In a historic move, New York State Governor Kathy Hochul signed legislation making Diwali a school holiday for New York City public schools.
“New York City is rich in different religions and cultures, and we’re taking an important step to recognise and celebrate this diversity in the school calendar,” Hochul said Tuesday (14).
The legislation requires that all public schools in New York City be closed on the “15th day of the eighth month of the Indian calendar in each year, which is known as Diwali,” a press release issued by Hochul’s office said.
Hochul said that the legislation to designate Diwali as a New York City school holiday is “an opportunity for our children to learn about and celebrate traditions from across the world.”
The governor signed the legislation during a special reception at the Hindu Temple Society of North America in Flushing to commemorate Diwali.
In a post on Twitter, Hochul said that she believes a celebration of light should not be commemorated in the dark. “That’s why tonight, we took action to bring people together. As we gathered to celebrate Diwali, I was proud to sign historic legislation making Diwali a New York City public school holiday!”
According to the New York City Department of Education, there were 1,047,895 students in the NYC school system, the largest school district in the United States, in 2022-23. Of those students, 16.5 per cent were Asians.
There are 1,867 schools within the Department of Education as of Fall 2022, including 275 charter schools. The press release said that the legislation amends the education law to declare Diwali a holiday for New York City public schools.
“Many people of the Hindu, Sikh, Jain, and Buddhist faiths in New York City and throughout the state observe the festival of Diwali and more than 1 billion people around the world celebrate this holiday,” the release added.
New York State Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, who is the first Indian-American and first Hindu elected to New York State Office and led efforts to make Diwali a school holiday in New York City, said generations of New Yorkers to come will now observe Diwali, the Festival of Lights.
“By signing my bill, we say to over 600,000 Hindu, Sikh, Jain, and Buddhist New Yorkers, ‘We see you, we recognise you, and Diwali is an American holiday’”, Rajkumar said.
Rajkumar said she was proud to lead and win the fight for the Diwali School Holiday this year. “Today, my historic Diwali bill is officially signed into law,” she said as she thanked Hochul for signing “my momentous bill.”
Rajkumar noted that for over two decades, the south Asian community has lobbied for the Diwali holiday.
“With the signing of my bill, we have lit an everlasting lamp in the hearts and minds of all New Yorkers. This is an achievement that will outlive me,” she said.
New York State Senator Joseph Addabbo said that in this time of “local and global racism and anger”, Diwali’s message is critically important and needed.
“Diwali is a joyous occasion that holds immense significance for millions of people around the world and in our state. As we come together to commemorate this festival, we are reminded of the Diwali holiday’s message – the triumph of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, and good over evil,” Addabbo said.
“The Diwali celebration not only represents the rich cultural heritage of our diverse community but also serves as a reminder of the values that bind us together. It reminds us of the importance of compassion, kindness, and understanding in our interactions with one another,” he said.
Addabbo voiced appreciation for Hochul’s approval to acknowledge Diwali as a school holiday and commended Rajkumar for her initiative in passing the legislation in the Assembly and working with his legislative team in passing the bill in the Senate.
New American Voter Association President Dr Dilip Nath said in the release he is proud to see Hochul finally fulfilling a long past Diwali recognition holiday into law.
“On the day of the Diwali so no student will have to choose between celebrating with their family or their school obligations.”
Indian Diaspora Council International President Ashook Ramsaran termed the signing of the legislation as a “significant achievement following decades of grassroots efforts” in New York.
Ramsaran said in the press release that Diwali is the ‘triumph of light over darkness, of good over evil’ and its lessons are more relevant as turmoil, inhumanity and divisiveness impact many people worldwide.”
Bangladesh Puja Udjapan Parishad New York President Bhajan Sarker said the 300,000 New Yorkers who celebrate Diwali will now able to celebrate it with their entire families without being forced to forgo sending their children to school.”
Nepali Community Leader and Executive Member of the Hami Nepali NabarajKC said, “On behalf of the Nepali Community we are profoundly grateful to our beloved Governor Kathy Hochul for recognising the Hindu community and Diwali festival of lights.”