LOS ANGELES, Calif. — The growing Indian American population in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley celebrated India’s 70th Independence Day in grand style Aug. 20 with a large mela hosted by the India Association of Los Angeles at Chatsworth High School.

Organizers and dignitaries welcomed the annual event celebrating India’s Independence Day for a 17th consecutive year, saying it was indicative of the Indian American community’s established presence in the Valley.

The all-day mela featured 60 vendor booths and cultural program featuring regional dances, odes to Bollywood and the singing of patriotic songs.

Guests were also offered the opportunity to check up on their wellbeing with a free health fair, which featured blood pressure check-ups and a mobile eye test center.

A brief formal program highlighted IALA representatives, recognizing the significance of India’s independence and a visit by Congressman Brad Sherman.

The IALA team also highlighted the life of Chandrashekhar Azad, a freedom fighter who did not live long enough to see a free India. Azad died in 1931 but was hailed as a freedom fighter and revolutionary thinker who served as a mentor to Bhagat Singh.

During the formal program three speakers spoke to the attendees about the contributions many made to India’s struggle for independence and the progress non-resident Indians have made around the world since Aug. 15, 1947.

“India’s Independence Day is a reminder of the values of freedom, the power of tolerance, and the benefits of prosperity,” said IALA president Vineet Puri, adding the annual IALA mela is a “showcase of the real India.”

Echoing similar sentiments was IALA Board member Inder Singh, who said Aug. 15 represents an end to centuries of British rule and the dawn of freedom for Indians all around the world.

“Indians and people of Indian origin all over the world are celebrating 70th Independence Day with parades, fairs, fireworks, and cultural events. We Indian Americans are privileged to celebrate two Independence Days – July 4 … and Aug. 15,” said Singh.

Sherman, who has become a regular presence at the Valley’s annual Independence Day melas, recognized IALA for serving the city of Los Angeles for two decades and hoped future celebrations would welcome larger and more diverse crowds.

“The Indian American community has become an integral part of the Valley and everywhere you go,” Sherman told India-West. “One of the great things about this celebration is it’s a chance for people who aren’t Indian American to get the real Indian American food and culture and dancing. I look forward to this being not an Indian American festival but a Valley festival celebrating the Indian American community.”

He added the United States and India have worked well together as allies and both countries will continue to make advancements as strategic allies.

“We have a long way to go in our relationship with India, a relationship that seems to be getting better every year,” said Sherman. “India is on target to be the third largest economy in the world but is still just our 11th largest trading partner. Our trade is at $100 billion a year; Vice President [Joe] Biden and many of us have said the goal needs to expand that trade to $500 billion a year.”

Raj Nangia of TV Asia presented a commendation to the IALA team from Lancaster City Council member Rajprabhjot Malhi.

Also recognizing the IALA annual Independence Day celebration, through messages published in the official mela program book, were Consul General Venkatesan Ashok, IALA chairman Ravinder Grewal, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey.

IALA began celebrating India’s Independence Day across the Valley since its founding in 2000.

The IALA 2016 Executive Committee was comprised of 15 members: Puri, Manmohan Chopra, Manjeet Wahi, Kiran Kamboj, Ouseph Poulose, Harbans Bawa, Navdeep Singh, Nalini Natarajan, Sunil Agrawal, Ramesh Bramharouthu, Sunil Prabhakar, Robin Paik, Kavita Puri, Nina Bawa and Nisha Chetal.

Deepi Singh and Bama Sridhar oversaw the health fair on behalf of the Executive Committee.

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