The New York state legislature has passed a bill to make Diwali a school holiday in the city. Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar introducing the bill said, “It is long past time to honour” the “vibrant cultural heritage” of the South Asian, Indo-Caribbean, Hindu, Sikh, Jain, and Buddhist communities by making Diwali a School Holiday.
Both the Senate and the Assembly voted the bill before they ended their session early Saturday morning, June 10, 2023, and it now goes to Governor Kathy Hochul for her expected signature to make it law.
An estimated 200,000 students from these communities will be able to celebrate the Festival of Lights in their own way, free of school.
“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.
Two earlier attempts to pass the legislation in 2021 and 2022 did not succeed.
The bill overcame a last-minute hurdle after the bill’s sponsors, Rajkumar and State Senator Joseph Adabo dropped a proposal to have Diwali replace the Brooklyn-Queens Day holiday and leave it to the discretion of the city.
Diwali may instead replace an obscure holiday, Anniversary Day, to maintain the required 180 days of class required every year.
In February, New York City Council passed a resolution proposed by Councilwoman Linda Lee to make Diwali a school holiday, but it needed state-level approval.
New York Mayor Eric Adams has supported the legislation, unlike his predecessors, as has Schools Chancellor David Banks.
The New York Legislature also passed a bill to make the Lunar New Year a state-wide school holiday.
Grace Meng, a member of the US House of Representatives, who has introduced a bill to make Diwali a federal holiday, said, “The New York State Legislature’s approval of these two measures is a wonderful reminder and celebration of the great diversity that exists in our state, and underscores how this diversity should be reflected in the holidays observed by our residents”.
In an earlier acknowledgement of the significance of Diwali, New York City suspended in 2006 a parking regulation for Diwali, putting it on par with other religious holidays.
The City Council voted to override a veto by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg to add the Festival of Lights to the list.
Suspension of the regulation against parking on a certain side of the roads on certain days is to ensure that those celebrating the holiday do not have to move their vehicles amid the festivities.
Extracts from statements made by NY and NYC leaders on passage of the Diwali school holiday for Big Apple public schools :
New York City Mayor Eric Adams: It is long overdue to say to our Hindu, Sikh, Jain, and Buddhist students and communities that, we see you, we acknowledge you. The inclusiveness of this city is extremely significant and this is our opportunity to say that in a loud way. So I thank you Assemblywoman for your tenacity, your vision, your determination. … As the largest school system in the country, New York City schools’ designation of a Diwali holiday will set an example for districts nationwide.
NY Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar: For over 2 decades, the South Asian and Indo-Carribean community has fought for this moment. And tonight I say to you– Nothing can stop a community whose time has come. … Tonight we proudly say that Diwali is not just a holiday—it is an American holiday. And that the South Asian community is part of the American story.
Assemblyman Ed Braunstein said : I would like to commend, congratulate and thank the sponsor [Assemblywoman Rajkumar] for all her hard work on getting this passed. This was an uphill climb from the beginning, but through sheer force of will you’ve brought us to this moment.
Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman said, To the populations in Queens—especially, particularly Jamaica, Queens where I represent—I am thankful that these children…will be able to be celebrating in this great diverse City and State.
Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, Chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party: I want to congratulate the sponsor [Assemblywoman Rajkumar]. She worked so hard, she hustled, and she got this through. So congratulations to you. Congratulations to all of us in making this a historic moment.”
Assemblywoman MaryJane Shimsky : The population of South Asians in Westchester County has grown a great deal in recent years. One of our school districts, the Ardsley School District, recently made Diwali a holiday for those students, and I suspect that it won’t be long before Diwali…will become statewide.”
Assemblyman Anil Beephansaid, “I stand here today, not only as an Assemblyman, but as someone who has personally celebrated Diwali as a child. With the passage of A7769, New York has taken a monumental step towards inclusivity and cultural recognition. As a former Hindu, I vividly remember the feeling of being overlooked, wondering why the holidays my family cherished were not acknowledged. Today, I proudly embrace my heritage and the Hindu and Sikh communities I represent.
Senator Joseph Addabbo, the bill’s Senate sponsor: I am thankful for my colleagues in the Senate who supported the passage of my bill (S7475) designating Diwali a school holiday in New York City before the Senate legislative session ended. … I admire the significance of Diwali, to show how light can overpower darkness, good can overcome evil, a message celebrating positivity and encouragement. (Courtesy: Desi Talk)