The Mayor and several New York City and New York State elected officials held a press conference on June 26 morning on the rotunda of City Hall to announce that Diwali is now an official holiday in the city. Dr. Dhanpaul Narine was there and provided coverage for the West Indian, a monthly publication focusing on the Indo-Caribbean community in America. As politicians noted, Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists across the world celebrate the festival known as the “Festival of Lights”. Hundreds of thousands of adherents of those faiths are settled in NY. It is the largest festival for those groups. Their community leaders and their representatives in the city and state legislatures lobbied for a holiday as a recognition of their festival.
The religious festivals of almost every religious group, Christians, Jews, and Muslims are recognized in the city and state except Hindus and the others noted above. They get school holidays.
The newly elected mayor had promised to grant a school holiday if elected. State Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, a Hindu, also committed to doing everything possible to get a holiday for Hindus. The Mayor acted and Rajkumar introduced a bill in the assembly. It was approved by her colleagues in both chambers of the State legislature. Everyone cheered including the Chancellor of the Department of Education and President of the Boro of Queens where hundreds of thousands of Hindus live.
The Mayor commented: “I’m proud that the State Assembly and the State Senate have passed the bill making Diwali a New York City Public School holiday. And we feel confident that the governor is going to sign this bill into law,” the Mayor said. “This is a victory, not only for the men and women of the Indian community and all communities that celebrate Diwali, but it’s a victory for New York. New York continues to lead the way.”
As Dr. Narine reported, in a discussion with guests at the press conference, the mayor was reported as saying, “I’m so proud to have stood with (Assemblymember) Jenifer Rajkumar and community leaders like Romeo Hitlall and others, in the fight to make Diwali a school holiday. I know it’s a little early in the year, but Shubh Diwali!”.
The Mayor added: “This is a city that’s continuously changing, continuously welcoming communities from all over the world. The school calendar must reflect the new reality on the ground. It cannot reflect the absence of those who are not being acknowledged. And we do it within the restraints of having a calendar that we must respect by law and we will continue to do so. The reality of the diverse communities that makes us who we are”.
The mayor acknowledged and praised the work of Rajkumar saying she fought for this. Rajkumar is the first and only Hindu to be elected in New York. She commented: “I am a proud New Yorker and a proud Ameri-can. The great Shirley Chisholm was the first Black woman to serve in the United States Congress. The first Black woman to run for president. She once was a State Assemblywoman also. And she said, ‘If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair’”.
Diwali is a festival celebrated for five or six days, typically between mid-October and mid-November. This year, the main festival falls on a Sunday, November 12, and would not affect the school calendar but next year it falls on a weekday. Schools will be closed and alternate sides parking will be suspended.