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27 March 2015

Gandhi’s Salt March, Part 2: 20-26 March 1930

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We continue our look at Gandhi’s famous salt march, with a telegram from the Governor of Bombay on 20 March 1930. In it he indicates that Gandhi was raising the stakes in provoking Government action. It was reported that in his speeches “…although as usual advocating non-violence, he stated openly he had come to preach sedition and spread disloyalty”. The marchers crossed the Mahi River into Broach District on the night of 19 March. The telegram of 22 March reported that Jawaharlal Nehru had briefly joined the march, it was supposed in order that he could confer with Gandhi about a meeting of the Congress Working Committee, and after making a short speech, left for Ahmedabad. The marchers continued on through northern Broach where it was reported that no particular excitement or interest was aroused, reaching Gajera on the morning of 21 March.


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Rasikalal Chotalal Parikh, Gandhikuca (Amadavada: Prasthana Karyalaya, 1930). Album of Photographs of Gandhi’s Salt March. PP Guj B 18.  Noc

At Gajera, Gandhi addressed a meeting of 3,000 people, and caused some controversy in the crowd by introducing some untouchables. The Governor of Bombay reported on 23 March that the “Reception in Broach District continues to be lukewarm everywhere and at some places poor”. However there were reports of resignations of headmen in Surat and Kaira Districts, and a boycott of Government servants in those districts had started.

At Jambusar, on 22 March, Gandhi met with Nehru and other Congress representatives, before addressing a crown of 5,000. The march then moved to the town of Amod, where he met leaders of the Bombay Youth League, and spoke to a crowd of 2,500 people. By the evening of the 23rd, the march had reached Samni, 14 miles from Broach, where it paused for Gandhi’s day of silence on 24 March.

Meetings took place on the 25 March at Tralsa and Derol, with the marchers reaching Broach on the morning of 26 March. They stayed at the Ashram of Doctor Chandulal Desai, described in the Bombay Governors telegram as the chief agitator of the District. The marchers crossed the Nerbudda River to Ankleshwar that evening. The Governor's telegram reported the physical strain which the march was taking on Gandhi and his supporters. There was apparently “…much sickness in the party which is said to be weary of marching”, and Gandhi appeared to be tiring. Despite his fatigue, on his arrival at Ankleshwar, Gandhi addressed a meeting of 4,000 people, which included some Muslim Parsees and Christians from the local mission.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Civil Disobedience Campaign Events in Bombay: reports on demonstrations, rioting and police action; arrests, trials and judgments passed; Parliamentary questions and replies, March 1930 to October 1931 [IOR/L/PJ/6/1998]



24 March 2015

Thin dogs, neglected children and rising crime

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Thin dogs and domestic animals, expensive grain, and unemployed men wandering in search of employment ‘careless of their children and old dependants’ were signs of local scarcity in danger of developing into a famine situation, according to Moonshi Ishree Pershad, Rai Bahadoor, Deputy Collector of Muzaffarpur in North India. His testimony in response to set questions from the 1878 Bengal Famine Commission was unusual in giving an Indian’s perspective, and paints a more intimate picture of village life than that given by the majorityFamine_compressed of the British respondents. According to Moonshi Ishree Pershad, in times of scarcity loans became difficult to obtain, the number of beggars increased, private charity was over-burdened and crimes against property gradually increased. 

In rural India, the people likely to be worst affected by serious crop failure were the panch pamania who attended to secular ceremonies, including births and weddings, together with artisans such as potters and weavers, and of course labourers and cultivators.  

Famine, Hindu men in front of the British, 1897, illustration from Petit Journal  
© De Agostini/The British Library Board



Bengal Famine Commission Proceedings IOR/P/1160


Moonshi Ishree Pershad said that the district officer would know that famine was imminent if he found that ‘Grain imported to his district is not from neighbouring districts but other provinces; that exportation from his district is altogether blocked; that cattle, gold and silver ornaments and brass utensils do not fetch one-fourth of what was paid for them; that men of high caste go in disguised state to earthworks situate at a distance from their homes, and that infants of his district have very miserable looks.’ 

This information was provided as part of his response to the Bengal Famine Commission’s set questions about the condition of the country and people, relief during the earliest stages of distress, famine relief and prevention. 

Moonshi Ishree Pershad’s comments were informed by his experience of relief works in 1874 when the winter rice crop failed following a lack of rain and one seventh of the population was in receipt of support.

Penny Brook
Head of India Office Records



Bengal Famine Commission Proceedings, December 1878, pp.367-372, IOR/P/1160, which are part of the India Office Records. Catalogues are available online Search our Catalogues Archives and Manuscripts

Richard Axelby and Savithri Preetha Nair Science and the Changing Environment in India: a guide to sources in the India Office Records (London, 2010) 

20 March 2015

Gandhi’s Salt March, Part 1: 12-19 March 1930

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This month marks 85 years since Gandhi started the second great campaign of non-cooperation in British India, with the famous salt march from his ashram at Sabarmati to Dandi on the Bombay coast.  The law prohibited Indians from producing or selling salt. Gandhi regarded the government tax on salt as particularly iniquitous as it affected the poorest most.    On 12 March 1930 he set out with 78 followers on a 240 mile march.


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'Gandhi and Eighty Martyrs going towards the Jalalpur saltmines' Achille Beltrame (1871-1945), from La Domenica del Corriere, 1930. ©De Agostini/The British Library Board  Images Online


The India Office Records has a collection of almost daily telegrams from the Governor of Bombay to the Secretary of State for India, between March 1930 and March 1931, giving details of the salt march, and the increasing unrest in Bombay. Over the coming weeks we will be featuring them on Untold Lives, and following Gandhi’s march through the eyes of an anxious Government.

At 9pm on 12 March 1930, the India Office received a telegram reporting that no further information had been received concerning Gandhi’s march, beyond a press telegram that he had left the Ashram at 6.30 that morning. Three hours later, another telegram arrived with further intelligence “…that Gandhi’s destination is Dandi in Jalalpur Taluk of Surat District. This, we understand might mean march of 20 days as against 5 which we had hitherto been contemplating”.

The march reached Aslali on 13 March, where Gandhi preached non-violence and reaffirmed his intention to break the salt laws at Jalalpur. Passing through Bareja in the Ahmedabad District, Gandhi was reported to have received a poor reception. By 15 March, the Governor of Bombay felt able to make tentative conclusions as to the effect of the three days of marching. Crowds were reported to have been smaller than expected, and Muslims had shown no interest, and Gandhi was said to be feeling the physical strain of the march. In his speeches, Gandhi appealed to villagers with references to village uplift, removal of untouchability and Khaddar.

At Matar, which was reached on the night of 14 March, Gandhi addressed a crowd of 5,000 people. The next day a meeting was held at Dabhan attended by 3,000 people, followed by a meeting of 20,000 at Nadiad. By the evening of 16 March it was reported that the march had reached the town of Anand, where it was expected to halt one day, as it was Gandhi’s day of silence, and to allow the clothing of the marchers to be washed. At Anand Gandhi appealed for volunteers, and asked students and schoolmasters to leave the schools and join the campaign.

The telegram received in the India Office on 19 March stated that “Since the fourth day when Gandhi’s party reached the more populous and disaffected parts of Kaira District more attention has been paid to it and local excitement has been greater”. Gandhi was reported to be suffering from varicose veins, but otherwise was said to be in cheerful spirits and to show no sign of mental breakdown. More village headmen were resigning and more volunteers were enrolled as the campaign gained momentum.

John O’Brien
India Office Records Cc-by

Further Reading:
Civil Disobedience Campaign Events in Bombay: reports on demonstrations, rioting and police action; arrests, trials and judgments passed; Parliamentary questions and replies, March 1930 to October 1931 [IOR/L/PJ/6/1998]