NEW YORK (TIP): Council Member Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights, Elmhurst), along with several elected officials and community members, are demanding that the Department of Education designate the Hindu, Jain, Buddhist and Sikh holiday of Diwali as an official day off for public school students. “There are tens of thousands of public school students in New York City who celebrate Diwali,” CM Dromm said. “These students must pick between attending class or spending the day with their families, while students in the Christian and Jewish faiths do not have to make this decision when they celebrate holidays like Rosh Hashana and Christmas. There shouldn’t be this discrepancy. I urge the Department of Education to recognize this important holiday called Diwali.” “I would like to wish all New Yorkers a safe and happy Diwali,” state Senator Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) said. “With the South Asian population growing quickly in my district and across the city, more and more parents unfortunately have to make the tough choice between celebrating an important holiday or sending their children to school.
I urge the City Council to strongly consider Council Member Dromm’s resolution to designate Diwali as a public school holiday. As New Yorkers and Americans what makes us special is our commitment to respecting new customs and I hope that the Council can follow through on this commitment for the over 200,000 Diwali celebrants that live in our great city.” “Diwali is one of our community’s key celebrations, and is deserving of the same respect from our school system as other religious days,” Assembly Member Michael Den Dekker (D-Jackson Heights) said. CM Dromm introduced a resolution to the City Council on July 24. Since then, 15 Council Members have signed on as cosponsors and several state elected officials have voiced their support. Diwali or Deepavali, known as the festival of lights, wherein millions of celebrants worldwide light lanterns to symbolize inner light to dispel ignorance and darkness, is a five-day festival that begins on the 13th day of the Hindu month of Kartik. It is the most important festival on the Hindu calendar.
For Sikhs, Diwali is the day the Mughal Emperor released Hargobind, the revered sixth Guru, from captivity. For Jains, Diwali marks the anniversary of the attainment of moksha, or liberation, by Mahavira, who was the last of the Tirthankaras, or the great teachers of Jain dharma. Some Buddhists celebrate Diwali to commemorate the day King Ashok converted to Buddhism. According to the Census Bureau’s 2011 American Community Survey, there were 207,414 New York City residents who identify themselves as Asian Indian, of which many are adherents of Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism or Buddhism. Despite the large number of Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists in New York City, Diwali is not recognized as a school holiday in the city’s public school system. The DOE closes for Christmas, Rosh Hashanah and Easter. Those who celebrate Diwali should be given the same respect. “To me, Diwali’s message of ‘Light over Darkness’ means eliminating ignorance and discrimination of every kind. Diwali’s row of diyas is very significant. It is the row of diyas, their unity and unified light that beats the darkness – not one diya alone. Its togetherness – Diwali’s hidden message of necessary unity,” said Ranju Batra, Chair of the Diwali Stamp Project and President of Association of
Indians in America-NY 2011-2013. “I celebrate Council Member Daniel Dromm and his Diwali School Holiday Resolution, and ask all good people to support it.” “Danny Dromm’s Diwali School Holiday Resolution 1863 is an American landmark to be achieved on the road to forming ‘ . . . a more perfect union.’ It is E Pluribus Unum in action. I call upon Mayor Bloomberg or the next Mayor to have the DOE observe Diwali as a school holiday, so that New York City’s principled action is followed across our land, in every town and city across America, and ‘equal protection of the law’ becomes a sweet reality. Danny Dromm is an American hero,” said Ravi Batra, attorney and chair of National Advisory Council on South Asian Affairs. “Chhaya CDC is very happy to support these efforts to make Diwali an official holiday in the city’s public schools,” said Seema Agnani, Executive Director at Chhaya CDC. “This is one of the more important holidays that is celebrated by millions across the globe. Chhaya also closes its doors on this day to mark the occasion so staff can celebrate with their families and friends. We are so lucky to have so much diversity in New York City and making Diwali an official holiday will serve to increase awareness about the communities here that celebrate the holiday.” The federal government has slowly given the important holiday more respect.
In 2007, the United States House of Representatives passed a resolution recognizing the religious and historical significance of Diwali, and since 2009, the White House has held an annual Diwali celebration. The United States Postal Service has recently decided it will issue a Diwali commemorative stamp. On the city level the significance of Diwali is acknowledged by suspending alternate side parking rules on Lakshmi Puja, the third and most important day of the holiday. For years the Muslim community has petitioned that the important holidays of Eid Al Adha and Eid Al Fitr be a day off for public school students, but in 2009 a City Council approved resolution was not signed by Mayor Bloomberg. This year Diwali will be celebrated on Sunday, Nov. 3. Next year, the day falls on Oct. 23, a Thursday, and in 2015 on Wednesday, Nov. 11. In Jackson Heights, the community celebrated Diwali last Sunday on 74th Street, the heart of Little India in New York City. Council Members Inez Dickens, Charles Barron, Margaret Chin, Leroy Comrie, Vincent Gentile, Letitia James, Peter Koo, Karen Koslowitz, Rosie Mendez, Annabel Palma, Donovan Richards, Deborah Rose, Ydanis Rodriguez and Daniel Halloran support the resolution.