‘Diwali has been cancelled’: King’s students on their celebrations from home
‘I can’t even imagine celebrating Diwali alone, it’s meant to be enjoyed with family and the people we love’
Diwali 2020 felt like a battery-operated tea light.
The festival of lights is anything but little, it is celebrated by over a billion people worldwide and over a million in the UK. People celebrate Diwali to rejoice the triumph of good over evil, however, this year it is anything but that, especially for students. I was among many of the students that felt like we have no choice in how we wanted to celebrate this important festival; many of us stayed away from family and some of us felt left behind by the government.
Here’s how King’s students celebrated the festival of lights this year amidst the pandemic:
‘There is lack of interest expressed by the government in festivals such as Diwali’
Several students at King’s were left to wonder what they will do without their friends and family, stuck in their respective homes in lockdown. Not having the choice – or any support from the government – feels disheartening as it makes this festival seem unimportant compared to Christmas.
One King’s student, Priya, told The Tab: “Diwali has been cancelled.” Her only way to celebrate was to go to her mother’s doorstep and collect the Indian food she had made for Priya. And that was it. That was the end of her night. She stated: “I was unable to see my family and unable to go to the Gurdwara (place of worship for Sikhs) to pray”, or even see friends.
Priya expressed “my sense of community was taken away from me”. As a medical student, she had to make the tough decision to stay away from her family during this exciting celebration in order to keep them safe. She does not even know if she will get to go home for Christmas. There is almost no solace for her as she does not get to enjoy these moments that are meant to be spent with family. She expresses her frustration: “Being a minority there is lack of interest expressed by the government in festivals such as Diwali, Eid, Hannukah, etc.
“I felt a disadvantage as nothing was up to me and the decision was made for me”.
‘It is important for them to be together to celebrate their culture and keep it alive’
Another student, Arya, made the difficult decision to break lockdown with her sister and leave to see her parents. Arya said: “I do not have any extended family in the UK, it is just the four of us”.
The only means her parents had to celebrate was to “socialize on Zoom.” However, by going home she said: “I was able to tap into traditions and sentiments which remind us of home and [are] incredibly important to us.”
Arya acknowledges while her actions could be considered dangerous, she feels she took precautions to stay safe. She goes onto explain: “It’s times like this where families should physically be together […] it can increase our morale in such difficult times.
“I find it fascinating how the government is focusing their attention on getting students home for Christmas, seemingly abandoning other religious festivals”.
Arya explains the importance of Diwali for her parents as immigrants: “Everything my parents have done was all in the hope that my sister and I will demonstrate the results of their plight some way. I recognize their sacrifices and their resilience.” She feels it is “important for us to be together to celebrate our culture and keep it alive when we’re exposed to horrific stories of racism and xenophobia”.
There are so many traditions that people don’t want to lose, it is such an important part of their heritage and history. By not being allowed to go home, students are being forced to give that up.
Rhea, a student who has been home since lockdown, celebrated Diwali with her family this year. While she enjoyed the company, she stated how “difficult it can be to be a kid being raised between two cultures”.
She explains: “Both Christmas and Diwali are equally as important to me, but it is frustrating for students who are unable to celebrate one festival, but can for another”, simply because it is the norm for that country.
“I feel the need to suppress our culture”, she said, because as kids growing up in a predominantly white society, “we want to be white as we can.” By being at home, she didn’t have to consider societal pressures and was able to dress up with her younger sister and do puja (prayer) with her family.
‘We felt as though we had to decide between our mental health and the legalities of our actions’
King’s Master’s student, Isha, who lives alone, has told us as that she was very close to going home even though it would have meant quarantining for two weeks at her parents’ house and then quarantining in London for two weeks. She said: “I can’t imagine ever celebrating Diwali alone, it’s such a colourful and fun festival, it’s meant to be enjoyed with family and the people we love.”
Instead, Isha decided to celebrate with three other friends, who also live alone. She said: “We felt as though we had to decide between our mental health and the legalities of our actions”.
They knew that being alone and not being able to see family or be a part of their community would upset them. They were able to have a relaxed and low-key night, cooking for each other, and to feel that they were not totally alone on this special day.
It is clear that students feel Diwali has been taken away from them. I do feel the government has failed to include any other festival in consideration when deciding rules for lockdown. To combat the dim lights of Diwali this year, all us students have had to jump through hoops, and tiptoe around national rules to maintain our sanity and find a way to celebrate.