DUBAI // Hundreds of Indian expatriates gathered at the consulate in Dubai and the embassy in Abu Dhabi on the 65th anniversary of India's independence yesterday to watch their country's flag unfurl and to hear a reading of their new president's first address to the nation.
Construction workers, security guards, taxi drivers and professionals took time off from work at 8am to hear excerpts of a speech from the 13th president, Pranab Mukherjee, and listen to singers perform patriotic songs from Bollywood movies.
"I have come from Sonapur to celebrate our independence day," said Umashankar Singh, a construction worker who was carrying an Indian flag with him. "I wanted to see the programmes and be a part of this."
For Sasidharan, a security guard, the celebration brought back memories.
"When I was at home, I always went to a school or a public event to watch the flag-raising ceremony on August 15. I came here to see this."
Sasidharan came to the event with a group of 20 friends, mostly security guards, from the Al Quoz labour camp.
"Our company bus brought us," said Karmegham, who had come with the group. "We were a little late and missed the flag hoisting. I will try and reach early next year."
In his speech on the eve of independence day, Mr Mukherjee, who took office last month, said India's minorities "need solace, understanding and protection from aggression" after the recent ethnic violence in Assam between the indigenous Bodo tribes and Muslim settlers, in which more than 70 died.
"Violence is not an option. Violence is an invitation to greater violence. We need peace for a new economic surge that eliminates the competitive causes of violence."
Mr Mukherjee said the country's anger towards corruption was justified, but urged people not to attack democratic establishments.
"Anger against the bitter pandemic of corruption is legitimate, as is the protest against this plague that is eroding the capability and potential of our nation. There are times when people lose their patience, but it cannot become an excuse for an assault on our democratic institutions."
Sanjay Verma, the Indian consul general, told the gathered expatriates that their contribution was to two countries: "All of you in the UAE are part of a great experiment. You are helping build India and the UAE with your professionalism."
He said the Indian associations across the emirates also had an important role to play.
"Indian associations are being insurance agents by helping the community's welfare. Their duty towards the community is not just celebrating festivals, but they rise to the occasion when circumstances demand. The best for India is yet to come."
The Indian flag was hoisted at Indian missions across the UAE.
India's celebrations come a day after neighbouring Pakistan - with whom India shares a strained relationship - observed its national day. Pakistani expatriates in the UAE also gathered to commemorate their independence at their missions on Tuesday.