Almost every year after 1919, had Gandhi reminded the country during National Week of how several persons belonging to diverse communities and vocations had died together in the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar. He stressed the importance of the incident in educating the people and uniting them in a common nationhood. Maulana Mohamed Ali referred to the massacre to stress that Hindus and Muslims and others had come together in a common nationhood which would “fear no man on earth”.
The incident has acquired the same decisive importance in India’s history as the Easter Rising of 1916 in Ireland, although the two are not, strictly speaking, comparable. April 6-13 was observed as National Week right up to the 1960s in Indian schools and colleges. Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi traditionally observed Qaumi Hafta (National Week) at least until Dr Zakir Husain and Prof Mujeeb remained actively associated with the University. Old Jamia hands still remember how National Week was an occasion jointly to take over and perform civic service in classrooms, bathrooms, latrines and the villages around Jamia, shed distinctions of high and low, break barriers of caste and religion and inculcate a sense of dignity of labour.
At several places in the country the week would be observed to encourage hand-craft, mass plying of the charkha and the performance of other kinds of manual work. It was, as Gandhi saw it, an occasion for all to introspect, shed hatred, carry out constructive activities, spin, promote the sale of hand-spun cloth ( Khadi), and perhaps occasionally even to fast jointly.
National Week united Indians across communities and across classes. Why, then, has National Week (April 6 to 13), been virtually forgotten? Gradually, as a composite culture and a secular understanding of Indian nationhood came to be taken for granted in independent India by the end of the 1960s, National Week began to pass without much notice and was even forgotten. Yet it remains a defining moment for India, certainly a moment of awakening; an occasion to reassert India’s composite nationhood; and a salutary reminder in independent India of the critique which Indian nationalists had made of violations of the democratic rights of the people.