By Eva Gurnani, Second Year, Spanish and Portuguese
As the end of term approaches, many Bristol students are planning their return home for the Christmas period and looking forward to the festivities and food, with the opportunity to partake in these annual celebrations providing some sense of normality to an anything but normal year. For many South Asian students, however, there has not been the same chance to have their main family get-together of the year.
Not many weeks ago, thousands of families across the UK came together to celebrate Diwali through new and unconventional ways. Not only did large public celebrations, like the famous party in Trafalgar Square, take place online, but the more intimate practices of lamp-lighting, dancing and quality family-time were also moved onto virtual platforms.
The same way Christmas means more to many than a chance to exchange presents or indulge in mulled wine and mince pies, Diwali is about more than its material elements. Its message of the triumph of good in the face of evil and a fresh start with the beginning of the new year is especially poignant at the moment, given the current circumstances and hardships.
Don’t think i’ve seen anyone mention it yet, but in the interests of “saving Christmas”, the government has cancelled Diwali for the English Hindu and Sikh communities, showing how disposable BAME communities are (Eid has already been cancelled)— Kav (@Kav_Kaushik) October 31, 2020
Many Bristol students have not spent this holiday away from family before and it is more than fair to say that the sense of community cannot truly be conveyed or captured on an online platform.
Johnson expressed his gratitude for the sacrifices South Asian communities have made countless times during the Diwali address. However, this is precisely the problem with the disparate treatment of religious holidays that we’ve seen.
The Government has gone out on a limb to ensure the testing of thousands of students in a very short period before Christmas, while Hindus, Sikhs and Jains were expected to offer their most important religious and community celebration as a sacrificial lamb for another holiday.
Diwali is about more than its material elements
Although the Prime Minister praised communities that celebrate Diwali for "rising to the challenge" and complying with COVID restrictions, it seems unfathomable to imagine a speech of the same “keep up the good work” nature being given to those that celebrate Christmas.
Obviously, it would be unsafe to have allowed huge celebrations to go ahead, however the Government’s reluctance to permit any concessions at all, such as the same small household bubble system or conditional allowance of students to travel home that’s being used for Christmas, shows the prioritisation of holidays with a large Christian and white following over those without.
In the words of one particular student, 'it was as if Diwali was dispensable but Christmas had to be saved’. Indeed, talks within the Government on how to ensure ‘significant normality’ at Christmas were reported as early as July, while discussions over Diwali were not reported until months later and had resigned to the conclusion from the start that this endeavour for normality, which seemed feasible for Christmas, was simply unfeasible for Diwali.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time this double standard has been apparent. As a Bristol student living in Manchester during the first lockdown, I was shocked by the sudden imposition of strict restrictions prohibiting household mixing on the eve of Eid in parts of Greater Manchester, a decision that would undoubtedly provoke outrage if made with no notice on Christmas Eve.
Still, the resilience of these communities has been put to the test, and families have persevered to come together despite these obstacles, however unjust they may be.
Featured Image: Epigram / Jack Crockford
Do you think the prioritisation of Christmas over other religious celebrations is unfair? Let us know!