Parents who have to choose between religious obligations and their children’s education are calling on Mayor Eric Adams to fulfill a promise he made just a day after getting elected to make Diwali a school holiday.
Vishal Hardowar is one of those parents and although he makes the same choice of keeping his 11-year-old son, Surya, home on Diwali every time, that decision never comes easy.
“Though school is very, very, very important, he has to know that when it comes to certain events and certain holidays, this is not just like an Easter egg hunt that I’m making him miss school for,” Hardowar said.
Hardowar, 45, lives in Jamaica, Queens and is among the hundreds of thousands of South Asians and Indo-Caribbeans in the city, many of whom have lobbied for Diwali to be recognized by city officials, like other major religious holidays. Diwali is celebrated by Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains around the world.
Last year after THE CITY reported on the push for a Diwali day off, then Mayor-elect Eric Adams vowed on his Twitter feed to make it a school holiday, saying that he will “make sure our school calendar reflects the diversity of our students.”
A video from this year’s Diwali festival at the South Street Seaport shows Adams, as mayor, promising to see the holiday through.
A state requirement for a minimum 180 days a year in school is holding up the holiday proposal, according to the city Department of Education. Department deputy press secretary Arthur Nevins, points to the city schools’ new “Hidden Voices” Asian American and Pacific Islander-focused curriculum that launched this fall, which offers teachers a Learning About Diwali resource, which includes sample lessons for all grade levels K-12, as well as suggested activities, books and websites.
Diwali is a pan-religious holiday celebrating the symbolic victory of light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance, fostering unity and togetherness. It’s traditional for families to clean, set up diya lamps outside of temples, in the home, or on the streets, cook and pray together, and give gifts. But the school day intrudes on that sense of unity, observers of the holiday say.
This year, Diwali will take place on Monday, Oct. 24. As advocates watch another year go by when they have to choose between fulfilling daily obligations or observing the day with their loved ones, their frustration is palpable.
“Now it’s dawning on people that actually this is not going to happen,” said Richard David, a member of the Diwali Coalition of New York City and a district leader in South Ozone Park, Queens. “It is deeply disappointing.”
Gov. Kathy Hochul hosted a Diwali celebration Tuesday night at Queens College but did not mention the possibility of a school holiday.
The eight private schools that make up the New York Interschool consortium already give a day off on Diwali, as do some other non-public schools.
Public school students are taking matters into their own hands. Stuyvesant High School freshman Raaghav Mittal, along with his friend Lekha Wood and mentor Neil Desai, started a petition on Sept. 30 calling on Adams to declare Diwali as an official public school holiday. They’ve obtained more than 1,500 signatures so far.
Former Mayor Bill de Blasio added the Asian Lunar New Year and the Muslim holidays Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha as days off, joining the Jewish Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur holidays and Christian Christmas and Easter holidays as fixtures on the city schools calendar.
Asked recently about why he hasn’t delivered on his promise and whether he is still committed, Adams told THE CITY: “There are no more school days we could take off, but we identified a school day that we think we could take off the books.”
The mayor expressed that next year is the goal. “Once we execute that up in Albany, we’re going to have our Diwali holiday.”
Democratic Nassau County Legislator Joshua Lafazan in February introduced a bill adding Lunar New Year, Eid al-Adha and Diwali to Nassau County employee holidays.
Advocates remain “optimistic” and will continue the fight because, said David, “unfortunately, there isn’t a shortcut.”
Mittal wants his brother and sister to grow up loving their culture.
“To see my siblings have to come home from school, tired and then God forbid, they say, I don’t want to do Diwali because ‘I have homework to do,’ that would just [be] really, really sad,” Mittal said. “They’re being forced to disenchant because of school work.”