The recent news about the possibility of India Day not being held in Boston met with some dismay and anger. While alternate venues are being located at the time of writing this post, it has put a damper on the Indian community hoping to connect and rejoice marking the independence of a great democracy.
After the Boston Marathon bombings, security concerns around large gatherings have heightened and organizing any large scale event are bound by new rules and expectations. Any organizer has the huge responsibility of putting things together and being responsible for lives and property which in turn puts tremendous financial strain.
In the past what is known as the “India day” celebrations were held at the Hatch Shell in Boston and has brought families, participants and bystanders alike from within the New England area and beyond.
On a grand scale, events at this site included performances by artists, presentations by children and vendors from around the greater Boston area serving food, artifacts and crafts. In addition the venue and the surrounding Esplanade area is a renowned venue for free outdoor events and programs from classical music concerts and Free Friday Flicks to the treasured July 4th celebration. In fact the July 4th concert finishes with dazzling pyrotechnics choreographed to a musical score. That is why both the day and venue make it very special.
Conversations and accusations are rife about who, why and what. And to understand that maybe a bit of going back decades helps even though the disappointment remains palpable. Historically after more than two hundred years of British rule, India was finally free on August 15, 1947. Patriotic hearts rejoiced as celebrations marked India’s becoming a sovereign nation and also to salute those that had sacrificed their lives to the cause. It was the birth of a new nation and a new beginning.
The first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru heralded the auspicious event in 1947 with words that resonate in the hearts of Indians in India and abroad: “Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity.”
In India’s capital Delhi, an official ceremony is held at the Red Fort where the Prime Minister of India hoists the flag to commemorate Independence Day and to pay tribute to fallen soldiers and those that lay down their lives for the country. The Prime Minister’s speech at the Red Fort is a major highlight of the plans of the government and nation as it forges ahead as a sovereign entity.
Indians in America celebrate India's Independence Day with parades with colorful floats and entertainment programs for families that highlight India's culture, history and heritage. A large parade is organized in Manhattan in New York City, some new parades, including one in Long Island, and another in New Jersey, have also emerged in the last few years. This is organized by the Federation of Indian Associations (FIA). This year Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor Andrew Cuomo, Indian Ambassador to the US Nirupama Rao, New York Consul General Dnyaneshwar Mulay and US Senators and Congressmen are expected to join the festivities. It promises to enthrall nonresident Indians and Americans witnessing the events on 41st Street to 23rd Street on Madison Avenue in New York City. The atmosphere is no less than festive with vibrant colors representing Indian culture and the tricolor national flag of India making its appearance in grandeur. Other cities also organize similar events.
Celebrating days of national importance to a significant population of immigrants is one of the highlights of living in the United States. It brings the two nations – one of origin and one where one makes a home away from home – together allowing perceptions about countries to be shared with the mainstream and furthering their causes and highlighting their strengths. It establishes connectivity for immigrants who are able to showcase their country and their heritage and leave their mark on one and all. One has witnessed the Puerto Rican Day for instance where cultural pageants and educational functions to sports competitions and music represent the pride and culture of that community. In fact I remember wanting to learn more about the thriving community through the well documented film “Yo soy Boricua…” was such an educational treat! In similar vein the St. Patrick’s Day in Boston offers an opportunity to immerse oneself in Irish culture and heritage. Colorful floats, music and the parade all represent South Bostons’ Irish pride. Friends with Irish lineage remain instrumental in opening one’s eyes to the contributions of the flourishing, settled community. And then there is the French Bastille Day which celebrates community, food music and friendship between nations.
There are many, many more celebrations by different communities each lending a unique flavor and purpose to what makes Boston embrace them all. Without these events and particularly without celebrating India Day, it will have left a void of unsurpassed proportions that the organizers and the Indian community as a whole will be grappling with.
Rajashree Ghosh is a resident scholar at the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis University in Waltham.