An event occurred in the Indian capital on January 30, 1948.
It was a little past 5 p.m. in Delhi, on January 30, 1948. What followed that fateful day, plunged our country in gloom, and you could say it changed the course of our history. It certainly shocked the whole world.
Before that, trouble had been brewing. Nasty, deadly trouble. Hindus and Muslims were fighting and killing each other. Mahatma Gandhi was asking for peace. India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Home Minister Vallabhbhai Patel were quarrelling with each other; and both of them wanted to resign from their posts. Mahatma Gandhi was asking for peace.
After that terrible event on January 30, however, things settled down.
Nehru wrote to Patel, “Everything is changed and we have to face a different and more difficult world.”
They decided they had to face that world, not apart from each other, but together. All their differences had to be settled, in the interests of the country.
Hindus and Muslims were also shocked into declaring peace with each other. It had taken a horrible killing in Delhi to bring about that peace. Ever since then, January 30 has been observed in India as Martyr’s Day.
A martyr is a person who has sacrificed his life for a cause. A martyr doesn’t know he’s going to die. He only knows that he will stand firm for his cause. Without thinking of the price he has to pay. Even if it’s his own life. For instance, on January 29, 1909, Gandhiji had written to his nephew Maganlal: “I may have to meet death in South Africa at the hands of my countrymen. If that happens you should rejoice. It will unite the Hindus and Mussalmans.”
Thirty-nine years later, almost to the day, in a different continent, but in pretty much the same context, his own words came true.
It was evening at Birla House, Delhi, and Gandhiji was late for his prayers. Leaning on the shoulders of two young girls, he was walking quickly towards the prayer hall when a man bent down to touch his feet. One of the girls tried to stop him. The man swept away her hand so that all the things she carried fell down and scattered on the ground. Then the man straightened up, and there was a pistol in his hand. He aimed it at the frail chest of the Mahatma and fired three times.
Some people say he called out “Hey Ram” as he fell. Others say he died with just a sigh. Jawaharlal Nehru said later that the “light has gone out of our lives”.
The man who shot Gandhiji was a young man named Nathuram Godse, who was immediately arrested. He had been angry because he felt that Gandhiji was helping the Muslims at the expense of the Hindus. In a letter he wrote to his parents from prison, he said he knew he would be hated by most people, but he was actually a martyr for a national cause.
He was hanged the next year, on November 15, 1949.
A newspaper correspondent, who had accompanied Gandhiji on various tours, wrote that his body had three bullet injuries. Two bullets had passed through his body, the third was still lodged in him. Gandhiji’s blood-stained body was rushed inside. A large crowd waited outside, in shock. The doctors examined his body, then looked up helplessly. The Mahatma was gone.
His body was placed on the ground. Lights were switched off, and oil lamps lit. People sat around, reciting from the Gita and singing bhajans. His body was later washed and dressed in a khadi cloth and placed on a high table for people to have a last glimpse of the Father of the Nation. The rush of people was overwhelming. An old woman fainted. Finally, the doors had to be closed. Then they took the body up to the roof, where it was displayed in bright light. Though it was a bitterly cold night, people kept coming. Nehru was weeping like a child.
In a radio broadcast, Patel told the nation not to think of revenge, but to “carry the message of love and non-violence enunciated by Mahatmaji. “We did not follow him when he was alive; let us at least follow his steps now he is dead.”
Every year, on January 30, the President of India, Vice President, Prime Minister and Home Minister, along with the three Service Chiefs, place wreaths on Gandhij’s Samadhi at Rajghat. At around eleven, the whole nation observes a two-minute silence.
It’s our way of remembering Gandhiji’s sacrifice.
When you dedicate your whole life to non-violence, you’re not afraid of violence against yourself. That’s what he showed us. Let’s try and remember that when we close our eyes this Martyr’s Day for those two minutes of silence.
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