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Down to 1947, the British controlled the production, distribution and sale of salt in India. No wonder that when Gandhi sought to mobilise the Indian poor against colonial rule in 1930, he chose a march from his ashram in Ahmedabad to the sea-salt producing coastline of Gujarat as an act of civil disobedience. The salt monopoly not only affected the very poorest, it also impacted on public health in the colonial era. We get snapshots of this in evidence from the terrible famines of the later 19th and 20th centuries, but there has been very little research on the response of both Indian and European medical science to the links between salt scarcity and malnutrition, and various illnesses.

Our research project marks the 90th anniversary in 2020 of Gandhi’s Salt March, looking in particular at three aspects of the history of salt in modern India. First, the Salt March itself: how Gandhi mobilised the poor and drew in an international audience as witness. Secondly, the longer-term history of the British salt monopoly dating back to late 18th century Bengal. And thirdly, the impact of salt scarcity on public health, both before and after independence in 1947.

Photo by Sugato Mukherjee|Al Jazeera