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Indian Consul General Dr Aman Puri unfurls the Indian flag at the Consulate General in Dubai to mark the 74th Independence Day. Image Credit:

Dubai: Celebrations in the UAE for the 74th Indian Independence Day (August 15) began with functions at the Indian missions in the UAE, while following social distancing norms because of COVID-19.

Indians represent the biggest expat group in the UAE, with around 3 million of them living and working in the Emirates. This year, no large gatherings were held at Indian schools and associations that normally host Independence Day celebrations with patriotic speeches, cultural shows, decorations, and refreshments.

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Staff only

Only staff at the Indian consulate in Dubai and Indian embassy in Abu Dhabi were present for the celebrations because of social distancing in light of COVID-19. However, the proceedings were shown live on the missions’ social media channels.

Attendees, wearing colourful traditional attire, looked on as proceedings began, spacing themselves adequately under the measures.

In a ceremony, Dr Aman Puri, Consul General of India to Dubai and Northern Emirates, raised the Indian flag at the consulate at 7.30am as the national anthem played. Saturday’s line up included a reading of the Independence Day eve message from the Indian President Ram Nath Kovind and a brief cultural programme.

Similar celebrations and ceremonies were held shortly afterwards at the Indian embassy, led by ambassador Pavan Kapoor, at 8.30am.

‘Nation’s heroes’

In the president’s message, read out by Dr Puri and Kapoor, Kovind praised “Corona Warriors” in India and emphasised with daily-wagers who are “worst-hit” by the pandemic.

“The nation is indebted to doctors, nurses and other health workers who have been continuously on the forefront of our fight against this virus. Unfortunately, many of them have lost their lives battling the pandemic. They are our national heroes. All Corona Warriors deserve high praise,” the message read.

Similar praises came from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his Independence Day address at Red Fort in the capital New Delhi.

At the Indian embassy in Abu Dhabi, a minute’s silence was held for the victims of the Dubai- Kozhikode Air India Express flight crash on August 7.

Following the remembrance, Ambassador Kapoor also thanked community members and mission staff for supporting efforts in the treatment and care of COVID-19 patients in the UAE as well as the repatriation of over 325,000 Indians from the UAE over the past three months.

‘Air bubble’

“I also want to thank the UAE government and the health authorities for the support they have provided us in making this effort successful… Now we’re at a stage where we have got an air bubble between India and the UAE and now tickets can be booked by anyone who is wanting to go [to India] and the facilities for people have been made simpler. The number of people who are able to go are also much more,” Kapoor said.

“In the middle, we had also faced problems of many our Indians stuck in India whose family members were here [in the UAE] and they were wanting to come back, but there were still restrictions on them. We worked with the UAE authorities and the UAE government to ensure this was possible… With this air bubble we’ve got opened up more of two-way traffic, so all Indians with any valid visa for the UAE can now come back and reunite with their families or get on with their livelihood here.”

‘Bilateral momentum’

Kapoor said India has kept up with “bilateral momentum” with the UAE “even in these times” of the COVID-19 fallout.

He pointed to India’s sending of medicine and over 400 health workers to the UAE and “the nice help” from the UAE to India in the form of medical assistance, masks, and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).

There has also been “communication at the highest level” between the two sides, including a June 8 meeting of the two countries’ foreign ministers, who are again meeting on Monday, Kapoor said.

He also mentioned that momentum in the sports sector continues with the UAE to host the IPL cricket tournament because of the restrictions in India.

“We’re looking at new ways in cooperation with the UAE even in these times as we take along our bilateral agenda.”

‘Strong partners’

At the consulate in Dubai, Dr Puri thanked the UAE for its solidarity in the “unprecedented crisis” of the pandemic and as well as for its support in the repatriation of stranded Indians.

“India and the UAE are strong partners which is also being seen in these times of unprecedented crisis. I would like to take this opportunity to extend my gratitude to the UAE leadership and all UAE authorities to support Government of India’s efforts in the repatriation of stranded nationals,” Dr Puri said.

He added, “Going forward, we hope and wish that the Indian community continues to play a significant and strong role in improving India-UAE relationship… and continues to be strength for India in every way…”

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Indian Consulate General staff during the Independence Day celerbations in Dubai

Tributes and salutes

In statements on the occasion, prominent Indian expats in the UAE also paid tributes to healthcare professionals fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr Azad Moopen, Founder Chairman and Managing Director, Aster DM Healthcare, said, “As this year’s celebrations for the Independence Day is subdued due to the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, which is on an upward surge in the country, I salute the doctors, nurses and support staff, who are the frontline soldiers in this war against the sinister monster.”

Joy Alukkas, Chairman and Managing Director, Joyalukkas Group, said, “Today, our country is fighting a big war against the pandemic. It is the responsibility of each and every Indian to stand together and ensure that all required care is taken to prevent the spread of this virus.”