Students showcase Indian culture, ask district for day off

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Students of Indian decent dressed in traditional Indian clothing Thursday, Oct. 19 as part of an initiative to showcase their culture and to raise awareness for a prominent Indian celebration, Diwali.

Diwali is the Hindu Festival of Lights, celebrated in autumn. It is believed that on this day, Rama — an incarnation of the god Vishnu — returned home after 14 years of exile and defeating a demon, Ravana, in order to save his wife. According to senior Veena Reddy, Diwali is one of the few festivals celebrated across all of India.

“India has so many different cultures and religions, and even within the Hindu culture some people don’t always celebrate every single custom within the practice,” Reddy said. “But Diwali is an exception — it’s one where everyone comes together and celebrates.”

True to its name, Diwali celebrations are characterized by light.

“Diwali is celebrated by lighting the house with a bunch of deepams, or candles,” senior Samhitha Yadalla wrote to the Talon. “We also gather with family and friends to set off reworks and light recrackers and sometimes we exchange gifts as well.”

However, despite Diwali being a central part of the culture for many stu- dents in Oak Park, there is no day off from school for the holiday.

“I think [there’s no day off] because nobody has really raised awareness towards the topic and nobody’s really brought it up recently,” freshman Prek- sha Rao said.

Preksha Rao and freshmen Prerana Rao and Prinaka Drona decided to bring the issue to superintendent Tony Knight to see if a change could be made. Ac- cording to Knight, the implementation of such a change would be dif cult.

“We already have more holidays in the rst semester than in the second and the two semesters are not balanced,” Knight wrote to the Talon. “We could add the holiday and then take a day from another break in the year, but I can’t see where at this point. This calendar is extremely tight. We must go to school 180 days a year under the law, so we can’t just add one without making it up somewhere else.”

This issue is further complicated by the fact that the date of Diwali var- ies from year to year because it is celebrated according to the lunar calendar. Under these circumstances, the implementation of a day off would take two years because the OPUSD Calendar Committee — made up of parents, teachers, administrators and school board members — approves the school calendars for two years in advance.

Meanwhile, Preksha Rao, Prerana Rao and Drona decided to raise aware- ness for the holiday by spreading word to Indian students to wear traditional festive attire to school on Diwali. Students from all grade levels participated; however, senior Nishka Vipul said that the event was not a protest.

“We’re just celebrating, it’s fun and we need a reason to wear Indian clothes — they’re so pretty,” Vipul said.

Freshman Nikhil Kalakota is hopeful about the future prospect of a day off for Diwali.

“The Indian population is growing so now it’s a bigger issue,” Kalakota said. “Maybe it’s because we’re still a minority — not in Oak Park but all around. Schools on the east coast started giving Diwali as a holiday.”

Knight intends to meet with Preksha Rao, Prerana Rao and Drona Tuesday, Oct. 24 to further explore the issue, which has already been discussed with the principals of OPUSD.

“I think we could make some changes in the future, such as not scheduling events that are the same day, asking teachers not give homework on that night and not have tests the next day,” Knight wrote. “We could also look at moving one minimum day that already exists on the secondary school calendar to that day.”

Reddy, however, is less concerned with the logistics of the implementation of a day off than with the celebration of the culture of her and her peers.

“[Dressing up is] mainly just to show our Indian pride and to celebrate the festival because it is such a big thing in India and in our culture too,” Reddy said. “I just feel like it deserves to be shared with everyone.”

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