the Karachi promise. The symbolism was breaking an unjust law; the effect was rallying Indians across the nation and preparing them for the final blow to British rule.
A year later, after the Gandhi-Irwin pact, more British laws were repealed. Many who broke laws were not prosecuted. It was a clear victory for Gandhi.
Mahatma Gandhi never returned to Sabarmati. He left for the Dandi March and vowed never to return until India achieved Independence.
Gandhi was assassinated a few months after Independence and could never make the promised return to Sabarmati.
The British law is back, albeit modified, and for a justifiable reason. While manufacturing salt from the sea is no crime, such salt cannot be sold in India.
The Indian government has decreed that only iodised salt can be sold, which helps large firms. The reason is to stop the spread of the dreaded goitre, caused by iodine deficiency.
This law has helped cut down goitre that was rampant in the 1970s.
Seventy-five years after the march, the Ashram is spruced up to relive history. Tushar Gandhi, great grandson of Mohandas and Kasturba Gandhi, and head of the Mahatma Gandhi Foundation, is holding the Dandi Yatra. Some 75-odd Congress workers from all over India will join him.
With the Congress party's involvement, there is no doubt the march, which was initially conceived as a platinum anniversary march, has acquired a political colour.
Congress party President Sonia Gandhi will flag off the march and may attend the final day's event. If she does not, the organisers expect Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to attend it.
The Congress march and the Tushar Gandhi march were to be separate. "Since we are both doing the same thing for the same reasons, we saw no reason to hold separate marches," explained Minister of Sports Sunil Dutt, who is in charge of the Congress participants.
But the difference is patent. The Congress marchers are party workers. Tushar Gandhi's event is eclectic, drawing people from all over India and the world.
On the eve of the march, his office, opposite the Ashram, is making passes for the hundreds of those keen to participate.
Not all participants plan to walk the entire route.
The 75th anniversary march hopes to recreate the spirit of the 1930s. The marchers will take the same route at the same time and observe the three halts Gandhi made.
The yatris will spend the nights in tents and subsist on frugal, vegetarian meals.
But 2005 is not 1930.
Accompanying the yatris will be vehicles to carry bags, so the marchers only need to carry the bare minimum stuff, including water (summer starts early in Gujarat!).
More importantly, to allow people to stay in touch with home, the yatris will have access to a mobile Internet café.
Reliance Infocomm will send a wireless Internet-enabled van along with the yatris. "A foreign participant told us she needed to e-mail her mother. We told her not to worry," explained an organiser.
It remains to be seen whether it is a 1930 march with a touch of 2005, or vice versa.
More reports from Delhi
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