By Robin Gomes
The 90th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s famous Salt March is being observed these days. Also known as the Dandi March, after the place where it ended, the march was an important event in the nonviolent civil disobedience movement led by Gandhi against the British rule in India.
The 384 km (240 miles) march, spanning 24 days, from 12 March to 6 April 1930, was a direct nonviolent protest against Britain’s Salt Act of 1882, which forced Indians to buy this basic necessity from their British rulers, who, in addition to exercising a monopoly over its manufacture and sale, also charged a heavy tax.
The campaign was based upon Gandhi's principles of non-violent protest called satyagraha, which he loosely translated as "truth-force". Starting from his residence of Sabarmati Ashram in a suburb of Ahmedabad, in Gujarat state, Gandhi and 80 of his trusted volunteers were joined by a growing number of Indians along the way.
The march which drew media attention worldwide to India’s independence movement, demonstrated the effective use of civil disobedience as a method to fight social and political injustice.
Gandhi’s Salt March and his principle of satyagraha had a significant influence on American activists Martin Luther King Jr., James Bevel, and others during the Civil Rights Movement for civil rights for African Americans and other minority groups in the 1960s.
Some of the greats of recent times who advocated Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance include Nelson Mandela, Václav Havel, Andrei Sakharov and Lech Wałęsa.
The day after the end of the Salt March, Gandhi symbolically raised a lump of salty mud and declared, "With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire." He then boiled it in seawater, producing illegal salt, asking Indians to do likewise.
Ninety years after the Salt March, the principles of Gandhi are still relevant today, says Indian Salesian priest Father Peter Gonsalves who teaches peace communication and media education at the Salesian Pontifical University of Rome.
According to the priest who is also a consultor to the Vatican Dicastery for Communication, the majority of protests around the world today are very much peaceful and non-violent, along Gandhian lines.
A former dean of the Faculty of the Sciences of Social Communication at the university, Father Gonsalves holds a doctoral degree on Gandhi’s use of cloth and clothing for India’s freedom.
He noted that there is a lot of creativity in the way people protest peacefully today, making authorities yield to their demands.
In this regard, he cited a report by Freedom House, a US-based non-governmental organization (NGO) known for its research and advocacy on democracy around the globe. A study by Freedom House showed that some 60 countries across the world have gained their independence from dictators and totalitarian regimes precisely through the Gandhian civil disobedience method of protest and revolution.