On Tuesday, February 12th, our group's first full day in Delhi (and the 20th birthday of both Hannah and Liz!), we visited the Indira Gandhi Memorial Museum, 1 Safardung Road. The museum was created in the prime minister's former residence.
At the gate, we were greeted like rock stars as a group of school children rushed towards us in a stampede, screaming and waving. A bizarre experience, but not the last time we would gain fans and paparazzi for simply being Westerners in India. After getting over the surprise of our newly realized stardom, we entered Indira Gandhi’s house and began to trace her life's steps.
The walls of the first room were covered with clippings from old newspapers featuring Indira Gandhi in their headlines. The newspaper clippings tracked her extensive political career and were featured in dailies from around the world, including the New York Times, La Republica, the Pakistani Times, and the Indian Herald. The house was indeed part museum and part memorial. In addition to the many achievements announced from the newspapers, there were photographs and other mementos woven throughout the displays. The family photographs ranged from her childhood, including a photo of a pre-teen Indira pictured with a smiling Mahatma Gandhi, all the way to her later years, where she is shown enjoying time with her grandchildren.
Indira Gandhi was the only woman to ever hold the office of India's Prime Minister. She served from 1966 to 1977, and then again in 1980 until her death in 1984. Her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, was the country's first Prime Minister after India's independence in.
Indira Gandhi has become a national symbol in India. Libraries, schools, airports, and other buildings across India have been named in her honor. The images, objects and articles that cover the walls of the museum chronicle her bold policies, often labeled as socialist. Her time in office was dedicated to ending the widespread poverty in India. Under her administration, India implemented controversial policies--nationalizing its banks and many of its industries, as well as creating a system to abstain from depending on foreign aid to feed its people. It was during Indira Gandhi’s time in office that India underwent its Green Revolution, an attempt to end hunger by developing new agricultural practices.
Another room showcases the many gifts and awards she received from the international community. This extensive collection includes an item from nearly every corner of the world: a trophy from the U.S., a crystal bowl from Poland, a beautiful vase from Russia, a porcelain tea set from China, a hand-carved box from Egypt. Featured on the walls of this room, Indira Gandhi was shown shaking hands with many world figures and leaders, from Kennedy to Castro. Her work towards poverty reduction was widely recognized and applauded.
As our group continued through the museum, we gained further insight to her personal life. The museum had kept a few rooms in perfect condition, untouched through time. Her study was most impressive. It was a large room with a full wall of books and art displayed around the room. Her desk was a sturdy mass of wood, perfectly tidy with a place for everything, ready to be made messy with work. Throughout the room there were many comfortable chairs; it was easy to imagine welcomed guests sitting in them to join her for discussion or debate.
One display encases the sari she was wearing when she was assassinated, perfectly preserved and complete with bullets holes in the fabric; her shoes and bag sit next to it, empty. A photo is displayed on the wall directly across from her clothes. It is a black and white shot of her funeral procession through the streets of Delhi, and it would appear that all of India was in attendance. The image captures the mob of people that surrounded the car carrying her remains, mourning collectively.
In another room, hanging behind a glass case, are the tattered cloth shirt and worn sneakers that belonged to Indira's son, Rajiv Gandhi. He was wearing them on the day he was killed by a suicide bomber. The next few rooms of the museum were dedicated to him.
Rajiv Gandhi followed in his mother's footsteps as a politician, and unfortunately he met his end in a similar fate. The exhibit gave a brief timeline of his life. He was the nation's sixth prime minister. Much of the photographs that spanned across the walls pictured Rajiv with his family, standing among enthusiastic crowds of people.
As we exited the museum we walked a path parallel to the path Indira Gandhi walked as she took her final steps. On October 31, 1984, she was assassinated by her security guards. The men responsible for her murder were militant Sikhs, a splinter group she enraged when she suppressed their attempt to create a separatist state. At the end of the path stands a plaque engraved with words she had written the day before her death, "If I die a violent death, as some fear and a few are plotting, I know that the violence will be in the thought and action of the assassins, not in my dying."