Washington: A prominent American lawmaker has introduced a bill in the US Congress to declare Diwali, the festival of lights, a federal holiday, a move welcomed by different communities from across the country.
The Diwali Day Act, if passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden would make the festival of lights the 12th federally recognised holiday in the United States.
"Diwali is one of the most important days of the year for billions of people across the globe, and for countless families and communities in Queens, New York, and the United States," Congresswoman Grace Meng told reporters during a virtual news conference here soon after introducing the bill in the House of Representatives on Friday.
Establishing a federal holiday for Diwali would allow families and friends to celebrate together, and demonstrate that the government values the diverse cultural makeup of the nation, Meng, a Democrat, said.
“Diwali celebrations are a wonderful time here in Queens, and each year it is easy to see just how important this day is to so many people. America's strength is derived from the diverse experiences, cultures and communities that make up this nation,” she said.
“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. I look forward to shepherding this bill through Congress,” Meng said. Welcoming the move, New York Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar said, "This year, we saw our entire state speak with one voice in support of recognising Diwali and the South Asian community."
"My extraordinary partner in government Congresswoman Meng is now taking the movement national with her historic legislation to make Diwali a federal holiday. Together, we are showing that Diwali is an American holiday. To the over 4 million Americans who celebrate Diwali, your government sees you and hears you," she said.
Applauding Meng for her continued work to increase the visibility of the Asian-American community, New York State Senator Jeremy Cooney said naming Diwali a federal holiday not only honours those who observe but highlights a cultural tradition some Americans do not experience regularly.
“Diwali is a special holiday for so many South Asian and Indo-Caribbean communities,” said New York City Councilman Shekar Krishnan.
“As the first Indian American ever elected to NYC government, I am so proud to support Congresswoman Meng's legislation to establish 'Deepavali' as a federal holiday. It is crucial that children like my own are able to officially celebrate our holidays with their families in a way that I was not able to grow up,” he said.
A large number of community members applauded the introduction of the Diwali Day Act in the House of Representatives.
“The recognition of Diwali and Bandi Chhor Divas is pivotal to enriching the cultural fabric of the United States and fostering greater understanding and appreciation for the rich South Asian diaspora,” said Sim J Singh Attariwala, Senior Policy and Advocacy Manager of The Sikh Coalition.
"Today is a milestone that demonstrates our visibility, our contributions, and the progress we are making in the United States with the Diwali Day Act,” said Richard David, Board Member at the Indo-Caribbean Alliance. Congratulation Congresswoman Meng, Coalition of Hindus of North America president Nikunj Trivedi said.
This joyous festival is celebrated by millions of Americans and symbolises the victory of good over evil and of light over darkness and brings together people from all backgrounds to cherish goodness, well-being, peace and prosperity - things that everyone can value and benefit from, Trivedi said.
"As Hindu Americans, we are so glad to see a bill to honour the multitude of celebrations that take place across the Indian subcontinent, the Caribbean, and beyond on Diwali,” said Ria Chakrabarty, Policy Director for Hindus for Human Rights.
“It is high time to recognise Diwali as a holiday in US public schools,” said Dr. Neeta Jain, founder and president of the International Ahimsa Foundation.
"Our children should be treated equally. As our children celebrate other cultures, others should celebrate and learn about our culture as well. This is the only way we can teach children to have mutual respect, mutual understanding and mutual acceptance,” she said.