Two Queens lawmakers stood alongside Governor Kathy Hochul as she signed their bills into law on Nov. 14, making Diwali a school holiday for New York City public schools.
Legislation S7574/A7769 amends the education law and requires that all public schools in the five boroughs be closed on the 15th day of the eighth month of the Indian calendar in each year, so students who practice the Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist faiths can celebrate Diwali, known around the world as the Festival of Lights.
“New York City is rich in different religions and cultures, and we’re taking an important step to recognize and celebrate this diversity in the school calendar,” Hochul said. “This 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.”
Assemblymember Jenifer Rajkumar, the daughter of South Asian immigrants, championed the legislation since she was first elected to serve in Albany.
“I 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,” Rajkumar said. “As the first Indian-American and first Hindu elected to New York State Office, I thank Governor Hochul for signing my momentous bill. 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.”
State Sen. Joseph Addabbo carried the legislation in the upper chamber.
“I truly appreciate Governor Hochul’s approval to acknowledge Diwali as a school holiday. I also commend my friend, Assemblymember Jenifer Rajkumar for her initiative on passing this legislation in the Assembly and working with my legislative team in passing my bill in the Senate,” Addabbo said. “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. In this time of local and global racism and anger, Diwali’s message is critically important and needed.”
Khalsa Community president Japneet Singh of South Ozone Park called the bill signing a very special occasion for the entire South Asian diaspora.
“For the Sikhs, Diwali signifies Liberation. It was the day on which our 6th Guru, Guru Hargobind was released from prison. But not just by himself, he advocated for the release of 52 Hindu Kings who were wrongfully imprisoned as well,” Sigh said. “Hence, for Sikhs this festival of Diwali signifies Bandi Chhor Divas or ‘prisoner release day.’ We use this day to honor and remember all those who continue to face oppression and recommit to standing up for justice any and everywhere.”
He added that as a product of Queens public schools, the signing was a personal victory.
“Growing up attending NYC public schools, I always was conflicted of choosing my education or my faith,” Singh said. “But now the next general of South Asians will have the opportunity to choose both and that’s a very special thing for us all.”
It was a significant moment in Rajkumar’s political career.
“This is an achievement that will outlive me,” she 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 recognize you, and Diwali is an American holiday.’”