US lawmaker proposes bill to make Diwali federal holiday

American lawmaker and First Vice Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Grace Meng introduced a bill in the US Congress to declare the Indian festival of lights Diwali a federal holiday, a move welcomed by different communities from across the country.

Gracce Meng (left) with Indian-American NY Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar
Gracce Meng (left) with Indian-American NY Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar. Photo courtesy: Twitter/@JeniferRajkumar

"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 after introducing the bill in the House of Representatives.

The Diwali Day Act, when passed by the Congress and signed into law by the President, would make the festival of lights the 12th federally recognised holiday in the United States.

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, the Congresswoman 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, Indian-American 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 added.

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.

Ria Chakrabarty, Policy Director for Hindus for Human Rights, said, “During this auspicious festival, Hindus convene friends and families, celebrate the victory of justice over injustice, and retell the beloved stories of Rama and Sita, Krishna and Satyabhama, Kali, and other divine figures. If Diwali becomes a federal holiday, we can share this holiday with a larger part of our community."

"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 growing up," he said.