January 30th 1948: The Day “Mahatma” Gandhi Was Assassinated
January 30th, 2008
By Lloyd. R. Devarajah
As I was playing truant and was very poor in my Tamil, I left St. Peter’s College Bambalapitiya where I was a student from 1937 and joined Jaffna College, Vaddukoddai on January 17, 1948. Jaffna College which was my father’s alma mater was founded by American missionaries in 1822.
Two weeks after I joined the college as an outstation boarder, Alagan Kadirgamar who was the secretary of the college Young Men’s Christian Association asked me to be in charge of its radio as he was going home to Chavakachcheri for the weekend. Alagan Kadirgamar on leaving college, joined the Colombo YMCA in the 1950s and rose to the position of general secretary and later, the national secretary of this international organisation.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
It later transpired that, that was a crucial and epoch-making weekend. It was Friday, January 30, 1948 when I was entrusted to be the temporary custodian of the college YMCA radio set which was being operated on a car battery. The college had two Homby-Rustom generators to supply electricity to the entire college as well as the campus where most of the staff lived. But these generators function only from dusk to dawn.
Some of the boarder’s sought shelter in the YMCA building from the slight shower that interrupted their evening games. I tuned the radio to Radio Ceylon (English Service) for the 5 to 5.45 p.m. Yours For The Asking listeners’ request programme.
As that programme ended, some of the boarders wanted me to switch to another programme. Whilst I was twiddling with the radio knob as I was not yet familiar with it I managed to hear very faintly an announcement from an unidentified Indian radio station: “Gandhi was shot by a youth. He died peacefully a short while ago.” The time was 6.04 p.m. I and some of those around me couldn’t believe what we had heard. After a long silence which lasted about three or four minutes, religious music came on air.
The radio programme was then interrupted and an announcement, punctuated with sobs, came over the airwaves. It said: Mahatma (Great Soul) Gandhi, the spiritual leader of millions of Hindus had been shot dead by a fanatic and that he succumbed to his injuries. Later, the station identified itself as All India Radio, Trichinopoly.
After this confirmation, the tragic news spread like wildfire round the college campus, its environs, and also some of the neighbouring villages and hinterland.
It should be noted that 60 years ago, the radio was a luxury and only a few owned or possessed one. In Colombo too, it was a rarity and worse still, in the rural areas television was virtually unknown then. Television became popular in the late 1950s in the Western world and came to Sri Lanka only in 1979.
Crowds then gathered at the college YMCA hall within minutes of the sad news breaking. As the hall could not accommodate such a large crowd, the powerful Zenith All-World Radio (with about 10 to 12 piano keyboard like press-button studs) was brought out into the terrace and placed on a wooden bench. Mats were spread and the whole area around the YMCA was floodlit for the benefit of the several hundreds who had gathered there. A freshly-charged additional car battery was pressed into use for the benefit of all the listeners.
It was not long after when the now well known Indian song Raghupathi Ragava Rajaram came over the airwaves.
The then Indian Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, and other leaders such as Sardar Vallabhai Patel spoke to the nation that same fateful night. They appealed to the Indians to uphold the principles of universal brotherhood, communal love and tolerance, and non-violence for which Gandhi had lived and died.
Pandit Nehru who spoke with great emotion said: “The father of the nation is no more. Now that the light has gone out of our lives I do not quite know what to tell you and how to say it. Our beloved leader is no more. The light has gone out of our lives and there is dark ness. I do not know what tell you and what to speak.
“Our beloved leader Bapuji, the father of the nation is no more. We will never see him again. A mad man has killed Gandhiji.”
Sixty years ago on Friday, January 30, 1948, five days before Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) won her Independence from British Colonial rule, Gandhi, the Hindu spiritual leader and champion of a free united India and communal peace, was shot dead by a Hindu nationalist in New Delhi. Gandhi was walking with his two grandnieces — Manu and Ava through the garden of Birla House about 5.00 p.m. that fateful day to the place where he conducted a daily prayer meeting when a youth — Narayan Vinayak Godse, 25 years, editor of Hindu Rastra fired three shots with a pistol at point blank range. The Mahatma fell with severe injuries in the chest, stomach and groin. Rastra (Nation) in Poona, stepped into Gandhi’s path, bowed down and worshipped him and He was then gently carried into Birla House where he died at 5.47 p.m. the same day.
The assassin was disarmed and pummelled by the crowd that had gathered to hear the Mahatma at the prayer meeting.
The news of the death of the Mahatma was first flashed to Earl Mountbatten who was then Governor General of India, and then to King George VI.
Mahatma Gandhi (his full name was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi) born on October 2, 1869 was trained in law in England. He began advocating self-rule, non violence, pursuit of native handicrafts, removal of untouchability (which forced millions of the poor to remain menials by heredity) in 1919. In 1930, he launched a “civil disobedience” including the boycott of British goods, and rejection of taxes without representation. India won her Independence from British rule on August 15, 1947.
The following morning (Saturday, January 31, 1948) a special edition of the Times of Ceylon announcing the death of Gandhi (which was put out the previous night in Colombo over radio) was flown to Jaffna. A copy fetched the then fabulous price of Rs.5 owing to the demand
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