The decade-long quest by community activist Dr Shailendra Kumar of Maryland to convince the US Postal Service to issue a stamp commemorating Diwali as it has other religious festivals, has gotten a boost with Congressman Frank Pallone introducing legislation urging the Postal Service to do just that, particularly now that President Barack Obama himself lit the White House diya in observing Diwali.
Pallone, a New Jersey Democrat, and founder of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, in introducing the bill said that the campaign calling on the USPS to issue a Diwali stamp had received widespread community support and argued that "Diwali is a truly marvelous holiday that is celebrated by Indians all over the world and it deserves this recognition."
The lawmaker explained to his colleagues in soliciting their support for his legislation that "the rich culture and spirit of the Indian festival has survived political, economic and social attacks throughout history, while always carrying the universal symbolism of the triumph of goodness, knowledge and truth."
Pointing out that the Citizen's Stamp Advisory Commission under the US Postal Service currently issues many stamps with holiday theme, including Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and Eid that are of significance to Christians, African Americans, Jews and Muslims respectively, Pallone called on the Committee to "consider a Diwali stamp to honor this culturally significant holiday."
Congressional sources acknowledged that Pallone's legislation this time around should not only elicit much traction, but now particularly since the White House on October 14 had not only hosted Diwali, but President Barack Obama himself was on hand to light the White House diya and deliver remarks about the significance of Diwali should necessarily put some pressure on the Citizen's Stamp Advisory Committee to seriously consider the request.
Kumar, a urologist and one of the founding members of the Indian American Forum for Political Education, the oldest community political organization, told rediff.com that "for eight years, the Indian American community has requested the post department to issue a stamp honoring Diwali," just as it has Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Eid and the Chinese New Year "as part of recognizing the true cultural diversity of our nation." He said that the campaign he had launched eight years ago, had resulted in 'nearly half-a-million petitions being sent to the US postal service," and added, "there is broad national appeal and support for a Diwali stamp."
Lauding Pallone for introducing legislation in this regard, he said "many resolutions have been passed in the US House of Representatives and the Senate supporting this," and said that besides Pallone in the past, others who had taken the lead in this in years past have been Congressmen Jim McDermott, Joe Wilson--current and erstwhile co-chair of the India Caucus respectively--and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
"Jointly and separately, they have garnered over 80 co-sponsors," he said, and noted that lawmakers in both the House and Senate are now fully aware of Diwali "as one of the most important and colorful of India festivals that is celebrated enthusiastically by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Muslims and Buddhists of Indian descent all over the world."
Kumar said it's high time "this marvelous holiday got the recognition it deserves," and said "it is clear that the Diwali stamp will more than adequately meet all the criteria and the US Postal Service needs to understand it sooner rather than later."
He said that if the USPS can issue stamps not just for the religious festivals of other faiths, but also for more than 24 animal and plant species, lighthouses, movie stars, 20 Marvel superheroes, four Disney stamps, and even Kermit the Frog, "we don't see any reason they can't recognize Diwali which is celebrated by almost a billion people the world over, including in the United States."
Kumar exhorted members of the community to keep flooding the Citizen's Stamp Advisory Commission with petitions urging the issuance of a Diwali stamp, particularly since it had met all the criteria to make it eligible. He also urged the community to contact the respective legislators and convince them to not only support Pallone's bill but also to make sure that the legislation had a large number of co-sponsors and it adopted "because this hopefully should get the attention of the Post Office's Advisory Commission."
In the most recent response dated July 21, 2009, to the Committee for the Diwali Postage Stamp set up by Kumar, James K Carl, the Government Relations Representative of the USPS, said that "the proposal for the Diwali stamp remains under consideration by the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee for future stamp issuance."
Kumar said that this was the same spiel "we've been receiving for the past several years and we feel that eight years and half-a-million petitions are good enough for making the Diwali stamp a reality," now more than ever because President Obama himself had personally "observed Diwali in the White House and given it the kind of legitimacy and significance it deserves."
Kumar provided the address and e-mail for this purpose, saying that the petition should be sent to the chairman of the Citizen's Stamp Advisory Committee, c/o US Postal Service, Stamp Services, 1735 North Lynn Street, Suite 5013, Arlington, VA 22209-6432 or to PMGCEO@usps.gov.