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N.Y. Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar Introduces Bill to Establish Diwali as School Holiday

N.Y. Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar Introduces Bill to Establish Diwali as School Holiday

  • A similar bill launched in the New York State Senate by Sen. Kevin Thomas gives districts the ability to close on six additional religious holidays.

New York Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar has introduced a bill in the assembly to establish Diwali as a school holiday. According to the bill, Diwali would be observed in school districts with significant populations that celebrate Diwali and honor the cultural heritage of hundreds of thousands of South Asian New Yorkers.

“As the first Hindu-American and South Asian-American woman elected to state office in New York, I take special pride in advocating for new American communities, including those that celebrate Diwali,” Rajkumar said. “The South Asian, Indo-Caribbean, Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist communities are a vital part of our city’s gorgeous mosaic, contributing to every sector of our society,” she said. “It is long past time to honor their vibrant cultural heritage by making Diwali a school holiday, as community leaders have advocated for years. The time has come.”

A similar bill (S151) was introduced in the New York State Senate by Sen. Kevin Thomas. Thomas, the first Indian American  is sponsoring a bill to give districts the ability to close on six additional religious holidays — two Islamic, two Hindu, one Sikh and Christian Good Friday. New York City schools already close on the Lunar New Year and Islamic Eid al-Fitr. Some Long Island schools have already added Diwali to their calendar.

Rajkumar has the support of many elected officials, community organizations and religious leaders including  Brooklyn Borough President and candidate for New York mayor Eric Adams, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte, Assemblyman David Weprin, Assemblywoman Nathalia Fernandez and Councilman Justin Brannan. “I am a proud co-sponsor,” Weprin told QNS. “The time has come to make Diwali a school holiday in New York City for the vibrant South Asian and Indo-Caribbean communities.”

Adams took to Twitter to express his support for the Diwali legislation. “It is long past time we show respect to hundreds of thousands of South Asian NYers & give this family festival of lights the shine & recognition it deserves. We came together to uplift Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Fitr, & Lunar New Year, and Diwali must be next.”

Brannan tweeted his support as well. “Thank you @JeniferRajkumar! I’m proud to support @Dromm25 call for NYC to recognize #Diwali as a public school holiday. Let’s get it done!”

Meanwhile, Hindu American Foundation issued a statement in support of the legislation.“We urge the New York legislature to pass this measure and likewise urge the Governor to sign it into law,” the organization said in a statement. “The Hindu American community in New York City and across the Empire State have been asking the state to recognize us and our holidays so that our families and our children can celebrate our faith.”

CoHNA (Coalition of Hindus of North America) tweeted: “NY residents, join our campaign to declare #Diwali as a school holiday in NYC. While NYC has religious holidays for other major religions, Diwali doesn’t enjoy the same status.”

Since the early 2000s, community and faith leaders have called for New York to recognize Diwali as a school holiday. In 2013, Council member Daniel Dromm introduced a bill to recognize Diwali in the city Council in July, along with 15 council members who co-sponsored it. 

In 2019, Dromm issued a resolution calling on the city Department of Education to establish Diwali as a school holiday. “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.”

The long fight to recognize the holiday intensified after Mayor Bill de Blasio proclaimed he wouldn’t add any more school holidays to the academic calendar. In 2015, de Blasio announced school holidays for the Muslim holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha as well as for the Asian Lunar New Year following years of advocacy. The city also recognizes Christian and Jewish holidays, including Christmas, Passover, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. At the time, the mayor said he only made campaign promises to create the Lunar New Year and Muslim holidays and would not recognize any more for city schools. He cited a state requirement of 180 days of instruction, but the move upset South Asians who wanted a school holiday for one of the most important festivals of their calendar; activists formed the Diwali Coalition of New York City to push for change.

In 2016, the U.S. Postal Service launched a Diwali stamp, capping seven-year-long efforts by Indian Americans and influential American lawmakers to commemorate the festival of lights

The stamp shows a photo of a traditional ‘diya’ lit against a sparkling gold background and the words ‘Forever USA 2016’ written below. 

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