Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz welcomed community members for a Diwali celebration on Monday, Nov. 8.
The Festival of Lights’ celebration at Gujarati Samaj Hall was moderated by Priyata Dey, who kicked off the night with the National Anthem by the Bhuvaneshwar Mandir Youth Group, a prayer and Diya lighting by religious leaders.
Representatives from the consulates of Nepal, Guyana and India addressed the crowd, each speaking about the importance of preserving culture through generations.
Hrishika Chakraborty, a student from George Washington University, reflected on Diwali, which she said reminds her of her childhood and celebrating with her family.
“I now realize how fortunate I have been to have light come into my life in its many forms,” Chakraborty said. “The first one being created by my parents who created light when they decided to move here to create a better life for me and my brothers. I have experienced light in the forms of love, trust, connection and togetherness.”
Chakraborty said the celebration also puts into perspective the atrocities committed in Bangladesh.
“It feels like the light our people have been trying to spread has been dimmed, overtaken by evil and ignorance. I think that’s exactly why it’s imperative we celebrate,” she said. “Our religion is so much more than a religion. It is a way of life that recognizes the eternal light within us that enables us to ward off whatever darkness may be coming our way.”
When Katz made her speech, she was interrupted by protesters holding up signs and yelling for her to drop charges on Prakash Churaman, who awaits a trial for a murder he says he did not commit and after his conviction was overturned.
They were escorted out as Katz told the crowd to give them a round of applause saying, “This is what America is about.”
Katz said the celebration is about the many immigrants who chose to make Queens their home.
“They come here and celebrate their religion, their backgrounds, their ethnicity, their dress, their language and every culture that they bring from all over the world — that’s what this is about,” Katz said.
Katz then referred to the Bhuvaneshwar Mandir Youth Group who sang the National Anthem, calling it a “remarkable scene.”
“It’s our jobs to make sure that you have faith in us,” Katz said. “It’s our jobs to make sure that you know that if you’re ever involved with the criminal justice system, that you’ll be treated fairly and equitably. But almost more important is our job to make sure that this borough remains safe and the safest the borough can be is when no one ends up in our criminal justice system at all.”
Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, the first South Asian-American woman elected to a state office in New York, said the event was the biggest Diwali celebration she’s attended.
Rajkumar spoke about the importance of community and teamwork. She said she believes they can spread the Hindu belief of non-violence across the state and country.
The festivities culminated with musical and dance performances from local groups as guests ate traditional foods.