The Mahatma's campaign

Published: Saturday 15 October 2005

-- Documents of the Dandi March National Archives of India, New Delhi August 22-September 23, 2005

On a warm April morning in 1930, Mahatma Gandhi and his 78 followers marched 241 miles (380 kilometres) from Sabarmati ashram to Dandi in Gujarat and formally breached the Salt Law. The hateful law gave the colonial state monopoly over salt production. Occurring throughout low-lying coastal zones of India, salt was readily accessible to local people. But they were forced to pay money for a mineral which could be easily collected for free.

With the Dandi March now over 75 years ago, and the anniversary march, earlier this year, accused of being politically hijacked by the Congress party, it's refreshing to see an unadorned and exciting exhibition on a well-known and oft-told story. The 241 miles walked by Gandhi and his ashramites are charted through a wealth of rare material collated from the National Archives of India, New Delhi. They are held together by a central thread of daily extracts from the diary of C K Nair -- one of the disciples accompanying Gandhi on the Dandi march.

The meticulously researched material -- including Gandhi's original letters, pages of Young India (a journal, which the Mahatma edited) and photographs -- is left mostly to speak for itself, as the first-hand sources that bring home the reality and excitement of the march's progress and impact.

A range of contemporary sources, providing a fascinating view into the British government's response, broadens the insights into the march. The original Salt Bill of 1882 is displayed alongside handwritten notes and telegrams sent within the colonial government in reaction to Gandhi's protest. Original British newspapers and cartoons portray reactions to the march around the world; the front page of The Tribune after Gandhi's arrest on May 5, 1930, and the original telegram informing the government of the raid at the Dharasana salt works (in Gujarat) on May 22, 1930 convey the emotionally charged atmosphere of the events.

The brilliantly researched array of original material that the National Archives has brought together brings a well-worn story back to life: a refreshing view of a momentous event in the both the history of India and the history of true freedom fighting.

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