Hindu New Yorkers call on city to make Diwali a public school holiday

A performer dances during a Diwali celebration at City Hall last week. Photo courtesy of the New York City Council.

A performer dances during a Diwali celebration at City Hall last week. Photo courtesy of the New York City Council.

By Jonathan Sperling

More than a dozen city councilmembers came together on Oct. 30 to celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, but many Hindu New Yorkers and their advocates say it’s time for the city to do more to recognize the holiday — and the city’s rising Hindu population. 

They have called on the city to make Diwali a public school holiday, especially considering the rapidly growing population of residents from South Asia and the Caribbean.

In recent years, the city has declared Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha and the Lunar New Year as public school holidays in recognition of the influence of various religions and cultures in New York City. But the city’s growing Hindu community has yet to receive the same treatment, even though Diwali is celebrated in countries that account for some of the city’s highest populations of immigrants.

“We know that the Guyanese community is the second-largest in Queens. Trinidadians are right there and Indians are right there. That’s what the data shows,” said Assembly District 31 District Leader Richard David, who was raised in a Hindu household in Jamaica. David is a professor or Caribbean studies at York College and is running to represent District 31 in the state Assembly.

David published an op-ed in the Daily News last month arguing that, despite the growing Hindu population of more than 200,000 citywide, there’s a “disconnect” between the diversity lauded by city leaders and the lack of action in recognizing Diwali as a public school holiday.

“Communities have been organizing around getting Diwali [recognized] for a long time, as long as the 80s and 90s,” David said. “I see it as inevitable because the populations are growing. I'm incredibly hopeful this is something the mayor will do before he comes out of the office.”

Queens Councilmembers Adrienne Adams, Daniel Dromm, Barry Grodenchik, Robert Holden, Peter Koo, Karen Koslowitz, I. Daneek Miller, Donovan Richards, Eric Ulrich and Paul Vallone helped organize Wednesday’s Diwali event. The NYPD Desi Society was honored with a proclamation from Queens Councilmember Rory Lancman, while Dr. Samin Sharma was honored with a proclamation from Grodenchik.

Rajeev Pandya was honored with a proclamation from Brooklyn Councilmember Mathieu Eugene.

“Diwali is a special time when millions of South Asians all across the world rejoice and fill the world with light and love,” Lancman said. “I am honored to join the many Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and Buddhists in our city who celebrate this important holiday.”

With population data reflecting the city’s large Hindu community, David added that part of the frustration surrounding Diwali not yet being recognized is “the ambiguity” of the process.

“There’s been a mismatch and ambiguity behind what it would take to have a public school holiday. We know the numbers are there in terms of population. Every major retailer did a Diwali event this year,” David said.

“It’s long overdue.”