Mohandas Gandhi: The Salt March (Fall 2012)
Gandhi is one of the most influential people in our history. Compared to other “social and political thinkers [of] the twentieth century…Marx, Lenin, and Mao Tse-tung,” Gandhi is the “odd man out” when you think about what these leaders stood for (Copley 1). He believed in change, and was a man of the people.
Like many other famous socialists, but he believed in a different method of bringing about change for his country and people. Most socialists at the time believed in a violent protest of the government, and the use of force to change their way of living. Gandhi’s belief was different from this, he believed that non-violent protests were most efficient and best for his people. His philosophy will end up being one that influences other famous civil rights leaders in generations to come.
Gandhi was born in 1869, in a small city-state called Porbandar. His father, Karamchand Gandhi, was the chief minister of the city-state. He was known for his honesty and despite having “no formal education or training in politics, he was incorruptible and brought honor to [Gandhi’s] family.” (Martin 13). Gandhi had two older brothers and one sister; his mother was a “devout Hindu.” (14). Devout Hindus were people who practiced the Hindu religion very strictly. They would go to services everyday and pray before every meal. His mother taught him the Hindu ways and taught him about fasting, which showed him “self-discipline and self-purification.” (14). Gandhi was expected to follow in his fathers footsteps but, instead he decided to “devote his life to the service of the common people.” (13)
What Gandhi learns at a young age, helps him make the decisions later on in his life. At a young age he learned of segregation from the British. The British at the time were still occupying India, and they would reserve the best sections of cities for themselves. The British neighborhoods compared to the wealthy Indians were very different. The British neighborhoods “had paved roads, gardens, sewers, running water and parks.” (17). The Indian neighborhoods were almost the complete opposite of the British neighborhoods, the Gandhi’s lived in what some would consider the slums, even though his dad was the chief minister. Gandhi seeing this, got him to start thinking about why was the British able to do this? This wasn’t their homeland it was the native Indians home, and they should be given the nicer neighborhoods.
At the time in India it was not a classless society. Instead of a normal classes society, where Gandhi lived they practiced the Caste system. The Caste system was practiced by a majority of people living in India and was practice by people that believed in the Hindu religion. “The Caste system is a hierarchy of endogamous groups that individuals enter only by birth.” (Olcott 648). The Caste system of India was different from “other countries mainly [by] being invested with the mighty sanctions of the ancient Hindu religion,” meaning that to be a “good Hindu” you must do the things that the Hindu religion obligates you to do (648). Gandhi and his family practiced Hinduism and were apart of a wealthy caste.
By age thirteen Gandhi was married, in an arranged marriage. His wife’s name was Kasturba, and they had four sons. Even though the marriage was arranged, she still supported Gandhi in everything he did. After almost ten years of marriage Gandhi left his wife and sons in India, while he traveled to London to become a lawyer. When he first arrived in London he felt like an outsider, and looked like one. For the first couple of months Gandhi spent trying to fit in by “buying new suits, fine-tuning his English accent, learning French, and taking violin and dance lessons.” (Rosenberg). After those couple months Gandhi realized that it was pointless to attempt those activities and stopped doing them, and focused on his studies. Also while he was in London he discovered his passion for vegetarianism, and became a hardcore vegetarian. He even found a vegetarian club called the “Vegetarian Society…The Society consisted of an intellectual crowd who introduced Gandhi to different authors,” he mostly enjoyed a poem called the “Bhagavad Gita.” (Rosenberg). This poem was considered a sacred text to the devout Hindus, the ideas of this text helped formulate his later beliefs. In June 1891 Gandhi had officially became a lawyer, and moved back to India.
After London, and he moved back to India, Gandhi attempted to practice law there. He found it much more difficult to do so here rather then in London. It was much more difficult to practice here because he did not understand Indian law as well as he did London law, he also “lacked confidence” in the courtroom (Rosenberg). Feeling discouraged about how bad he was at being a lawyer in India, when he was offered a job in south Africa he graciously accepted it. After being in Africa for a couple weeks Gandhi was asked to go on a trip from Natal, where he was living, all the way to the capital. When he boarded the train, with his first class passenger ticket, officials asked him to move from the first class to third class. Gandhi refused and was thrown of the station; it was here where he began to change “from a very quiet and shy man to a resilient and potent leader against discrimination.” (Rosenberg). He contemplated just letting it go and to go back to India or to stay and fight. He chose to stay and fight it. This was the beginning of what shaped him to lead the Salt march.
In 1928 Gandhi and the group the Indian National Congress sent a letter to the head of the British government demanding that they leave India for good and go back to Britain. If they did not comply with the demands of Gandhi, they threatened to organize a nationwide protest of one of the British taxes. Of course the British government denied there demand and remained in India. As promised Gandhi began to organize a nationwide protest. For about a month he sat in his house by himself, contemplating what they would be protesting, and after a month he finally came up with a perfect thing to protest, salt.
Gandhi was smart by choosing to call for a boycott of British salt. This was a very strategic plan because he chose something that affected all of the native Indians. Every person of India either used salt for cooking purposes or many other things. By him choosing something that affected all Indians, he would get a large number of supporters when he began the protest. Gandhi started with only about 100 followers at the beginning of his march, and as they walked the more attention and followers they gained. They were going to march from Sabarmati Ashram, to the sea. This would only take about a week or two to walk there, but for Gandhi and his followers they were going to take about a month. By them taking longer, it would gain more attention and publicity as they moved on. This turned out to be true for them, as they marched news stations would come out and do stories about them. At each city they would stop at Gandhi would ask the leaders to resign. Another form of protest that he was doing along his journey was that he would spin his own cloth and make his own clothes. He refused to use British cloths and clothes. As they marched on Gandhi’s followers kept getting larger and larger with each state that they would stop at.
By the time they reached the sea, there were almost three thousand members of the protest. Gandhi’s plan was to get arrested, that’s what he wanted to happen. When they reached the beach he asked that all of his followers go to the beach as well and grab there own salt. This was considered to technically be illegal, but when Gandhi and his followers grabbed there salt, nothing happened. The British did not arrest them, or anything. Gandhi then decided to turn the march towards a salt factory; the British were forced to arrest him without trial. After he was arrested, all of his followers formed groups of 25 and marched on the British government building. When each group would march toward the 400 policemen, the police would beat them senseless, until group-by-group all the protestors had been beaten. The news stations were still there and got footage of everything that was happening, and aired it all across the world. Either the rest of the world knew what was going on and chose to not do anything or they did not know, after that was aired the British government was scorned by other countries. In order to stop the protests the British were forced to release Gandhi and meet with him. After discussing, the British viceroy and Gandhi agreed on the “Delhi Pact, which granted limited salt production and the freeing of all the peaceful protestors from jail as long as Gandhi called of the protests.” (Rosenberg).
Some of his followers said that Gandhi was unsuccessful in his plan to stop the British occupation of India. They believed that he did not ask for enough when the viceroy of Britain and him met to negotiate the “Delhi Pact”. Gandhi saw this as a step towards British rule coming to an end in India. He knew that the it would take the British a long while before their rule in India would come to an end. It took about a decade for Britain to leave India, but it was Gandhi’s march against salt that was the first step in giving power back to the Indians of India. After the salt march, Gandhi organized many other groups and non-violent protests. He attempted to reunite India when the Hindus and Muslims were trying to split up India; Gandhi stepped in to try and keep it together, but was unsuccessful. The Hindus and Muslims erupted in “Massive violence, including raping, slaughter, and the burning of entire towns.“ (Rosenberg). Gandhi attempted to visit the areas of India that had the most violence but he was unable to stop the violence everywhere because “he could not be everywhere,” (Rosenberg). A few radical Hindu groups did not believe in what Gandhi was attempting to do, and while he was walking to a prayer house a young Hindu man assassinated him on January 30, 1948, he was 78.
While conducting my research on Mohandas Gandhi I believe that there were two main history forces involved in the change of history. The first history force I found was politics and government. I found this force relevant because a main part of what Gandhi protested against and what he is most famous for was the occupation of India by Britain. The British were an organized system that ruled over India’s people, and controlled there every day life. Which leads me to the next history force I noticed while I researched about Gandhi. The second history force I found is the role of a specific individual. I thought that this force was pretty obvious when I chose to do my research on a specific individual from our culture that was very influential. The positive effect that he had on India and the inhabitants of that country will forever be taught in classes all across the world. His works of non-violent protests will influence future protestors, and has already influenced many. The works and actions of Gandhi influenced Martin Luther King Jr., in his non-violent protest against segregation and racism. Gandhi’s principals will forever be influential towards non-violent leaders, and was a great man.
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- Martin, Christopher. Mohandas Gandhi. Lerner Publications, 2001.
- SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Mohandas Gandhi.” SparkNotes.com. SparkNotes LLC. 2005. Web. 3 Dec. 2012.
- Olcott, Mason. "The caste system of India." American Sociological Review (1944): 648-657.
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- Anderson, James William. "The methodology of psychological biography." The Journal of Interdisciplinary History 11.3 (1981): 455-475.
- Fox, Richard Gabriel. Gandhian utopia: Experiments with culture. Boston: Beacon Press, 1989.