By Joe Soosai
KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 5 – Do all Indians celebrate Deepavali? The answer is a clear no.
And this was made clear when I asked my gardener Nagaraj last week, on what were his plans for Deepavali?
He answered that he does not celebrate the Hindu festival because he practices the Bahá’í Faith. It was such a different response to what anyone would expect.
He is of Indian origin, has a typical Indian name, and yet did not celebrate Deepavali. But his answer was perfectly acceptable and understandable.
It is also something shared by many Indians in the country, and I am sure in Singapore too. Just because we are Indians, it does not mean we celebrate Deepavali.
As mentioned above, it is a Hindu festival. That is not to mean that as Malaysians, we all can’t also join in the festivities and wish each other Happy Deepavali, just like we do to each other regardless of race or religion during Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Chinese New Year, in a light-hearted way as we share in the joy of the holiday.
Ignorance on Deepavali
But the problem comes when many non-Indians take to wishing all their non-Hindu Indian friends “Happy Deepavali” out of ignorance that it is an Indian celebration.
This has even happened with the other major Hindu festival, Thaipusam, too. Every year, especially since it became a public holiday for most Malaysians over the past decade, many Indians-Christians, are wished “Happy Thaipusam” too.
I recall a heated debate on social media a few years ago, when an FB friend said he had innocently wished his Indian colleague “Happy Deepavali” only to be told, “I don’t celebrate Deepavali, I am a Christian”.
That should have been the end of that, but this FB friend took to Facebook to complain about the “aloofness” of his Indian colleague, as if being wished was wrong, or worse, trying to avoid being seen as an Indian altogether.
Racial and religious debate
A simple response that may not have the tone in which it was taken, turned into a racial and religious debate on social media that took on a life of its own.
Some of the commenters said there was nothing wrong with the response from the Christian friend, as he was just stating a fact.
Others obviously said that the Christian friend could have just replied “Happy Deepavali” and be done with it. But again, it depends on how the person who expressed the greeting meant it.
The Christian friend was probably just clarifying because he would have been facing it year after year, with friends and colleagues thinking that Deepavali was some form of Indian New Year celebration, much like how Chinese New Year is celebrated by all people in the community, regardless of religion.
Are Indian-Muslims wished “Happy Deepavali”?
It is interesting to note that Indian Muslims don’t face this the same way that the Christians from the same community do.
One presumes that it could be because the Malays would clearly know it would be “haram” for their fellow Muslim to celebrate Deepavali, while for the Chinese, they might just want to stay clear of being seen as insensitive to their Muslim friend.
So, there just needs to be more awareness that Deepavali is a Hindu festival, and that Indian Christians, like Indian Muslims, do not celebrate it per se, but just join in the festivities with their Hindu friends, just like their non-Indian friends.
In India, where about 80% of the population is Hindu, it is unavoidable for Muslims and Christians too, to join in as the festivities take up a few days, and with businesses shutdown for a week.
Malaysian way of life
This is not the case in Malaysia though, with Indians being the minority.
Again, there is nothing wrong with wishing any fellow Malaysian “Happy Deepavali”, “Happy Chinese New Year” and “Selamat Hari Raya” while fully aware that it is part of the Malaysian way of life.
However, if a Malaysian friend who is Indian says that he or she does not celebrate Deepavali, just understand that there is no malice behind the answer.
For Indian Christians too, if someone does offer you a “Happy Deepavali” greeting this week, be it in person or on social media, just accept their ignorance or let it fly. If you do wish to clarify, ask the question first if your non-Indian friend is aware that it is a Hindu festival, and not an Indian new year. Help to spread the awareness.
On that note, to all Hindu NMT readers, wishing you all a “Very Happy Deepavali”.
– By Joe Soosai