Gandhi (Part 4)
The Salt March was the beginning of a nationwide campaign to boycott the salt tax. It began on March 12, 1930 when Gandhi and 78 followers marched out from the Sabarmati Ashram and headed to the sea, about 200 miles away. The group of marchers grew larger as the days wore on, building up to approximately two or three thousand. The group marched about 12 miles per day in the scorching sun. When they reached Dandi, a town along the coast, on April 5, the group prayed all night. In the morning, Gandhi made a presentation of picking up a piece of sea salt that lay on the beach. Technically, he had broken the law.
This began a momentous, national endeavor for Indians to make their own salt. Thousands of people went to the beaches to pick up loose salt while others began to evaporate salt water. Indian-made salt was soon sold across the country. The energy created by this protest was contagious and felt all around India. Peaceful picketing and marches were also conducted. The British responded with mass arrests.
When Gandhi announced that he planned a march on the government-owned Dharasana Saltworks, the British arrested Gandhi and imprisoned him without trial. Although the British had hoped that Gandhi’s arrest would stop the march, they had underestimated his followers. The poet Mrs. Sarojini Naidu took over and led the 2,500 marchers. As the group reached the 400 policemen and six British officers who were waiting for them, the marchers approached in a column of 25 at a time. The marchers were beaten with clubs, often being hit on their heads and shoulders. The international press watched as the marchers did not even raise their hands to defend themselves. After the first 25 marchers were beaten to the ground, another column of 25 would approach and be beaten, until all 2,500 had marched forward and been pummeled. The news of the brutal beating by the British of peaceful protesters shocked the world.
Realizing he had to do something to stop the protests, the British viceroy, Lord Irwin, met with Gandhi. The two men agreed on the Gandhi-Irwin Pact, which granted limited salt production and the freeing of all the peaceful protesters from jail as long as Gandhi called off the protests. While many Indians felt that Gandhi had not been granted enough during these negotiations, Gandhi himself viewed it as a sure step on the road to independence.
Indian independence did not come quickly. After the success of the Salt March, Gandhi conducted another fast which only enhanced his image as a holy man or prophet. Concerned and dismayed at such adulation, Gandhi retired from politics in 1934 at age 64. However, Gandhi came out of retirement five years later when the British viceroy brazenly announced that India would side with England during World War II, without having consulted any Indian leaders. The Indian independence movement had been revitalized by this British arrogance.
Many in the British Parliament realized that they were once again facing mass protests in India and began discussing possible ways to create an independent India. Although Prime Minister Winston Churchill steadfastly opposed the idea of losing India as a British colony, the British announced in March 1941 that it would free India at the end of World War II. This was just not enough for Gandhi.
Wanting independence sooner, Gandhi organized a “Quit India” campaign in 1942. In response, the British once again jailed Gandhi.
When Gandhi was released from prison in 1944, Indian independence seemed in sight. Unfortunately, however, huge disagreements between Hindus and Muslims had arisen. Since the majority of Indians were Hindu, the Muslims feared not having any political power if there was an independent India. Thus, the Muslims wanted the six provinces in northwest India, which had a majority population of Muslims, to become an independent country. Gandhi heatedly opposed the idea of a partition of India and did his best to bring all sides together.
The differences between Hindus and Muslims proved too great for even the Mahatma to fix. Massive violence erupted, including raping, slaughter, and the burning of entire towns. Gandhi toured India, hoping his mere presence could curb the violence. Although violence did stop where Gandhi visited, he could not be everywhere.
The British, witnessing what seemed sure to become a violent civil war, decided to leave India in August 1947. Before leaving, the British were able to get the Hindus, against Gandhi’s wishes, to agree to a partition plan. On August 15, 1947, Great Britain granted independence to India and to the newly formed Muslim country of Pakistan.
The violence between the Hindus and Muslims continued as millions of Muslim refugees marched out of India on the long trek to Pakistan and millions of Hindus who found themselves in Pakistan packed up their belongings and walked to India. At no other time have so many people become refugees. The lines of refugees stretched for miles and many died along the way from illness, exposure, and dehydration. As 15 million Indians became uprooted from their homes, Hindus and Muslims attacked each other with vengeance.
To stop this wide-spread violence, Gandhi once again went on a fast. He would only eat again, he stated, once he saw clear plans to stop the violence. The fast began on January 13, 1948. Realizing that the frail and aged Gandhi could not withstand a long fast, both sides worked together to create a peace. On January 18, a group of more than a hundred representatives approached Gandhi with a promise for peace, thus ending Gandhi’s fast.
Scene from the movie “Gandhi” in which the Indian pacifier speaks about the unity of Muslims and Hindus.
Salman Rushdie’s thought on India (Hindus) and Pakistan (Muslims)
Simple explanation of Hinduism and Islam