GURU GATHERING. Sophomore Ria Sethi gathers with family and friends to listen to prayers for Diwali.  They listen to a Guru who recounts stories of the significance of the holiday. At the conclusion of the event, the participants will celebrate with a feast to honor the holiday.
GURU GATHERING. Sophomore Ria Sethi gathers with family and friends to listen to prayers for Diwali. They listen to a Guru who recounts stories of the significance of the holiday. At the conclusion of the event, the participants will celebrate with a feast to honor the holiday.
Jasmine Bhogaita

Hindus in Broward County petition for Diwali to become a school holiday

Hindus of Broward County have created a petition to add Diwali as an official day off of school for Broward County Public Schools effective the 2024-2025 school year. Led by the Coalition of Hindus of North America and the Networking for Hindu Professionals, the petition aims to raise awareness around the issue, as well as garner support from Hindus. The goal is to obtain 50,000 signatures, which represents the estimated 50,000 residents who observe the holiday in Broward County, and then bring the petition to the School Board of Broward County for consideration.

Every year, friends and family come together to celebrate the Hindu holiday Diwali: the festival of lights. The holiday, also known as Deepavali, celebrates the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness. It only lasts for one day, but the extravagant festivities and preparations can commence for two days before and after. All day, families work to prepare a spread of food and sweets and exchange gifts and blessings.

Diyas–small, colorful oil lamps–are lit around the home, and fireworks go off in the air. Lively music plays as people chat with their loved ones. But for many students, trying to enjoy Diwali after a long school day takes away from the cultural experience.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students who attend school all day cannot begin celebrations with their families until they finish their schoolwork. Some of these traditions require participants to wake up early in the morning or stay up late at night. These can affect a student’s performance in school or on their exams.

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“My normal day on Diwali is to wake up at 5 a.m. for a two-hour puja [prayer], then get dressed and go to school. After I come back, I do my homework right away, so I can go to the Gurudwara [religious ceremony in Sikhism],” sophomore Manpreet Chhabra said. “If Diwali were a day off, not only would I have more time with my family, but I would also spend the day helping my mom so we can prepare the house.”

In traditional Hindu mythology, Diwali honors the day Lord Rama defeated the demon king Ravana and took back his Kingdom of Ayodhya after a 14-year banishment. To mark his return, the people of Ayodhya lit diyas and adorned their porches with rangolis, or colorful patterns made of chalk and rice, to help light the path for Lord Rama back home.

The holiday is of extreme importance to the Hindu religion and culture, and young children and teens play an especially vital role in the day. By not having a day off to celebrate and learn, some students feel that the school district is not representing the Hindu and Indian culture.

“I feel that Broward County Schools should give Diwali as a day off of school to allow those who celebrate to spend the day with their family and to embrace their culture without having to worry about homework or the stress of school,” Co-President of the Indian Student Association Aneesha Nookala said.

Students also felt that the way they celebrate Diwali could be more involved and closer to traditional ways of celebrating if they had more time in the day to express their religion.

“If we got the day off, my family and I would go to the temple and do a prayer,” freshman Neal Sethi said. “I think that right now it is hard to do that because we have school.”

For students at MSD who choose to stay home on Diwali, they will receive an excused absence if their parent or guardian calls within two days. This is in accordance with the BCPS Policy, which gives excused absences for religious holidays and events.

Currently in Broward County, days off and holiday breaks are given to most other religious groups. This includes Christmas and Easter for Christians, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur for Jews, and most recently, Eid ul-Fitr as an observed Muslim day off.

The case of Eid ul-Fitr is especially noteworthy, as after effort and promotion from the Muslim community, the holiday was voted in as an official day off from school. With a similar effort by Hindus in Broward County, the same effect can be achieved for Diwali.

“I think it is important for everyone to show interest in signing the petition to have Diwali as a holiday in order to actually have an impact,” Nookala said. “The more people that are on board with the petition, the more likely we are to make a change.”

This effort follows a continuous movement to make Indian and Hindu representation within Broward County more prevalent. Earlier this year, BCPS declared November to be Hindu Heritage Month.

With collective work from people across the county, Diwali can become one step closer to becoming a recognized day off, furthering the cultural diversity and inclusivity of the county and its representation of the different students who live within its boundaries.

This story was originally published in the October 2023 Eagle Eye print edition.

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About the Contributor
Jasmine Bhogaita
Jasmine Bhogaita, News Editor
Jasmine Bhogaita is a sophomore at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and she is a News Editor for Eagle Eye News. She is involved in the ISA and Book Club at MSD. Outside of school, she enjoys reading, playing the piano and spending time with family and friends.
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