India’s “Tryst With Destiny”: What Do You Know About It?


India’s Independence Day, for Indian Americans, is also linked to their Indianness which they have been guarding protectively and with pride, just as they do their American identities.

Naman Shah, 8, on a visit to India, seen here with Gandhi statue at the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad, India.
Photo Courtesy Dipa Shah.

The young Indian Americans have been contributing immensely to everyday life in America and globally in a world in which borders are disappearing fast. All through their performances, their influences, their leadership, runs an undercurrent of Indianness, fostered by their parents and their guides – Indianness of doing one’s best with integrity, of pride in the valuable heritage they carry in their genes, along with a loyalty and wider global perspective that is nurtured here in the U.S.

It seems difficult to segregate Indianness from an Indian American identity. Indian current affairs are very much on the scene of global daily life. Its rich culture, the tenacity of its people here in the U.S., the ideals and contributions are all well-known and generally appreciated.

Indians form one of the largest immigrant groups in America. A little more awareness and knowledge about them in a country to which they are contributing daily is a natural expectation. However, there has hardly been more than a fleeting reference to India’s history in the school system. And a minimal mention exists, if any, of a global figure like Gandhi, or his innovative non violent protests in India’s freedom movement.

India’s Freedom Movement in School Curriculum

Such mention is dependent on each state’s school system because each state has its own curriculum standards, according to Jyotsana Srivastava, who is an author and a middle school teacher. Personally, she does not stay back from this task at home. In a 2021 interview with News India Times, Srivastava mentioned telling her young son about Gandhi’s ‘My Experiments with Truth’.

Speaking to News India Times, Ruta Dave, Robotics and Math teacher at Louis Pasteur Middle School in New York State, said students get to know Indian history in the 6th grade. “But the focus is on the caste system, and not on the freedom movement,” Dave said. Referring to what her colleague, a history teacher said, Dave said individual teachers sometimes talk about India’s freedom movement in their classes. But they were not known to assign any projects on it at Pasteur school, Dave said.

As such, it has been entirely up to the Indian Americans to preserve their cultural and national identity. Families, especially parents and grandparents have been playing a big role in this preservation, filling this gap in the education of their children in American school system, completing the wholeness of Indian American identities.

Role of Parents

Developmental Psychology has always acknowledged that story telling by grandparents and parents contributes to the sense of identity and stable personality of a child. Indian parents and grandparents are the living proofs.

However, this is not a foolproof way of educating. A large number of parents themselves are unaware of India’s freedom movement which created free India, the largest democracy in the world. Many parents who have that knowledge have perhaps not been attentive enough to bring that knowledge to their children. Most families have been busy imparting cultural knowledge to children. It may prove a better exercise to arm children with true knowledge of India’s political history in a world which is becoming harsh day by day.

Akshata Naik is a very conscientious mom, a writer and an entrepreneur. She told News India Times India’s independence has not yet come up in her conversation with her 5 year-old daughter who she is slowly apprising of her own Indian heritage in her intercultural marriage. Nor has Gandhi and his theory of non-violence come up yet, she said. Perhaps she is too young for all that now.

Raj Mittal of New Jersey does not remember any conversation with his children in this regard. Having immigrated in the 80s, he has been busy with his professional career along with his volunteer position with Hindi USA. Mittal does not remember talking to them about India’s independence movement or his children asking questions, he said. However, his 15 year-old son did surprise him with a class essay on Article 370, Mittal said. “I did not know as much about it as he did,” he added. Some aspect of his life must have inspired his son’s curiosity.

In Mittal’s case, it may have been due to Hindi USA taking over this role of teaching his children about India’s cultural history and ancient political history. “We are currently working on implementing political history in our syllabus at Hindi USA,” Mittal said.

Vishwa Shah, on a visit to India, at the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad, India, trying her hand at the charkha.
Photo Courtesy Dipa Shah.

Role of Grandparents and Travel to India

Gayatri Mathur, Dr. of Physical Therapy, founder of Soondra Foundation which works with the underprivileged in India providing cash grants for medical emergencies, acknowledges that the grandparents on both sides contributed tremendously to her young chidlren’s upbringing.

She said, “My husband and I wanted to keep connected to India, and thus grandparents from both sides would come over every summer.” “They became an integral part of my children’s daily life. They knew my children, their friends, and answered their questions,” she said.

Mathur’s own father had been part of the partition and had written stories of it. “So my children know about India’s independence and the aftermath. They don’t listen to Indian news daily but they know what is going on,” she said.

Mathur who also took children to India every year said, “We did not say we would do it when we are better settled financially. Before you know children are out of school and have their own life. If we hadn’t done it when we did, it would have never happened. Time moves forward fast,” Mathur said. “We have done our part. Now what they do (with their children) is to be seen,” she said.

Dipa Shah has lived in Atlanta since 2008 and owns her own business there. “We are blessed that we live in Atlanta,” she said, explaining that many Indian organizations in Atlanta took over part of the upbringing challenges of the Indian American children. She made special mention of the Gujarati Cultural Association of North America (GCANA) which has been holding special camps for young Indian Americans, teaching the Indian national anthem and Sanskrit prayers. The camps provide education of India’s cultural and social heritage.

“My son knows about Gandhi’s role in the freedom movement. He knows about my grandfather participating in the movement. We are not unaware of the price paid for our valued freedom,” Shah said.

Shah remembers their visit to the Sabarmati Ashram when her son was 8 years old. She said he was excited and impressed and bought 5 books. He was very influenced by Gandhi even at that age. Later he read Gandhi’s ‘My Experiments with Truth’ and even explained and discussed it with the family, she said.

Shah’s family is all in the U.S. “But we are still connected to India,” she said. She said they all go to India almost every year. “We make it a point to go away together for ten days during our visit to go around to India’s historical and heritage sites,” she said.

Leena Mehta of Fairmont, West Virginia, said that when she and her husband immigrated to the U.S. 23 years ago, they did not visit India for the first five years. “During that time, my mother who was with me, played 80 percent role in my son’s upbringing. I can say she educated him,” Mehta said. “My son learned to speak Gujarati, ate Indian food and watched Indian television including the daily news with her,” she said.

She added her son knows stories of her grandfather being part of the freedom movement and is proud of it. When young, he used to ask many questions about the grandfather. She said her son has visited Sabarmati Ashram many times and knows about Gandhi and he has read India’s history books.

Today, her son is a 26 year-old medical student. “He has studied Hinduism, Buddhism and other religions of the world and his approach is that of peace. He is not interested in politics, but is aware of goings on,” Mehta said.

Nisha Mehta of Richmond, Virginia who has been in the hospitality business for over 30 years, said during her son’s growing up years, his grandparents lived with them. “It is due to them that he speaks Gujarati well, knows the value of family, respects his elders and knows the Indian culture,” Mehta said.

Mehta said her son knew about India’s independence movement from childhood. Her grandfather was part of the freedom movement. “My son knows about my father and my grandfather. My grandfather participated in the freedom movement. My father published a newspaper. My son knows about the British rule of India and the freedom movement. He knows the important role Gandhi and Sardar Patel played. He has also visited the Sabarmati Ashram,” she said.

Although not much interested in politics, he was still touched deeply by patriotic sentiments during his recent visit to Melbourne, Australia, for a cricket match. He was struck by the respect and love with which the Indian anthem was sung there.

Political and academic activists have been putting forth teaching about India’s freedom movement. It is time this comes about.



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