Diwali Spent at Townsend Harris

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This past October, Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains celebrated Diwali, one of the most festive events in Indian culture.  Mayor Bill de Blasio made progress with closing school for Lunar New Year, Eid al-Fitr, and Eid al-Adha, yet NYC schools still do not grant the day off for Diwali, which is a great disappointment and injustice to those who observe it.

Diwali is the festival of lights.  It commemorates the success of good over evil and light over darkness.  It is traditionally celebrated with family and friends as it is a joyous occasion bringing forth prosperity and new beginnings.  However, participating in its festivities is difficult for observant NYC students as the Department of Education does not acknowledge it as a school holiday.

Religious holidays, such as Easter, Yom Kippur, and more recently, Eid and Lunar New Year, from various faiths have all been granted school holidays; it seems only fair to include Diwali.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said in June 2015 that he had kept his promise to recognize the two Eids and Lunar New Year, and had never pledged to give a day off for Diwali. He defended that it would be difficult to give more days off while maintaining the state mandated 180 days of school.

“I understand anyone’s impulse to add additional holidays…I don’t intend to make any additions anytime in the foreseeable future because we’ve worked very hard to create a balance in the calendar and protect those 180 days.”

According to the Hindu lunar calendar, Diwali falls between the middle of October and the middle of November.  In the past, the festival fell on a school day and some Harrisites could not celebrate at home due to the school work they would miss.

Co Presidents of the Desi-Hindu Club, Adina Singh and Shivani Prabhu, expressed their thoughts on not having a day off for Diwali.

“If there was no school on Diwali it would make Diwali feel more authentic and traditional. Usually my family makes sweets for Diwali and I am never able to help out because I’m busy at school or with school work,” Shivani remarked.

“I think it’s unfair that we don’t get Diwali off because our holiday is under appreciated and I feel like it’s the ugly truth that because we’re brown, we’re seen as Muslims,” Adina pointed out.  She added that the misconception of Hindus and Muslims being the same leads people to believe that the Department of Education has already done enough by recognizing Islamic holidays.

Since the Desi-Hindu Club is fairly new, they are open-minded to the idea of creating events to celebrate Diwali in the future.

Freshman Shadman Sakib agrees that Diwali should have a day off. “Having Eid as an official [school] holiday made life easier for me. It would be great if Hindu students had the opportunity Muslims now have because we live in the most diverse area in the world.”

Assistant Principal Ms. Fee also offered her opinion. “I think it’s a hardship to have to choose between a spending an important holiday with family and attending school.  Yes, you can make up the work, but it’s a difficult decision that could be avoided if NYC DOE would include Diwali as an official religious school holiday.  It would allow families to celebrate together without the stress of missing school.”

It is unjust for students who observe Diwali to be forced to choose between observing the holiday and attending school, and recognizing Diwali as a school holiday would free them from this problem.

Until Diwali is granted the day off, it looks like the only evil Diwali observants will be fighting is stress, as they attend school instead of enjoying their religious holiday.