Diwali must reflect and resonate Indian values

Priyanca Radhakrishnan 

Happy Diwali to all who celebrate the Festival!

As this is my first article since the 2017 General Election, I also take this opportunity to thank all New Zealanders who supported me on my journey as a Labour candidate and at the polling booths last month.

Thank you!

It is indeed a privilege to be a Member of Parliament – it is exciting and it is a role that comes with great responsibility.

I look forward to continued engagement with our Indian communities across New Zealand – and all of you to keeping me accountable!

An introspection

Each year around this time, I reflect on what Diwali means to me.

As an Indian child growing up in a nuclear family in Singapore, it was usually a low-key celebration in my family.

Growing up, I was slightly envious of cousins and friends in India who always seemed to have a lot more fun at festivals than we did!

As I reflect on festivals we celebrated at home – Diwali, Dussehra (or Vijayadashami as we knew it), Onam (Kerala’s harvest festival) and Vishu (Malayali New Year) – the one outstanding feature was that it was always about people and togetherness.

More than gifts or new clothes, in my family, it was about spending time with one another, prayer and reflecting on the meaning of that festival.

Different significance

Diwali, especially here in New Zealand, holds a few different significances for me.

The Festival of Light celebrates some very important values. The triumph of light over darkness symbolises the victory of good over evil; truth over deceit; knowledge over ignorance. Those are values that were instilled in me as a child; values that continue to guide my life.

Festivals like Diwali play an important role in bringing families and communities together. In Auckland alone, there are many celebrations that bring different parts of our Indian community together. Different generations celebrate together. Older generations pass on stories and wisdom to the next. These festivals help the next generations feel connected to their Indian roots.

Indian festivals are now celebrated very publicly in New Zealand – and that is great.

It gives Indian New Zealanders an opportunity to celebrate what makes us unique.

It also gives non-Indians a glimpse into the beauty and richness of Indian festivals – the colour, the music, dance, food and fabric.

Need for change

However, it could reduce us to spicy food and Bollywood numbers in the eyes of the uninitiated. As someone who loves India’s wide variety of classical and folk music and dance, our philosophies and ancient successes in the fields of science, mathematics, literature and the arts, I would love to see our festivals showcase more of India’s finest contributions on the global stage.

Open Homes

I grew up in a multicultural society, where we celebrated each other’s festivals. Singapore has a wonderful tradition of open homes. Malay/Muslim families throw their doors open to family, friends and colleagues at Hari Raya/Eid as Chinese families do at Chinese New Year and Hindus during Diwali.

People wander in and out throughout the day.

There was always lots of delicious food, sweets spread out on tables. Often, simple gifts of fruits are exchanged. My friends and I went to them all – Hari Raya/Eid, Chinese New Year and Diwali, or Deepavali as it’s more commonly known in Singapore. We learnt so much about each other’s cultures that way.

New Zealand is a country of great cultural diversity. We should celebrate this diversity and remember that we are stronger because of it, not in spite of it.

This Diwali, I wish you and your family light, love, peace and happiness.

Happy Diwali!

Priyanca Radhakrishnan was elected as List MP of the New Zealand Labour Party at the General Election held on September 23, 2017. She is a learned woman with a deep concern for the poor and the needy and with strong opinions on issues of national and international significance. She pursues her beliefs and values with vigour and without compromise.

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