The New York chapter of the Association of Indians in America (AIA), which is touted as one of the oldest national association of people of Indian origin in the US, successfully held its annual benefit gala and 35th Diwali celebrations on Sunday. The celebrated event brings together people from across the NY tri-state area, upstate NY and neighbouring states, who are treated to festivities of the day.

Harish Thakkar, President of AIA-NY, welcomed the community members joining for the annual benefit gala and Deepavali celebrations. He said the event has manifested into an experience, which not only the Indian community enjoys but one that the city's diverse population has come to appreciate. Thakkar, who was unanimously re-elected as AIA president last year, at the helm of the association led many events last year including COVID help projects, distribution of groceries to needy families and face masks to Jamaica hospital and more. Thakkar said the success of this year's Diwali event is a result of several months of tireless hardwork, commitment and dedication by AIA members.

AIA's 2022 honourees

On the occasion, AIA-NY used the platform to honour the remarkable community service by some noted individuals from various fields, who are joined by their humanitarian efforts towards people. The Association of Indians in America honoured Prem Bhandari, RANA president and chairman of Jaipur Foot USA, for his outstanding community service.

Prem Bhandari, Arvind Bhandari
Arvind Bhandari and Prem Bhandari (R to L)

Dr Samin Sharma, noted interventional cardiologist and co-founder of Eternal Heart Care Centre and Research Institute in Jaipur, gave Prem Bhandari a glowing introduction. He recognised Bhandari's instrumental role in easing arbitrary travel restrictions for OCI and T-visa holders, helping NRIs during their hardships and more.

Prem Bhandari receiving AIA-NY honour
Prem Bhandari receiving AIA-NY honour (Dr Samin Sharma in frame)

Dr Samin Sharma, himself has done some remarkable work during his extinguished career. He has many awards and accolades to his name and is on the Chairman Board of Trustees in AIA. Sharma is a Senior VP of Operations & Quality at the Mount Sinai Hospital in NY and also runs Dr Samin K Sharma Family Foundation Cardiac Catheterisation Laboratory.

Few weeks ago, at an international convention of Rajasthani doctors in US and Canada, Dr Sharma praised Bhandari's philanthropic work, including his work during COVID and through Jaipur Foot and rescuing people in distress globally. Prem Bhandari is the chairman and founding member REDIO (Rescuing Every Distressed Indians Overseas) and Dr Dnyaneshwar Mulay (IFS '83), who is the NHRC human rights commission member, is the founder and chief patron of REDIO in the US.

As the chairman of Jaipur Foot USA and under the leadership of Padma Bhushan D.R. Mehta, Bhandari said that over 2 million differently-abled people have received artificial limbs across 36 countries. From helping people with visa issues to aiding them in trying times like COVID, Bhandari, who is also the Board of Trustee AIAI, has shown his enthusiasm for community service.

Dr Shashi Shah, Dr Rekha Bhandari, Prem Bhandari, Dr Samin Sharma, Harish Thakkar

Speaking to IBTimes, Bhandari said he dedicates the award to BMVSS (Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti) founder Padma Bhushan D.R. Mehta.

Dr Sharma also congratulated other honourees of AIA-NY, including Dr Jatin Shah, Dr Prakash Krishnan, Dr Buddhadev Manvar, Dr Pratichi Goenka for their outstanding contribution to the community. 

Dr Shashi Shah, who is on the AIA Board of Trustees and served as the former president of RANA, was also present at the event and presented the award to Bhandari and other honourees.

Dr Rekha Bhandari, Prem Bhandari, Mrs Jatin Shah, Dr Jatin Shah, Arvind Bhandari
In pic (L to R): Dr Rekha Bhandari, Prem Bhandari, Mrs Jatin Shah, Dr Jatin Shah, Arvind Bhandari

Here's a brief glance at the AIA-NY honourees.

Dr Jatin Shah

Dr Jatin Shah, M.D, holds The Elliott W. Strong Chair in Head and Neck Oncology, and chaired the department of Head and Neck Surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), for 23 years, which is a reputed hospital having treated notable personalities like Arun Jaitley and Sonia Gandhi among others. He is a professor of Surgery at Cornell University Medical College, in New York and globally recognised in the field of ENT.

In addition to his superlative patient care activities, Dr Shah is an international leader in the field of head and neck surgery. He has served as president of The New York Cancer Society, The New York Head and Neck Society, The Society of Head and Neck Surgeons, The North American Skull Base Society and the International Academy of Oral Oncology. He has received many awards, and published hundreds of peer-reviewed articles, which have been widely cited across the world.

Dr Prakash Krishnan

Dr Prakash Krishnan is the System Director of Endovascular Services (Cardiology) at Mount Sinai Hospital. With an experience of over 25 years, his expertise lies in Peripheral Artery Disease, Angioplasty, Varicose Veins, and Arterial Insufficiency.

Dr Buddhadev Manvar

Dr Buddhadev Manvar has been a practising cardiologist in Brooklyn for the past forty years. He has been affiliated with multiple teaching hospitals in Brooklyn and currently serves as a senior attending in the Department of Cardiology at the Brooklyn Hospital Center and Methodist Hospital. He is academically affiliated with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital. He has been associated with AIA for 35 years, something he is quite proud of.

Dr Pratichi Goenka

Dr Pratichi Goenka is a pediatric hospitalist at Cohen Children's Medical Center and has held many leadership positions, including Associate Medical Director of Inpatient Unit, co-chair of Paediatric Clinical Effectiveness Committee and director of Health Equity, Diversity and inclusion paediatric residence curriculum.

Zoya Agarwal

Captain Zoya Agarwal is the first Indian commercial pilot who flew for Air India. She led an all-woman crew from San Francisco to Bengaluru, one of the longest non-stop air routes in the world. Adding to her fame, she became the first female Indian pilot to fly above the North Pole as she covered a distance of around 16,000 km.


Founded on August 20, 1967, after the United States Congress passed the 1965-66 Immigration Act repealing the Asian Exclusion Act of 1917, the AIA adopted its constitution in 1970 and was incorporated in 1971. Since 1973, it has enjoyed tax-exempt status. Since 1987, AIA celebrated Deepavali at South Street Seaport on a grand scale, attracting 100,000 people before the COVID pandemic.

AIA's objectives include promoting the welfare of 'Asian Indians' (the term used in the U.S. Census for people of Indian origin) in the U.S. and addressing issues of integration with mainstream America. It also aims to promote the image of India in the U.S. by showing its rich culture and traditions through various events.

AIA has honoured many people since its inception in 1967, five of whom have also received the prestigious Noble Prize, including Amartya Sen.