VAN NUYS, Calif. — The India Association of Los Angeles celebrated the 73rd Indian Independence Day on the grounds of Birmingham Charter School here in the San Fernando Valley on Aug. 17, complete with a full-scale cultural program and several personalities from government and entertainment in attendance.

Thousands of Indian Americans and other area residents visited the Independence Day mela, visiting the dozens of booths selling food, displaying clothes or offering services – all while taking in dance performances and songs at the park’s center stage.

Youth, teens and adults performed a variety of cultural or patriotic acts, representing various sections of India. Bhangra, Bharatnatyam, garba, kathak and Bollywood were among the dance items performed throughout the afternoon and evening.

The formal program, which started a little before sunset, featured several dignitaries expressing their support for India and the local Indian American community. Dignitaries in attendance at the IALA Independence Day celebration were Consul General Sanjay Panda, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Los Angeles), California State Sen. Henry Stern and comedian Rajiv Satyal.

Consul General Sanjay Panda acknowledged the progress Indians have made worldwide since separating from the British Raj 72 years ago.

“When India became free in 1947, 15th of August, after 200 years of colonial rule, we had no idea where we would be moving. At this point if you look back, you see that India has moved very far ahead, and there are many things that are still to be done,” Panda said. “You have a lot to do to contribute to India’s growth and to meet our development priorities.”

Sherman also acknowledged the many contributions of Indian Americans in the United States, but also used his time on stage to speak out about the situation of Kashmir and Indian governance.

“Our president somehow got it in his head that Prime Minister Modi would want America to arbitrate the Kashmir dispute. How he got this in his head I have no idea,” Sherman said. “It shows a lack of understanding of what has been the position of the Indian government since before most of us were born. I look forward to the United States understanding that the Kashmir matter needs to be handled bilaterally between the parties.”

Stern, meanwhile, recognized Raksha Bandhan was celebrated on the same day as India’s Independence Day this year. He used the connection of these two Indian holidays to promote a connection between his home state of California and the country of India, which he recently visited.

“I thought it was interesting to note that Raksha Bandhan, which is a holiday about celebrating brothers and sisters, fell on the same day this year as Independence Day. In that same spirit, I wanted to pledge that brotherhood or that sisterhood between the state of California and the people of India,” Stern said.

IALA co-founder Inder Singh said India gained independence from the United Kingdom after many sacrifices. Those who left India for the United States almost two decades later made sacrifices, just the same – giving Indian Americans two sets of people to honor and recognize.

Singh added that Indian Americans are privileged to celebrate two Independence Days – Aug. 15 and the Fourth of July. He recognized the growth of the Indian American population since the 1960s.

“Fifty years ago, the Indian population in USA was not even 100,000. Today, Indian Americans [account] for over four million people,” Singh said. “Our contributions to America have also become tremendous. Indian Americans are college presidents, deans [and] professors.”

The IALA co-founder also noted Indian Americans have won Nobel Peace Prizes and are earning seats in Congress, state legislators and local government.

Vineet Puri, who serves as IALA’s chair, said India has been a model country since gaining independence in 1947.

“India’s Independence Day celebration is a reminder of the sacrifices made by our heroic freedom fighters. Today we can proudly say that, in the last seven decades, India has made enormous progress in education, technology, military, sports and infrastructure,” Puri said. “India’s Independence Day is a showcase for the world, to witness values of freedom, power of tolerance and the benefits of prosperity.”

The IALA Independence Day Mela, according to the organization’s president Sunil Agrawal, has proven to be a means to bring the Indian American community together.

“The event provides a platform for local artists to showcase their talent, culture and traditions,” Agrawal said. “This event provides an opportunity for the business community to broaden their network and connect with new businesses [and] leaders. This is a family gathering.”

Comedian Rajiv Satyal, who was recognized by Panda for his contributions in the standup comedy space, spoke to the audience about solidarity and standing up for each other as Americans, as we all came here from other parts of the world.

“We should maintain our culture, we’re proud to be Indian, but we’re also proud to be American,” Satyal said.

IALA was founded in 1999 and celebrated 20 years of Independence Day celebrations in the San Fernando Valley. Raman Chadha and Kumar Jawa were the other IALA leaders recognized at the Aug. 17 mela.

Some of the vendor booths at the mela included: State Bank of India, Census 2020, Russian School of Mathematics, Sundam Solar, Pita House, Tea India Chai Moments, Shan Biryani, Shirdi Sai Temple, Sankara Eye Foundation, Paradise Biryani Pointe and New York Life. Turkish Airlines and Hotstar were the mela’s top sponsors.

There was also a health fair for attendees to receive routine check-ups or medical information.

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