Mohandas Gandhi began a hunger strike on this date in 1932, protesting yet another discriminatory regulation affecting India’s lowest caste, the untouchables. Gandhi called them the harijan – children of god – and their plight was one of his many causes.
Two years earlier he had led the great Salt March to the sea, his first real act of civil disobedience on the way to independence. The British manufactured and sold salt in government depots, levying a tax that accounted for 8 percent of its revenues.
To make or buy salt illicitly was a criminal act. Before the march, Gandhi asked the British to meet his demands but they of course refused. The Viceroy said he wasn’t losing any sleep over the march.
Gandhi started out the 240-mile march with 78 followers. By the time he got to the coast, the skein of marchers was two miles long, nearly 100,000 strong. Another 50,000 were waiting to meet him. European and American papers covered the event and made him a household name – the NY times gave him daily coverage and at the end, front page stories.
All over India, rich and poor began to make salt. Other British imports – like cotton – were boycotted. Nehru later said the importance of the Salt March was that it gave Indians both self-respect and a sense of India as a nation. For the British, it was an inkling of just what could happen when millions of Indians refused to cooperate in their subjugation.
The place Gandhi marched to, btw, is hardly ever mentioned – probably because it’s called Dandi and the combination really is awkward.
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Today is the anniversary of the birth of Upton Sinclair in 1878. Upton Sinclair is a particular hero of mine, one of a group of early 20th century Progressives who came close to turning it all around. His book The Jungle is still a shocking read; it led directly to the Pure Food and Drug Act. Some people at the FDA need to read it again.
Sinclair moved to Monrovia here in SoCal and founded the state ACLU chapter. He ran for Congress twice on the Socialist ticket, then ran for governor as a Democrat in 1934. His campaign platform was ‘End Poverty in California’ and he got more votes than he’d ever gotten before, but lost anyway.
He died in 1968 and is buried in Washington D.C. near his third wife. His house in Monrovia is on the National Register.
And, to Sophia Loren, felice compleanno!