Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), along with several other elected officials, is calling on the Department of Education to designate the Hindu, Jainist, Buddhist and Sikh holiday of Diwali as an official day off for public school students.
“There are tens of thousands of public school students in New York City who celebrate Diwali,” Dromm said. “These students must pick between attending class or spending the day with their families, while students in the Christian and Jewish faiths do not have to make this decision when they celebrate holidays like Rosh Hashana and Christmas. There shouldn’t be this discrepancy. I urge the Department of Education to recognize this important holiday called Diwali.”
Diwali, also referred to as the Festival of Lights, is a five-day Hindu festival and is considered one of the most important celebrations of the year.
The resolution was introduced to the City Council on July 24 and since then, 15 Council members have signed on as co-sponsors and several state and federal elected officials have voiced their support.
“Diwali is of great significance to the Indian-American community and it is celebrated annually by various faith groups across the City of New York,” Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Bronx, Queens) said. “We need a public school calendar that is reflective of the growing diversity of our communities so that students from these various faiths have the opportunity to observe their religious traditions without sacrificing valuable time in the classroom.”
This year, the main festivities will be on Sunday, Nov. 3, but the holy day does not always fall on a weekend.
Dromm said that he experienced how those who celebrate Diwali are affected by not having the school day off firsthand during his career as a teacher.
“It wasn’t only the kids,” he said. “This is the holiest of their days and there are more and more families who celebrate Diwali moving here. The teachers are also being affected because they can’t come into work.”
Dromm alleged that by designating the holiday as an off-school day, students and teachers will not be put under so much pressure to keep up with school work and celebrate Diwali at the same time.
“There would be times when I wanted to give a test and there would be several kids absent,” he said. “These kids should be treated equally to the Christian and Jewish kids who aren’t put under the same stress.”
The same requests have been made for two Muslim holidays. In 2009, the City Council approved the important holidays of Eid-al-Adha and Eid-al-fitr be a day off for public schools.
Mayor Bloomberg did not sign the resolution despite the Census Bureau’s 2011 survey reporting 207,414 New York City residents identifying themselves as Asian-Indian.
With the ever increasing Asian-Indian population — many of whom are adherents of Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism or Buddhism — Dromm said that he hopes to have the bill in place before the start of the next school year.