HISTORY OF FREEDOM MOVEMENT-6

The Civil-Disobedience Movement

The rejection of the government to the demand made by the Congressmen to accord Dominion Status led Gandhiji in January 1930 to ask the Viceroy concede his eleven points which included introduction of total prohibition, reduction of military expenditure, discharge of political prisoners and abolition of salt tax. It was decided to take a pledge on January 26th, which declared thus- “We hold it to be a crime against man and god to submit any longer to a rule that has caused this fourfold disaster (economic, political, cultural and spiritual) to out country. We recognize however that the most effective way of gaining our freedom is not through violence. We will therefore prepare ourselves by withdrawing so far as we can all voluntary association from the British government and will prepare for civil disobedience including non-payment of taxes… We therefore hereby solemnly resolve to carry out the Congress instructions issued from time to time for the purpose of establishing Purna Swaraj“. Gandhiji decided to inaugurate the civil disobedience movement by breaking the salt laws so as to have a mass appeal.

The genesis of Salt laws:

Generally exports from India had been always greater than her imports from England. The exported items consisted of raw material and food products, which were voluminous. As ships from England used to be half empty, mud was used as keel ballast and the Chowringhee Road in Calcutta, which was once a canal was filled with the mud, brought in that manner. Later old newspaper, porcelain chips and salt served as keel ballast. To dispose of the imported salt, the British government levied tax on salt manufactured in India. Since salt is an indispensable ingredient of food, by breaking the salt law, Gandhiji believed he would be able to demonstrate even to the poorest Indian that the civil disobedience movement had been started with a view to help him.

The Dandi March:

On 11th March 1930, Gandhiji left for Dandi, a small village on the Gujrat seacoast along with 78 volunteers on a 241-mile trek. Mylara Mahadevappa representing Karnataka was one of the volunteer who accompanied Gandhi in his historic march. On his way Gandhiji passed through villages, where he told his audience to make salt freely and sell it from place to place. The aim was that the salt in government stocks should become superfluous. Gandhiji reached Dandi on 5th and broke the salt laws on 6th April 1930 at 8.30 a.m. by picking up a lump of salt on the seashore. A wave of enthusiasm swept the whole country. Salt laws were broken in many places and even women belonging to aristocratic families joined the movement. Gandhiji was arrested on 5th May 1930 before he could organize a raid on the government Salt Depot at Dharsana (Surat district). His place was taken by Sarojini Naidu, who along with 2000 volunteers reached Dharsana on 21st May.

An American correspondent, Webb Miller of New York Telegram, who witnessed the raid of the Salt Depot at Dharsana recorded that he was perplexed and baffled by the sight of men advancing coldly and deliberately and submitting to beating without defence. Sometimes the scenes were so painful that he had to turn away momentarily. In the Dharsana raid more than 300 volunteers were injured and two died. William Shirer of Chicago Times has borne testimony of police beatings on peaceful demonstrators in places like Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta and Lahore. Hundreds of men and women were killed as a result of police firing on demonstrators organized throughout India against Gandhiji’s arrest. The Platoons of Garhwal Rifles disobeyed the order to shoot on demonstrators and were court-martialled. Gandhiji’s arrest attracted worldwide attention. Expatriate Indians in Panama and Nairobi declared a strike. The Indian community in Sumatra wired to the Viceroy regretting Gandhiji’s arrest. French newspapers were full of reports on Gandhiji and his activities. About 102 American clergymen cabled British Prime Minister, Ramsay Macdonald and urged him to seek an amicable settlement with and Gandhiji and the Indian people.

Effects of Civil Disobedience:

Apart from violating salt laws, picketing of liquor shops, boycott of British goods and propagation of Swadeshi was carried on vigorously. The effects of civil disobedience were considerable. About a hundred thousand persons were jailed and general imports were reduced to one-third or one-fourth and cigarettes to one-sixth of the normal. Foreign goods worth thirty crore rupees were sealed in the port city of Bombay. So also about 16 British-owned clothe mills. Khadi production and sale went up and the Spinners Association employed about 1,40,000 spinners, 11,500 weavers and 1000 carders.

Salt Sathyagraha in Karnataka:

On 23rd February 1930, a meeting of the Karnataka Provincial Congress Committee presided by R.R.Diwakar was held at Bellary and a Sathyagraha Committee was formed. The Congress leaders of Karnataka undertook tours to explain to the people the objectives and methods of the Congress. These leaders submitted the report of their work to the Provincial Congress Committee, which met in Dharwad on 16th March 1930. These leaders opined that North Kanara district was the suitable place for launching the civil disobedience movement in Karnataka and the villages and the towns on the coast were suited for the Salt Sathyagraha.

Karnataka decided to start the Salt Sathyagraha on 13th April the day on which the infamous Jallianwallabagh massacre had taken place and Ankola was fixed the place of venue wherein volunteers from all parts of the state were to participate. Earlier in Belguam when Gandhiji broke the Salt laws on 6th, Gangadharrao Deshpande auctioned contraband salt and Narayanarao Joshi, Jeevanarao Yalagi and Anantha Dabade brought it. All these four were arrested the next day and hartals, protests and processions followed their arrest in many parts of Karnataka.

On 13th April, in the presence of about 40,000 people M.P.Nadakarni broke the salt law in Ankola. Revu Honnappa Naik brought the first packet of salt auctioned for 30 rupees. After the auction Swami Vidyananda addressed the gathering in which leaders like, Karnad Sadashiva Rao, Smt Umabai Kundapur, Dr Hardikar, T.S.Naik and others participated. The police promptly arrested the leaders but the Sathyagraha continued for 45 days with full tempo. Salt Sathyagraha was offered in nearly 30 centres like Mangalore,Kundapur, Udupi, Puttur, Padubidre, etc in Karnataka. Students came out in large numbers to prepare salt and sell it from house to house. When Gandhiji decided to raid the salt depot at Dharsana, a similar raid was undertaken in Karnataka at Sanikatte. A group of volunteers led by Sridhar Panduranga Balaji collected a few maunds of salt and carried it to Kumta, where the whole stock was sold in 15 minutes.

Forest Sathyagraha and agitation against the production and sale of liquors followed the Salt Sathyagraha. People broke the regulation regarding reserved forests and brought firewood or fodder and courted arrest. Picketing of liquor shops, cutting down of toddy trees and picketing the auction of toddy depots were also resorted too. It was common to see the picketers being beaten by police and also by those who were prevented from drinking. In the boycott of foreign cloth, women took a prominent part and went from house to house to gather foreign cloth and held bonfires in every village and at the same time spread the message of Charka. Four taluks in Karnataka namely Hirekerur in Dharwad district and Ankola, Sirsi and Siddapura in North Kanara district were selected for organizing the no-tax campaign. Despite repressive measures by the authorities, the campaign was a huge success. More than 1500 activists were arrested in Karnataka for participating in the Civil-Disobedience Movement during 1930-31.

The Round Table Conference:

The Simon Commission published its report on 7th June 1930. It deliberately omitted any mention of Dominion Status even as the distant goal of India’s political progress. The proposals of the Commission were unacceptable to the Congress and other political parties including the Muslim League. To discuss the report the British government decided to call an all-party conference. With all its leaders in prison the Congress decided to boycott the conference. On November 12, 1930, King George V inaugurated the first Round Table Conference attended by representatives of various Indian parties, Princely States and the British Parliament. The insistence of the Muslim delegates for the continuation of separate electorates, the demand for such provision by other communal groups and lack of consensus on various issues led to the Conference to come to an inconclusive end.

In January 1931, Gandhiji and other Congress leaders were released from prison. On 5th March, Gandhiji and Irwin signed an agreement by which Congress decided to discontinue the Civil Disobedience Movement and take part in the 2nd Round Table Conference. The government on its part agreed to release arrested Congress activists, not charged with violence from prison and return immovable property seized for non-payment of tax, if not sold to a third party. Gandhiji took part in the 2nd Round Table Conference at London, which began on September 7th 1931. At the conference Gandhiji insisted upon the immediate grant of independence and claimed that the Congress represented all India, irrespective of caste, creed, race or interest. But the conference did not make any progress and Gandhiji had to return back to Bombay on 28th December 1931, disappointed and sullen. During Gandhiji’s absence from India, the government not only violated the terms of the Gandhi-Irwin pact, but also set loose a reign of terror by enacting a number of repressive ordinances. The Congress Working Committee passed a resolution on January 1st 1932 in which it urged the government to change its policy towards the Congress failing which it would be forced to resume the Civil Disobedience Movement, including non-payment of taxes. The government replied by arresting Gandhiji and other Congress leaders.

No-Tax Campaign in Karnataka:

The arrest of Gandhiji and other Congress leaders saw the resumption of the no-tax campaign in North Kanara district of Karnataka. The people of Ankola and Siddapura not only refused to pay the land tax but also allowed their movable and immovable properties to be seized. When auctioned the goods had no bidders and even if some ‘loyalists’ did buy such goods, women volunteers launched hunger strike in front of their houses. These women volunteers had to face ridicule and abuses and hooligans along with police committing atrocities of the worst kind on them. But these women persisted in their strike and broke fast only when the buyers returned the auctioned goods to their original owners. As all grown-ups in many families had been arrested for non-payment of land revenue, their houses were locked and their children had to take refuge in Balakashramas or shelter homes for children. When released from jail many activists found their houses in a dilapidated condition either due to police excess (the police had dug up inside houses in the hope of obtaining valuables buried) or due to weather conditions. Thus the sacrifice of the people of Ankola and Siddapura in the no-tax campaign was immense. In February 1934, Gandhiji toured places like Sirsi, Siddapura, Ankola and Karwar. To the people of these taluks, who had undergone unbearable suffering and offered their as sacrifice in answer to his call of civil disobedience, the physical presence of Gandhiji was the cause of supreme joy and unbounded enthusiasm. In the meanwhile Gandhiji began to undertake the anti-untouchability campaign in a serious way and hence on 7th April 1934, he announced the final suspension of the Civil Disobedience Movement.

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