Aug. 19, 2005 The joyous message of Indias independence was carried far beyond the countrys borders Thursday evening, as members of the V.I. India Association hosted celebrations at the Marriott Frenchmans Reef Hotel to show the local community what 58 years of democratic rule means to them.
Donning multicolored saris, serving delicious Indian cuisine and entertaining guests with two cultural dance shows, the association also displayed its culture proudly, topping off the night with an eloquent speech by Pramathesh Rath, India's consul general to New York.
"Its always lovely to be in a multicultural country, where the Indian community is such an integral part of society," Rath said. "And it is very important for me to see that they have retained their culture that way, they have a sense of identity within this place, and they will be able to contribute to the larger society of Indian Americans."
Rath added that the Indian diaspora has been an important catalyst in Indias development, providing a strong link between emigrants' country of origin and their country of residence. "The Indian community here is hard working, and honest they have respect for the law of the land and give back to the community. That is very important."
Rath told guests that Indias contributions to the U.S. have also increased over the past few years, as the country has grown economically. "We have come a long way since we gained our independence in 1947 our economy has grown at an average of 6 percent over the last decade and is now the 10th largest in absolute terms."
With a population of 1 billion people, India is also fast becoming a major international player in the pharmaceutical and bio-technology industries and has carved its own niche within the American community. "India is the worlds largest democracy, and America is the worlds oldest. We hope that we can help by sharing our own values, and providing assistance in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, as well as cooperation with the fight against terrorism, AIDS/HIV prevention, disaster relief, etc.," Rath said.
Rath further stated that Indias democracy has grown from examples set by the U.S.most especially the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, when Indian immigration to the states increased. "I will always have to thank that movement for helping Indians do so well. But of course we were also inspired by the peaceful protests of Mahatma Ghandi, and before that, the peaceful protests in South Africa. All those examples have helped us grow exponentially."
However, Rath did remind guests that the country still has a lot more work to do combating poverty and fighting illiteracy. "65 percent of our population is literate that amounts to 650 million people. But that also means that 35 percent, or 350 million people are illiterate. That is the largest concentration of illiteracy in the world. 25 percent of our population is still under the poverty line those are the issues we are currently addressing."
Despite these statistics, Rath also related that he has lots of hope that conditions will improve and takes inspiration from great Indian figures like Jawaharlal Nehru, the countrys first prime minister after independence was achieved in 1947. In fact, Rath ended his speech with Nehrus famous independence day quote: "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."
Indias "soul" was also expressed on Friday evening through the voice and dance of the communitys younger generation. "It is wonderful to see that after 200 years of British rule, India has been finally able to transform before our eyes into a dazzling oasis," Nitya Chugani, the event's master of ceremonies, said. "And we can celebrate that here, in our own oasis, blending our East Indian culture with the West Indies, to make our own paradise."
But Indian culture was still at the forefront during the evening, with traditional and new age dances performed by Minal Sampat, as well as Aarti and Sonam Lalwani.
Dressed in a dazzling purple, fuchsia, and silver sari, Sampat first performed popular dances of Indiaincluding Garba and Bhangra, traditional dances of the countrys Gujrat and Punjab regions. Sampat was joined on stage by youngsters Avinash Nagpal, Nikita Purshotamani, Mohit Vasandmalani, and Devanshi Ved.
Both Lalwanis also performed a "Salute to Indian Music Through the Ages," dancing to songs from the 1960s to the 1990s.
Also staying faithful to its commitment to the V.I. community, the association contributed $16,000 to three local organizations:
— $6,000 in scholarships to the University of the Virgin Islands;
— $5,000 to the Humane Society;
— and $5,000 to Lockhart Elementary Schools special education program.
"I am very thankful for this contribution," Paulette Howard, Lockhart Schools primary special education supervisor, said. "In all my years in the Virgin Islands, I dont recall special education ever receiving a monetary award from anyone this is very special."
In response, Pash Daswani, the associations vice president, promised Howard that he would keep the donations coming in the future, as his son has been greatly helped by the schools special education program. "My son attends the Lockhart School and is a participant in the special education program hes 10 years old and has cerebral palsy, and theyve done a wonderful job with him."
"We are doing our best to care for the people of the Virgin Islands," Mulo Alwani, the associations president, said. "And I am always reminded by what the President of India said during a welcome message in January to a group of nonresident Indians: Enrich the nation you live in — not only in financial terms, but also with your honor and self dignity. I know that were doing just that our members are always thinking about the well-being of our residents."
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