GANDHI'S LETTERS TO AMERICANS > Message to America, April 1930
Message To America, April 1930
The national demand is not for immediate establishment of Independence, but is a preliminary step to a conference that must take place if Independence is to be established peacefully, to remove certain prime grievances, chiefly economic and moral. These are set forth in the clearest possible terms in my letter, miscalled an ultimatum to the Viceroy.16 Those grievances include the salt tax, which in its incidence falls with equal pressure upon rich as well as poor and is over 1,000 per cent of the cost price. Having been made a monopoly, it has deprived tens of thousands of people of their supplementary occupation and the artificially heavy cost of salt has made it very difficult, if not impossible, for poor people to give enough salt to their cattle and to their land.
This unnatural monopoly is sustained by laws, which are only so-called, but which are a denial of law. They give arbitrary powers to police, known to be corrupt, to lay their hands without warrant on innocent people, to confiscate their property and otherwise molest them in a hundred ways. Civil resistance against the laws has caught the popular imagination as nothing else has within my experience. Hundreds of thousands of people, including women or children from many villages, have participated in the open manufacture and sale of contraband salt.
This resistance has been answered by barbarous and unmanly repressions. Instead of arresting people the authorities have violated the persons of people who have refused to part with salt, held generally in their fists. To open their fists, their knuckles have been broken, their necks have been pressed, they have been even indecently assaulted till they have been rendered senseless. Some of these assaults have taken place in the presence of hundreds and thousands of people, who although well able to protect the victims and retaliate, being under a pledge of nonviolence, have not done so. It is true that violence has broken out in Calcutta, Karachi, Chittagong, and now Peshawar. The Calcutta and Karachi incidents were an impulsive outburst on the arrest of popular leaders. The Chittagong and Peshawar incidents though also caused for the same reason, seem to have been serious and well-planned affairs, though wholly unconnected with each other, Chittagong being in the extreme east and Peshawar being in the north-west border of India.
These disturbances have so far not affected other parts of India, where civil disobedience has been going on in an organised fashion and on a mass scale since the 6th instant. People in other parts have remained non-violent in spite of great provocation. At the same time, I admit that there is need for caution but I can say without the least hesitation that, consistently with the plan of civil disobedience, every precaution conceivable is being taken to prevent civil disobedience from being used as an occasion for doing violence. It should be noted that in Karachi, seven wounded persons of whom two have died of their wounds, were volunteers engaged in keeping the peace and restraining mob fury. It is the opinion of eye-witnesses that the firing in Karachi was wholly unjustified and that there was no firing in the air or at the legs in the first instance.
In fact, the Government have lost no opportunity of incensing people. Many of the best and purest and the most self-sacrificing leaders have been arrested and imprisoned, in many instances with mock trials. Sentences, though for the same offence, have varied with the idiosyncrasies of the magistrates. In several instances they have been for more than 12 months with hard labour on well-known citizens. The enthusiasm of the people has up to now increased with every conviction. Thousands of people regard the manufacture of contraband salt as part of their daily routine. In any other part of the world with a Government at all responsible to public opinion, the salt tax would have been repealed long since, but whether now or later, repealed it will be, if the present existing atmosphere of resistance abides as it promises to do.
That this is a movement of self-purification is abundantly proved by the fact that women have come into it in large numbers and are organising the picketing of liquor shops. Thousands have taken vows to abstain from intoxicating liquor. In Ahmedabad, a strong labour centre, receipts of canteens have dropped to 19 percent and are still dropping. A similar manifestation is taking place in the district of Surat. Women have also taken up the question of boycott of foreign cloth. It is spreading all over India. People are making bonfires of foreign cloth in their possession. Khadi, i.e., hand-spun cloth, is so much in demand that the existing stock is well-nigh exhausted. The spinning-wheel is much in demand and people are beginning to realise more and more the necessity of reviving hand-spinning in the cottages of 700,000 villages of India. In my humble opinion, a struggle so free from violence has a message far beyond the borders of India. I have no manner of doubt that after all the sacrifice that has already been made since April 6, the spirit of the people will be sustained throughout till India has become Independent and free to make her contribution to the progress of humanity.