Monday, Mar. 31, 2003

A Disobedient Saint's March

March 12, 1930

Soon after saying his customary dawn prayers, Mahatma Gandhi emerged from his ashram to greet a crowd of thousands gathered to witness the start of his latest and most defiant protest against the "curse" of British rule.

A volunteer band raised its horns and, it was reported, blared a few bars of God Save the King before it apparently dawned on the musicians that a rousing salute to the English sovereign was not the most appropriate send-off. Their fading notes were overtaken by the sound of coconuts being smashed together, a traditional Hindu sign of devotion.

Gandhi, leaning on a lacquered bamboo staff, soon set out along the winding, dusty road. His destination: Dandi, 240 miles away, where 25 days later he would collect a few grains of salt in defiance of the British tax that forced locals to pay prices for the compound that were said to be up to 2,000% greater than its production costs. Following his lead, thousands of Indian villagers waded into the sea to extract salt themselves. Thus began Gandhi's campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience—and the beginning of the end of the British Empire.