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State passes Queens lawmaker’s bill to designate Diwali as a New York City public school holiday

Jun. 13, 2023 By Carlotta Mohamed

The state legislature on June 11 passed a bill to designate Diwali, the Festival of Lights, as a New York City public school holiday.

Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, who introduced the bill, A.7769, said it was the “final victory” in a fight spanning over two decades for Diwali, one of the holiest days of the year for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, to become a school holiday. 

“Tonight our legislature says to hundreds of thousands of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, and Jain Americans across the State, ‘We see you. Tonight we say to New Yorkers from India, Guyana, Trinidad, Nepal, and Bangladesh, ‘We recognize you,’” Rajkumar said. “From now on, the largest school jurisdiction in the entire country will recognize the Diwali school holiday. Tonight we proudly say that Diwali is an American holiday—and that the South Asian community is part of the American story.”

Diwali is a celebration of light over darkness and good over evil. Originating in South Asia, it is one of the most sacred days of the year for over 200,000 Hindu, Sikh, Jain, and Buddhist New Yorkers. The day is marked by huge celebrations in New York’s South Asian and Indo-Caribbean communities, including Richmond Hill in the Assemblywoman’s district. When Diwali falls on a school day, families must choose between sending their children to school and celebrating the day together.

As the largest school system in the country, New York City schools’ designation of a Diwali holiday will set an example for districts nationwide.

“Nothing can stop a community whose time has come. People said this would be impossible but we made it happen. To everyone who believes in the power of the possible—whether in the legislature, the streets of Queens, or all around the world, this victory is yours,” Rajkumar said. 

In October, Rajkumar announced her plan to pass legislation establishing the Diwali school holiday, hosting a press conference with Mayor Eric Adams and Schools Chancellor David Banks.

Over the ensuing months, the assemblywoman forged a diverse coalition of stakeholders of all backgrounds across the state for a united effort in the push to recognize Diwali as a school holiday. She brought hundreds to rally in Albany, and engaged with all city and state stakeholders to secure unanimous support from the mayor,  Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, all her Albany colleagues, the Schools Chancellor, the United Federation of Teachers, the City Council, and New Yorkers of every faith and background.

Following the passage of the bill on June 11, the mayor issued a statement on Twitter.

“I’m proud of our state leaders for recognizing #Diwali as a holiday. Now, our South Asian and Indo-Caribbean New Yorkers can fully participate in the celebration of light over darkness. These aren’t just days off. This is how we include our neighbors and embrace our diversity,” Adams wrote. 

Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr., who sponsored the Senate bill (S7475), said he is thankful for his colleagues in the Senate who supported the passage of his bill to designate Diwali as a school holiday in NYC before the legislative session ended.

“If approved by Governor Hochul, New York’s growing South Asian and Indo-Caribbean communities will now have the same recognition and accommodation afforded to those that observe other holidays,” Addabbo said. “I admire the significance of Diwali, to show how light can overpower darkness, good can overcome evil, a message celebrating positivity and encouragement. It was an honor to once again work side-by-side with my colleague and friend Assemblymember Jenifer Rajkumar, whose compassion and dedication for her constituents and Diwali is the reason our city will witness this school holiday.” 

Assemblyman Zohran Mamdani said he is proud to have voted ‘yes’ on a bill that makes Diwali a school holiday in NYC. 

“Finally, over 200,000+ children in NYC schools who observe Diwali will be able to celebrate without choosing between their culture and their classwork,” Mamdani said. 

Advocates of the bill, such as the Caribbean Equality Project, thanked state elected officials for championing the “historic win.” The group is now urging Hochul to sign it into law. 

District Leader Albert Baldeo, who leads a prominent group of Guyanese-Americans, South Asians, Indo-Caribbeans and Americans consisting of community leaders and advocates, said they want Hochul to sign the bill and “not allow it to die as the legislative session in Albany closes.” 

“We have fought relentlessly at all levels of government for Diwali to be a holiday for over three decades, and the large South Asian population deserves to be seen and heard,” Baldeo said. “The message of Diwali, that good triumphs over evil, light over darkness, is universal.” 

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