Feb. 20, 2023 By Carlotta Mohamed
The City Council on Thursday, Feb. 16 voted to pass Councilwoman Linda Lee’s resolution to call upon the NYC Department of Education to establish Diwali as an official holiday for public school students.
“In recognition of the 1.1 million Asian American Pacific Islanders who call New York City home, it is my honor and privilege to pass Resolution 164 to require New York City Schools to recognize Diwali as a holiday,” said Lee, vice co-chair of the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus. “We cannot fully appreciate the great diversity of culture and beauty of our city when one-fifth of our public school students are ultimately forced to make a painful choice between attending school and celebrating their traditions at home with family.”
Lee added that she hope’s the resolution will allow children to partake in their celebrations in ways that previous generations of South Asian and Indo-Caribbean New Yorkers could not.
Diwali, commonly known as the Festival of Lights, is a significant five-day festival across South Asia that signifies the triumph of light over darkness, and good over evil.
There is a diversity of the many practices of Diwali amongst the South Asian community. Hindus in certain regions of India celebrate Diwali as the New Year, while Sikh Diwali coincides with Bandi Chhor Divas, the revered sixth Guru who was released from captivity. For Jains, Diwali marks the anniversary of the attainment of moksha or liberation, and Buddhists celebrate Diwali to commemorate the day King Ashok converted to Buddhism. New York City has previously acknowledged the significance of Diwali by suspending alternate-side parking rules on Lakshmi Puja, the third day of the holiday.
According to the 2015-2019 American Community Survey, there were about 227,374 New York City residents who identify themselves as Asian Indian, of which many are adherents of Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, or Buddhism. Currently, Chancellor’s Regulation A-630, puts forth guidelines regarding the provision of reasonable accommodations for religious observance and practices for public school students.
These accommodations include excused absences for religious observance outside of school grounds, as well as in-school provisions such as time for praying or sitting separately in the cafeteria during periods in which a student may fast. Despite these regulations and the large population of students celebrating, Diwali has still not been recognized as a school holiday, leaving parents and advocates across the city concerned that students who celebrate are left at a disadvantage to their peers when choosing between honoring the holiday and attending class.
Lee’s resolution complements the legislation on the state level that will repeal Anniversary Day, and allow Diwali to be dedicated as a school holiday. These bills (S02075/A00628) were introduced by Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr. and Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, the first South Asian-American woman ever elected to state office in New York.
Rajkumar thanked the City Council for supporting her bill to designate Diwali as a public school holiday in New York City.
“After over 20 years of advocacy, the time has come to recognize over 200,000 New Yorkers of the Hindu, Sikh, Jain, and Buddhist faiths. Thank you to Speaker Adrienne Adams for her leadership and Councilwoman Linda Lee for passing this resolution,” Rajkumar said. “The support of the City Council will add to the overwhelming momentum from New Yorkers of every background to pass A628 this year. Our Councilmembers have sent the message today that we see and celebrate New York City’s South Asian and Indo-Caribbean communities, and we will afford them the accommodations we give to everyone in our diverse city.”
Over the past three years, the AAPI community witnessed a rise in harassment and violence, with a 361% increase noted from early 2020 to December 2021 in New York City alone. This reality has permeated a sense of fear throughout the entire AAPI community. The acknowledgment of Diwali as a school holiday will serve as a way to celebrate and educate others about the great diversity of faith and culture in New York City.
District 31 Leader Richard David, a member the Diwali Coalition of NYC, hailed the council for passing the resolution while also calling on Mayor Eric Adams to fulfill his promise of making Diwali an official public school holiday.