THE PRICE OF SALT
Empty cartridges lay strewn across the bloodied garden. 1650 bullets were spent on 1516 unarmed civilians. It didn’t take long for the wailing to be replaced with cold rage. You see, the spring of 1919 didn’t bloom flowers in Jallianwala Baug (a garden in Amritsar, Punjab), but spawned corpses instead. The massacre by General Dyer stirred the soul of even the cold-hearted. After nearly a century of colonial rule, Britain’s famed jewel had begun to lose her lustre, after all. Its once celebrated glory was now quivering close to tyranny. Marred with civil unrest, poverty and growing bouts of violence, the atlas of the Indian empire lay inked in sanguine. How could peace possibly return to this land ravaged by communal riots? How could the transition from a former colony to an independent country ever be without a bloodbath?
Peace, like everything else in life, came unannounced to Indian shores. Like a salve to her gaping wounds, India found her respite in a little bespectacled man the world had come to know as Gandhi. With a bamboo staff and an ever wielding toothless grin, Gandhi became the eponymous Bapu (meaning father) for a country embroiled in a bitter custody battle. For the thousands willing to lay down their lives for the ongoing freedom struggle in India, there was an equal number willing to take up arms. A middle ground was out of the question, or so it seemed. Until, a strong pacifist showed the world that a new face for the revolt was possible. The British monopoly on salt production and distribution rendered Indians not only tasteless but also stifled in their own country. Gandhi with his acute advocacy of non-violence and fasting took up the challenge to contest the British rule imposed. How could the price of salt be a tipping point of concern for the largest enterprise of the 20th century? spat one British officer, dismissing the movement as one that wouldn’t amount to anything? He proved to be a poor prophet.
Clad in a simple loincloth, Gandhi, along with his 78 trusted disciples, began his march to Dandi, a hamlet in the west coast of India. What started as a small gathering of staunch supporters quickly gained momentum and as Gandhi made his walk across the inlets of Indian villages, the numbers swelled, passing tens of thousands in a matter of just a few days. The little man with nothing but a smile as his weapon had struck the British Empire at its heart. And the world noticed. Soon, press coverage followed and the news reached England. What perplexed many was that despite the numbers, the sheer scale of the task and the nature of the revolt, its impact was astounding. Whoever knew that nonviolence could be a weapon too; that civil resistance can have its foundations in silences too?
With just devotional folklore for background chorus, Gandhi and his followers completed 240 miles of walk, in just 24 days. With zero casualties, Gandhi had managed to strike the British with a very heavy blow. The purpose of civil resistance is to provoke a response and not incite violence, he said as journalists swamped him. Unbeknownst to many, Gandhi had set precedence with what became known as the Dandi march. And all he did was pick a handful of salt that the waves left at his feet and declare it free for use by all. But to the world, the price of salt changed forever. It became the signpost for many minorities across the world to follow the set Gandhian principle, that of non-violence, to raise their voice against injustice. Gandhi became the characteristic advocate of ideologies that defined the fin de siècle.
That the Indo-British association has not been without its share of violence would be an understatement, but perhaps few of the greatest moments in their shared history come in the folded pages of peace. This is one such story, of a movement that led to a revolution. Gandhi wasn’t a philosopher, and yet philosophies were named after him. He wasn’t a commander of the armies and yet an entire nation marched to his command. He had no possessions to his name, only a prefix that came to be synonymous with his name: Mahatma, literally meaning a great soul. What made this man revered throughout time wasn’t his lineage or education, but principles modelled on non-violence and peace; principles that need a desperate revival, more so now than ever before.
The smiling image of Gandhi is still prevalent today, from government offices to school textbooks, museums to historic monuments, but the legacy he left behind needs to be saved from obfuscation. Imagine if a simple, nonviolent resistance, a walk across the poverty-stricken states of a country could give birth to revolution, what collective embracing of nonviolence could do for the world? After all, the price of salt has fluctuated in time, but Gandhi made it the costliest commodity of his time. The price of salt was equivalent to a country earning her freedom and an empire her redemption. Through his philosophies and principles, Gandhi gave the world its greatest weapon and vision – that a war can be won without fighting, that a saint can be a politician and a simple man in his loincloth can become an image of grandeur for generations to come.
Nimisha Menon started working as a freelance journalist from the age of 17. Based in Bombay, she gained three Masters degrees while working as a journalist. She came to Scotland to study for a fourth in International Relations and graduated in 2019. Her work, including The Price of Salt, was either longlisted or shortlisted in all three sections of the 2019 Beyond Borders literary competitions. One of her other pieces, India’s Borders: A Beautiful Fallacy, was included in Dove Tales second anthology, Bridges Or Walls?