Indian American parents filling the education gap: sharing India’s history of independence with their children 

Raghu Jayaraman and Anagha Jayaraman pose with the statue of Mahatma Gandhi at the Embassy of India in Washington DC on January 8, 2020. PHOTO: Nandini Selvam

As India prepares to celebrate its 76th Independence Day on August 15, 2023, the Embassy of India in Washington DC and Indian Consulates in various US cities will host flag hoisting ceremonies aiming not only to remind the Indian Diaspora of India’s struggles for freedom but also to celebrate the nation’s accomplishments.

In the Washington DC Metropolitan area, local community organizations are also gearing up to mark India’s Independence with unwavering patriotic and nationalistic fervor. The National Council of Asian Indian Associations (NCAIA), in collaboration with local community organizations in the DC area, is set to commemorate India Independence Day on August 20 at John Champe High School in Aldie, Virginia. Indian Ambassador to the United States, Taranjit Sandhu, will be the chief guest, and the flag-hoisting ceremony and cultural performances will take place.

News India Times spoke with Indian-American parents, and asked their approach to sharing the significance of Independence Day and if their American-born children have been educated on India’s freedom fighters and their struggles that eventually paved the way for India’s independence.

Nandini Selvam, an epidemiologist and healthcare executive, shared her family’s discussions about prominent freedom fighters such as Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehra, and Sarojini Naidu and their pivotal roles in India’s arduous journey to freedom. Selvam recounted, “Over three years ago, we went to the Indian Embassy to meet with the then Indian Ambassador to the US, Harsh Shringla to congratulate him on becoming India’s Foreign Secretary. After meeting with him, we made our way to the statue of Mahatma Gandhi at the Embassy, and it served as a great reminder to talk about our history and its ongoing significance with our kids, Raghu and Anagha.”

“On our way back home, we talked with the kids about Mahatma Gandhi, his importance in India’s Independence struggle, and how his teachings of non-violence had a direct influence on Martin Luther King Jr and his Civil Rights Movement in the United States,” adding “My grand-aunt Janaky Athi Nahappan, was also a freedom fighter and walked the streets with Subhas Chandra Bose to gain India’s independence. She then went on to create history as among the first women to join the Indian National Army, and later went on to become a founding member of the Malaysian Indian Congress.”

Selvam noted that during her family’s visit to India this summer, they had many discussions on India’s progress domestically and on the international stage, everything from Vande Bharat fast trains to the significance of India’s G20 Presidency, in response to G20 posters across the country.

Meena Thota, a telecom engineer, who immigrated to the US six years ago, eagerly anticipates sharing the history of India’s Independence and stories of freedom fighters with her one-year-old son, Pulastya Datta. She said it’s always a matter of pride to discuss India’s Independence as her grandfather, Krishna Rao, a freedom fighter, actively participated in events of the freedom struggle alongside Mahatma Gandhi.

Thota and her husband Anagesh Thota are hoping to establish a solid foundation for their son in Indian culture and music. “I am enthusiastic about sharing insights into Indian Independence and my personal experiences of growing up in India. My hope is to instill in him the same affection I hold for India, where I spent my formative years,” added Thota.

Lakshmi Koneru, a software professional, shared that she and her husband actively discuss a series of pivotal events with her children including the Non-Cooperation Movement, Civil Disobedience Movement, and Quit India Movement that culminated in India’s Independence.

Koneru emphasized, “We talk about famous women freedom fighters like Jhansi Lakshmi Bai, Sarojini Naidu, and Annie Besant and their struggles,” said Koneru adding they consistently remind their children of the impactful words of Mahatma Gandhi, with their favorite quote being, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

Khushboo Mistry, who works in regulatory affairs, shared that their family frequently intertwines travel experiences with discussions about local history and geography. They have delved into India’s post-independence progress, particularly in their native Gujarat, the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi. As their children mature, these discussions serve as an ongoing dialogue, according to Mistry.

“In our house, my 12-year-old daughter, is deeply concerned about social justice issues, and raises the many female related disparities in the US. So, we have often used that as an opportunity to reflect on the fact that India has had female leaders for decades and could serve as an example to the world in the great progress it has made over the past 76 years since independence,” said Protima Advani, a healthcare executive.

Advani further noted she has also discussed Mathematician Shakuntala Devi’s work and how there is no limit to what Indian women have achieved and contributed to India’s progress.

The Embassy of India is also organizing a painting competition centered around the theme “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav” for age groups 7-12 and 13-18 years. This competition offers young participants from the diaspora a platform to express their creative concepts and portray India’s success and development over the past 76 years. Notably, selected artworks will be showcased at India House on August 15, and Ambassador Sandhu will personally honor the top three winners. All participants will receive commendation certificates from the Embassy.



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