Civil Disobedience Movement

Congress' 1929 Lahore session declared the start of the Civil Disobedience Movement, and gave Mahatma Gandhi the power to coordinate it. The Movement started with the popular Dandi March on 12 March 1930. Gandhi picked up a handful of salt on 6 April 1930, and broke the salt law.

Why was salt chosen as the symbol of the movement?

Salt Satyagraha was more than just a symbolic act of breaching the law of salt. This was a symbol of the resolve of the Indian people not to live under British rule. It was an act of mobilizing the masses by addressing a problem which affected all sections of society. Gandhi guaranteed mass engagement by opting to break a rule that did not have any politically divisive implications. Salt law showed the cruelest face of British rule as salt was a basic requirement and the most oppressive existence of British rule in India was exposed by taxation. Gandhi reiterated the importance of self-help by making salt a symbol of civil disobedience and encouraged poorer communities to generate income by making salt. 

How did the movement gain momentum?

The movement rapidly spread to other parts of the world. Violation of salt legislation was accompanied by violation of forest laws and failure to pay chaukidari taxes and land profits. People were joining hartals, protests and the boycott of foreign products all over the world.

Once Gandhiji had completed the ritual of breaking the salt law, similar marches and salt law defiance occurred throughout the world. C.Rajagopalachari led the salt march in Tamil Nadu, from Tiruchirapalli to Vedaranniyam. Satyagrahis marched in Assam, from Sylhet to Noakhali. This was followed by the arrest on 4 May 1930 of politicians, Jawaharlal Nehru and eventually Gandhiji.

In Peshawar the battle was led by Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, also known as Frontier Gandhi. He formed KhudaiKhidmatgars society, or Red shirts. Two Garhwali soldiers' platoons refused to shoot at Peshawar's non-violent mass protesters, even if it meant facing court martial and lengthy prison terms. From this incident it was clear that nationalism was beginning to infiltrate the Indian Army, the principal instrument of British rule.

Following Gandhiji’s detention, textile workers at Solapur assaulted all the British authority symbols and established a parallel government to which the government reacted with martial law. After Gandhiji’s arrest Sarojini Naidu took up the unfinished task of raiding the Dharasana salt works. People in eastern India had declined to pay taxes on Chowkidara. The movement was taking the form of no revenue campaign in Gujarat and United Provinces. The defiance of forest laws was seen in Karnataka and the Central Provinces. Rani Gaidinliu led the Uprising against the British in Nagaland.

Who participated in the movement?

The Civil isobedience campaign saw a large-scale participation of women who participated by picketing the liquor stores and shops selling imported goods. There was also substantial student and youth participation in the movement. Merchants and merchants were also directly interested, as they needed security against foreign products. The involvement of staff in Bombay, Sholapur, Calcutta, Madras, etc., was important.

Muslim participation in Civil Disobedience Movement was less compared to the Non-cooperation Khilafat movement, which can be attributed to the policy of divide and rule of the British. However, in North-West Frontier Province, Dacca, Bihar and Lucknow, Muslims participated in good numbers.


Response of the British Government

To crush the movement the government resorted to ruthless repression. Leaders of Congress were jailed, and Congress was declared illegal. The enforcement of draconian legislation has undermined civil rights and the freedom of the press. There was a calm and non-violent crowd inflicted by Lathi charges and firings.

Government efforts for Truce

The Viceroy Lord Irwin proposed a Round Table Conference with the promise of a Dominion status. Tej Bahadur Sapru and MR Jayakar were brought in to reconcile the differences between the congress and the British Indian government.

After the 1931 Gandhi-Irwin agreement, Congress decided to discontinue the Civil Disobedience Movement and participate in the second Round Table Conference. However, on the basis of the immediate award of Dominion status, the British government declined to concede the simple nationalistic demand for independence. Gandhi was disappointed and returned to India after a second Round Table Conference failed. On 29 December 1931, the Congress Working Committee convened at Bombay, and voted to revive the Civil Disobedience Movement. Yet within a few weeks, the campaign was crushed. This continued to exist in a non-effective manner until Gandhi decided to withdraw the movement in April 1934.

Impact of Civil Disobedience

It broke people's faith in the British Government and laid the social root of the struggle for freedom, popularizing new propaganda methods such as prabhat pheris, pamphlets, etc.