“Celebrate the peace, celebrate the culture.” Those were the words of Albuquerque’s Chief Financial Officer Sanjay Bhakta while speaking before a mid-sized crowd during Saturday’s India Day celebration at North Domingo Baca Park.
“I think just two weeks ago we were wondering whether we should get together,” Bhakta said at the beginning of his speech. “Thankfully, thanks to APD, thanks to Mayor Keller’s leadership, we have that behind us. We caught the guy,” he said of the capture of Muhammad Syed, the suspect believed to be involved in the slaying of four Muslim men in Albuquerque.
“When we come to this country, we should leave our differences behind. We migrated from the largest democracy to the oldest democracy. This is the match made in heaven,” Bhakta said to a round of applause. “And America is a melting pot, and we take the benefits of that. I wish that we all unite together, we reach out to our Muslim brothers and tell them that we are with you in the tragic events that they had to deal with.”
This year’s India Day celebration falls on the 75th anniversary of India’s independence from British rule. On Aug. 15, 1947, legislative sovereignty was transferred to the Indian Constituent Assembly, with the constitution of India going into effect three years later. Although the transfer from British rule to Indian sovereignty was brought about through the peaceful protests of freedom fighters, the British left the region in turmoil after drawing a crude border partitioning the territory into what is now the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the People’s Republic of India. The partition displaced between 10-20 million people along religious lines, creating a deep animosity that is evident in today’s bitter relationship between the two countries.
Three of the recent murder victims among Albuquerque’s Muslim community were Pakistani American, making Bhakta’s message of peace and unity even more pertinent to the day’s events at North Domingo Baca. Albuquerque police could be seen throughout the park on Saturday, patrolling on foot and horseback as the crowd gathered to celebrate their country and culture.
At around 5 p.m., the event kicked off with a parade led by flag bearers carrying both American and Indian flags. Mayor Tim Keller then unfurled an Indian flag in front of a stage where he and Bhakta gave a speech to the diverse crowd, with many dressed in traditional Indian clothing. Before the speeches, the Indian national anthem was sung by a group of kids waving green, white and orange handheld flags.
“I just want to recognize and celebrate the generation of Indians who come to New Mexico,” Keller said. “Indian-Americans who continue to make this a wonderful place and a part of that One Albuquerque culture that we love, and is inclusive, that celebrates all our backgrounds and that lifts each other up.”
Keller said it was his first India Independence Day celebration, adding that he’d learned a lot about Indian culture and customs. “I’ve already learned so much, whether it’s the fact that the colors represent the Hinduism and the Muslim faith being united by that white color of peace. Or even the symbolism of the wheel and the original states,” he said. “But I think also fundamentally, I can’t help but think of our shared history and it’s love for democracy, and its ongoing fight for independence. And the connection between people like Martin Luther King and Ghandi and how our country has been inspired by India.”
Keller continued to make parallels between the United States and India before making an official proclamation recognizing Aug. 13, 2022, as India Independence Day in the city of Albuquerque. “It was actually Ghandi’s words that said our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization, and no doubt the test of our city and state, and country as well.”