A Pinch of Salt and the One of the Largest Nonviolence Movements in India: The Salt March of 1930

Disclaimer: The following blog post is not a reflection of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s opinion on the Salt March of 1930.

By Nadya Hayasi.

The Salt March was one of the most famous early acts of civil disobedience, led by nonviolence leader Mahatma Gandhi as part of India’s protest to gain freedom from the British. In 1882, the British government implemented the Salt Act which prohibited Indians from collecting or selling salt, forcing them to buy salt from the British instead.[1] This gave the British a monopoly on the good. The Indians were forced to incur a heavy salt tax charged by British sellers, especially since salt was a staple in their diet.[2] To protest this law, Gandhi declared resistance to the Salt Act and started a campaign of mass civil disobedience, or ‘satyagraha’.

Satyagraha is literally defined as ‘truth-force’ and has been the main ideology in Gandhi’s quest to fight for Indian independence.[3] To Gandhi, satyagraha was a political tool that went beyond quiet resistance and was an active act of non-cooperation and protest. Gandhi’s concept of satyagraha has 3 factors – truth, nonviolence, and self-suffering.[4] Using these 3 factors, Gandhi abstains from anything that harms his opponent while continuing the work towards his goals and the future of India.

So why salt? Initially, Gandhi’s idea of using salt as the centerpiece of their protest led to reluctance from the rest of the activists.[5] It seemed like such a small thing to focus on in the midst of the national struggle. However, Gandhi reasoned that they needed something to unite people of different classes and backgrounds, and salt was the answer.[6] Salt was a daily necessity for most Indians, and the salt tax had hurt all of them immensely.[7] He also felt that a common factor was needed to unite the Muslims and Hindus to revolt against the British by fighting something that impacted both groups.[8] Thus, the idea of the Salt March began to take place.

In 1930, Gandhi and 79 of his followers left Sabarmati Ashram to walk through Gujarat to the coastal town of Dandi with the intention of producing salt.[9] During the 24 days of the march he spoke to thousands of people and led prayers, convincing many more to join the trail. When he reached Dandi, he planned to work the salt flats on the beach but the police had crushed the salt deposits into the mud. Nevertheless, he reached down and picked up a small lump of natural salt out of the mud as an act of defiance towards the British.[10] Thousands of people in the other coastal cities followed Gandhi by making salt on their own, disrupting the British’s order.[11]

Gandhi was arrested but satyagraha continued as Indians were inspired to take their destiny into their own hands. A year later in 1931 Gandhi was released from prison and started negotiations with the British. He agreed to call off the satyagraha in exchange for an equal negotiating role at a London conference on India’s future.[12] The Salt March demonstrated that nonviolence can be an effective political tool, by showing the determination and willingness of the masses to fight for their rights and undermining the power of the ruling party. It is clear that noncooperation and noncompliance with the oppressors also forces the rulers to change their tactics and consider giving in to some demands, as they cannot rule a population who continuously go against their word.

[1] History.com Editors, “The Salt March,” History.com, June 10, 2010.

[2] India Today Web Desk, “The end of Dandi March: The protest that shook the British establishment ended this day, 87 years agoIndia Today, April 6, 2017.

[3] Edward A. Leonard, “The Political Theory of Satyagraha: An Introduction and a Plea for Further Study,” The Western Political Quarterly Vol. 22 No 3 (September 1969): 594.

[4] Roque Ferriols, “Review: SATYAGRAHA,” Review of Conquest of Violence: The Gandhian Philosophy of Conflictby Joan V. Bondurant, Philippine Studies Vol. 7, No. 4 (October 1959): 504.

[5] Dennis Dalton, Mahatma Gandhi: Nonviolent Power in Action (Columbia University Press: New York, 1993): 100.

[6] Evan Andrews, “Why Gandhi’s Salt March Rattled British Colonial Rule,” History.com, October 2, 2019.

[7] Roy Moxham, “Salt Starvation in British India: Consequences of High Salt Taxation in Bengal Presidency, 1765-1878,” Economic and Political Weekly Vol. 36. No. 4 (June 2001): 2270.

[8] Peter Ackerman and Jack Duvall, A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict (Palgrave Macmillan: 2020): 84.

[9] “Chronology: Event Detail Page,” Gandhi Heritage Portal, 15 June 2012.

[10] “The Salt March,” History.com.

[11] Mahatma Gandhi and Dennis Dalton, Selected Political Writings (Hackett Publishing Company: Indiana, 1996): 72.

[12] Mark Engler and Roy Engler, “How Did Gandhi Win? Lessons from the Salt March,” Dissent Magazine, October 20, 2014.