As India prepares to observe the 73rd anniversary of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi on January 30, his descendants have appealed to restore an old tradition marking the exact time when the Father of the Nation fell to an assassin's bullets, stunning humanity.
Great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, Tushar A. Gandhi and others have urged President Ram Nath Kovind to use his august office and revive the tradition of 'sounding the siren' as a tribute to 'Bapu' every year, since his assassination on January 30, 1948.
"It was started soon after he was killed on that cold, fateful evening at 17:17 hrs (5.17 pm), as an outraged nation's silent homage to 'Bapu'. The objective was simple - all should voluntarily rise to observe a brief silence in his memory," Tushar Gandhi told IANS.
However, since schools and government or private offices were shut by 5 p.m., it was not possible for people to adhere to the norm.
Sometime later, it was decided to pay the tribute at 11.00 a.m. on January 30 every year so all institutions could comply since it was also declared a 'Martyrs' Day' he pointed out.
This continued till many decades, but sometime around the late 1980s or early 1990s, it was slowly abandoned and gradually disappeared.
"To make a fresh start this new decade, I humbly request Hon'ble President Kovindji to consider and make an appeal on these lines to the nation and countrymen in his Republic Day-eve speech on Monday," Tushar Gandhi said.
"In these turbulent times globally, plus a situation where concerted moves are on to willy-nilly legitimise Bapu's assassination and eulogise his killer, it is all the more imperative to remember Gandhiji's supreme sacrifice for his nation," Tushar Gandhi urged the President.
"I clearly remember as a student, the siren would sound, and many others in the villages and towns would also blare, we observed the two-minute silence, followed by a short closing siren," reminisced an old-timer, Shrikant Matondkar, 82.
Later, working with the erstwhile Grindlays Bank, Matondkar - who is father of actress and Shiv Sena leader Urmila Matondkar - rued that at some point the custom quietly died down but hopes it will be resurrected for the masses.
A prominent Mumbai businessman, Pratap S. Bohra, 66, recounted memories of his Fatehpur, Sikar (Rajasthan) school principal and teachers issuing special advance reminders to students and all proudly participated come January 30.
"Why only sirens? With modern technology, the government can give a reminder to all people on mobile phones, on TV, radio channels and social media also. It was a good nationalistic practice, and the new generations must be made aware of it," Bohra told IANS.
Tushar Gandhi said that across the country the sirens would sound, guns or bugles were sounded by the defence forces, and trains and ships sounded their horns without fail to rekindle the martyrs' memories in public minds.
"Although it would be a 'tokenism' of sorts, the 17:17 hrs reminder can be revived, people can voluntarily stand up, observe a brief silence and quietly resolve that such a 'heinous mistake' (Bapu's assassination) should never recur in this land of peace," exhorted Tushar Gandhi.
When contacted a top Maharashtra Police officer said that "the custom is very much alive" on Martyrs' Day, but is now largely practised by government offices.
"Periodically, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) issues elaborate directives for government, private offices, educational institutions, chambers of commerce and industry and all other organisations on how to solemnly mark the important day," the officer told IANS, requesting anonymity.
These include befitting activities like speeches, special events, films/documentaries, depicting the significance of the day, the role and contribution of the freedom fighters to earn our hard-earned independence, and to inculcate a sense of patriotism, brotherhood and national integration.