WRITTEN BY R. NANJAPPA                        

Post No. 8601

Date uploaded in London – – – 31 August 2020   

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Chapter -12 Part 2


R. Nanjappa


The people were outraged because a tax on dwelling place or shop acquired by inheritance had never been imposed by the native rulers. This also seems to have been felt cumulatively with other indignities suffered under the company’s rule. Benares residents said that this tax was ‘like salt scattered on a wound’. The protesters were totally peaceful. The authorities noted that,

  “Open violence does not seem their aim, they seem rather to vaunt their security in being unarmed in that a military force would not use deadly weapons against such inoffnsive foes.. knowing that civil power cannot disperse them and thinking that the military will not.”

The protesters drafted petitions and representations against the tax and presented them to the authorities but these were dismissed. The authorities used all methods- like dividing people, using influential people to dissuade, using police and military etc. The gathering of people became vulnerable to attacks by the authorities, and they suffered. People refused to cooperate with assessment and engage with the officials. The distress and disaffection spread. The magistrates were asked to use the military but one or two hesitated. Some of them were convinced that there was distress. But the local collectors and the authorities at Calcutta felt that any concession would be seen as a weakness of the government and should not be allowed. However, the public sentiment against the tax was snowballing. Finally, the tax was abolished in terms of Regulation VII of 1812. [Earlier the European residents had refused to pay the tax.]


Such instances of civil disobedience show an important aspect of Polity. There has to be some basic understanding, convergence of values, between the rulers and the ruled. Where the rulers share the feeling that the ruled belong to them, they would not necessarily look upon an occasional show of displeasure as defiance of authority. Likewise where the people feel an affinity for the rulers, they would not seek to dispose of them through show of dissent, nor would they resort to it  lightly. The rulers and the ruled thus share a bond, a code of honour, unwritten though it be, which gives legitimacy to the rule and also dissent.


The British rule in India lacked this legitimacy, and they were aware of it. They had somehow acquired power. They did not feel for the people. The people too did not look upon them as one of their own. Robert Clive had understood that their rule was acquired by force, it did not have the consent of the people, they did not seek legitimacy, and so expressed this:

“Our influence and possessions were acquired, so they must be maintained by force; and that the princes of the country are only to be kept in order by fear.”

Men such as Thomas Munro and Charles Metcalfe realised this lack of legitimacy of their government. Metcalfe even said that their rule appeared strong, but its collapse might be ‘short work’. Their power did not rest ” on actual strength, but on appearance”. So they were not prepared to give any concession which might upset that appearance! 


Gandhiji picking salt

Against such odds, the victory of the people in their 1811 non-violent, civil disobedient struggle against a new tax imposed by the colonial power appears extraordinary.
 Compared to this, one wonders what to say of the many struggles of Gandhiji a century later. He did not complete them all, except the Salt Satyagraha. But it was not a success- the salt tax was not withdrawn. [It was abolished only in March, 1947] After that event, the colonial government let loose brutal repression. Quit India programme was a fiasco, and was completely put down within 6 months, with all leaders imprisoned, and thus put out of action. Gandhiji’s movement was not able to wrest anything of substance from the British. On the contrary, they encouraged all the anti-Gandhi and anti-Indian elements. They actively promoted divisive forces.

*to be continued……………………………………………

tags — books to read 32, salt satyagraha,