It is often assumed that Children’s day, which is celebrated on 14th November every year, is a tribute to our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The popular narrative is that Children’s Day started being celebrated on his birthday day after Nehru’s death to honour him because he loved children.
The same story is repeated by several media houses without a basic fact-check. During Jawaharlal Nehru’s birth anniversary and ‘Bal Diwas’, several media houses have repeated this lie ad-nauseum.
NDTV had published an article headlined, “Why Is Children’s Day Celebrated On November 14?” The subtitle of the article read, “Prior to Pandit Nehru’s death in 1964, India celebrated Children’s Day on 20 November, which was observed as the Universal Children’s Day by the United Nations”.
The article went on to say (emphasis added), “But after his death in 1964, it was unanimously decided to celebrate his birthday as Bal Diwas in the country due to his love and affection towards children” and then sprinkles it with some other platitudes.
Financial Express too, in an article about Children’s Day, said (emphasis added), “As per facts, Children’s Day was celebrated on 20 November, which was observed as the Universal Children’s Day by the United Nations. But, after Pandit Nehru’s death in 1964, it was decided to celebrate his birthday as Children’s Day“.
This year too has been no different. News channel Times Now has today published an article on their website that repeats the exact same lie. Indian Express too has published an article that re-enforces the same narrative.
In their report, Indian Express writes (emphasis added), “In India, November 14 started being celebrated as Children’s Day only after Nehru’s demise in 1964. Prior to this, much like other countries, Children’s Day was celebrated on November 20, that is the Universal Children’s Day as declared by the United Nations”.
However, this claim that it was only after Nehru’s death that it was decided unanimously to observe Nehru’s birthday as Children’s Day is patently false.
The real story of Children’s Day is far from what most of the media would have people believe. The story dates back to one VM Kulkarni who was a United Nations Social Welfare Fellow who was carrying out a study on the rehabilitation of children who had been victims of crimes in the UK. He realised that India has no such mechanism to take of underprivileged children.
He got inspired by the fact that in England, June 19, Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday, is observed as Flag Day to raise money for Save the Child Fund and suggested that Jawaharlal Nehru’s birthday too, be observed as Flag Day to raise money.
This report by The Tribune states that his proposal to the UN was accepted, and though Jawaharlal Nehru was ’embarrassed at first’, he accepted it too when his permission was sought.
An international fair was organised by the Indian Council for Child Welfare (ICCW) in 1951 and it was in 1951 that the day started being observed as Children’s Day.
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.
I came across commemorative stamps from 1957 with date and Children’s day mentioned on it clearly.
Yes folks Nehru was this vain. pic.twitter.com/K3XaCCAiY9
— Roshi CBG-san (@OnlyNakedTruth) November 13, 2018
The next stamp on Children’s Day was from 1961, while Indira Gandhi was the President of ICCW and Jawaharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister of India.
Therefore it is also wrong to claim that prior to the death of Pandit Nehru, Children’s Day was celebrated on 20th November in India – a lie that various media houses have repeated.
It is evident that what started off as a movement for the children by VM Kulkarni, who himself was underprivileged growing up, was morphed into a debacle of political sycophancy, and former PM Jawaharlal Nehru using it for self-glorification just like he didn’t have any problems when awarded Bharat Ratna while being the Prime Minister.
It is said that by 1954, children were asked to raise slogans like ‘Nehru chacha ki jai’ while the Children’s Day celebrations were on.
The celebration of Children’s Day as a means to glorify Pandit Nehru is nothing but a persona created by Nehru courtiers and the Dynasty. VM Kulkarni wanted the day to be celebrated as Flag Day so that funds could be raised for the less privileged. What happened eventually, was ‘Children’s Day’ being celebrated to sing songs about how Nehru loved children and was a paternal figure of Indian politics.
And in the race to glorify the dynasty through ‘Children’s Day’, VM Kulkarni and his legacy was lost.