Published on August 14, 2022
Ahmedabad: When it comes to salt tax and agitation, the world remembers the historic Salt March or Dandi March of 1930 where Mahatma Gandhi and his 78 satyagrahis put Gujarat and the issue of unfair salt tax on global map and gave the Indian independence movement a new direction.
But a lesser-known salt agitation preceded the event by nearly a century when the first ‘revolt’ against the British in today’s Gujarat (carved out of former Bombay Presidency and later Bombay state) took place in 1844, 13 years before the 1857 mutiny.
The book ‘The Political and Cultural History of Gujarat’ by the BJ Institute of Learning and Research mentions that in 1844, the residents of Surat were up in arms against the British administrators who doubled the tax on one mann (20 kg) of salt from 8 annas to Re 1. The move aimed to fetch the administration additional Rs 22 lakh in tax revenue.
“All communities gathered and staged major protests against the administration in the last week of August. The entire city – one of the biggest commerce centres for the Presidency – remained closed for three days,” says the book.
The book says, “About 30,000 participated in a march to the offices of revenue officer Remington, and representative of Bombay governor Aburthnot. Military and police could not disperse the rally even with the use of force.” “Every shop in Surat observed a complete bandh and those who tried to work as intermediaries were beaten up.”
As a result, the tax was reduced from Re 1 to 12 annas after Aburthnot announced revocation of the increased tax. Surtis also went up in arms against the administration in April 1848 when the British administrators tried to introduce the ‘Bengali metric system’ for the weights and measures. It was also dropped eventually.
Prof Ramji Savaliya, former director of BJ Institute, said that it was the first public opposition by Surat, which was considered to be an important trade hub.
“The concept of ‘purna swaraj’ came much later, but such instances showed the administrators that the local population would not bear with imposition of taxes on whim,” he said. “The issue of salt touched every household and thus remained an important one in our freedom struggle – discussed on various platforms even before Salt March. But it was the Dandi March that caught the imagination of the nation.”