Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Salt Smugglers..!

I guess that most of us know just how important the correct amount of salt is in our lives, right?

As it is with many things in life, if something is important to us, the government tries to figure out a way to tax it. Such was the situation with the tax on salt levied by Great Britain. Maybe we should look at the efforts made to prevent the salt from being smuggled in.

When Britain Tried To Stop Smugglers With A Hedge
By Debra Kelly on Sunday, November 23, 2014

We’ve all heard stories about how Britain was notorious for imposing taxes on their colonies. One of those taxes was the infamous Salt Tax, which led to the nonviolent protest that kick-started Gandi’s career as an activist. Before that, though, the British needed a way to regulate salt and make sure that all the proper taxes were paid on it—so they built a 3,700-kilometer (2,300 mi) hedge, mostly of dwarf Indian plum.

Salt is something of a surprisingly invaluable resource—it has been all across the globe, and it’s always been something of a commodity. Commodities are often subject to taxes, and under British rule, the Salt Tax was law in India.

India came under direct British rule in 1857; among the laws that were now being enforced were customs laws, and goods coming into British India were taxed. With those laws came a definite need to enforce them. Over the next few decades, there were a series of customs houses built all across India, monitoring all the activity that was going on from the Indus River in the west to the Mahanadi in the east.

But there also needed to be some sort of border to help patrols make sure that no smugglers were slipping through the lines with goods, specifically salt, that hadn’t had their taxes paid.

And, as unlikely as it seems, the answer was a hedge. It was an impressive hedge, no doubt, more than 4 meters (14 ft) high in some places, anywhere from 2–4 meters (6–12 ft) thick. It was composed of whatever native plants were handy, but much of the hedge was dwarf Indian plum. Other plants included the prickly pear, the babool, and the carounda—the resulting hedge was a dense, sharp, thorny mass.

The customs houses were first; they had begun to be built in 1803, and gradually, the hedge popped up between the houses in long spurs. Overall, the hedge ultimately grew to be around 3,700 kilometers (2,300 mi) long, and was patrolled by more than 12,000 men. Its only purpose was to separate areas that produced salt from those that didn’t—and to make sure there was no one able to dodge the tax. The whole thing was a steady work in progress; some areas were destroyed by fires and the weather and needed to be relentlessly repaired.

According to contemporary descriptions of the hedge, it was impossible to pass through, a thick, tangled mass of both living and dry, dead bushes. In places, it was reinforced with lumber, wood, or stone fence, and it wasn’t just the thick brush that deterred potential smugglers—it was the ants that lived in the bushes as well.

By 1836, one estimate states that a single family in the province of Bengal would spend anywhere up to six months of their annual income just on paying for their salt and the associated taxes. Salt wasn’t just something that people could give up, either. Estimates are difficult to pinpoint, but it’s thought that anywhere from 15 to 30 million people ultimately died from salt deprivation, along with countless animals and livestock.

The hedge is one of those monumental undertakings that has been largely ignored in history books. British author and historian Roy Moxham stumbled across a single reference to it in the memoirs of a British officer who had lived in India, and was completely taken aback at how unlikely it was that he was reading it right.

In some ways Britain was (and probably still is) fighting the same taxation battle that She fought against the colonies way back when. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

Coffee out on the patio this morning.


Chickenmom said...

Good story Mr. Hermit. I had never heard about that! Politicians have always had deep pockets.It's amazing what they really do get away with. I'll bring warm corn muffins - it's cold here at 27.

Sixbears said...

New one on me, but it's the same old story played to a different tune.

It doesn't matter how people suffer as long as the government gets its taxes.

Expecting another day of freezing rain here. It's getting old. However, the coffee's on the stove and cheers me.

linda m said...

New story for me also. I knew Britain taxed just about everything that they could, but never heard about the hedge. Still very dreary here with freezing rain. How about some fresh honey butter to go with those corn muffins.

texasann said...

Bubba -
Don't like the tax part, but I sure do like the headge part. Maybe we could do this along the Rio Grande border, and let's include lots of those fire ants! Love the sound of that! And yes folks, my last name is Rodriguez. Nothing against anyone coming here, just follow the laws and come legally!
Sorry for the rant,Bubba....gonna be one of those days, I reckon.
Big hugs -

JO said...

I know some folks would die without their salt. But the tax thing goes on an on.

texasann I agree.

HermitJim said...

Hey phyllis...
Seems to be the number one hobby of most in politics, coming up with new taxes! Guess all countries are pretty much the same!

Thanks for coming over today!

Hey Sixbears...
Hot coffee and warm fire makes a lot of things look better!

Thanks for dropping over today!

Hey Linda M...
Seems like the hedge wasn't talked about too much in the history books. Sounds like their books on history are a lot like ours, huh?

I do love that honey butter!

Thanks for dropping by this morning!

Hey Sis...
That must have been one crazy hedge, that's for sure!

Don't worry about the rant. We all need one once in a while...believe me, I know!

Thanks for coming over today!

Hey Jo...
Maintaining enough salt in your system is a matter of survival. In boot camp, we took salt tablets all the time. Of course, that was in San Antonio during the Summer.

Thanks, sweetie, for stopping by today!

Dizzy-Dick said...

Maybe we need a hedge like that on our southern border.