Queens lawmaker unveils legislation to establish Diwali as school holiday in New York

Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar introduces legislation that would make Diwali a school holiday across the city. (QNS file photo)

Diwali would be established as a school holiday in New York City under legislation introduced by Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar.

The holiday would be observed in school districts with significant populations that celebrate Diwali and honor the cultural heritage of hundreds of thousands of South Asian New Yorkers who celebrate the holiday.

“As the first Hindu-American and South Asian-American woman elected to state office in New York, I take special pride in advocating for new American communities, including those that celebrate Diwali,” Rajkumar said. “The South Asian, Indo-Caribbean, Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist communities are a vital part of our city’s gorgeous mosaic, contributing to every sector of our society. It is long past time to honor their vibrant cultural heritage by making Diwali a school holiday, as community leaders have advocated for years. The time has come.”

Diwali, the Festival of Lights, is celebrated by people of multiple faiths, including Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists. A major festival in South Asia and in Indo-Caribbean countries, Diwali celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. During the holiday, families decorate their homes and illuminate them with lights, and partake in family feasts and gift-giving. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers with South Asian and Indo-Caribbean Heritage celebrate the festival.

“The thousands of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Jain families who celebrate Diwali deserve to mark the Festival of Lights as a complete unit with their children,” Queens Borough President Donovan Richards said. “But this is about more than just a religious commemoration; it’s about the validation of entire communities who for far too long have fought for equal recognition. Queens is proud to join Assemblywoman Rajkumar and all our elected officials who have signed onto this piece of legislation, which must be passed and signed into law as soon as possible.”

Since the early 2000s, community and faith leaders have called for New York to recognize the holiday. The City Council issued a resolution calling on the city Department of Education to establish Diwali as a school holiday. When Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he would approve Eid and Lunar New Year as school holidays, but not Diwali, activists formed the Diwali Coalition of New York City to push for change.

Local groups have long advocated for this as well, including the Hindu Temple Society of North America in Queens, the first traditional Hindu temple in the U.S. Other supporting groups include the National Advisory Committee for South Asian Affairs, the Federation of Hindu Mandirs, The Golden Age Community of New York, The Sikh American Friendship Foundation and the Diwali Stamp Project.

“I am a proud co-sponsor of Assemblywoman Rajkumar’s bill which will bring a long-awaited change for the members of the Hindu, Sikh and Jain communities,” Assemblyman David Weprin said. “The time has come to make Diwali a school holiday in New York City for the vibrant South Asian and Indo-Caribbean communities.”

The Hindu American Foundation applauded Rajkumar for introducing the legislation.

“The Hindu American community in New York City and across the Empire State have been asking the state to recognize us and our holidays so that our families and our children can celebrate our faith without punitive actions from the state or school districts,” the organization said in a statement. “We urge the New York Legislature to pass this measure and likewise urge the governor to sign it into law.”