Rajan Zed, president of Universal Society of Hinduism, recently called upon public as well as private schools in South Carolina that have a significant number of Hindu students, to include Diwali, which is the most celebrated Hindu festival, as a school holiday for the 2015-2016 calendar and beyond. He said that it is unfair to Hindu students and their families to be separated on Diwali when Christian students get to stay in and celebrate with their folks on Easter and Christmas.
“This unfairness (does) not send a good signal to the impressionable minds of schoolchildren who would be the leaders of tomorrow. Holidays of all major religions should be honored and no one should be penalized for practicing their religion. Moreover, it was important to meet the religious and spiritual needs of these students,” Zed stated.
Zed also pointed out that it is important for Hindu families to observe Diwali together, as it fosters the same values that Christian holidays do. He described Diwali as the festival of lights that is aimed at dispersing darkness and lighting up lives to signify good’s victory over evil.
“We did not want our children to be deprived of any privileges at the school because of thus resulting absences on this day. Closing schools on Diwali would ensure that and it would be a step in the right direction. … Hinduism is rich in festivals and religious festivals are very dear and sacred to Hindus,” said Zed.
He stressed that apart from Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists celebrate Diwali as well.
The lack of religion and religious practices in public schools is usually criticized in the context of Christianity with Bibles being removed and prayers being disallowed on school premises. However, America constitutes a diverse and secular society with the foundation of its Constitution based on religious freedom. There is no government approval or disapproval of any faith and thus majority Christians are not expected to be privy to any more privileges than minority Jews, Muslims, Hindus or atheists. Yet, while all students are permitted to pray on school premises on the basis of freedom of religion, not all of them are granted offs on days that may be of some religious significance to them.
At one point, Good Friday and Christmas used to be recognized as holidays for public schools but today those names have been done away with, with the religious observations being added to spring break and winter holidays respectively.
Hinduism happens to be the third-largest religion in the world with close to a billion followers. In the United States alone, there are as many as three million Hindus.
While Zed’s demand may seem justified to some, schools across North Carolina accepting his request for Diwali to be declared a holiday would naturally cause other religions to expect holidays for their individual observations. And despite private schools being free to observe any holiday they like, as long as they meet the state’s mandated number of working days each year, public schools are not free to make such decisions.
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