As stated many times, one of the bonuses of being a research nerd is often discovering something I had never known before. As I was looking for information on the architecture of India – I came across this fascinating account about a British “hedge” that was planted in the 1840’s
What made this extraordinary was that this hedge, about 12 feet across and 14 feet high, made mostly with thorny brushwood, was built along the Inland Customs Line, which ran 2500 miles across the continent, from Punjab (now Eastern Pakistan and Northwestern India) to Madhya Pradesh – see map above. The Great Hedge itself ran about 1100 miles of the Customs Line.
The Inland Customs Line was a bureaucratic barrier that the British created to impose a high salt tax on the people living on one side of the line which was relatively saltless. Historically, salt was produced on the west along a vast salt marsh on the northern extreme of India’s coastline on the Arabian Sea and on the east coast. Because salt production was restricted to the coastal areas, nearly ever empire that ruled across the country, dating back to 1st century BCE demanded a salt tax on imports of this commodity into the interior of the country, as a way to increase the state’s revenue, exploiting the fact that salt was a most basic ingredient in India’s meals.
By the late 18th century, the British East India Company had a stranglehold on India’s salt trade, selling the salt in at greatly inflated prices that very few could afford. People began stealing from warehouses or smuggling salt fro states outside of direct British rule. In order to curb this salt smuggling, custom houses and barriers were constructed across major roads and rivers to collect tax on traded salt.
The Great Hedge of India was planted by the British in the to strengthen the Inland Customs Line. It took nearly 30 years to build and perfect, overcoming rats, locusts and white ants infestations, monsoon flooding and vine parasites.
For all that work the hedge was only partially successful at stopping smugglers. There were gaps where no one could get plants to grow. Smugglers flung sacks of salt over the top to collaborators on the other side. The maintenance the hedge and enforcement of the line were constant struggles. The hedge was abandoned in 1879 and today few traces remain.
This, in Agra:
As an aside Gandhi saw this British stranglehold on salt as an inexcusable evil, since salt was a nutritional necessity in India’s steamy climate. In March of 1930 Gandhi, at 60 years old set off on a 240 mile march over 24 days, to the Arabian Sea and once there he and throngs of supporters set about making their own salt. Over 60,000 people were arrested, many beaten by police. Gandhi was undeterred, despite prison confinement, and went on to push for India’s independence from British Rule.
all photos from internet.