For me, religious festivals and celebrations have become an important way to teach my children about how we can transform living with diversity from the superficial ‘I eat ethnic food’, to something dignified, mutually respectful and worthwhile.
– Randa Abdel-Fattah, Australian writer
In a few days’ time Deepavali or Diwali, the ‘Festival of Lights’ will be celebrated the world over. It is a celebration with origins that stretch back to time immemorial.
This ancient celebration is linked to various regions of India. Each region of India has its own specific story or religious reason for this very joyous, colourful and tradition rich Diwali celebrations.
However, all the various origins for the Deepavali celebrations have one common and important thread running through it, the conquest of good over evil and the acquisition of knowledge to do good in our society.
This unifying factor brings all the many Indian ethic groups together for a common purpose and celebration.
Deepavali is celebrated across Malaysia (except Sarawak) either in the months of October or November as a public holiday.
In Miri the Indian community had their Deepavali celebration in a hotel ballroom about two weeks early, last Saturday evening with a gathering of about 500 people.
The celebration was held early as it allowed the Indian community greater participation in the event. This is because as the actual date approaches, the Indians are busy either getting ready for their family gatherings or open house receptions. Some also travel back to their home towns.
The celebration on Saturday has Assistant Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Datuk Sebastian Ting as the guest of honour accompanied by Miri Mayor Adam Yii. It was well attended by a cross section of the Indian society and with representations from other Indian-based NGO’s from across Sarawak.
This multiracial Deepavali gathering has become a feature of our celebrations here in Miri. Even those participating in the performances comprised all the races in the state, making it a truly ‘1Sarawak Deepavali’ gathering.
There are apparently about 10,000 Indians residing in Sarawak. Many Indian-based NGOs have over the years clamoured for a public holiday as a sign of recognition for the community’s presence here.
Perhaps their small population doesn’t warrant a public holiday in Sarawak. Therefore, if this is the reason, short of increasing their procreation rate prodigiously, there will be no public holiday declared anytime soon.
Of course, there is the other alternative of granting several thousand Indians residency rights in Sarawak to qualify for a public holiday. However, we should not hold our breath for this to happen and therefore is also unlikely.
Therefore, in the absence of a large Indian population, I am sure various other justifications can be put forward.
One such reason could be that to develop Sarawak, many Indians were brought here by the Rajah Brooke family to participate in nation-building activities and therefore, as a sign of appreciation and inclusivity a public holiday could be granted.
Having Deepavali as a holiday could also attract more tourists and tourist-related products to Sarawak. It would definitely add to the image of Sarawak being a land of festivals and events.
The addition of another public holiday can also spur our economy in the services sector. It is generally acknowledged that public holidays are a catalyst to spending in the services sector and would therefore be a boon to those in the recreational, food and beverage, and retail sector.
There is also an alternative approach to granting public holidays. Since granting an entire working day is not considered viable at the moment, other options can be considered.
Perhaps in Sarawak the nearest Saturday to the actual Deepavali date can be selected and declared as a public holiday. This I think would be more viable and I am sure will be accepted as a reasonable and equitable approach by the local Indians.
Having said that, ultimately what is more important in Sarawak is that we carry on the precious ethos of Deepavali, the triumph of good over evil, and the acquisition of knowledge to do good to our fellow Sarawakians.
Sarawak, as an abode of peace, tranquility and growth must continue. All the various aspects of Deepavali are already being practised here and let’s continue celebrating it here every day.
I would like to wish all Sarawakians a wonderful and joyous Diwali and enjoy the essence and spirit in which it is celebrated worldwide.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.