Children’s Day is observed in India every year on 14 November, which is the date of birth of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India after the country attained independence in 1947. A charismatic personality, he served the country in this position for 17 years, which is the longest tenure for an Indian Prime Minister. It was during this period that the foundations of an independent, modern and democratic nation were laid in India. Children’s Day in 2014 is special as it coincides with the 125th birth anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru.
It is noteworthy that the idea of celebrating Children’s Day worldwide was actually put forward by India and it was adopted in 1954 by the United Nations General Assembly. Till 1959, the day was celebrated all over the world in the month of October. Thereafter, 20th November was chosen for the event, as it marks the anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of the Child Rights by the UN General Assembly. The Convention on the Rights of the Child was also signed on the same date in 1989. However, in India Children’s Day has been always celebrated on 14th November, Nehru’s birthday, as a tribute to that great man who had special fondness for children in general. His love of children was very spontaneous and he always emphasized the significance of their proper care and welfare. His charming ways also attracted children and soon he was lovingly called ‘Chacha Nehru’.
In 1949, Chacha Nehru addressed a very charming letter to children which is worth recounting and is reproduced below. In those days there was no television, nor mobile applications like facebook or twitter, so the letter was published through the weekly brought out by the famous cartoonist Shankar.
I like being with children and talking to them and, even more, playing with them. For the moment I forget that I am terribly old and it is very long ago since I was a child. But when I sit down to write, I cannot forget my age and the distance that separates you from me. Old people have a habit of delivering sermons and good advice to the young. I remember that I disliked this very much long ago when I was a boy. So I suppose you do not like it very much either. Grown-ups also have a habit of appearing to be very wise, even though very few of them possess much wisdom. I have not yet quite made up my mind whether I am wise or not.
Sometimes listening to others I feel that I must be wise and brilliant and important. Then, looking at myself, I begin to doubt this. In any event, people who are wise do not talk about their wisdom and do not behave as if they were very superior persons…
What then shall I write about? If you were with me, I would love to talk to you about this beautiful world of ours, about flowers, trees, birds, animals, stars, mountains, glaciers and all the other beautiful things that surround us in the world. We have all this beauty all around us and yet we, who are grown-ups, often forget about it and lose ourselves in our arguments or in our quarrels. We sit in our offices and imagine that we are doing very important work.
I hope you will be more sensible and open your eyes and ears to this beauty and life that surrounds you. Can you recognise the flowers by their names and the birds by their singing? How easy it is to make friends with them and with everything in nature, if you go to them affectionately and with friendship. You must have read many fairy tales and stories of long ago. But the world itself is the greatest fairy tale and story of adventure that was ever written. Only we must have eyes to see and ears to hear and a mind that opens out to the life and beauty of the world.
Grown-ups have a strange way of putting themselves in compartments and groups. They build barriers… of religion, caste, colour, party, nation, province, language, customs and of rich and poor. Fortunately, children do not know much about these barriers, which separate. They play and work with each other and it is only when they grow up that they begin to learn about these barriers from their elders. I hope you will take a long time in growing up…
Some months ago, the children of Japan wrote to me and asked me to send them an elephant. I sent them a beautiful elephant on behalf of the children of India… This noble animal became a symbol of India to them and a link between them and the children of India.
I was very happy that this gift of ours gave so much joy to so many children of Japan, and made them think of our country… remember that everywhere there are children like you going to school and work and play, and sometimes quarrelling but always making friends again. You can read about these countries in your books, and when you grow up many of you will visit them. Go there as friends and you will find friends to greet you.
You know we had a very great man amongst us. He was called Mahatma Gandhi. But we used to call him affectionately Bapuji. He was wise, but he did not show off his wisdom. He was simple and childlike in many ways and he loved children… he taught us to face the world cheerfully and with laughter.
Our country is a very big country and there is a great deal to be done by all of us. If each one of us does his or her little bit, then all this mounts up and the country prospers and goes ahead fast.
I have tried to talk to you in this letter as if you were sitting near me, and I have written more than I intended.”
Jawaharlal Nehru December 3, 1949.
Former General Secretary WWF, Retired Secretary of Government of India. He is the recipient of the International Award “Order of the Golden Ark” for his exceptional work done in the field of nature conservation. He has also authored several books on environment.