Indian Americans urge NY City Council to declare Diwali an official holiday

Members of the Indian-American community in New York City have appealed to the New York City Council to support the idea of Diwali as a permanent official holiday in the city schools. A resolution calling upon the New York City Department of Education to establish Diwali as an official holiday for public schools is among issues to be discussed at the council’s Committee on Education meeting Nov. 22.

“We expressed in a letter to the mayor, sent on Feb. 19, 2014, our serious concern over the omission of Diwali, celebrated by Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs, from the proposed public school closing holidays,” a petition filed by the Diwali Coalition says.

The Diwali Coalition of NYC was formed in February 2014 when Mayor Bill De Blasio announced that he was approving three new public holidays for Eid and Lunar New Year, but would not be issuing a holiday for Diwali.

According to the petition, there are approximately 2.5 million Hindus in the United States, and New York City is home to one of the largest within this population. According to the latest census, Asian Indians constitute 2.4 percent of the city’s population and celebrate Diwali. This percentage does not include the estimated 100,000 Hindus of Indo-Caribbean heritage, or countless Hindus of either mixed and other racial and ethnic ancestry, who also consider Diwali amongst their holiest of holidays.

Councilman Daniel Dromm whose district covers Jackson Heights and other areas where Hindus live in significant numbers, has been among those pushing for declaring Diwali a public holiday. The New York City Department of Education, with Carmen Farina as the chancellor, is the largest school district in the U.S., serving 1.1 million students in more than 1,800 schools.

In 2011 and 2013, the US Senate passed a resolution recognizing the historical and spiritual significance of Diwali for Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains. A similar Diwali resolution passed both chambers of Congress in 2007 at the urging of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF). Both Presidents Obama and Bush have hosted annual Diwali receptions, and since 2011, the White House has co­hosted with HASC the annual Hindu American Seva conference to recognize and share the many ways Hindu tradition, culture, and seva have helped strengthen our nation.

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