LOS ANGELES — An unusually mild and breezy afternoon welcomed the thousands of attendees who filled the concrete grounds of Birmingham High School in Los Angeles’ Lake Balboa neighborhood to celebrate India’s 72nd Independence Day. The India Association of Los Angeles’s 11th annual Independence Day Mela was celebrated Aug. 25 and was highlighted by cultural performances, vendor booths and well wishes by two high-level dignitaries.

Organizers converted one of the high school parking lots into a grand mela atmosphere, with dozens of booths surrounding the center stage where children and adults alike performed various classical, modern and fusion Indian dances for most of the afternoon and evening.

The IALA executive committee and board of directors welcomed Rep. Brad Sherman, R-Sherman Oaks, and Sri Lanka Consul General Swarna Gunaratne during the formal program. A parade of speakers, including Sherman and Gunaratne, acknowledged India’s freedom fighters and celebrated the many success and contributions Indian Americans have made in the United States.

“Independence Day serves as a reminder of the great sacrifices made by the many freedom fighters and the protesters,” Gunaratne said. “It is a day to remember those who fought for freedom and gave up their lives to free India from British rule.”

Gunaratne added that India and Sri Lanka “share common values and traditions, as well as common commitments to democratic governments.”

“Both countries have taken a similar trajectory in international relations,” she added. “The two independent nations of India and Sri Lanka have proceeded to renew and reinvigorate age-old cultural, commercial and spiritual [traditions] for the benefit of the two nations and their people.”

Sherman, meanwhile, recognized the Indian American community for its many contributions to the United States. He said that both countries – the U.S. and India – worked well together as partners on the global stage.

“Indo Americans make up the most highly educated and highly compensated ethnic group in America,” Sherman said. “The alliance between the United States and India is an alliance between the world’s oldest democracy and the world’s largest democracy. Together we can bring democracy to the entire world.”

The Los Angeles-area congressman added that the United States recognized India as a military defense partner, courtesy of a logistics supply agreement the two countries signed. The agreement would allow each country’s Navy to use the other country’s ports.

Members of the IALA team also boasted the strength of the Indian American community. IALA board member Inder Singh credited Indians in the United States as lighting the spark that became India’s independence movement.

“August 15 is the day in 1947 when India won its independence after a long struggle and sacrifices,” Singh said. “India’s independence movement [however] was not started in India, but in America in 1913 by NRIs in USA. That movement is known as Gadar Movement.”

Singh noted that the Indian population in the United States has since exploded, from roughly 50,000 in the 1960s to more than 4 million today. Indian Americans have since won spelling bees, accepted major political nominations, created new businesses and earned high-ranking roles in academia, Singh continued.

“The credit for all these achievements [we have made in the United States] goes to all of the Indians in the USA,” Singh said. “You have raised the image of the Indian American community with your hard work, achievements and contributions.”

IALA president Manmohan Chopra began his comments with homage to former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who died Aug. 16. He later added that the Independence Day celebrations such as the one held here in Lake Balboa were great tributes to Mother India.

Chopra told the audience that India has made great progress as an independent nation but still has work to do to maintain or grow its position on the world stage.

Vinod Manchhani, chair of the IALA Board of Directors, thanked the organization’s members, volunteers and sponsors for their contributions and helping make San Fernando Valley’s 19th celebration of India’s Independence Day a reality.

A representative from the Indian Consul General office in San Francisco also attended the IALA Independence Day festivities.

The cultural program featured the singing of patriotic songs and cultural performances from groups such as Leela Dance, Dance by Butalia, Rhythm Dance School and BollyX. Each performance highlighted a segment of India’s artistic culture, be it Kathak, Bollywood, garba or bhangra.

Turkish Airlines, Sundam Solar, the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and Iqbal Samra were among the sponsors for IALA’s Independence Day Gala, which has been celebrated in the San Fernando Valley since 2000.

Vendor booths included The Realty Hut, Hatha Yoga, Gurmat Gian School, State Bank of India, Integrated Wealth Management, Paradise Biryani Pointe, India Sweets and Spices, Curry King, Chennai Tiffins, CORE Investments, Event Decors, SAHARA, Henna Tattoos, Rewa Creations, Sterling Accounting and Tax Services, New York Life, Farmers Insurance, Shirdi Sai Temple, Brahma Kumaris, Mathnasium, the city of L.A.’s Office of City Clerk and multiple clothing boutiques.

IALA also hosted a free health fair, offering attendees an opportunity to have a basic medical check-up.

The mela’s on-stage activities were live streamed on Facebook.

The IALA executive committee for 2018 is comprised of 15 members: Chopra, Sunil Agrawal, Aishverya Nidhi, Manjeet Wahi, Rajni Thakkar, Kanaksinh Zhala, Ramesh Varma, Kavita Puri, Nalini Natarajan, Robin Paik, Sunil Prabhakar, Pramesh Shah, Hema Chopra, Prem Seem and Yaspal Singh.

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