Federation of Indian Associations: Growing Along With India’s Independence

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A section of the 9 truckloads of medical equipment that FIA helped to ship to India Aug. 9, 2021, donated by New York City and valued at around $16 million. Photo: courtesy FIA

On August 9, 2021, as the Federation of Indian Association members watched the last of the 9 truckloads of medical equipment driving out from West Caldwell, New Jersey, bound for JFK and ultimately India, they could not have helped but contemplate how far their organization had come from its beginnings in the 1960s as a student association at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken.

This latest shipment is yet another sign of the immensely close connection between FIA and India over the years. Working as a logistical partner with Consulate General of India New York, FIA sent a massive 9 Truckload Air Cargo to India consisting of  BiPAP machines and its supplies, FIA Chairman Ankur Vaidya told Desi Talk.

The Cargo has been transported to India via ACT Grants an NGO based out of India that will spearhead on-ground logistics. This is FIA’s 2nd round of Covid Relief Medical Cargo totaling $16 Million in medical supplies transported to India. “It is an unprecedented feat and a mammoth undertaking for FIA.  FIA has accomplished the unthinkable with its voluntary team and the collective desire to serve the motherland,” said Vaidya, noting that FIA General Secretary Parveen Bansal had singlehandedly tackled the majority of the cargo logistics and coordination.

The FIA, whose name has changed over the years as it grew, started as a student organization helping newcomers find the grocery store, get a drivers license, and meet other basic needs, when they came to America.

Then it became the organizer of the massive India Day Parades which every August brought mainstream America a taste and vibrancy of India on its independence day, with thousands watching the cavalcades of floats going down Madison Avenue in Manhattan.

Members of the executive committee and past presidents of the Federation of Indian Associations-NYNJCT, and Grand Marshall Suniel Shetty, hold up the souvenir produced for the 2019 India Day Parade by Parikh Worldwide Media, on stage at the Aug. 18, 2019 event on Madison Ave., NYC. (Photo: Peter Ferreira)

Then came Covid, and last year without missing a beat, FIA went online, and did away with the parade, began holding flag raising at Time Square, using the monies that would have gone into the elaborate once-a-year Parade to feed thousands in soup kitchens, gathering millions of dollars worth of medical equipment donated by the City of New York or other entities and corporations, doing the packing and loading, and getting the financing for sending these items to India.

Interviews with several officeholders of FIA reveals that today the organization has chapters in 8 states and a mission and vision to represent the interests, and be the voice of the Indian community, and also to project the image of an India-on-the-move, a rising India, an India that helps other countries, their Motherland, of which they are inordinately proud.

“The Parade is done to make people feel proud and good about being an Indian, it was a big psychological boost,” Anil Bansal, president of FIA told Desi Talk.

A businessman, Bansal sees the Covid pandemic as a plus in more ways than one for the growth of the organization.

“In these two years when everything shut down, our brains started working,” he quips, adding, “And I must say – because of Covid, we have come out bigger and stronger – expanded the organization through online outreach, and taken on activities we had not done before.”

The Federation of Indian Associations of Tristate held the first ever Indian Independence Day flag hoisting ceremony at Times Square Aug. 15, 2020. Consul General of India in New York Randhir Kumar Jaiswal, hoisted the flag. Photo courtesy FIA

The flag hoisting ceremony at Times Square replaced the Parade, soup kitchens instead  the Diwali celebrations, Dance Pe Chance the signature Republic Day of India event went online with even greater success. “We were oversubscribed for that,” says Bansal.

The FIA became instantly visible when then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi said she would meet with an established community organization, which immediately led to FIA becoming a registered organization in 1971.

From the time when the auditorium of SIT was used to show Bollywood films to help students cope with homesickness, the Indian film industry has been FIA’s greatest friend and the connector of cultures and people east and west. It was the great unifier and leaders like the late Ramesh Patel (who died from Covid) and Yashpal Sohi, spurred on this link, as did Padma Shri Dr. Sudhir Parikh, chairman of Parikh Worldwide Media and Grand Sponsor of the India Day Parade for the last 32 years, (Parikh Worldwide Media publishes Desi Talk)  recalls his time with FIA since 1987, during which he also served as President of the organization.

“FIA is a primary organization of all Indian associations particularly on the East Coast,” Dr. Parikh said. “Apart from being the largest parade outside India and second-largest after the one in India, it signifies that Bollywood is the bridge between India and U.S. and different generations. We want young people to connect to India and its independence,” he added. Among those hosted as Grand Marshals of the Parade are veterans like Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand to Amitabh Bachchan and Abhishek Bachchan, Vinod Khanna, as well as musical giants like conductor Zubin Mehta, political leaders like Anna Hazare. “During my presidency alone, we had Shashi Kapoor, Randhir Kapoor, Anil Kapoor, and Shatrughna Sinha,”  The FIA, he noted, has played a very important role during Covid, being a partner and conduit for sending medical equipment to India, the soup kitchens, as well as organizing fundraisers for politicos, including the recent one for Sen. Bob Menendez, D-NJ. “FIA is now not just a Parade but a philanthropic organization and one that also helps U.S.-India relations, furthering India’s interests culturally, soicially and otherwise, into the future as it represents the community,” Dr. Parikh commented.

Aug. 9, when the truckloads were shipped to JFK with medical equipment, it was hard work, notes Chairman Vaidya of FIA. “Our goal was not to get credit for it, we were more interested in it going to the Motherland. And if it saves even 100 lives, it is worth it,” Vaidhya said. Since last year, Friends of FIA, has held fivce events to meet U.S. lawmakers.

“We are becoming representatives of the community – our community needs to be heard in the corridors of power,” Vaidya said. He hopes that one day there will be numerous community centers around the country serving Indian-Americans,

On its 75th Independence Day, Vaidya said, “We envision a thriving India, one that sees us as a strong representative of Indian Americans and India. Our goal is to present ourselves as a united body, positioned to meet the future.”

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