Civil Disobedience Movement (March 12, 1930 – March 5, 1931)

Civil Disobedience Movement:

After the non-action of the government over the Nehru Report and the failure of the government to agree upon any demand for even dominion status, Gandhiji was looking for a new plan amidst growing restlessness among the Congress and nation as a whole.

The Congress Working Committee had authorized Mahatma Gandhi to determine the time, place and the issue on which the Civil Disobedience Movement was to be launched. Meanwhile, Gandhi gave 11 point ultimatum to Irwin on 31 January 1930. It seemed to many leaders as a sad climb-down from the Purna Swaraj resolution, since no demand was made for any change in the political structure, not even Dominion status. However, as Sumit Sarkar says “Events soon proved the sceptics wrong, and Gandhi at least partly right”. If the 11 points were a kind of retreat, they also concretized the national demand and related it to specific grievances. The letter to Irwin combined issues of general interest-

  • 50% cuts in army expenses and civil services salaries.
  • Total prohibition of intoxicants.
  • Release of political prisoners.
  • Changes in the Arms Act enabling citizens to bear arms for self-protection.
  • Reform in the Central Intelligence Department (C.I.D).
  • Lowering of the rupee-sterling exchange ratio to 1:4.
  • Protection of indigenous textile industry.
  • Reservation of coastal shipping for Indians.
  • 50% reduction in land revenue.
  • Abolition of the salt tax and government salt monopoly.
  • Acceptance of Postal Reservation Bill.

As for peasant issues, Gandhi clearly had little or no intuition of endorsing Jawaharlal’s radical suggestion for anti-zamindar no-rent campaigns. However, as Sumit Sarkar opines, by January-February 1930, Gandhi did repeatedly emphasize peasant woes, and salt linked up in a flash the ideal of Swaraj with the most concrete and universal grievances of the rural poor.

In retrospect, unlike in 1919-20, there was no rallying cry like the Rowlatt Bills, no rankling grievances like the Punjab Martial Law, no emotional bridge for Hindu-Muslim differences like the Khilafat. For Mahatma, the basic problem was how to arouse the people and still keep them non-violent. Gandhi found the solution in ‘salt’- as the central issue. It appeared somewhat eccentric at first but as the time passed by, even Irwin admitted to Gandhi in February 1931 ‘you planned a fine strategy around the issue of salt’. It afforded like Khadi, the chance of paltry but psychologically important extra income for peasants through self-help, and like Khadi, once again offered to urban adherents the possibilities of a symbolic identification with mass suffering.

Gandhi started the famous Dandi March on March 12, 1930, from Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad with not more than 78 people. Most of the Congress leaders were not sure about the outcome of Dandi March but Gandhi had complete faith in his belief. After covering a distance of 240 miles, through hundred of Gujarat villages, when he reached Dandi, thousands of people had already gathered to welcome him with open arms. Together, they broke the Salt Law.

Programme of the Civil Disobedience Movement:

Among the programmes outlined for the Civil Disobedience Movement were the following-

  • The violation of the Salt Law and other laws.
  • Non-payment of land revenue, rent or other taxes.
  • Boycott of law courts, legislatures, elections, Government functions, Government schools and colleges.
  • Boycott of foreign goods and cloth and burning of foreign cloth.
  • Peaceful picketing of shops selling liquor and other intoxicants.
  • Organising mass strikes and demonstrations.
  • Resigning Government jobs and not joining the civil, military or police services.

Feature and Impact of the Civil Disobedience Movement:

Once Gandhi inaugurated the Civil Disobedience Movement, countrywide mass participation was unleashed. In Tamil Nadu, C.Rajgopalanchari led a salt march from Trichinopally to the Vedaranyam coast. In Malabar, Kelappan walked from Calicut to Payannur to break the salt laws. A band of Satyagrahis walked from Sylhet in Assam to Noakhali to make salt. In Andhra Pradesh, a number of sibiram were set up in every headquarter of the Salt Satyagraha. The revolutionaries of Chittagong led by Surya Sen seized the local armery, proclaimed the formation of the Indian Republican Army and chanted the slogan ‘Gandhiji’s Raj has come’.

In the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, popularly known as Frontier Gandhi, under the banner of his “Khudai Khidmatgar” (Servants of God) organisation, most actively participated in the movement with his volunteers, who dressed up in red shirts. From their uniform, they came to be known as Red Shirts. In the North-East, the Manipuris joined the movement, and the young Rani Gaidinliu with her Naga followers actively supported the movement.

Gandhian Satyagraha reached its Zenith at Dharasana Salt Works (Maharashtra). On May 21, 1930, Satyagrahis led by Sarojini Naidu marched towards the police cordon that had sealed off the Dharasana Salt Works. The Satyagrahis waited in the long queue, only to be beaten up by the police. They were trained to suffer and not to retaliate. The ensuing publicity attracted world attention to the Indian independence movement and brought into question the legitimacy of British rule in India.

In Eastern India, no tax campaign was its variation. The people refused to pay chowkidari tax in Bihar where salt agitation itself had not much scope. In Bengal, it led to anti-chowkidari and anti-union board agitations. In Gujarat, in Kheda district and Bardoli talqua in Surat district, the no-revenue campaign was manifested in the denial of payment of land revenue. It took the character of defiance of forest law regulations in Maharashtra and Central Provinces, especially in large areas dominated by the tribals. In Assam, the agitation was directed against the infamous Cunningham Circular that required the students and their guardians to furnish certificates of good behaviour.

In U.P. a no-revenue, no-rent campaign had set in directed towards the zamindars to refrain from paying taxes to the government and to the peasants to stop making payments to the zamindars. In fact, this became a no-rent campaign and the movement took hold only when Jawaharlal Nehru got the congress committee to sanction a non-rent campaign.

Even women participated in huge numbers. They participated in protest marches, manufactured salt, and picketed foreign cloth and liquor shops. Many went to jail. In urban areas these women were from high-caste families; in rural areas, they came from rich peasant households. Moved by Gandhiji’s call, they began to see service to the nation as a sacred duty of women. Yet, this increased public role did not necessarily mean any radical change in the way the position of women was visualised. Gandhiji was convinced that it was the duty of women to look after home and hearth, be good mothers and good wives. And for a long time, Congress was reluctant to allow women to hold any position of authority within the organisation. It was keen only on their symbolic presence.

British Response to Civil Disobedience Movement:

The British Government, as usual, retaliated with repression. In June 1930, the Congress and its affiliate Organizations were declared illegal and Mahatma Gandhi and all other Congress leaders were arrested. The Press was gagged and newspapers could not report on the dozens of police firings that took place. Scores of people died in these incidents. The private properties and lands of thousands of people were confiscated for non-payment of taxes.

Amidst these heroic deeds and official repression when the movement was at its peak the Viceroy took the initiative of releasing the Congress leaders and invited Mahatma Gandhi for talks which led to the Gandhi-Irwin Pact and the suspension of the Civil Disobedience Movement.

Success of the Civil Disobedience Movement:

  • It rallied masses like never before.
  • Import of foreign goods was effectively boycotted.
  • Students and Women participated in masses.
  • Workers also joined the movement big time.

Failures of the Civil Disobedience Movement:

  • Not all social groups were moved by the abstract concept of swaraj. One such group was the nation’s ‘untouchables’, who from around the 1930s had begun to call themselves Dalit or oppressed. For long the Congress had ignored the Dalits, for fear of offending the sanatanis, the conservative high-caste Hindus. Dr B R Ambedkar, who organised the Dalits into the Depressed Classes Association in 1930, clashed with Mahatma Gandhi at the second Round Table Conference by demanding separate electorates for Dalits.
  • Muslims – except in NWFP under Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan – show apathetic response. They were polarized by communal rhetorics of leaders as well as the government’s positive response to their demands. After the decline of the Non-Cooperation-Khilafat movement, a large section of Muslims felt alienated from Congress. From the mid-1920s the Congress came to be more visibly associated with openly Hindu religious nationalist groups like the Hindu Mahasabha. As relations between Hindus and Muslims worsened, each community organised religious processions with militant fervour, provoking Hindu-Muslim communal clashes and riots in various cities
  • Lukewarm Support from Industrial Class.
  • Poor participant from peasants.

The Khilafat Movement, 1919-1920The Nehru Report (1928)
The Non-Cooperation Movement (1920-22)Teachings Or Doctrines Of Buddhism
Simon Commission, 1927Teachings Or Doctrines Of Jainism
Effects of the Revenue Settlements on the Agrarian SocietyBhakti Saints- Kabir and Guru Nanak

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