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  Dash of Salt    
 
 
Photos: Basia Kruszewska, USA
 

IF THE US had the Boston Tea Party to break free of the British, India held the salt satyagraha (struggle for truth) for its independence. Exactly 76 years ago to the month, MK Gandhi hit upon the idea to launch one of the most powerful protests of the freedom movement that centred around salt.

The sale or production of salt by anyone but the British government was a criminal offence punishable by law. Salt was readily accessible to labourers in the coastal areas, but they were instead forced to pay money for a mineral which they could easily collect themselves for free.

In February 1930, Gandhi decided to make the salt laws the focal point of non-violent political protest. He organised what became known as the Dandi March, wherein he marched to Dandi village in Gujarat with a band of followers and symbolically made salt there, defying the law. Thousands gathered to support him on the 240 mile route in March, many organising similar protests across the country. Many more thousands were jailed during the satyagraha that marked a defining moment in India’s freedom struggle.

The choice of salt was a master stroke. What could be more universal? India with its long coastline is one of the largest producers of salt. Today the state of Gujarat leads in salt production. Sea salt forms a bulk of this. A drive down the coastline in many parts of Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Orissa and other states reveals long vistas of salt pans.

Sea water is pumped into these shallow troughs and evaporated under the sun in a centuries-old practice. The resultant salt residue is piled into little hillocks that form an arresting picture.

Salt has been in use for centuries before Christ. It was once valuable enough to be used as currency. Today almost every country produces salt in abundance and while it is no longer a rare commodity, it is an absolutely essential one.