Remembering the 80 unsung heroes of Mahatma Gandhi’s Dandi March

Remembering the 80 unsung heroes of Mahatma Gandhi’s Dandi March

Eighty others accompanied Mahatma Gandhi on his Dandi March to break British salt law, largely to fade into oblivion.

Dandi March was a giant stride in India’s freedom struggle. Little, however, is known about the 80 people — around 50 of them in their 20s and eight in their teens — who accompanied Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi as he set off on March 12, 1930, for the 24-day, 338-km-long trek to defy the British-imposed salt tax. The Mahatma’s unknown foot soldiers dispersed soon after they arrived at the Dandi seashore on April 5. Now, an effort is being made to identify them and give a face to each of those unsung heroes. (IE Photo: Vasant Prabhu)

Forty sculptors — nine of them foreigners — are working on a ‘National Dandi March Memorial’, on the IIT Bombay campus, recreating an important chapter of Indian history with the help of blurred photographs, oral descriptions and old newspapers. Once the project is complete, in 2015, 80 life-size statues and a 15-feet-tall Gandhi statue will be installed on a 15-acre land opposite Saifee Villa where Gandhi halted for a night at the end of his Dandi March. This week, on February 12 — the ‘shradh day’ of Mahatma Gandhi — the sculptures will be on display on the IIT campus in Powai. (IE Photo: Vasant Prabhu)

In a 360 sq m pandal on the 500-acre campus, artists are working day and night to meet the February 12 deadline. Ram Kumbhar, 28, has spent a fortnight sculpting the face of one Pyarelal Nayyar and another unknown person. It is difficult sculpting the facial features, copying them from blurred photographs, he says. All 40 artists were given 15 days to attend workshops organised by the IIT, refer to books written on the Dandi March, and read about the person whose sculpture they were making. “Making sculptures with just damaged and blurred photographs as reference is not easy; some of us even got marchers who haven’t been identified by name but whose picture is available. The workshops, however, were a great help,” Ram Kumbhar adds. (IE Photo: Vasant Prabhu)

The 80 statues have been sent for bronze casting, which is the final and most important stage, says Kirti Trivedi, a professor at IIT’s Industrial Design Centre. The convenor of the project, he is the son of one of Gandhi’s closest associates, Kashinath Trivedi. As Trivedi points out, the satyagrahis, handpicked by Gandhi, dispersed as soon as the march from Sabarmati ashram in Ahmedabad to Dandi ended. That meant travelling across the country for two years to get details about the 80 marchers, interviewing their families and friends. (IE Photo: Vasant Prabhu)

Trivedi, along with a team of three design students and the staff of a consultancy firm, Design and People, conducted a number of field trips, to trace the individuals, collect details about them through old photographs and newspapers, even studying a 1930 film. (IE Photo: Vasant Prabhu)

Despite all these efforts though, the researchers are yet to source photographs of 35 marchers. “We have circulated pamphlets with details of the project and pictures of the marchers to various organisations promoting Gandhian values, and are expecting people to contact us to identify the remaining marchers. (IE Photo: Vasant Prabhu)

As of now, we have 80 names and some blurred pictures. We have to match the pictures with names. In many cases, we found the marcher’s old age pictures, but he was in his 20s when he participated in the Dandi March. However, these sculptures are not supposed to be exact replicas. For instance, while studying the picture of an old man, an artist can imagine what he looked like in his youth. In cases where we could not find pictures, the facial features, clothes, etc are based on the region they hailed from,” says Trivedi. (IE Photo: Vasant Prabhu)

Sethu Das of Design and People talks of a similar problem. “The highlight of the memorial will be giving a name to the unknown marcher. Identifying these people has been a challenging task. We have pictures based on which 80 life-size statues are being created. But who will identify them? In most cases, family members and friends of these marchers have died; their descendants have either moved to other cities or are untraceable. Many are unable to identify them as the marchers were very young and the pictures are mostly blurred,” he says. (IE Photo: Vasant Prabhu)

The Dandi March Memorial, a Culture Ministry project

The Dandi March Memorial, a Culture Ministry project, was announced by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh in 2005 on the 75th anniversary of the march. However the project’s design was approved only this year. A high-level committee was appointed, comprising 18 members, headed by former West Bengal governor and Gandhi’s grandson Gopalkrishna Gandhi. (IE Photo: Vasant Prabhu)

The committee approached IIT-B’s Industrial Design Centre in October 2010 and a design was chosen. At the committee’s first meeting on September 21, 2010, it was decided that the 80 satyagrahis would be represented by 80 rocks. Later, it was decided that life-size statues would be constructed, and that major events that took place during the 24 halts that Gandhi and his team made would be depicted through 24 3D murals. These will be placed along a half a kilometre stretch. (IE Photo: Vasant Prabhu)

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