Sunday, March 12, 2017
Sometimes big things start with a mere handful of mud
On March 12, 1930, Mahatma Gandhi gave some parting remarks at Chandola lake to those who came to see his party off as they began the Salt March:
There were rumours of my arrest last night. God is great, mysterious indeed are His ways. I am here to say good-bye to you. But even if I were in prison, with your strength I could come back...
[B]e prepared to offer yourselves as civil resisters. Let there be no flinching. Your way at present, however, lies homeward; mine straight on to the sea-coast. You cannot accompany me at present, but you will have an opportunity to accompany me in a different sense later. . . .
The purpose of the March and this satyagraha was, in part, to break the British monopoly on salt manufacture through a form of economic non-cooperation (Method 90: Revenue Refusal). By making their own salt, Indians would deny a small, symbolic amount of tax monies to the Raj in defiance of an unjust law that was part of the larger injustice of occupation.
By itself, that action wouldn't amount to much, so Gandhi had to generate what we'd call buzz today--without social media, no less--hence the March. It generated popular interest in every locality his party passed through, and the media propagated the message far and wide.
Before embarking on this first stage of the satyagraha, Gandhi wrote to the Viceroy, Lord Irwin on March 2:
I know that in embarking on non-violence I shall be running what might fairly be termed a mad risk. But the victories of truth have never been won without risks, often of the gravest character. Conversion of a nation that has consciously or unconsciously preyed I know that in embarking on non-violence I shall be running what might fairly be termed a mad risk. But the victories of truth have never been won without risks, often of the gravest character. Conversion of a nation that has consciously or unconsciously preyed.
[I]f you cannot see your way to deal with these evils and my letter makes no appeal to your heart, on the 11th day of this month,1 I shall proceed with such co-workers of the Ashram as I can take, to disregard the provisions of the salt laws. I regard this tax to be the most iniquitous of all from the poor man’s standpoint. As the independence movement is essentially for the poorest in the land the beginning will be made with this evil. The wonder is that we have submitted to the cruel monopoly for so long.
It is, I know, open to you to frustrate my design by arresting me. I hope that there will be tens of thousands ready, in a disciplined manner, to take up the work after me, and, in the act of disobeying the Salt Act to lay themselves open to the penalties of a law that should never have disfigured the Statute-book.
It might seem odd at first blush to alert the authorities that you plan on breaking the law, but civil resistance is all about letting the people in power know what you're doing and why. That way they can either amend their ways or be provoked into counterproductive actions that undermine their authority and give power to the resisters.
A few days before the March ended in Dandi, spoke at a prayer meeting:
Another piece of information that I have received is that the Government intends to use fire-engines to stop us. We have prepared ourselves for death from cannons and guns, compared to which this is nothing. Of course, even with jets of water, the Government can kill us through torture. It is certainly painful. However, you must bear in mind that not one of us will retreat. I do not think the Government will be so cruel, but we must be prepared.
The March arrived at Dandi on April 5:
That I have reached here is in no small measure due to the power of peace and non-violence: that power is universally felt. The Government may, if it wishes, congratulate itself on acting as it has done, for it could have arrested every one of us. In saying that it did not have the courage to arrest this army of peace, we praise it. It felt ashamed to arrest such an army. He is a civilized man who feels ashamed to do anything which his neighbours would disapprove. The Government deserves to be congratulated on not arresting us, even if it desisted only from fear of world opinion.
Tomorrow we shall break the salt tax law. Whether the Government will tolerate that is a different question. It may not tolerate it, but it deserves congratulations on the patience and forbearance it has displayed in regard to this party.
If the civil disobedience movement becomes widespread in the country and the Government tolerates it, the salt law may be taken as abolished. I have no doubt in my mind that the salt tax stood abolished the very moment that the decision to break the salt laws was reached and a few men took the pledge to carry on the movement even at the risk of their lives till swaraj was won.
If the Government tolerates the impending civil disobedience you may take it for certain that the Government, too, has resolved to abolish this tax sooner or later. If they arrest me or my companions tomorrow, I shall not be surprised, I shall certainly not be pained. It would be absurd to be pained if we get something that we have invited on ourselves.
Then on April 6 (as reported by The Bombay Chronicle):
When they made a beginning in the morning he had himself picked up more mud than salt, but after washing and cleaning he could get two tolas of pure quality which was sufficient for his day’s requirements. That was only a beginning but that signified great things.
In an interview, Gandhi suggested everybody ought to engage in this civil disobedience:
Now that a technical or ceremonial breach of the salt law has been committed, it is now open to anyone who would take the risk of prosecution under the salt law to manufacture salt wherever he wishes and wherever it is convenient.
My advice is that a worker should everywhere manufacture salt and where he knows how to prepare clean salt should make use of it and instruct villagers to do likewise, telling the villagers at the same time that he runs the risk of being prosecuted. In other words the villagers should be fully instructed as to the incidence of salt tax and the manner of breaking laws and regulations in connection with it, so as to have the salt tax repealed and it should be made absolutely clear to the villagers that this breach is to be open and in no way stealthy.
This condition being known they may manufacture salt or help themselves to salt manufactured by nature in creeks and pits near the seashore, to use it for themselves and for their cattle and to sell it to those who will buy it, it being well und- erstood that all such people are committing a breach of the salt law and therefore running the risk of prosecution or even without prosecution to be subjected by the so-called salt officers to harassment. Thus the war against salt tax should be continue...
Gandhi was not arrested yet. That would happen a bit later when the satyagrahis escalated, announcing their nonviolent raid on the Dharasana saltworks. But this was a real turning point in the struggle, massively mobilizing the Indian people while not alienating more moderate members of the Indian National Congress.
Wonder how we could turn outrage on social media into something as effective...