Vedaranyam Salt March, 87th anniversary and Rajaji's feat - India's freedom struggle

India's struggle for freedom.

Vedaranyam salt march, April 30, 1930. Rajaji in the middle. Wikipedia

This year 30 April marked the 87th anniversary of Vedaranyam Salt March to the coastal area of Vedaranyam by the freedom fighters. In our struggle for freedom from the British, the salt march to Dandi, west coast  initiated by Gandhiji in March 1930 was an important turning point in India's political history and it  grabbed the attention of the world and the unjust imposition of tax on salt which is quite indispensable for cooking. Stepping into the shoes of Gandhiji, C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji), based on INC's initiative led a salt march in April 1930 to Vedaranyam in the then coastal District of Tanjore (now it is in Nagapattinam District). These two political events backed by millions of patriotic Indians who lost their patience with the unjust British rule made a dent on the British's grip on India. Mind you, both these two events followed the principles of Satyagraha marked by non-violence and non-cooperation with the ruling government.

The Vedaranyam Salt March - April 30, 1930  led by C. Rajagopala Chari, an eminent lawyer and astute politician  was an important political event  next to Dandi Salt March led by Gandhiji in India's history for freedom struggle. As for Tamil Nadu, the congress leaders preferred Vedaranyam town  to Thoothukudi  town owing to full support given by  Sardar Vedaranyam Vedaratnam Pillai, Thanjavur District Congress President. It was  a nonviolent civil disobedience movement  arranged by the Congress party under the leadership of Rajaji, quite similar to  Dandi (then in Bombay Presidency; now in Gujarat) Salt Yatra  led by Gandhiji  earlier in March, 1930. This Salt March in the southern part of India was to protest against the salt tax imposed by the British Government. The British government was  squeezing India's resources and native Indians to fill their coffers back in London.

Gandhiji collecting salt in Dandi, Gujarat, March, 1930 en.Wikipedia. org

The moment  the protest was publicly announced by  C. Rajagopalachari in April 1930, the Tanjore district administration under the then Collector J. K. Thorn ICS not only banned the salt march to the coastal area of Vedaranyam  but also announced that the government would  take stern action against the local people -   that anyone helping the  salt marchers - satyagrahis by way of giving food and shelter would be sentenced to six months in prison (under Section 157 of IPC).  The propaganda was made through   heralds and leaflets. The District Collector was resolved to stop the march midway at any cost, using his full administrative power and the ban was promulgated through out Tanjore District.

Rajaji and others, Vedaranyam salt march April 1930.

As scheduled, the salt march  that began on 13 April, 1930  from the residence of Congress leader T.S.S. Rajan at Tiruchirapalli cantonment got a warm welcome in the village of Koviladi, near Thirukattupalli.  There were 99  satyagrahis initially and they had to cover a distance of 150 miles passing through Thiruvaiyaru, Tanjore, Kumbakonam, etc., and then towards the east coast. The destination was a small village near Vedaranyam, famous for salt production. 
Gandhiji and Rajaji. Gandhi Ashram

Vedaranyam, coastal village, Tamil Nadu.

Though  the salt marchers were denied food and shelter on their way by the district administration, with cooperation from the public and freedom fighters, the Satyagrahis  had their stomach full all along the route. The food pockets were hidden in certain predetermined  and numbered trees and the marchers  were secretly informed before hand about the location  of food under the trees, etc. In the evening, after the march, Rajaji and others would address the public meeting briefly in the villages  on the importance of getting freedom from the British and their protest against salt tax. At meetings, the leaders saw to it that the meeting was over before the arrival of the police. At Thiruvaiyaru town, they were well received by Tamil scholar Va. Ra, businessman Subramanya Mudaliar and other patriots. Despite the ban, the satyagrahis were given warm welcome  at Vennar bank,  on the outskirt of Thanjavur town with traditional nageswaram and thavil in front of freedom fighter Sabesa Iyer's house. A pandal was temporarily erected for this purpose.   Since the collector's office was located in Thanjavur town, the  salt march passed through the town  peacefully after Rajaji had addressed a meeting in a place now called Rajappa Park. Near Kumbakonam, Rajaji spoke at the meeting near the Town Hall  organized by the  congress committee member, ex MLC and landlord Pantalu Iyer.  Being rich as he was, Sri Pantlu Iyer donated several acres of cultivable lands  for freedom struggle purposes. He gave them accommodation and grand dinner at his residence in Kumbakonam despite government ban. He was later arrested and sentenced to six months of imprisonment. At Semmangudi village near Kumbakonam, some people who were of help to the salt marchers, lost their  government jobs. The marchers reached Thirutharaipoondi on 25 April where Ramachandra Naidu gave food and shelter to the marchers and, on the  following day, he was arrested by the police. The arrest of Patalu Iyer and Naidu made thelocal  people angry.

 Vedaranyam salt march.

Above image: Rajaji with a walking stick (later he became first Gov. Gen. of India and CM, Madras Presidency), A. Vaidhyanatha 
Iyer (left side in the photo: leading lawyer of Madurai; first to take the Harijans into the Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple) and Kakkan ( right side in the photo. later he became a minister in Tamil Nadu under CM Kamaraj and Bakthavachalam), Vedaranyam salt march April 1930.

Despite various restrictions and ban, the marchers reached Vedaranyam  where Vedaratnam Pillai had a shelter  with thatched roof erected  for the satyagrarhis. Now, the question is where would Rajaji collect a handful of salt without being watched by the police? Here, the family members of Vedaratnam pillai were of help to Rajaji and  they had him  taken secretly to a place - Edanthevar salt swamp  where he  collected salt and had broken the Salt act on 30 April, 1930. There were many marchers with him.   Thus, for the second time  in British India, next to Dandi, Gujarat  salt had been collected  by Rajaji, in protest against the British India's unjust tax on salt, an ingredient very important for  cooking Indian food.

As for the British, the salt march  by the marchers was in defiance of laws  and if it became a  sensational one and got the attention of the international media again, it would amount to losing their strong hold on India and  India's independence was not far off.  Indians working for the British Raj were caught in the middle as they had to suppress their own nationalistic fervor to comply with  their official duties. When Rajaji was facing charges in the court of law under section 74 of salt law, Ponnusamy Pillai, the Magistrate of Vedaranyam, who eventually sentenced Rajaji for the “violation”,  was in tears  after signing the orders. Upon being asked by the magistrate what the sentence should be,  Rajaji, being an eminent lawyer himself suggested it should be the most rigorous one. Rajaji was sentenced to Trichy central jail.

Kamaraja Nadar, ex CM, Tamil nadu Nadar Mahajana Sangam

The prominent marchers included  Kamaraj Nadar, Bakthavchalam, Kakkan, Madurai Vaidhyanatha Iyer, Rukmani Lakshmipathy (first woman to be sent to jail) and others. An interesting aspect of this salt march was the British were denied essential services. Barbers, washer-men, sweepers, attenders, janitors and others refused to cooperate with them. The British administration had begun to stink like skunk. Thus, our forefathers got us freedom from the British under the most difficult circumstances. But, unfortunately in the last two decades, the Indian political scenario has been not good because criminals have got into politics and presently at stake is the welfare of the people, in particular, people belonging to the lower strata of the society.  Nowadays Indian politicians are more interested in amassing their personal wealth, than in nation building and people's welfare and their basic needs.The famous 2G scam under the Congress ministry headed by Manmohan Singh was shame on India, in particular, Tamil Nadu.  A vast amount of money disappeared like the  willo the wisp!!