While members of New York City’s Muslim community rejoiced Wednesday over the addition of two major Islamic holidays to the public school holiday calendar, another religious group is disappointed their holiday wasn’t given the same recognition. The Hindu community, with approximately 500,000 adherents in the metropolitan area or about one New Yorker in 16, has been pushing to have Diwali become an officially recognized holiday. Known as the Festival of Lights, the autumn celebration is considered the most important holiday of the year by many Indian-Americans.
“We certainly want what the Muslim community got,” Uma Mysorekar, president of the Hindu Temple of Society of North America in Queens, New York, told International Business Times. “We hope by recognizing the Muslim holidays, this might pave the way and help us too.”
Her organization belongs to the Diwali Coalition, an umbrella group that created a petition last year urging Mayor Bill de Blasio to recognize Diwali as an official school holiday. So far, the petition has nearly 2,000 signatures. Four members of the Hindu community met New York Department of Education representatives last year about the issue. They were told Hindu students can request the day off as an optional holiday under the city’s religious accommodation guidelines. Students would not be marked as absent but they would still miss classes. Mysorekar says families are not using this option because it goes against Indian culture's high value on study. Parents don’t want their children to miss class.
“Parents feel compelled to send [their children] to school,” Mysorekar said. "They are not given the choice at all" to stay home from school to celebrate, she said. As it stands, Hindu students celebrate Diwali in the evening when they get home from school. This is not the case in India, where Diwali is akin to Christmas in the West.
“We respect Eid and Yom Kippur. Why should the Hindu children be left out?” Mysorekar said, adding that the group continues to advocate for the inclusion of Diwali. “They should also have pride in the things they celebrate.”
Outside of New York City, a handful of school districts with large Hindu populations have officially recognized Diwali. In February, the Glen Rock district in Bergen County, New Jersey, voted to have the major Hindu holiday on its school calendar. In South Brunswick, New Jersey, the holiday has been on the school calendar since 2011. The Passaic School District, also in New Jersey, added Diwali to its calendar in 2005. Similar appeals have been made in some California school districts with growing Hindu populations.
The Diwali Coalition says it will continue to push for Diwali to be included in the school calendar. This year the holiday falls on Nov. 11, the same day as Veterans Day.
“While the addition of two Muslim holidays is commendable, the mayor’s decision to exclude Diwali, a festival that is celebrated by thousands of Hindu, Jain, and Sikhs in NYC, is beyond disappointing,” Sheetal Shah, senior director of the Hindu American Foundation, said in a statement Wednesday. “These communities are a vibrant and integral part of this city and deserve to be able to celebrate their festivals. In excluding Diwali, the mayor is falling short on his responsibility to equally represent all New Yorkers.”