Hindu community wants holidays on school calendar

By Madina Toure

The Hindu community is putting pressure on the city to recognize three Hindu holidays on the public school calendar.

Lawmakers and community leaders held a news conference on the steps of City Hall last week to call on the city Department of Education to designate Diwali, Janmashtami and Dussehra, three Hindu religious holidays, on the city’s school calendar.

Diwali, the festival of lights celebrated by Hindus every year, will occur Nov. 11, which is also Veterans Day. Janmashtami, the celebration of the birth of Hindu deity Krishna, will be held Sept. 5. And Dussehra, the celebration of the victory of good over evil, is Oct. 22.

The City Council’s education committee said Diwali adherents could receive a religious waiver, but the community prefers an official holiday, said Pradip Das, coordinator of the campaign, known as the New York City School Hindu Holiday Campaign.

“We want more school days, but we don’t want to keep our children home when the school is open,” said Das, who is also director of the Jamaica chapter of the American Hindu Council.

There are about 207,414 city residents who identify themselves as Asian Indian, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

Starting in the 2015-2016 school year, schools will close Sept. 24 for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. Eid al-Fitr will be during the summer next year and will be a designated summer school holiday.

“It gives a good message that this is a multicultural, multi-ethnic society and other children will know that there are other festivals, other faiths observed,” said Dr. Uma Mysoreka, president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America in Flushing.

Last week, state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) introduced a bill that would eliminate Brooklyn-Queens Day for Lunar New Year, but the DOE said the holiday is a professional development day for teachers so it cannot be done.

City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), chairman of the education committee, introduced a non-binding resolution in July 2013 calling on the Council to recognize Diwali.

While teaching fourth grade at PS 199 in Sunnyside, Dromm noticed students who celebrated Diwali were conflicted over whether to miss school.

“I kind of felt it was unfair that students had to be put into a position to make that decision,” he said.

The resolution could only become law if City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña chose to recognize the holiday, he explained.

Starting next year, school boards will have to consider closing schools on holidays such as Chinese New Year, Lunar New Year and Diwali.

Schools must mandate 180 days of instruction between September and June each year, that include about 15 holidays and adjust accordingly for floating holidays.

The DOE has not yet made a commitment to Diwali, but Diwali will be on Veterans Day and it is not a school day so families will not be affected.

“We are reviewing future academic calendars, examining both our city’s diversity and our education priorities,” Yuridia Peña, the DOE’s deputy press secretary, said.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.