Civil Disobedience Movement

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civil disobedience movement

The civil disobedience movement was a landmark event in the Indian Nationalist movement. In many ways, the movement is credited for paving the way for freedom in India in 1947. This movement was led by Mahatma Gandhi. Based on the ideals of Gandhi, the uprising advocated non-violent resistance against British colonial policies. During the uprising, Indians were urged to defy unjust laws and taxes. They were asked to emphasise passive resistance and non-cooperation. These mass protests united millions, filling jails and drawing global attention. While it didn’t immediately grant independence, it greatly weakened British authority and marked a crucial step towards India’s eventual freedom in 1947.

Also Read: Non-Cooperation Movement

What is the Civil Disobedience Movement?

Civil disobedience was initiated under the stewardship of Mahatma Gandhi. It was launched after the observance of Indian Independence Day (August 15) in 1930. The civil disobedience movement commenced with the infamous Dandi march when Gandhi left the Sabarmati Ashram at Ahmedabad on foot with 78 other members of the Ashram for Dandi on 12 March 1930. After reaching Dandi, Gandhi broke the salt law. It was considered illegal to make salt as it was solely a government monopoly. The salt satyagraha led to a widespread acceptance of the civil Disobedience movement across the country. This event became symbolic of people’s defiance of government policies.

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Source: StudyIQ IAS

Effects of this Movement 

Following Gandhi’s footsteps, C. Rajgopalchari in Tamil Nadu led a similar march from Trichinopoly to Vedaranyam. At the same time  Sarojini Naidu, a prominent leader in the congress led the movement in Darasana in Gujarat. The police opened a lathi charge which led to over 300 satyagrahis being severely injured. Consequently, there were demonstrations, hartals, a boycott of foreign goods, and later a refusal to pay taxes. A lakh of participants including women participated in this movement. 

The Reaction of the British Government 

To consider the reforms by the Simon Commission, the British government convened the first round table conference in November 1930. It was however boycotted by the Indian National Congress. The conference was attended by  Indian princes, the Indian Muslim League, Hindu Mahasabha, and some others. However, nothing came of it. The British realized that without the participation of Congress, no real constitutional changes would come about. 

The viceroy, Lord Irwin made efforts to persuade Congress to join the second round table congress. Gandhi and Irwin reached an agreement wherein the government agreed to release all political prisoners against whom there were no charges of violence and in turn, Congress would suspend the civil disobedience movement. In the Karachi session in  1931, presided over by Vallabhbhai Patel, it was decided that the congress would participate in the 2nd round table congress. Gandhi represented the session which met in September 1931.

Also Read: Indian National Movement

The Karachi Session

At the Karachi session, an important resolution of fundamental rights and economic policy was passed. Besides laying down the policy of the nationalist movement on social and economic problems facing the country, it guaranteed fundamental rights to the people irrespective of caste and religion and favoured the nationalisation of industries. The session met with the participation of  Indian princes, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh communal leaders. However, the sole reason for their participation was to promote their vested interests. None of them was interested in the independence of India. Due to this, the second round table conference was met with a failure and no agreement could be reached. The government repression intensified and Gandhi and many other leaders were arrested. In all about 12,000 people were arrested. After the withdrawal of the movement in 1939, Congress passed a resolution that demanded that a constituent assembly, elected by the people based on adult franchise, be convened. And that only such an assembly could frame the constitution for India. Even though Congress did not succeed, this garnered vast sections of the people to participate in the mass struggle. Radical objectives for the transformation of Indian society were also adopted. 

Impact of the Civil Disobedience Movement

The impact of this movement reverberated far and wide. It created distrust towards the British government laid the foundation for the freedom struggle, and popularised new methods of propaganda like the Prabhat, Pheris, pamphlets, etc. Following the defiance of forest law in Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Central province and the refusal to pay the rural ‘Chaukidari tax’ in Eastern India, the government ended the oppressive salt tax.


  • Due to the counsel of communal leaders and the government’s initiatives to advance communalism as a countermeasure to nationalism, Muslims were less inclined to participate.
  • Industrial workers didn’t participate in great numbers, except in Nagpur.


  • Gandhi’s choice to halt the civil disobedience action as stipulated under the Gandhi-Irwin Pact was not a retreat for the following reasons:
    • Mass movements are by nature fleeting; unlike activists, the capacity of the masses to make sacrifices is constrained; after September 1930, there were symptoms of tiredness, especially among shopkeepers and merchants who had taken part with such zeal.
  • Youth were surely dissatisfied since they had passionately engaged and thought that the end of the world would be a bang instead of a whimper.
  • Gujarati peasants were unhappy that their lands were not recovered right away (in actuality, they were only restored during the Congress ministry’s reign in the province).
  • However, a lot of people were ecstatic that the government had been compelled to acknowledge their movement as important, respect their leader equally, and enter into a deal with him.
  • Political prisoners were hailed as heroes upon their release from jail.

Also Read: Non-Cooperation Movement

Spread of Civil Disobedience Movement

  • The country began to defy the salt rules after Gandhi’s ceremony in Dandi cleared the way.
  • In Madras, Calcutta, and Karachi, there were sizable demonstrations in response to Nehru’s imprisonment in April 1930 for breaking the salt rule. Following his announcement that he would lead an attack on the Dharasana Salt Works on India’s west coast, Gandhi was detained on May 4, 1930.
  • In the aftermath of Gandhi’s detention, there were sizable demonstrations in Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta, and Sholapur, where the reaction was the fiercest.
  • The CDM engaged people from various walks of life, including students, women, indigenous people, business owners and small traders, as well as labourers and peasants.
  • Several provinces likewise ignored their salt prohibitions, with various degrees of success.
  • C Rajagopalachari led the Salt Satyagraha in Tamil Nadu, K Kelappan in Malabar, and Sarojini Naidu and Manilal Gandhi in Dharasana Salt Works (Gujarat).
  • A group of 2000 volunteers offered nonviolent resistance against a sizable police force that was armed with steel-tipped lathis and attacked non-resisting Satyagrahis (protestors) until they fell to the ground during the defiance of salt laws at the Dharasana salt works, which was notable for its scale.
  • The civil disobedience campaign was effectively put to rest by the Gandhi-Irwin pact. On March 5, 1931, Lord Irwin, the viceroy of India at the time, and Mahatma Gandhi signed it.

Second Phase of Civil Disobedience

  • Gandhi returned from London after the failure of the second round table conference.
  • When Gandhiji returned, the Congress working committee convened a meeting to discuss the revival of civil disobedience.
  • The severe ordinances were enacted in order to impose martial law. Protesters who did not use violence were brutally repressed. The anti-tax and anti-rent campaigns were harshly reprimanded.
  • Despite the fact that the people fought back, the leaders were unable to maintain a steady pace, and the movement was crushed. The second phase of the civil disobedience movement lasted until 1934 when Gandhiji called it a day.
  • Gandhiji’s decision was criticised by many leaders, including SC Bose and Vithalbhai Patel. Later, they asked for a reorganisation of Congress with a new leader.

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How did the civil disobedience movement begin?

The Salt Satyagraha was a massive civil disobedience movement pioneered by Mahatma Gandhi against the salt tax imposed by the British government in India. Gandhi was followed by a large group of people from Sabarmati Ashram on 12th March 1930 to Dandi, a coastal village in Gujarat. On reaching Dandi, they broke the salt law by extracting salt from salt water.

What are the features of the civil disobedience movement?

The civil disobedience movement was the first nationwide movement while all others were restricted to urban areas. 
This movement gave chance to the people in rural areas the opportunity to participate.
This movement witnessed the participation of women in large numbers
Kasturba Gandhi, Kamladevi Chattopadhyay, Avantikabai Gokhale, Lilavati Munshi, and Hansaben Mehta were some of the prominent female leaders who led the satyagraha movement
The motto of this movement was Non-violence.
Despite  continuous suppression by the British government, this movement did not turn back

Which of the following was one of the eleven demands of MK Gandhi before the Civil Disobedience Movement?

A. Reduce expenditure on the military and civil administration by 50 per cent.
B. Change Arms Act allowing popular control of the issue of firearms licences
C. Only A
D. Both A & B
Ans. D

Who led a salt march from Trichinopoly to Vedaranniyam on the Tanjore coast in Tamil Nadu?

A. Surya Sen
B. K Kelappan
C. P Krishna Pillai
D. C. Rajagopalachari
And. D

In which of the following sessions Indian National Congress pass the resolution of Fundamental Rights and the Economic Policy?

A. Karachi Session of March 1931
B. Bombay Session of August 1942
C. Delhi Session of September 1938
D. Lahore Session of July 1930
Ans. A

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