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“An old man with a large staff in his hand was accompanied by a struggling group of 71 of varied ages, indifferently clad. As the motley crowd marched in disciplined silence, each footfall seemed to echo and re-echo through the land.?/i>
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The Dandi Salt March
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alt suddenly became a magic word of power, as Pandit Nehru put it,?writes Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay in her autobiography, Inner Recesses, Outer Spaces. At the height of the freedom struggle, Mahatma Gandhi wrote to Lord Irwin, then Viceroy of India, informing him of his intent to breach the salt laws. The British had a monopoly of the production and sale of salt. Yet this was an essential ingredient required by the poor as much as the rich. Wrote Gandhi: “I regard this tax on salt to be the most iniquitous of all from the poor man’s point of view. As the Independence movement is essentially for the poorest of the land, the beginning will be made with this evil.?/font>

Kamaladevi describes how the entire country hardly slept, waiting for the dawn of 14 March, 1930 when the fateful Dandi campaign would start: “An old man with a large staff in his hand was accompanied by a struggling group of 71 of varied ages, indifferently clad. As the motley crowd marched in disciplined silence, each footfall seemed to echo and re-echo through the land. Each day the tempo kept rising. Each evening, crowds gathered to hear about the progress of the march ?as the march progressed, it was as though the millions of Indians were marching, keeping pace with him. The whole world became so surcharged, every nerve in the body tingled. I felt elated as part of one of the most spectacular dramas of India’s political history, pulsating every moment to its subtlest nuances.?/font>

Kamaladevi wished to join the batches of satyagrahis who were to participate, but she was told that Gandhi didn’t want women to be included: “I was flabbergasted. I had built up a whole edifice of hopes of involving women in this great adventure. This was to be their breakthrough. They simply had to be in it, I told myself in desperation. The only course was to get this clarified by the leader himself.?/font>

Kamaladevi rushed to Surat, took a bus to a village near Jambusar where Gandhi was expected to halt. When she expressed her unhappiness to Gandhi, he emphatically disabused her mind of any suspicion of discrimination. He listed the important tasks he had entrusted to women ____ such as promotion of Swadeshi, picketing of foreign goods, elimination of liquor from our society, and so on. But Kamaladevi persisted. Let them do all this and also participate in direct action: “The significance of a non-violent struggle is that the weakest can take an equal part with the strongest and share in the triumph as you have yourself said. This struggle is ideally suited for women.?Gandhi readily conceded her point. Only he did not want women to ignore what he had already entrusted to them.

As Kamaladevi rose from her seat, “Are you content??he asked. “I have one more request to make,?replied Kamaladevi. “I want you to give a call to women asking them to join the struggle. I would like to carry the message with me.?Gandhi’s eyes twinkled as he gave a hearty laugh: “You don’t know your sisters if you think they need a special message.?Still, he took a piece of paper and scribbled a few lines on it: “All may regard this as the word from me that all are free and those who are ready are expected to start mass Civil Disobedience regarding the Salt Law from April 6th.?/font>

“I felt I had won the world,?writes Kamaladevi. Now that the question of women’s participation in direct satyagraha had been resolved, it became easy for the women’s section of the Seva Dal to organise the participation of women volunteers in all Civil Disobedience programmes. “Taking advantage of the rising political fever,?writes Kamaladevi, “some of us in the Youth League began a vigorous campaign in the labour areas of North Bombay. We addressed real mammoth gatherings, met labour workers in groups enlisting their support, making plans to secure their active participation in the coming battle. As the meetings could be held only after 8.00 p.m. they would last until midnight, and often enthusiasm overflowed even into the early hours of the morning.?/font>

Courtesy: “Inner Recesses, Outer Spaces?by Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay. Published by Mrs. Nirmal Singal for Navrang, New Delhi, and composed by Arun Typographer.