‘Not fair’: Push for new public holiday

November Calendar on Yellow Background
Would you like a new public holiday? Image: Getty

An international Hindu society is calling for Diwali to be recognised as a public holiday in the Australian Capital Territory, claiming it’s “not fair” the Hindu community must work on the festival.

Diwali or Deepavali is a festival of lights which celebrates the triumph of light over darkness and good over evil. It’s widely associated with the Hindu goddess of prosperity, Lakshmi. While the festival extends over five days, the festival climax is on the third day which this year fell on Saturday 14 November.

Speaking from Nevada USA, the Universal Society of Hinduism president Rajan Zed said the ACT needs to change its policy to reflect the changing demographics of the state.

Hinduism is considered one of the fastest growing religions in Australia, although it remains a relatively small 2.1 per cent of the overall population. In the last 30 years, the number of Hindu followers in Australia has grown from 20,000 to 444,000 in 2018.

He made similar calls for New Zealand to embrace the annual holiday and called on ACT Roman Catholic Archbishop Christopher Prowse and Anglican Diocesan Bishop Mark Short to support a Diwali holiday as an interfaith gesture of goodwill.

More than 1 billion people around the world celebrate Diwali, but it is a holiday in relatively few countries including Singapore, Mauritius, Malaysia and India.

It’s been celebrated as a religious event in Australia since 1998, although this year’s celebrations had a deeper message as the world grapples with the Covid-19 pandemic.

As it stands, Australia’s public holidays adhere to Christianity and other nationally historical dates like Australia Day, Anzac Day and Labour Day.

Queensland last year made Christmas Eve a part holiday, with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk saying Christmas Eve is as important to families as Christmas Day itself.

Mental health consumer advocates have also called for Australia to introduce a public holiday recognising mental health.

According to mental health consumer advisory group Being, a designated public holiday would kickstart conversations about when it was appropriate for workers to take mental health leave.

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