Two weeks ago was Diwali – a holiday celebrated by more than a billion people, mostly Hindus, worldwide. It seemed fitting that Rishi Sunak, the son of immigrants with Indian heritage and himself a practicing Hindu was confirmed as the new British Prime Minister on October 24, the date on which Diwali fell this year. A photo showing him lighting a diya (a traditional clay lamp) outside 11 Downing Street in 2019 went viral. Millions of Hindus across the world celebrated this feeling of being seen and having their religious observations recognized. Not lost on them was the fact that someone w: ho looks like them now leads the country that once colonized them.
Across the pond, in the week before Diwali, Mayor Eric Adams announced that Diwali will become a public school holiday in New York City starting in 2023. A friend who currently lives in New Jersey but came from the New York City school and college system wrote on Facebook, “I can’t quite express in words what it feels like to be seen and heard. This is so so amazing.”
On the same day as Diwali, speaking at an event at Rowan University, former gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciatterelli blamed his 2021 loss on the lack of diversity in his campaign. “Quite frankly,” he said, “My team was too white.” The issue, frankly, was not his team but his platform. His embrace of the GOP’s policies that undermine communities of color and uphold privilege were the reason that he did not gain support among Black and brown voters. While inclusion on campaign staff is a good start, what these communities need is inclusion in leadership positions and policy making.
New Jersey is home to over 275K Hindus, at 3% – the highest of any state as percentage of population. These voters are looking for leaders who look like them. We are looking for policy makers who will engage with us beyond a “garba dance” or “diya lighting” and work to address the issues faced by our communities. Our time has come, we deserve more than a seat at every table where decisions are made , we need a voice!
Anjali Mehrotra is a fierce feminist and activist. She is a member of the New Jersey Asian American and Pacific Islander Commission and on Union County’s Advisory Board on the Status of Minorities. She continues to speak out against the marginalization of under-represented communities in the halls of power where they are often excluded from the rooms where decisions are made.