Throughout the day, I listened to people acknowledging Veterans Day, but not Diwali, the biggest holiday for Hindus. Hinduism is the third largest religion of the world, and includes 15 percent of the world’s population.
Under the Ann Arbor Public Schools Religious Calendar section, it says “The Ann Arbor Public School District has made a commitment to celebrate and honor the rich cultural diversity of our students and our community.” Am I not part of the cultural diversity of AAPS?
The festival of Diwali is celebrated by over one billion people in the world. Eid, celebrated by about 1.57 billion Muslims, and Yom Kippur, celebrated by around 14 million Jews, are recognized by AAPS as three-star holidays. On three-star holidays, teachers are not allowed to give quizzes longer than ten-minutes, along with other restrictions involving major tests and sports activities. Many other holidays are recognized as two and one-star, meaning that students are allowed to be excused for the day for them. Major Hindu holidays like Diwali and Navaratri are not even recognized as one-star.
Indians are the third-highest minority group in Ann Arbor, based on demographics and population information from 2000. The majority of Indians are Hindu, a religion that is prominent in the world. It is unfair to not have recognition along with the opportunity to celebrate what we believe, and that will only pull us away from our culture in the long-run. Religion isn’t often taught in schools, but what it needs is awareness. “We are a diverse community reflecting many traditions and perspectives,” the AAPS religious calendar website says. Three-star holiday recognition should at least be awarded to one major holiday in every religious group represented in AAPS, not just Islam, Judaism and Christianity.
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Diwali is the Festival of Lights. It is the day we turn on all the lights, and set every candle aflame to guide one of our gods, Rama, home from his 14 year banishment. It is a day to celebrate good over evil, and purify our minds. People dress up and set off fireworks, as well as give everyone new clothes and other gifts. We pray to Maha Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, for a good year.
For us to opt out of festivities on Diwali to study for tests, finish projects or do homework is not worth it. The festival is of equal importance to any three-star holiday AAPS recognizes, and it is not alone. We are not asking for all nine days off for Navaratri, or four days off for Diwali; we are asking for awareness and recognition, and AAPS can fulfill its claims.