The Civil Disobedience Movement was started by Gandhi on 12 March 1930 with his famous Dandi March. Together with 78 chosen followers, Gandhi walked nearly 375 km from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi, a village on the Gujarat sea-coast. Day after day, newspapers reported his progress, his speeches and the impact on the people.
Hundreds of village officials on his route resigned their jobs. On 6 April, Gandhiji reached Dandi, picked up a handful of salt and broke the salt law as a symbol of the Indian people’s refusal to live under British-made laws and therefore under British rule. Gandhiji declared:
The British rule in India has brought about moral, material, cultural, and spiritual ruination of this great country. I regard this rule as a curse.
I am out to destroy this system of Government. Sedition has become my religion. Ours is a non-violent battle. We are not to kill anybody but it is our dharma to see that the curse of this Government is blotted out.
The movement now spread rapidly. Violation of salt laws all over the country was soon followed by defiance of forest laws in Maharashtra, Karnataka and the Central Provinces and refusal to pay the rural chaukidari tax in eastern India.
Everywhere in the country people joined hartals, demonstrations and the campaign to boycott foreign goods and to refuse to pay taxes. Lakhs of Indians offered satyagraha.
In many parts of the country, the peasants refused to pay land revenue and rent and had their lands confiscated. A notable feature of the movement was the wide participation of women.
Thousands of them left the seclusion of their homes and offered satyagraha. They took active part in picketing shops selling foreign cloth or liquor. They marched shoulder to shoulder with the men in processions.
The movement reached the extreme north western corner of India and stirred the brave and hardy Pathans. Under the leadership of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, popularly known as ‘the Frontier Gandhi’, the Pathans organised the society of Khudai Khidmatgars (or Servants of God), known popularly as Red Shirts. They were pledged to nonviolence and the freedom struggle.
Another noteworthy incident occurred in Peshawar at this time. Two platoons of Garhwali soldiers refused to open fire on non-violent mass demonstrators even though it meant facing court martial and long terms of imprisonment. This episode showed that nationalism was beginning to penetrate the Indian army, the chief instrument of British rule.
Similarly, the movement found an echo in the eastern-most corner of India. The Manipuris took a brave part in it and Nagaland produced a brave heroine in Rani Gaidilieu, who at the age of 13 responded to the call of Gandhi and the Congress and raised the banner of rebellion against foreign rule.
The young Rani was captured in 1932 and sentenced to life imprisonment. She wasted her bright youthful years in the dark cells of various Assam jails, to be released only in 1947 by the government of free India.
Jawaharlal Nehru was to write of her in 1937: “A day will come when India also will remember her and cherish her.”
The government’s reply to the national struggle was the same as before an effort to crush it through ruthless repression, lathi-charges and firing on unarmed crowds of men and women. Over 90,000 satyagrahis, including Gandhiji and other Congress leaders, were poisoned. The Congress was declared illegal.