Indian American student in Pennsylvania successfully petitions for Diwali holiday

Vir Sahu (Courtesy: Facebook)

NEW YORK – The Council Rock School District in Bucks County, Pennsylvania had declared a holiday on November 7 this year, in recognition of the Hindu festival of Diwali, thanks to the effort of Vir Sahu, a student at the school.

Sahu, a junior at Council Rock High, presented an online petition with over 450 signatures urging the district to recognize Diwali as an official holiday, Philly Voice had reported.

“I always took Diwali off as a kid but when I grew older it became harder to take the day off because the work would just pile up,” Sahu told News India Times in a phone interview, explaining the reasoning for the petition.

According to Philly Voice, Sahu had to make two formal presentations before the school board and another in front of the district’s academic standards committee to argue that the school system recognizes students of some faiths, but not others.

Sahu pointed out how public schools in the U.S. are officially closed for holidays such as Christmas, and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, for areas with a large Jewish population and how his district needed to provide Hindu students with the ability to celebrate Diwali without missing school, just like the Christians and the Jewish.

“I believe the board itself should be recognized for being receptive to having this discussion and ultimately agreeing that having Diwali as a holiday is appropriate,” Sahu wrote on an update to his petition.

“I’m thrilled with that. Spreading diversity in this area is very important and this shows they are willing to accept more cultures in the area. I felt very strongly about this. I think it increases tolerance,” Sahu told the Bucks County Courier Times.

Rajan Zed, the president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, agreed in a statement, asking “If schools had declared other religious holidays, why not Diwali?”

“Holidays of all major religions should be honored and no one should be penalized for practicing their religion,” he added, lauding the Council Rock board for its 7-0 unanimous vote for declaring Diwali as an official holiday.

“I want Hindus to keep their identity and still be able to celebrate their holiday,” Sahu told News India Times, adding that he would like to “thank the diversity advisory board of my district and condemn the school board for accepting Diwali as an official holiday.”

Though, Jerold Grupp, the school board President told the Bucks County Courier Times that the approval of the holiday will be considered on a yearly basis as Diwali falls on a weekend the next two years, after next year.

According to the Bucks County Courier Times, Zed has urged all public school districts and charter schools in Pennsylvania to grant a day off for Diwali and that awareness about other religions created by granting days off school for holidays like Diwali would make Pennsylvania students “well-nurtured, well-balanced, and enlightened citizens of tomorrow,” adding that there are three million Hindus living in the U.S.

When Sahu did the research for his presentation, he found that only one other school district in Pennsylvania had Diwali as an official holiday while in New Jersey, where there is a larger population of Indian Americans, had four.

Sahu also encourages school districts around the country to consider Diwali as an official holiday.

“I think the students should take initiative rather than the adults because it will create a greater impact,” Sahu said.