Do you know what salt, the word salary, and Indian independence have in common? Well, the answer takes us back to 900 BC, when Roman soldiers worked in a sal-arium and were paid a sal-ary of… you guessed it- salt! That’s actually why we have the saying ‘he’s worth his salt,’ meaning he is efficient and worth the salt he gets paid.
At around the same time the Maurya kingdom had special officers of the court whose job was to monitor and collect a salt tax. It was common even for Mughal emperors to levy a small salt tax on their subjects.
So you see, taxes on salt have been around long before the Dandi March in 1930. But under British rule, they were unfair and unbearable.
By the 19th century the British East India Company had monopolised the salt trade to such an extent that by 1858 approximately 10% of the Company’s revenue was obtained from the salt trade alone. Remember that they were also dealing in hundreds of other commodities.
They controlled their trade with high taxes and heavy restrictions that made it unaffordable even for the people who were producing the salt.
The lack of salt in people’s diets led to deaths and disease due to iodine deficiency. Food shortages resulted since salt is an essential ingredient in food preservation.
Two of the biggest salt producing regions of India during the British rule were Orissa, which was part of the Calcutta Presidency, and the Rann of Kutch, which was part of the Bombay Presidency. Let’s find out how they were significant.
Holding on to their salt monopoly was so important to the British that they actually built a thorn fence around the western frontiers of Bengal to prevent smuggling. This 4000 km fence consisted of thorny trees, stone walls and ditches, which made it hard for smugglers to cross with their contraband.
The other is significant because it is the site of Mahatma Gandhi‘s famous Salt March. After the declaration of Purna Swaraj in 1929, Gandhi chose to use the issue of salt to protest against the British rule. Even though the Raj did not feel threatened by a protest on salt taxes, the choice was a wise decision.
When was Dandi March Started?
On March 12, 1930, Gandhi started his 390 km journey from Sabarmati Ashram towards Dandi. This small group of 78 people soon became a procession 3 km long as Gandhi stopped in villages along the way to give speeches and inspire more people to join him.
Finally on April 6th, Gandhiji arrived on the coast, picked up a piece of salty sand and declared:
“With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire.”
He encouraged people to boycott the tax and make their own salt whenever and wherever it were convenient.
There was pandemonium everywhere as people all over India began to produce illegal salt. The Dandi march was so successful in uniting people against the British that 60,000 people were imprisoned within a month.
People all over began a mass civil disobedience movement by boycotting British goods and refusing to pay taxes they thought were unfair.
What started as a peaceful protest against an unfair salt tax led to mass unity against British rule. Wouldn’t you agree that Gandhiji is worth his salt?
- efficient: working in a well-organised manner
- levy: impose (a tax or fine)
- monopolise: obtain the majority share or complete control
- contraband: goods that have been imported or exported illegally
- procession: a long line of people or vehicles moving in an orderly fashion as part of a ceremony
- pandemonium: wild disorder or confusion
- In what year was the Dandi March?
- Approximately how much revenue did the East India Company earn as part of their salt trade in the 19th century?
- What was the thorn fence?
- Why did Gandhi choose to protest the unfair salt tax?
- Indian Freedom Struggle, visit: http://mocomi.com/indian-freedom-struggle/