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Thursday, November 14, 2019

from when are we celebrating Children's Day ?

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru is remembered this day – he was born this day 130 years ago ! The First Prime Minister fo the Nation passed away on 27th May 1964.  He is fondly known as Chacha Nehru and today has been celebrated as ‘Childrens’ Day’ in India.

In 1949, Japan was facing difficult times because of World War II and over 67 of its cities were hit by the United States’ aerial bomb raids. Besides Hiroshima and Nagasaki, others like Toyama and Hitachi were also almost completely destroyed. It was a time when the Nation was reeling under poverty and inflationary trends.  Pandit Nehru used to get tons of letters and he used to read them all.  In Oct 2019, he received some letters  from school children of Japan. The Japanese school children asked him for elephant as a gift! – reportedly two elephants had died in Zoo during war.  Nehru found an elephant, named it after his daughter ‘Indira’ and it was sent to Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo.  Indira was to be an emissary of peace and a symbol of friendship between Japan and India. After delivering the gift to children of Japan, Nehru wrote a letter to children in India too !

Happy Children’s Day 2019  ~  We have read in school books, today on media that the birth anniversary of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on November 14 every year, the country celebrates Children’s Day. The first Prime Minister of independent India was fondly known and addressed as ‘Chacha Nehru‘. He was a strong advocate of children’s education and was very fond of children.  Across the country, schools and colleges on this day host cultural programmes, events and competitions. Sometimes, teachers also take part in these events to demonstrate their love and affection. 

Media reports reiterates that the  celebration of Children's Day in India dates back to 1956. Prior to the death of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, India celebrated Children's Day on 20 November (the date observed as Universal Children's Day by the United Nations). After the death of Jawaharlal Nehru, his birth anniversary be celebrated as Children's day in India. It was done so because he was very popular with the kids as Chacha Nehru, hence, a resolution was passed in the parliament to give a befitting farewell to Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India. In this background read this report in Tribune India of 2005 which vehemently contradicts the popular notion :   Children Day India

In 1951, one V.M. Kulkarni, a United Nations Social Welfare Fellow, was carrying out a study on the rehabilitation of children, who had taken to crime in the UK. He realised that there was no system or institution to take care of the less-privileged children of India. In England, June 19, Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday, is observed as Flag Day to raise money for Save the Child Fund. Inspired by this, Kulkarni presented a report to the UN in which he recommended that Pandit Nehru’s birthday could well be marked as Flag Day for collecting funds for non-government organisations working for child welfare in India. Nehru’s consent was sought. Embarrassed at first, he conceded reluctantly. An International fair was organised by the Indian Council for Child Welfare (ICCW) in 1951.

In all the photographs, Nehru’s joy at being with children was apparent. When he was not sharing pleasantries with them, he was listening to them intently and making them feel special. Children to Nehru were little adults in the making. Nehru, to children, was never the Prime Minister of India or a political leader. He was always Chacha Nehru — Nehru Uncle. The story also goes that Nehru started to wear a rose on his jacket after a child pinned one on it. The national children’s centre, Jawahar Bal Bhavan, is also named after Jawaharlal Nehru.

November 14, 1957, was a red-letter day in the history of Children’s Day celebrations in India. The then President of India, Dr Rajendra Prasad, said in his address that no programme of social welfare could be complete unless there was place for child welfare in it. A symposium on children’s diet was organised and a special poster was brought out by the National Savings Organisation. The collection of funds for child welfare was started in right earnest when cinema owners screened children’s films and donated the collections for the children’s fund. The first set of three Children’s Day stamps was also brought out by the Department of Post and Telegraph.

Jawaharlal Nehru said in his address that child welfare should have priority because it was a preventive against many problems. Kulkarni’s concern for children goes back to his own experience of deprivations. Born into a farming family in a small village in Maharashtra, his parents fell upon lean days. He had to inherit responsibilities at an age when he wanted only to study.  Kulkarni retired as President of the ICCW. So not only the first Children’s Day was celebrated on 14th November when Pandit Nehru was alive, it was celebrated after he agreed to the idea. ICCW was not an independent body as one might believe, either. It was inextricably linked to the political dispensation and the Nehru-Gandhi family.

The first President of ICCW, from 1952 to 1958 was Rajkumari Amrit Kaur. Amrit Kaur became part of Jawaharlal Nehru’s first Cabinet and was the first woman to hold Cabinet rank. She was also a strong moving force behind the establishment of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi and became its first president. The next President of ICCW, from 1958 to 1964 was former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi herself. Not just historical accounts, there are stamps commemorating ‘Children’s Day’ that were issued as early as 1957, which go on to prove beyond doubt that Children’s Day was celebrated while Pandit Nehru was alive.

To complete the story, elephant Indira  died on August 11, 1983. Tokyo Governor Shunichi Suzuki mourned Indira’s death and paid tribute to the animal, saying, “She gave a big dream to Japanese children and played a good role in Japan-India friendship for more than 30 years.”

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
14th Nov. 2019.

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