Understanding Gandhi through children
Gandhi Jayanti was celebrated across the country with fervour and reverence on October 2. The international community along with the United Nations too joined hands in celebrating this day as the “International Day of Non-Violence”. The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon in his message reiterated the courage and determination of Mahatma Gandhi in achieving world peace “at a time of escalating conflicts, violent extremism, displacement and humanitarian need”.
The message was read out by Rajiv Chandran, National Information Officer of India and Bhutan of the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) during the inter-faith prayer service held at Gandhi Smriti on October 2, 2015. The programme was organised on the prayer ground in Gandhi Smriti, which, then as Birla House, was the home of the Father of the Nation for his last 144 days.
This year, there were over 350 children from 14 different institutions who joined in a harmonious melody of songs, as a tribute to their dearest Bapuji. They sang compositions of Pt. Ravi Shankar, which by their solemnity elevates the mind to a spiritual plain.
Further, during the two-hour long prayer, almost 60 children from Harijan Sevak Sangh at Kingsway Camp - an ashram where the Mahatma chose to live in Delhi during his frequent visits - had continuously spun on the charkha.
Also, about 80 children from the Rashtriya Buniyadi Vidyalayas in Kumarbagh Ashram Brindavan, Bettiah, and Sirisia Adda, in Bihar’s West Champaran district respectively, who took part in a ten-day residential camp hosted by the Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti, joined the Delhi children in the musical tribute to Gandhiji.
The Buniyadi Vidyalaya (basic schools) in Bettiah was the first of the 391 Vidyalaya that were established by Mahatma Gandhi in 1939. These were for rural children, who had for the first time come to Delhi to take part in the camp and the Gandhi Jayanti celebrations. The school today boasts of having almost 700 children studying.
The camp was organised with a purpose to encourage learning rather than teaching, develop curiosity, independent thinking, encourage practical learning by doing, offering help and cooperation to others, and above all promote their holistic development by bringing them out of their class into one common humanity.
Mahatma Gandhi espoused the creation of small, self-reliant communities through training children in qualities of the heart, head and hand. He wanted to bridge the separation between education and work.
The Buniyadi Vidyalaya was meant to provide education that connected seamlessly with lives of children. Training in spinning, carpentry, farming and weaving was also part of the syllabus in these schools. Here, teachers were also expected to have skills in different crafts. Mahatma Gandhi always wanted to implement ‘Nai Talim’ (new education) to create industrious and intelligent individuals, who were adept at working with their hands.
The conviction and spontaneity showed by the children during the camp showed what Gandhiji had perceived all along - and that was to lay the foundation of moral values amongst children. The Gandhian revolution - or to put it as Sachchidanand Sinha writes in his book “The Unarmed Prophet” - “from the start envisages a change of heart and a change of values and so, though slow to accomplish, could be a lasting thing”.
Gandhi always believed that if there has to be real peace in the world, one has to begin with children. His words, “If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children”, stand significant between development vis-à-vis ethical problems that are confronting society.
The very fact that children from Champaran and Delhi have adopted their Gandhiji as one of their shows that his ideas have begun to catch the imagination of the young - not to forget the old - and this change needs to be further harnessed within a positive framework.
There was in Gandhi’s life an inseparable bond between non-violence and religious harmony. Gandhi chose inter-religious prayer meetings to communicate his thoughts and ideas on his fellow humankind and the prayer ground in Gandhi Smriti that today stands as a stark reminder of chastity and self-purification also reverberates with the eternal message that the children left behind through their prayer.
(Rajdeep Pathak is programme executive at New Delhi’s Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti. The views expressed are personal)