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Calgary student asks CBE to consider school holiday for Diwali

Click to play video: 'Calgary student asks CBE for Diwali school holiday; Brooks schools get day off for Eid al-Fitr' Calgary student asks CBE for Diwali school holiday; Brooks schools get day off for Eid al-Fitr
WATCH: A Calgary junior high student is asking the Calgary Board of Education to make Diwali and Holi traditional holidays for CBE schools. Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports. – May 16, 2022

A Calgary junior high student is asking the Calgary Board of Education to make Diwali and Holi traditional holidays for CBE schools.

Pujeet Garg is a 13-year-old Grade 8 student at Fairview School. He recently sent a letter to CBE trustees.

“Making Holi and Diwali holidays in the CBE will immensely impact students in a positive manner. It will be a beacon of multiculturalism across Canada, celebrating South Asian culture during Asian heritage month,” Garg wrote.

He said the festivals of Diwali and Holi are very important to Indian culture because both days celebrate the triumph of goodness and holiness over sin and evil and signify the importance of restoring good in the world.

Read more: ‘Special day for our people.’ Calgarians mark 1st National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

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Garg said this year his class alone has 10 Hindu students out of 27.

Garg’s parents moved to Calgary from India, where students and workers normally get time off to celebrate Diwali.

He says it’s tough for Hindu kids like him to be sitting at school during Diwali.

“On those days when you are stuck in a chair, you don’t feel as good because you feel like you’re supposed to be home with your loved ones celebrating this massively important holiday but instead you’re just stuck there.

“It’s very disheartening to those that have to go through this,” Garg said.

Read more: How Diwali will be celebrated in Edmonton during a pandemic

He said many Hindus in Calgary have children who are attending public schools.

“Most of them go to CBE schools. This will be a beacon to multiculturalism and it will help make Hindus feel more connected to Calgary,” Garg said.

“I don’t think it’s fair to have only Christian holidays because I understand those days are important and they do make up a majority of Calgary but they’re not the only ones,” the Grade 8 student said.

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He’s created an online petition to support the cause.

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Next year, all students enrolled in the Grasslands Public Schools district in southeast Alberta will have a day off for Eid al-Fitr. That decision was made as a result the combined efforts of students and administrators working with researchers from the University of Calgary.

“I think it’s extremely empowering for them. They feel like they’ve been heard,” said Rahat Zaidi, professor and chair of Language and Literacy at the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary.

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Zaidi said the decision shows the district is trying to build a sense of community in the school division, where around 35 per cent of the population is Muslim.

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“It is identity affirming for minority groups to be heard within the context of broader society in today’s day and age, and it is connected to feeling like you belong and to not feel like you have to perhaps take a day off,” Zaidi said.

Zaidi said it was a “big deal” for the students at Brooks Composite High School to approach the district superintendent to propose changes.  She calls the students emerging leaders.

“As a researcher, I saw the impact of engaging with the community and providing students from minority groups with a platform to express some of their ideas and seeing how administrators can empower students wonderfully by providing them with platforms where they feel safe enough to actually even begin to approach something like this,” Zaidi said.

Read more: Calgary Board of Education will form name review committee for Sir John A. Macdonald School

In a statement to Global News, the CBE said:

“We heard from students, staff and our community that recognizing holidays from all religions is meaningful and would contribute to a welcoming, caring and safe school and work environment.

“At this time, CBE leaders have not had any formal conversations about adding any holidays to the calendar.”

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“Christian holidays are just as important as Hindu holidays,” Garg said.

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“I just think that Hindu holidays would be a good way to celebrate multiculturalism and help us move forward.”

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