Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar Introduces Bill to Establish Diwali as a School Holiday in New York

The long-awaited bill is sponsored by the first South Asian woman elected to state office in New York
The bill honors the cultural heritage of hundreds of thousands of South Asian New Yorkers who celebrate the holiday
Elected Officials from Multiple Boroughs, Faith Leaders & National Groups Support Bill

South Queens, New York — Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar introduced a new bill in the State Assembly (Bill #A7062), which establishes Diwali as a school holiday in New York.Rajkumar, the first Hindu-American and first South Asian woman ever elected to State Office says the law is long overdue. The holiday would be observed in school districts with significant populations that celebrate the holiday, namely New York City.

“As the first Hindu-American and South Asian-American woman elected to state office in New York, I take special pride in advocating for new American communities, including those that celebrate Diwali,” Assemblywoman Rajkumar said. “The South Asian, Indo-Caribbean, Hindu, Sikh, Jain, and Buddhist communities are a vital part of our city’s Gorgeous Mosaic, contributing to every sector of our society. It is long past time to honor their vibrant cultural heritage by making Diwali a School Holiday, as community leaders have advocated for years. The time has come.”

Diwali, the Festival of Lights, is celebrated by people of multiple faiths, including Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists. A major festival in South Asia and in Indo-Carribean countries, Diwali celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. During the holiday, families decorate their homes and illuminate them with lights, and partake in family feasts and gift giving. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers with South Asian and Indo-Carribean heritage celebrate the festival.

This bill aims to realize the goal of a decades-long advocacy process. Since the early 2000s, community and faith leaders have called for New York to recognize this important holiday. The City Council issued a Resolution calling on the New York City Department of Education to establish Diwali as a school holiday. Local community leaders have been vigorously pushing for years. Sherry Algredo, 1st Vice Chair of Community Board 9, recently spearheaded the passage of a Queens Community Board Resolution calling for Diwali to be recognized as a school holiday.

When Mayor de Blasio announced that he would approve Eid and Lunar New Year as school holidays, but not Diwali, activists formed the Diwali Coalition of New York City to push for change. Local groups have long advocated for this as well, including the Hindu Temple Society of North America in Queens, the first traditional Hindu temple in the US. Other supporting groups include the National Advisory Committee for South Asian Affairs, the Federation of Hindu Mandirs, The Golden Age Community of New York, The Sikh American Friendship Foundation, and the Diwali Stamp Project.

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards stated: "The thousands of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Jain families across who celebrate Diwali deserve to mark the Festival of Lights as a complete unit with their children. But this is about more than just a religious commemoration — it's about the validation of entire communities who for far too long have fought for equal recognition. Queens is proud to join Assemblymember Rajkumar and all our elected officials who have signed onto this piece of legislation, which must be passed and signed into law as soon as possible."

Assemblymember and Brooklyn County Leader Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn said:"I proudly support Assemblymember Rajkumar's legislation to establish Diwali as a school holiday. Every student in our diverse city should have the opportunity to celebrate one another's cultures and holidays, including this key Hindu Holiday of Diwali which means the 'festival of lights'. By recognizing Diwali, we can take one small step towards equity for the South Asian community, by embracing this holiday in the same manner we do the cultures and customs of other communities."

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams stated: “As progressive as we believe we have been in diversifying our city’s official holiday calendar, our progress continues to leave out New Yorkers across the five boroughs who take part in Diwali. I am a proud member of the coalition of community leaders who believe it is long past time we show respect to hundreds of thousands of South Asian New Yorkers and give this family festival of lights the shine and recognition it deserves. We came together to uplift Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr, as well as Lunar New Year, and Diwali must be next."

State Assemblymember David Weprin stated: “I am a proud Co-Sponsor of Assemblymember Rajkumar’s bill which will bring a long-awaited change for the members of the Hindu, Sikh, and Jain communities. The time has come to make Diwali a School Holiday in New York City for the vibrant South Asian and Indo-Caribbean communities.”

Bronx Assemblywoman Nathalia Fernández said "Under the leadership of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., the borough has long celebrated Diwali -- joining with our brothers and disasters in observing this important holiday. Now is the time to take steps to ensure no person should have to choose between celebrating their faith and their education or jobs. I wholeheartedly support my colleague Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar in recognizing New York's Hindu community and its traditions through this important legislation.”

The Hindu American Foundation said in a statement:"We applaud State Rep. Rajkumar for introducing this important legislation. The Hindu American community in New York City and across the Empire State have been asking the state to recognize us and our holidays so that our families and our children can celebrate our faith without punitive actions from the state or school districts. We urge the New York legislature to pass this measure and likewise urge the Governor to sign it into law."

The Coalition of Hindus of North America (CoHNA) said: “New York City is home to hundreds of thousands of Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists and Diwali holds a special significance for all these traditions. Recognizing Diwali as a school holiday has been a request of these communities for a long time and thus this bill is a great first step towards achieving that goal.”

Other Significant Community Supporters Include:

Ashook Ramsaran (President of Indian Diaspora Council)

Pandit Ram Hardowar (President of The Federation of Hindu Mandirs

Balram Rambrich (Arya Samaj USA, Secretary)

Romeo Hitlal (President, Richmond Hill-South Ozone Park Lions Club)

Sherry Algredo (First Vice President, Queens Community Board 9; Indo-Caribbean Leader)

And many others. . .