In an attempt to better recognize New York’s South Asian community, City Councilmember Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, East Elmhurst) this week called on the Department of Education (DOE) to close public schools during Diwali.
Diwali, a new year festival that commemorates the victory of good over evil, is the most important Hindu holiday. Sikhs, Jains, and some Buddhists also observe it. Major celebrations occur not only in India, but also in Nepal and Caribbean countries with large South Asian diasporic communities, such as Trinidad.
“Currently, New York City public schools are closed on several religious holidays for Christians, Jews and Muslims. However, despite the large number of Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists living in NYC, Diwali is not currently recognized as a school holiday in the City’s public school system,” said Dromm.
“While Chancellor’s Regulations allow excused absences for religious observances, no one should have to choose between celebrating an important holiday or being absent from school, which can result in observant students falling behind their peers. NYC must follow the other districts that have adopted Diwali into their school holiday calendars, including Passaic and South Brunswick in New Jersey, and Syosset in Long Island. In NYC, the most diverse city in the United States, inclusion and acceptance of all cultures are central values, and the incorporation of Diwali as a public school holiday would serve as an important embodiment of this inclusion,” he added.
City Councilmember Carlina Rivera (D-East Village, Gramercy Park, Kips Bay, Lower East Side, Murray Hill, Rose Hill) expressed similar sentiments and implied that the holiday’s themes are particularly relevant in the Trump era.
“Children should not be put in a position where they are forced to choose between celebrating a deeply meaningful holiday with their family and attending school. And with more than a billion celebrants, Diwali is one of the largest religious observances worldwide, as well as a cultural holiday for many South Asians regardless of religious background,” said Rivera.
“We are calling for Diwali to be recognized as a school holiday because now more than ever it is imperative that we honor holidays like this that commemorate and celebrate the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness.”
Sudha Acharya, Executive Director of the South Asian Council for Social Services, welcomed Dromm’s proposal. “There are so many Indian, Nepali, and Indo-Caribbean students here. I think it makes sense for it to be recognized,” she told this reporter.
This will be so good for the children who go to school to know that their culture, their religion, is also recognized.”
City Councilmember Justin Brannan (D-Bay Ridge) agreed, recalling his successful efforts to get the DOE to recognize Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. “I was proud to be a part of the coalition that fought to have New York become the nation’s first major city to close its public schools in observance of the two most sacred Muslim holy days. Now it’s time to add Diwali, the most important Hindu holiday,” he said. “
“The festival of lights is celebrated by more than 200,000 people of South Asian and Indo-Caribbean descent in New York City. If the DOE is truly committed to equality and respect for families and children of all faiths, they will get this done,” he added.