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US Senate adopts Diwali resolution

November 16, 2007 11:34 IST

The United States Senate on Thursday unanimously adopted a Diwali resolution.

The resolution may have been adopted a week after the festival of lights was celebrated, but it was nonetheless delightful news to the Indian American community that had lobbied for it, particularly the nascent Hindu American Foundation, comprising young professionals, who had earlier seen their efforts bear fruit in the US House of Representatives.

The Senate resolution recognizing the 'religious and historical significance' of Diwali had been introduced by New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez and Texas Republican John Cornyn, and co-sponsored by New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, Michigan Senator Carl Levin, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and Pennsylvania Senator Robert Casey (all Democrats).

Menendez said he was "delighted that the Senate had agreed to pass the resolution to recognize the religious and historical significance of the festival of Diwali," and added that "it is important that we celebrate the great diversity that makes up and strengthens our national fabric."

He said it "gives me great pride to commemorate what Diwali stands for -- a time to be with family, and to pray for health, knowledge and peace."

HAF's executive director Ishani Chowdhury, who was relentless in prevailing upon the lawmakers of both houses to approve this important though symbolic resolution and was constantly on Capitol Hill with her colleague Sheetal Shah in pursuit of this effort, told rediff.com: "It is the first time our lawmakers have accepted and understood Diwali's value, significance, and the contributions of a community that has contributed immensely to the fabric of this great nation."

She was hopeful that the resolutions adopted in both the House and Senate will be catalytic "in providing a clearer viewpoint on issues that impact our society."

Chowdhury also said HAF hoped the community at large will take a page out of their copybook of lobbying Congress and 'provide inspiration for others to become involved in educating their town, school or community center about Diwali and other issues.'

Dr Mihir Meghani, founder and president of HAF, said the passage of the House and Senate Diwali resolutions 'signifies the tremendous increase in understanding of Hinduism that has occurred among US policymakers and elected officials since HAF started.'

Meghani said, "It signifies a maturing process in our community as we are able to work with elected representatives and get something tangible passed. We hope this momentum will lead to Diwali being recognized at the state level, being listed on more calendars and eventually being recognized as a national holiday."

"We also hope this makes it easier for employees and students who wish to celebrate or honour Diwali to take time off from work or school," he added.

Meanwhile, Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama, in a message of Diwali greetings to the Indian American community, said it was a 'wonderful opportunity' to reflect on the progress of the year past and rededicate ourselves to spreading peace and tolerance in the year to come.'

Obama said, "This celebration of the triumph of illumination over ignorance has a special meaning for me this year. I have travelled across America for the last ten months meeting people of every spiritual and ethnic background, and I have been struck by how much progress we have made."

Obama added that 'Americans, despite our varied backgrounds, share a set of core beliefs, such as the belief that all people are created equal, and the belief that each person should be free to practice or not practice religion as they choose."

He acknowledged that "these beliefs have faced challenges at home and abroad throughout history, but they are the beliefs our nation was founded on, and we always return to them."

The presidential candidate said, "The fact that my candidacy is even possible is one more sign of our nation's progress in living up to these beliefs," and making a pitch for his presidential bid, added, "I look forward to renewing America's moral leadership as President."

"The fight against ignorance and intolerance has always been one we must win, but now, more than ever, it is one we can win," he said.

Democratic presidential front-runner Senator Hillary Clinton, who had sent out Diwali greetings more than a week before the festival, repeated her greetings although in a more abridged form than her earlier lengthy message, reiterating that Diwali was "a time to celebrate our common humanity and remind us of the importance of family and friends."

She pointed out that "the United States was founded on a great tradition of religious liberty and Indian Americans of all faiths have helped to demonstrate that our diversity is indeed strength."

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC