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New York, May 27 – A bill to make Diwali a federal holiday has been introduced by Grace Meng, a Democrat member of the House of Representatives.
“My Diwali Day Act is one step toward educating all Americans on the importance of this day, and celebrating the full face of American diversity,” Meng said on Friday.
“Diwali is one of the most important days of the year for billions of people across the globe,” she said
“America’s strength is derived from the diverse experiences, cultures and communities that make up this nation.”
Broadening its appeal, the text of the bill says: “Millions of Americans, both religious and secular, celebrate Diwali, which is also called the ‘Festival of Lights’.”
The bill has been sponsored by 14 members of the House — 13 Democrats and a Republican — and shows wide wide support.
The sponsors even include Ilhan Omar and Pramila Jayapal, who are caustic critics of the Indian government and what they call “Hindutva”.
If the Diwali Day Act is adopted by Congress, it would become the 12th federal holiday, and only the second religious holiday after Christmas.
The bill was introduced on May 15 and forwarded the same day to the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, which will have to approve it for it to go before the House.
It will also have to be approved by the Senate before going to the president for the final stage of adoption as law.
“Establishing a federal holiday for Diwali, and the day off it would provide, would allow families and friends to celebrate together, and demonstrate that the government values the diverse cultural makeup of the nation,” Meng’s office said.
The announcement was made as May, the Asian American Pacific Islander Month was drawing to a close, with the endorsement of several Hindu, Sikh, Dalit Rights, Indo-Caribbean and pan-Asian community and professional organisations.
“The recognition of Diwali as a federal holiday would be an affirmative step in celebrating/recognizing the diversity of our nation,” said John C. Yang, President of Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
Together with Meng “we are showing that Diwali is an American holidaya, said Jennifer Rajkumar, a member of the New York State Assembly.
“To the over 4 million Americans who celebrate Diwali, your government sees you and hears you,” she said.
After a campaign by her and Meng, New York City has made Diwali a school holiday from this year.
Meng represents a constituency in New York with a large Asian population.
Gregg Orton, Executive Director of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, welcomed the introduction of Meng’s legislation.
He said: “The official recognition of Diwali allows for the acknowledgement and celebration of individuals in the Hindu, Sikh, Jain, and Buddhist faiths. Our communities deserve to be seen and celebrated, and the passage of this act empowers several South Asian and Southeast Asian communities in practising and embracing their religious heritage.”
Sim J Singh Attariwala, a senior official of The Sikh Coalition, said: “By embracing these celebrations, we not only include and integrate communities but also strengthen the bonds of our multicultural society, making America a more vibrant and compassionate nation for all.”
A significant acknowledgement of Diwali was made by the US Postal Service which introduced a Diwali stamp with the image of a diya or lamp in 2016.
According to the draft, the bill will have the House acknowledge that “Diwali signifies the victory of good over evil and unfairness, and knowledge over ignorance”.
“Diwali, also known as Deepavali, is an auspicious day celebrated by many South and Southeast Asian communities as well as religious groups including the Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, and Jain communities.”
The bill specifies that Diwali floats according to the “Vedic lunar calendar”. Observed on falls on the 15th day of the eighth month or the New Moon Day in the month of Kartika”.
Juneteenth commemorating the end of slavery was the last federal holiday adopted after approval by Congress and being signed into law by President Biden in 2021.
Diwali coincides with the Bandi Chhor Divas (the Day of Liberation), Kali Puja, and Tihar, it says.