India’s Independence Day celebrations across America have become a huge event over the years. “Till 1980, there were very little community celebrations. In Los Angeles, the first community were held in 1981. I contacted 17 other community leaders and organized Independence Day celebrations jointly with the India Tourism office. Over 5,000 people showed up,” recalls Inder Singh, 85, who went on to become a prominent community leader.
According to a Times of India report, Singh, an accounts officer with the Punjab government had left Chandigarh for Los Angeles to study computers in 1968.
“There were very few Indians here back then and there were no collective celebrations of any event, so I took the initiative for India Day celebrations,” he said, according to the TOI report.
Indian Americans came together on a single platform only with the formation of the National Federation of Indian Associations (NFIA) in 1980.
“We brought diaspora leaders from North America, Europe and the Caribbean to New York in 1989 to set up GOPIO. It was the first such NRI organization,” he said.
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Inder Singh also played a major role in getting recognition for the Gadar movement by the Indian government which issued a stamp on its 100th anniversary in 2013 and earmarked $4 million for upgrading the historic Gadar Hall in San Francisco to a museum.
Despite such efforts for celebrating the Independence Day, August 15 remains a traumatic day for Singh. “I was in seventh grade in Patoki village near Lahore which was 80 percent Sikh and 18 percent Muslim. On the morning of August 16, 1947, when we woke up, we found that half of the village had disappeared. When we went out, we saw people in long queues going towards India. My mother, two brothers and sisters picked up whatever we could and left. But my father and elder brother said they would stay back,” said Singh.
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“On the way, we saw people being killed by raiders. I saw my cousin killed. Whosoever could not walk or was injured was left behind to be killed by raiders or to die a slow death.” he added.
After they reached the border, a policeman gave them a house vacated by Muslims who had fled to Pakistan. After giving him and his family food, the policeman told that his father was killed. “The policeman knew my father and gave us the information of his death. We cried throughout the night,” he said. That night still haunts him.