Saturday, November 12, 2005

How did Childrenís Day begin
Shirish Joshi

FOR over five decades every year, we have been celebrating Pandit Jawaharlal Nehruís birthday (November 14) as Childrenís Day.

How did Childrenís Day come to be associated with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehruís birthday?

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 IIís 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 Nehruís birthday could well be marked as Flag Day for collecting funds for non-government organisations working for child welfare in India. Nehruís 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, Nehruís 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 ó 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 childrenís centre, Jawahar Bal Bhavan, is also named after Jawaharlal Nehru.

November 14, 1957, was a red-letter day in the history of Childrenís 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 childrenís 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 childrenís films and donated the collections for the childrenís fund. The first set of three Childrenís 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.

Kulkarniís 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.

Managing to complete his graduation from Pune, he then worked as a journalist in Mumbai, before joining the Childrenís Aid Society. The society provided training and rehabilitation for delinquent and destitute children. Kulkarni retired as President of the ICCW.