Civil Disobedience Movement

The Lahore Congress of 1929 had given the mandate to launch civil disobedience movement along with the non-payment of taxes. Mahatma Gandhi presented his 11 demands to the Viceroy Lord Irwin and gave him the ultimate of January 31, 1932 to acccept these demands. His 11 point demands were

Issues of general welfare

  • Abolition of salt tax and Monopoly of the government to manufacture salt.
  • To reduce the expenses on the civil administration and army by 30%.
  • To reform the criminal investigation department CID.
  • Total prohibition of intoxicants and alcohol.
  • Amendments in the arms act to allow licenses of arms to citizens for self-protection.
  • To release all the political Prisoners.
  • Acception of Postal reservation bill.

Demands specific to bourgeois

  • To change the Rupee Sterling exchange ratio to 1s 4d.
  • To impose custom duty on import of foreign clothes.
  • The reservation of coastal shipping for Indians.

Demands for the interests of peasants

  • Reduction of land revenue by 50 percent.

The government did not give any positive response to these demands. In February 1930, the Congress working Committee gave full powers to Mahatma Gandhi to launch the Civil Disobedience Movement at a place and time of his choice. By end of February 1930, Gandhiji began to talk about the salt tax and made it the main issue to launch the Civil Disobedience Movement.

Reasons for selection of salt as the central formula

  1. Salt was universally used by all the sections of the society and hence it did not had any social divisive implications like no rent campaign.
  2. As Mahatma Gandhi had said, there is no article like salt outside water by taxing which the state can reach even Starving millions, the sick the maimed and the utterly helpless. This text is the most inhuman poll tax the ingenuity of man can device.
  3. The salt formed a meager amount of income for poor, it had an important psychological effect. As in case of khadi, the salt again provided the urban adherents the opportunity to link with sufferings and pain of masses.

Launch of Dandi March

On 2nd March 1930 Gandhi wrote his historic letter to Lord Irwin, firstly, he explained why he regarded the British raj in India as the reason for the misery of people of India. Then he informed Lord Irwin about his plans about breaking the salt law. He wrote in his letter that the government can arrest him, but after his arrest thousands of his followers will follow him in the act of disobeying the salt law.

Mahatma Gandhi along with his 78 followers was to march from Ahmedabad through the different villages of Gujarat for about 240 miles to reach the coast of Dandi. But, even before the launch of Dandi March, several thousand of his followers reached his Ashram. He gave following directions for the future course of action:

  • To start the breaking of salt law wherever possible.
  • The foreign cloth shops and liquor shops can be picketed.
  • He allowed for the refusal of payment of taxes if there is sufficient strength.
  • The lawyers can give up their practices and the public can boycott the law Courts and refrain from litigation.
  • Gandhiji prescribed only one condition for the above i.e. truth and nonviolence as the only means to attain Swaraj.
  • In case of his arrest by the government. He called for obeying the local leaders.

Gandhiji launched his Dandi march on March 12, and he reached Dandi on 6th April. He broke the salt law by picking up a handful of salt and with this the civil disobedience movement began which saw countrywide mass participation. The progress of his march and his speeches were covered by the newspapers all over the country. In answer to his appeal 300 government officials resigned in Gujarat. The Congress workers looked after the organisational work and broadcasted the speeches of Gandhi, throughout the country.

Salt_March Salt_March

Once Mahatma Gandhi completed the ritual of breaking the salt law, similar marches and defiance of salt law started all over the country. In Tamilnadu, C.Rajagopalachari led a similar movement from Tiruchirapalli to vedaranniyam and broke the salt law. In Assam, the satyagrahis marched from Sylhet to Noakhali (Bengal) to manufacture salt. In Andhra, several sibirams (military style camps) came up in the different districts and served as the headquarters of Salt Satyagraha.

Jawaharlal Nehru was arrested on 14th April for breaking the salt law. This lead to huge demonstrations and protests in Madras, Calcutta and Karachi. On May 4, 1930, Mahatma Gandhi was arrested after his announcement about his intentions to lead a raid to Dharasana Salt works. His arrest led to massive protests, demonstrations, and hartals in Bombay, Delhi, and Calcutta etc. Sholapur, saw the fierciest response, where the mill workers and other residents burnt and attacked liquor shops and government symbols.

After Mahatma Gandhi's arrest, the Congress working committee sanctioned:

  • For the non payment of land revenue in the ryotwari areas.
  • Campaign for no chowkidara tax by refusing to pay this tax.
  • The violation of the different forest laws in Central provinces.


In Chittagong, the Surya Sen s Chittagong Revolutionary group raided the two armouries of government and took its control. Surya sen took salute of the national flag and announced the establishment of the provincial government.


In Peshawar, Abdul Gaffar Khan, also known as Badshah Khan and Frontier Gandhi led the struggle. He organised a volunteer group called Khudai khidmatgars or red shirts , who pledged to work for the freedom struggle through the means of nonviolence. Abdul Gaffar Khan had started political monthly Pukhtoon and worked for the social and educational reforms among the pathans. After the arrest of Congress leaders on 23rd April 1930, Peshawar saw huge mass demonstrations and protests and the City was virtually in the hands of crowd till may 4 till order was restored. Martial law was imposed to control the situation. Here a section of soldiers of Garhwal Regiment refused to fire on the unarmed crowd. The upsurge in this province, where 92% of population was Muslim left the Britishers nervous.


Solapur show the fiercest response to the arrest of Mahatma Gandhi. From May 7, the textile workers and other residents attacked and burnt the liquor shops, railway stations, Police Stations, law courts and other symbols of government authority. They established a virtual parallel government till May 16 and government was forced to impose Martial Law to maintain order.


After the arrest of Mahatma Gandhi, the unfinished work of raiding the Darshana salt works was taken up by Sarojini Naidu, Imam Sahib and Manilal (Mahatma Gandhi's son). The police did brutal Lathi charge on the unarmed crowd leading to the death of two people along with 320 injured. Similar kind of Salt Satyagraha started in Wadala (Bombay), Karnataka (sanikatta salt works), Andhra, Midnapore, Balasore, Cuttack and Puri.


Bihar is a landlocked area, so Salt Satyagraha was not possible here. Hear the people organised a different kind of movement by refusing to pay the chowkidara tax. The demand was made for the resignation of chowkidars and members of panchayats who had the responsibility to appoint these chowkidars. The anti chowkidara tax campaign was successful in areas of Bhagalpur, Monghyr and Saran. The government responded by confiscating the properties of worth hundreds and thousands for just few rupees of tax and the people also faced beatings and tortures by the police.

The anti Chowkidara tax campaign was also adopted by the people of Bengal after the onset of monsoon, as it became difficult to make salt. There was also a campaign for anti-Union board tax. These campaigns faced severe repression and confiscation of property.


The no tax campaign by refusal to pay land revenue impacted the areas of Borsad, Nadiad, and Anand in Kheda District and the areas of Jambusar in Bharuch district. People went to the neighboring princely states like Baroda and camped there to evade from the repressions of police. The police destroyed their properties and confiscated their lands.

United Provinces:

This area saw a no revenue campaign and no rent campaign. Under no revenue campaign, the zamindars were asked to refuse to pay land revenue to the British government. The peasants and tenants were given a call to refuse to pay rent to the zamindars. However, as the zamindars were Loyal to the British, the campaign virtually became a non-rent campaign. The no rent campaign was active in October 1930, in areas of Agra, Raebareli etc.


In Assam, the students organised a strong agitation and protest against the infamous Cunningham circular which had forced the student and their parents to give assurances of good behaviour.

The areas of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Central provinces saw the defiance of forest laws. The people defied the forest laws such as restrictions on grazing and timber and publicly sold the illegally acquired forest products. This kind of movement was more visible in areas with large tribal populations.

Manipur and Nagaland also saw the effect of civil disobedience movement. In Nagaland, Rani Gaidinliu at the young age of 13 years led the Revolt against the British. She was arrested in 1932 and given the sentence of life imprisonment.

The mass mobilization was done with the help of Prabhat fairies, Vanar senas, secret patrikas, and Manjari senas which had girls as their members. Magic Lantern shows where organised to create awareness among the masses against the British.

Impact of the movement

During this movement, the import of foreign goods such as foreign clothes and other items were reduced sharply. Due to picketing of liquor and other intoxicants, the government revenue from these sources reduced. Further, the legislative assemblies we are also boycotted.

Participation of women

Civil disobedience movement saw large scale participation of women as Gandhi had asked the women to take a leading part in the movement. Women participated in large numbers in picketing outside liquor shops, opium dens and around the shops selling foreign goods. The civil disobedience movement was the most liberating experience for the women, which truly marked their entry in public sphere point

Student and youth participation was also significant especially against boycott of foreign clothes, against liquor shops etc. Their demonstration and protest against Cunningham circular in Assam was also significant.


Muslim participation was less as compared to Khilafat noncooperation movement as many Muslim leaders had appealed the Muslims to stay away from the movement. Also, British adopted the policy of divide and rule and encouraged communal dissension which reduced the Muslim participation. However areas like North West frontier province saw very high Muslim participation due to role played by leaders like Abdul Gaffar Khan etc. In the regions like Senhatta, Gaibandhu, Begur, Noakhali and Tripura, Muslims from the middle class participated in good numbers. The Muslim leaders, shopkeepers, people from lower classes and Muslim women from upper classes were active in civil disobedience movement in Dacca. In Bihar, Lucknow, Delhi there was significant participation from the Muslim weaving community.

Merchants and traders:

Merchants and traders were also active participants as they wanted protection from the goods imported from Britain. They were active in boycotting the imported clothes and other goods. Their impact was significant in areas like Punjab, Tamil Nadu etc.

Tribals :

Tribals were also enthusiastic participants in areas like Central provinces, Karnataka, Maharashtra, northeast. They defied and broke forest laws and illegally sold forest produce.

Workers and Peasants:

Workers participation was significant in areas like Bombay, Sholapur, Calcutta, Madras etc. While other areas had limited effect as working class were not much developed in other areas. Peasants were active in United provinces, where they were involved in no rent campaign etc. Areas like Bihar, Gujarat also saw a significant participation of peasants in this movement.

Government response

The government response was ambivalent as it did unnecessary delay in arresting Gandhi. It played the card that nonintervention of government would make Gandhi's plan a failure, but the opposite happened. The government faced the dilemma as if it applied force then its image suffered and the Congress cried repression and if it did not do much, the Congress cried victory. Thus in both ways, the hegemony of British Indian government was getting eroded.

But once it began repression, the ordinances were used to acquire draconian powers to repress civil liberties, press and for banning civil disobedience organisations. The police did Lathi charge and firings on the Peaceful and nonviolent crowd. Several people were killed and injured, while around 90000 people were arrested during the movement.

Government efforts for Truce

The British Viceroy Lord Irwin proposed a Round table conference, along with the promise of discussion on Dominion status. The Viceroy accepted the proposal to allow Tej Bahadur Sapru and Mr Jayakar to try and bring peace and agreement between the Indian National Congress and the British Indian government.

In August 1930 at Yerwada jail, Jawaharlal Nehru and Motilal Nehru met Mahatma Gandhi to find the possibility of truce with the government. They put forward the following demands.

  • The right to form national government having complete powers over defence and Finance etc.
  • They demanded the right of India to secede from Britain and establishment of an independent tribunal to look after the financial claims of Britain on India.

The government refused to accept the demands and the talks between the Congress and government broke down.

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