India was ruled since the mid-16th century by the Mughal Empire, but it disintegrated in the early 18th century. India was left with a number of weak and unstable regional states that were susceptible to manipulation and control by Europeans. Britain’s early presence on the continent was dominated by the East India Company, which had been given a monopoly of all English trade to Asia by royal grant at its foundation in 1600. Somewhat bizarrely, the Company began taking political power as well, and by the early 19th century, it had expanded control over much of India.
In 1858, Queen Victoria decided it was time to transfer the rule of the British East India Company to the Crown, and India officially became a British colony. [This was called The British Raj (raj means “rule” in Hindi).]
But the British disregarded local customs and tried to impose Western values and the English language on the subcontinent. Moreover, they exploited the Indians for labor and for cannon fodder in British wars. Hence, many Indians resented British rule, and they instigated several bloody rebellions before ultimately attaining independence in 1947.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (later known as “Mahatma,” a Sanskrit honorific meaning “venerable” or “great soul”), born in 1869, was a prominent leader of the Indian nationalist movement. He preached non-violent methods of civil disobedience, preferring the tactics of boycotts, marches, and fasts.
Gandhi’s most famous campaign was a march of about 240 miles from his commune in Ahmedabad to Dandi, on the sea coast, beginning March 12, 1930, and ending April 5, 1930. The march is usually known as the Dandi March or the Salt Satyagraha. [Satyagraha means passive political resistance.] At Dandi, Gandhi and thousands of protestors made their own salt from seawater. They were breaking the law; the British did not allow Indians to get salt from the sea but rather, they had to purchase it from the British and pay high taxes on it. This book tells the story of of that famous march.
The prose is simple, but evocative:
mix with the crowd,
watching every move.
Worries rumble. Rumors brew.”
“He finally stops
at the far edge of town,
where the Untouchables live.
Outcasts of the Hindu faith,
dirty, ragged, poor,
pushed away by all —-
“He tells Muslims, Hindus, and Untouchables
that they are different but the same.
India needs them all
to work as one
And finally he leads his marchers to the Arabian Sea: “white salt dusting dark sand.”
It is the illustrations by Thomas Gonzalez as much as the text that conveys what kind of man Gandhi was. With pencils and pastels the soft edges of his images suggest the peacefulness of Gandhi’s movement, even as they convey the quiet strength of the participants, particularly Gandhi.
At the back of the book, one map shows British India and another displays the route of the salt march, along with some additional background information.
Published by Amazon Children’s Publishing, 2013.