With nary an inch of room to be found, Calgarians packed the plaza in front of City Hall on Monday to celebrate the 75th anniversary of India’s independence.
More than 3,500 people filled the square to take part in the Aug. 15 event. Dignitaries and politicians spoke about the importance of the anniversary of independence in 1947, followed by cultural performances from Calgary’s diverse Indian community.
Sonia Joshi, president of the International Hindu Foundation, one of the sixteen groups that came together to organize the celebration, said it was important for Calgary’s Indian community to be able to commemorate independence. The Indian Society of Calgary officially led the organizing efforts.
“It’s very critical that we are able to celebrate our independence and it resonates absolutely with Canadian values,” she said.
“We value the Canadian identity, and we still keep our Indian identity intact in our hearts in our houses, and this is amazing to see a collaboration—a fusion of Canadian identity and Indian identity here.”
Joshi said that the original expectation was for 500 people to attend, which swelled to expectations of around 1,000 later in the day. By the time the celebrations started at 5:30 pm more than 3,500 Calgarians were there.
Diversity of cultural expression
Joshi said that 20 organizations had been hard at work since March of this year to mark the occasion. She said that representation was present from all India’s states, and from veterans of the Indian armed forces.
“You name the state, and you can watch all the performances from India at one place here in Calgary today.”
Joshi likened the diversity of Indian cultural expression to that of Canada. She said that Indians were proud of being part of multi-cultural societies in India, and in Canada.
“India is so diverse, and we are bringing that diversity. We are proud of being Canadian, and we are proud of being Indians.”
Calgary City Council issued a proclamation for the 75th anniversary.
Mayor Jyoti Gondek along with Councillor Raj Dhaliwal were in attendance on Monday to represent the city.
“When I see so many different organizations gathered here today, representing the diversity of the Indian people, it should serve as a reminder to all of us that Indians historically lived side by side without a thought to the differences based on culture, religion, or language,” said Mayor Gondek.
She reflected on the painful process of independence for India and Pakistan, which saw violent clashes over the Radcliffe Line.
“There was an effort by colonizers to divide the Indian people, to pit neighbour against neighbour. 75 years after that terrible time of turmoil, let us all of us gathered here today be the example in our newfound home and community of Calgary of people who understand the value of coming together in the name of humankind.”
Unity of a nation
Chestermere-Strathmore MLA Leela Aheer attended Monday’s event, and was on stage for the raising of the Indian flag on the City of Calgary’s courtesy flagpole. She led the assembled crowd in the singing of the Canadian national anthem.
“When you look around at this crowd, you see the fabric that has created this province—the diversity even amongst our own Indian sisters and brothers—and to see everybody come together yesterday we celebrated Pakistan independence at midnight and then also Indian independence as well,” she said.
“It’s huge, but also is about removal of yourself from colonialism which so many of our First Nations sisters and brothers also tell us and teach us about all the time, so it’s a wonderful understanding from that perspective.”
Aheer, whom is also running as a candidate for the leadership of the United Conservative Party, weighed in on the symbolism of independence in Alberta’s current political debates over sovereignty and separation from the nation.
“Look around you today, this isn’t about independence, and it’s not about separation: It’s about unity,” Aheer said.
“All of us could learn a thing or two about what that means when you have left everything behind, to choose a province in a country to start your life, and there’s a tremendous humility in that.”