With the rising influence of the Indian-American community in the administration and in political circles, several U.S. lawmakers Reps. Joe Wilson, R-South Carolina, Paul Sarbanes, D-Maryland, Al Wynn, D-Maryland, leaders of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, like Frank Pallone, D-N.J., Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., and more recently Reps. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., Ami Bera, D-California, and Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., joined the cause. Grassroots organizations from coast to coast carried on efforts including the Indiaspora of California, the Hindu American Foundation, and the Diwali Stamp Project in New York chaired by Ms. Ranju Batra.
For many years, Ms. Batra had felt that in spite of a large Indian-American population in the US, Diwali was not given adequate importance nor celebrated, unlike the festivals of other major religions. During her tenure as the Culture Chair for the Diwali celebration in New York City and the president of AIA-NY, she uplifted the Diwali celebration in New York to such heights that the New York Times recognized her efforts and reported that over 200,000 people attended the celebrations in 2011.
Although she learnt that many Indian-Americans had tried to get a Diwali stamp issued by the USPS and failed, she was determined to make this stamp a reality. She approached Rep. Carolyn Maloney and together they focused on getting paper petitions for this stamp.
Indiaspora also launched an online campaign via www.diwalistamp.com
, encouraging Indian-Americans to call and write to their elected officials on this subject. Along with the members of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), Indiaspora volunteers met with elected officials and staff members at several hundred congressional offices, and convinced many of them to sign on to the congressional resolutions supporting the Diwali Stamp.
In conjunction with HAF and other organizations, Indiaspora also hosted a Diwali celebration in 2015 at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, where more than 50 Senators and Congressmen mingled with over 1,200 influential Indian-Americans. However, this cause took several years to fructify but at the 2014 White House Diwali dinner, Democratic activist Shekar Narasimhan, asked President Obama about the stamp and the goal of this Diwali stamp came closer to reality.
This Aug. 23, when Rep. Carolyn Maloney was joined by Consul General of India in New York Riva Ganguly Das, Ms. Batra and others, it was the culmination of a long and arduous campaign. The Indiaspora founder, MR Rangaswami lauded Rep. Maloney for introducing House Resolutions in Congresses to urge USPS to release the Diwali stamp. He felt that this stamp showed the maturation of the three million-strong Indian-American Community. Kumar added that this stamp not only recognized the contributions of Indian-Americans but also propagated universal ideas, such as the victory of good over evil, light over darkness.
Congratulations poured in from numerous lawmakers who were part of the campaign and recognized the grassroots efforts of the community. Rep. Bera, co-chair of the India Caucus said he was ‘thrilled” with the stamp announcement. “Nearly a billion people around the world celebrate this Festival of Lights, including 2 million right here in the U.S., and this stamp represents the hard work and achievements of all Indian Americans,” Bera added.
“I’m thrilled that Diwali will finally be recognized for the important role it plays in the fabric of our nation,” said Rep. Meng in a statement.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, the only Hindu Congresswoman, congratulated the grassroots efforts. “This has been a long and arduous process but this act by the U.S. Postal Service to recognize this special day and to further increase and enrich our nation’s tapestry of religious and cultural diversity will be greatly appreciated by many,” Gabbard said.
Sally Andersen-Bruce of New Milford, Conn., photographed the Diya. Greg Breeding of Charlottesville, Va., designed the stamp and William J. Gicker of Washington, D.C., served as the project’s art director, the USPS said in its press release.