A march by Empowered Women in Saree during India’s Independence Day celebration in Minnesota (USA)

Empowered Women in Saree added a festive and colorful flavor to the IndiaFest and celebration of India’s Independence Day in Minnesota

Empowered Women in Saree added a festive and colorful flavor to the IndiaFest and celebration of India’s Independence Day in Minnesota
Empowered Women in Saree added a festive and colorful flavor to the IndiaFest and celebration of India’s Independence Day in Minnesota

Minnesota celebrates India’s Independence Day

India’s Independence Day lives in the hearts of Indians everywhere including over 50,000 in Minnesota not being an exception. Minnesota celebrated India’s Independence Day on the State’s Capitol grounds which was buzzing with about one hundred stalls. These stalls included NGOs, local businesses promoting products for NRIs, regional cultural associations, Indian vendors promoting their products, and stalls with ethnic food like Samosa and Chaat to Desi style Pizza and Pasta.

An unprecedented addition to this year’s IndiaFest on the Capitol grounds was a march by the Empowered Women in Saree (e-WinS). It was conceived and coordinated by an NGO, Vidya Gyan, which supports government schools in rural areas of Uttar Pradesh. Coincidentally a direct connection to Vidya Gyan’s e-WinS is with India’s current President Smt. Droupadi Murmu, an empowered woman always in “Saree” herself.

On the eve of India’s Independence Day, President Murmu in her address to the nation recalled sacrifices and contributions by many women in India. She went on to duly emphasize the economic empowerment of women stating, “Economic empowerment strengthens the position of women in the family and society. I urge all fellow citizens to give priority to women’s empowerment…”[1]

While Vidya Gyan Board’s imagination for the march by e-WinS was running wild, who would have thought about the pleasant coincidence that President Murmu will make women empowerment a part of her Independence Day address to the nation.

Empowered Women in Saree marching
Empowered Women in Saree marching

For Vidya Gyan, the primary objective of e-WinS was to raise awareness about the inequities in girls’ education in rural India. It promoted Vidya Gyan’s motto, Every Child Matters, particularly, to bridge the gender gap in education. It has been Vidya Gyan’s experience that girls’ education in rural areas is still a lower priority but getting better in New India.

Over the years, Vidya Gyan has adopted “Beti Padhao” as its core theme to emphasize girls’ education and empowerment. Accordingly, Vidya Gyan has enabled e-learning in government schools including two computer labs and more than a dozen schools with smart TVs. It has also incentivized savings accounts for girls (Sukanya Samridhi Yojana), distributed over 60,000 notebooks in six years to focus on writing, gave children’s storybooks for reading, and donated classroom furniture in more than twenty schools for uplifting the kids’ morale.

Vidya Gyan booth and its volunteers
Vidya Gyan booth and its volunteers

The e-WinS also offered a window to highlight India’s diversity in unity with Saree as a lens. The vibrant colors and different fabrics/ designs of sarees from all parts of India were a considerable center of attraction for many women. It was an opportunity to promote the iconic Saree as a symbol of women’s beauty and grace. More than half a dozen Empowered Women in Saree taught and tied saree on other women, an incredible first experience of wearing the saree.

Many women of all ages in saree for the first time took a stroll in the IndiaFest with a saree color and pattern of their choice. Upon return, they shared their unique experiences and compliments of looking beautiful. These women in saree helped Vidya Gyan’s cause by distributing the bookmarks to raise awareness about inequities in girls’ education. One thing that was most popular was the decorated photo frame to capture the images for lasting memories.

Two enthusiastic young students in saree for the first time
Two enthusiastic young students in saree for the first time

The Empowered Women in Saree was also a celebration of women deities, Goddess Saraswati, Lakshmi, and Durga, the respective symbols of education, prosperity, and power. The education leads to both prosperity and empowerment. Vidya Gyan wanted to distinguish the Women in Saree from women in other attires to seek greater attention for the empowerment of young girls through education.

NRI women in Minnesota, not at the exclusion of other women anywhere, are already empowered because they are generally well-educated professionals in their own right. Vidya Gyan wanted the e-WinS to be the distinguished agents of making the statement, “ Education is Empowering.”

While beauty may be subjective in the eyes of the beholder, the author believes that a ‘Woman in Saree’ stands out as a symbol of grace and beauty, unlike any other attire. Wearing a 5-6 meters long saree is no easy task which symbolizes women’s patience and nuanced dexterity. The age-old saree reminds us of our female ancestors’ strength in conducting daily household chores and managing the saree at the same time. Today’s sad truth is that colorful sarees, as women’s attire of grace and beauty, are losing market and momentum in the wake of contemporary influences.

It may not be an overstatement that the Capitol grounds were transformed into mini-India with an estimated 25,000 women, men, and children enjoying the IndiaFest. Everyone appeared upbeat with a variety of food, shopping experience, and exposure to India’s mysticism, diversity, heritage, and culture.

Two Caucasian women experiencing saree for the first time
Two Caucasian women experiencing saree for the first time

It was an opportunity for the NGOs to promote their causes and aspirations of improving education, health, and/ or overall development in India. Other NGOs were highlighting what they do for preserving and promoting Indian culture and heritage among children of immigrants and resident NRIs.

This year’s IndiaFest was also a celebration of 50 years of its parent organization- the India Association of Minnesota. Traditionally, the IndiaFest organizes a parade to include all organizations with their banners which culminates in the flag hoisting and national anthem of India and the United States facing the Capitol dome.

The IndiaFest included organizations like the Agarwal Samaj of Minnesota, the Hindu Society of Minnesota, and RGK Dance Academy, just to name a few. The author has direct ties to Vidya Gyan and these organizations. Vidya Gyan was pleased to have collaborated with and cooperation with these organizations for promoting and participating in the e-WinS march.

The IndiaFest with a crowd of nearly 25,000 may not be as mesmerizing as the tricolor being hoisted at India’s Red Fort but the flag hoisting on the Minnesota State Capitol grounds made it historic. India’s diversity mixed with multi-ethnic Minnesotans brought a global flavor to it. The march by the graceful women in colorful sarees added a new dimension. The buzz about Beti Padhao as the first step toward women’s economic empowerment was well-received. It was a formidable experience when the empowered women raised slogans of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao and Vande Mataram.

Overall, the Empowered Women in Saree added a festive and colorful flavor to the IndiaFest and celebration of India’s Independence Day in Minnesota.

1. Text in Blue points to additional data on the topic.
2. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.


[1] President Droupadi Murmu’s address to the nation on eve of 77th Independence Day: Full speechAug 14, 2023, MSN

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Vijendra Agarwal, born in village Kota (Saharanpur, U.P), left India in 1973 after Ph.D. (Physics) from IIT Roorkee. He is currently a member of project GNARUS, a syndicated service and writers collective. He and his wife co-founded a US-based NGO, Vidya Gyan, to serve rural India toward better education and health of children, especially empowerment of girls. Vidya Gyan is a calling to give back to rural communities and keeping connected to his roots which gave him so much more. His passion for writing includes the interface of policy, politics, and people, and social/cultural activities promoting community engagement.

Formerly, a researcher in Italy, Japan, and France, he has widely travelled and came to the US in 1978. He was a faculty and academic administrator in several different universities in PA, TX, NJ, MN, WI, and NY, and an Executive Fellow in the White House S&T Policy during the Clinton administration.
Vijendra Agarwal


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