Raining on the parade

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Eager fans wanting selfies and pictures as Suniel Shetty, Bollywood actor and successful businessman, leans out of the leading float at the Aug. 18, 2019, India Day Parade in Manhattan where an estimated crowd of around 100,000 people came, according to the Federation of Indian Associations-NYNJCT. (Photo: Paresh Gandhi/FIA)

Organizers plan symbolic events in lieu of largest Independence Day Parade outside India

The tens of thousands of people who used to come every year from the tri-state area and further away in the United States, to witness the India Day Parade, drawn partly by the Bollywood personalities who were Grand Marshalls, and partly for the color and pageantry will have to keep away from the event which was scheduled to be held Aug. 16, 2020 but cancelled by the organizers, the Federation of Indian Associations-NYNJCT, in the interest of public safety.

In the United States, Indian-American organizations celebrate their homeland’s Independence annually in numerous venues, with parades, and other functions. This year, those in-person events are obviously out of question. Many will celebrate them online thanks to new technologies.

Poster for first-ever online patriotic film festival. (Photo: Facebook, India’s Independence Day)

Celebrating Freedom

The Independence Day of India, which is celebrated religiously throughout India on the 15th of August every year, holds a coveted place in the list of national days not just in India, but in the communities that have gone to settle around the world beyond the shores of their homeland, because, “it reminds every Indian about the dawn of a new beginning, the beginning of an era of deliverance from the clutches of British colonialism of more than 200 years,” notes the Government of India on its website knowindia.gov.in

It was on this day in 1947 that India was declared independent from British colonialism, and the reins of control were handed over to the leaders of the country.

“India’s gaining of independence was a tryst with destiny, as the struggle for freedom was a long and tiresome one, witnessing the sacrifices of many freedom fighters, who laid down their lives on the line,” says the website.

In the present context of the coronavirus pandemic, large crowds have been proven to be breeding grounds for the relentless coronavirus; even parties as small as 20 or 50, have ended up being hotspots.

Perhaps the people most affected by this year’s Independence Day of India, are the tens of thousands who gathered on the sidewalks of Manhattan’s famous Madison Avenue to watch the biggest parade outside India. Obviously, the coronavirus has rained on the historic India Day Parade.

“It’s so sad not to be able to hold the parade. It is a symbol of our country,” mourned Dr. Vipul Patel, who has been to the Parade a few times over the last ten years. “As a doctor I keep advising people to wear the mask and social distance – how can we have a parade with 50,000 people when even 1,000 is not safe,” he said in an interview with Desi Talk. He recommended making a video tracing the history of the India Day Parade from the time it began and show it around the U.S. to educate people.

Another Kind Of History

The FIA hopes to “make history” by hoisting the Indian tricolor at Times Square, the go-to place to make a statement.

Despite this being the start of the Golden Jubilee – 50 years of the Federation of Indian Associations, The India Day Parade traditionally organized by the FIA- NYNJCT, is going to be a relatively modest affair — but for the best reason one can think of — keeping tens of thousands of adults and children safe.

“We want to be very cognizant of the situation,” said FIA Chairman Ankur Vaidya. “We are not doing what was traditionally done in other years, we are not advertizing it, not are there any bragging rights or chest thumping about the size and number of people attending. Or the 64 booths and 30 floats that we all enjoyed.”

Besides, these are extraordinary times where sponsors and those who had floats in past Parades are suffering financially, he noted. The event in Times Square will be telecast live for television, Vaidya said.

In addition, because there is no need to hold the Parade on a weekend, the organizers get to hold it on the actual 74th Independence Day!

According to a press release from FIA, “It will be the first time ever that India’s tricolor will be unfurled at the iconic venue in all its glory.”

India’s new Consul General in New York, Randhir Kumar Jaiswal, will be the Guest of Honor at the Aug. 15 event.

“This year’s Independence Day will mark a new chapter in FIA’s history, as two iconic venues in Manhattan will come alive to celebrate India’s Independence Day,” organizers said.

Along with the first ever celebrations on Times Square, the FIA, in continuing with its annual tradition, will be illuminating the Empire State Building in tricolors – orange, white and green – on August 14.

“The Times Square flag hoisting ceremony is a testament to the Indian American community’s growing patriotism and is a fitting tribute to the FIA which is celebrating its golden jubilee year,” organizers, among them Anil Bansal, current president of FIA, noted.

Established in 1970, FIA -Tristate is one of the largest umbrella organizations in the Indian community. Since 1981, the FIA has been organizing the flagship annual India Day parade, which showcases India’s cultural heritage and history.

The August 15 historic event in Times Square is exclusively sponsored by Dunkin Donuts. It is also supported by the Consulate General of India in New York, as well as by Mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio and his entire staff, as well as the New York Police Department and the Fire Department, the FIA press release said.

“The India Day Parade is very much in line with the American Story,” said Suhag Shukla, founder and executive director of Hindu American Foundation, who has in the past attended the parade with her children. “There’s other parades and events like Italian Day, St. Patrick’s Day for the Irish, Chinese New Year … The India Day Parade is one more colorful piece that makes up the mosaic of American life,” Shukla said.

Even her local temple in Pennsylvania has canceled in-person Janmashtami celebrations and Ganesh Chaturthi, among the several festivals in August that the Indian community enjoys around the country.

Hemant Pandya, a photographer and videographer, who took footage of India Day Parade two years ago, told Desi Talk, “It is a grand parade, good for our people, culture and community. It is not feasible in this age of coronavirus to have a large crowd.”

For the Government of India, Independence Day is not a one-day affair. On the run up to August 15, other events are flagged, among them, this August 7, the Government of India kicked-off the first-ever online patriotic film festival. (pib.gov.in for details).

On Aug. 7, the Government also paid tribute to Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore on his death anniversary. (7 May 1861 – 7 August 1941). Tagore’s famous poem “Where the mind is without fear” remains one of the most poignant of verses embodying the desires of people in the largest emerging democratic nation – India.

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