Hindu families of Millburn district campaigning for school holiday of Diwali

map_of_millburn_nj (1)A large section of the Indian community in Millburn-Short Hills is upset at the way a vocal part of the community has been campaigning for making Diwali a school holiday in the Millburn school district.

Diwali or Deepavali, loosely translated as a “festival of lights” is a major Hindu festival and is celebrated with lights and fireworks. Like Holi, a Hindu festival that is celebrated in spring with vibrant colors, Diwali has worldwide appeal irrespective of religion, culture or tradition given its participatory, lively and joyous celebration of highest human values. Diwali’s essence is best captured in just 18 words of a revered verse in the Vedic texts: “Lead me from ignorance to truth, Lead me from darkness to light, Lead me from death to immortality.” Who can argue with that?

The mad rush to get Diwali incorporated as a school holiday by the self-styled paragons of the community is making a mockery of the idea in its intent and content; is totally clueless of the school logistics; and is brash and insensitive in engaging the Indian community and the Millburn society at large.

As Hindus by way of life, most members of the Indian community welcome a Diwali holiday whatever its specific appeal to them on a cultural, social, spiritual, traditional or religious front. Many parents, including my wife, have introduced the concept of Diwali in Millburn classrooms by way of cultural interaction, and the efforts were widely welcomed by teachers and children. This process should continue, and if anything the Indian community should have an annual celebration of Diwali in Taylor Park and the Bauer Community Center on a weekend with food, festivities and fireworks for all of Millburn-Short Hills to be a part of it. Why not give before asking?

More importantly, the school system is set up for a wholesome education at the district level, and accordingly the logistics of education matter. The limitations of the calendar after setting aside the mandatory number of school days and an allowance for snow days and other contingencies are clear. Whatever the remaining days that are left are absorbed by two one-week vacations, and religious/cultural holidays that fall within a school year. In this context, the Millburn Board of Education needs to fully explore suggestions like opening up the school year earlier by a week, and folding two one-week vacations into one-week to make way for the changing demographics and the changing needs of the community, and also the harsh weather as seen this year. If there are practical limitations, then make all religious holidays optional for each community without fear or favor. More importantly, why not focus on core education first, and incorporate some welcome suggestions by a board member who also happens to be a student?

We are in a globalized world for better or for worse, and a free flow of capital, people, ideas and information entail a thoughtful interaction and absorption of ideas with respect and sensitivity to all cultures and traditions. One can understand the frustration in pursuing the idea of Diwali with the Millburn Board of Education, which has a lopsided representation from one zip code and from one community, but it does not mean one cannot effect change with humility and persuasion. I believe the composition of the board has changed for the better since last elections, and there is opportunity for more improvement with the elections this year.

As for Diwali, let the idea simmer. Whether the holiday is incorporated in the upcoming school year or the next it does not matter for the spiritual genius and cultural vibrancy of one-sixth of humanity. Meanwhile, let the Indian community organize a collective Diwali for all of Millburn-Short Hills to enjoy this year for a start. Let us all celebrate Diwali in the best tradition of Hinduism which considers truth, happiness and self-realization as universal tenets, and not reduce the campaign for a Diwali holiday into a circus.

Editor’s note: Glen Avenue resident Hari Chandra has lived in the township since 2007 and has one child attending Wyoming School.

Source: North Jersey.com