Indian pride was on full display in Murray Hill, as the 30th annual India Day Parade made its way through the Manhattan neighborhood on Sunday.
Between 60,000 to 70,000 spectators watched the colorful parade, which marked the 63rd anniversary of India's independence from British colonial rule. The parade made its way down Madison Avenue between 26th and 38th Streets, following a festival on Madison Avenue between 24th and 26th Streets.
For the first time in about 10 years, the parade included the South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association. The Federation of Indian Associations made the decision to include the gay rights group last week.
Last year, SALGA was not allowed to participate and members held a protest at the parade. This year, they reached out to the media and politicians to help their cause.
"We're very happy to be combating homophobia, to be showing the community that we do exist and that we're good people, and we feel really good to be part of this and to be celebrating India's Independence Day," said SALGA member Shawn Jain. "You shouldn't have to fight this hard for queer people to be in a parade."
"Today, I get to march in the India Day Parade as a gay Indian man. I was so excited to do that," said another SALGA member.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Queens Councilman Daniel Dromm, who are both openly gay and pressed for SALGA to participate in the parade, also marched in the parade to celebrate SALGA's victory.
"It is really thrilling, as somebody who is a member of the Irish-American community, and our yearly [St. Patrick's Day] parade still does not allow our lesbian and gay group to join. It really warms my heart to get to be part of a parade," said Quinn. "I really believe with today's Indian Day Parade, we are moving so much closer to the day this isn't an issue for any community in New York."
Parade organizers said they wanted the event be inclusive.
"We want everyone to be part of the parade, because it's the Indian and U.S. spirit together, and everyone has a right to march in the parade," said Vice President Nimesha Dave of the Federation of Indian Associations. "So that patriotism is for the country."
Spectators said the parade of one of the best places to celebrate Indian independence.
"You don't find another India Day Parade like the one in New York," said an onlooker. "I did parades in Edison, N.J. and Jersey City yesterday. It's not the same vibe over there that you get in New York."
"It's bigger than anywhere else in the world," said another.
"It's the day we got independence after we were struggling for so many years, so it's special for all Indians," said a third.
This came as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India marked India's Independence Day by calling for an end to violent protests in the disputed Kashmir region, which is divided between India and Pakistan but claimed by both.
Singh invited rebels to hold talks with the Indian government, following a two-month long series of protests and clashes in Kashmir which have killed at least 57 people.
Peace talks between India and Pakistan resumed last month, after breaking off following the 2008 terror attack on Mumbai.