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The UN never recognised Abdul Kalam’s birthday as World Students’ Day

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15 October 2021 marked the 90th birth anniversary of the former Indian President, APJ Abdul Kalam. In this context, a social media post that claims that the UN has declared Kalam’s birthday as World Students’ Day has been in wide circulation. Let’s fact-check the claim made in the post.

The archived version of this post can be found here

Claim: The UN declared 15 October, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam’s birthday, as World Students’ Day.

Fact: The UN did not proclaim Abdul Kalam’s birthday as World Students’ Day. In fact, much earlier, in December 2007, the UN adopted a resolution designating 15 October as the International Day of Rural Women. Representations were made in the past to the central government to declare Kalam’s birthday as National Students’ Day. However, the central government has not made any decision in this regard as on date. Hence, the claim made in the post is FALSE.

15 October 2021 marked the 90th birth anniversary of former Indian President, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. Tributes poured in from all quarters on the occasion with several news agencies publishing special articles reminiscing his achievements and contributions to the nation. Most of these articles emphasised that in 2010, the United Nations declared 15 October as World Students’ Day in honour of Abdul Kalam. Even state-owned news agencies DD News and PIB have published the same claim in the past.

However, contrary to popular belief, the UN never adopted such a resolution. The list of International Days and Weeks recognised by the UN does not feature a World Students’ Day.

Generally, for the UN to declare any international day, a proposal has to be moved in the General Assembly by a member state, and after many deliberations, the proposal would be put to vote. For example, 21 June was declared International Day of Yoga after India submitted a proposal in the General Assembly. However, nothing of that sort has happened with respect to Kalam’s birthday in 2010 (64th and 65th session), as claimed in the news articles.

Moreover, one may be surprised to know that, much earlier, in December 2007, the UN adopted a resolution to designate 15 October as the International Day of Rural Women, recognising ‘the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty’.

Further, FACTLY reached out to UN India through email seeking clarification regarding World Students’ Day. Responding to our mail, UN India categorically stated that ‘United Nations has not declared former President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam’s birthday as World Students Day. We have neither passed a resolution nor organised any event related to Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam.’

What is the origin of this claim?

Through Google search, we found that this claim was initially made on 21 July 2010 on a blog with URL crazyengineers.com. Later, on 15 October 2010, as the news went viral, online media portal oneindia.com published an article stating there is no information available on the UN website in this regard.

Media repeated the fake claim multiple times over the years

Ever since the demise of Dr Abdul Kalam in July 2015, this news gained traction, so much so that almost all the mainstream media houses have been reporting the same fake claim every year on his birth anniversary. Zee News is among the first media outlets to have reported this claim, the day after Kalam’s demise in July 2015. The then governor of Assam and Nagaland, PB Acharya, also said, “Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s 79th birthday was recognised as World Students’ Day by the United Nations” as he paid tribute to the former president. It is likely that articles like these contributed immensely to the virality of this fake claim on social media.

In fact, prominent media houses like India Today, Indian Express, Times of India, Republic World, India TV, and many other media houses went a step ahead and reported that the UN assigned ‘Learning for people, planet, prosperity and peace’ as the theme for the occasion in 2020. Hindustan Times, First Post, and The Logical Indian attributed the same theme even to this year’s fictitious ‘World Students’ Day’. Reports on this by a few more media houses can be read here, here, here, here and here. Even Wikipedia has an entry on this and includes the articles of Zee News and Indian Express in the references section.

In reality, ‘Learning for people, planet, prosperity and peace’ was the theme assigned to celebrate the International Day of Education (24 January), 2020. The UN General Assembly proclaimed 24 January as International Day of Education in December 2018 in celebration of the role of education in fostering peace and development, and it is generally celebrated by UNESCO.

Media failed to check the authenticity of the news

The irony here is that while most mainstream media houses have been publishing articles regularly on Kalam’s birth anniversary about the UN declaring 15 October as World Students’ Day in 2010, they failed to notice that no media outlet carried such a story in 2010, when the UN apparently passed this resolution.

As the popular adage goes, ‘repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth’. Over the years, the circulation of this fake claim predominantly by mainstream news agencies has made this news reach more people across all walks of life and it has now become something of an urban legend. Even people holding constitutional positions like Union Ministers, State Governors, Members of Parliament, and even the Vice President, have also started referring to Dr Kalam’s birth anniversary as World Students’ Day in their tribute messages and addresses.

In 2019, when then Union Minister Prakash Javadekar referred to World Students’ Day in his tribute message to Dr Abdul Kalam on his birth anniversary, The New Indian Express published an article differing with this popular belief. This article categorically stated that the UN did not announce any such day in honour of Abdul Kalam. The article reported, ‘Rajiv Chandran, National Information Officer, UN Information Centre for India, and Bhutan told Express over the phone that no such announcement was made by the organisation’.

However, this clarification did not stop other media houses from repeating the same fake claim. Multiple news agencies continued to claim Kalam’s birthday as World Students’ Day in their articles even after that. It is ironic that no news agency tried to check the authenticity of the news all these years. In fact, a simple search on the UN website would have proved them wrong, but no news agency seems to have done that. And thus, this fake claim has come to become an accepted fact and has been in circulation all these years. Dr Kalam’s love for students and his efforts in promoting education might be the reason why so many people have accepted this claim unquestioningly.

Representations to recognise Kalam’s birthday

Representations were made in the past to the central government in this regard. In 2019, former Rajya Sabha MP from Telangana, Anand Bhaskar Rapolu, wrote a letter to the then Union HRD minister seeking to declare Dr Kalam’s birthday as National Students’ Day. A fun fact about this is that even in this letter in support of his demand, the former MP emphasised that the United Nations has already declared this day as ‘World Students’ Day’. However, at the time of writing this article, the central government is yet to decide on this matter.

To sum it up, the UN never recognised Dr Abdul Kalam’s birthday as World Students’ Day.

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