In a rare honour, New York City declared October 19, 2016 as Waris Ahluwalia day in recognition of the Sikh-American actor and designer for his “powerful” message of countering ignorance and advocating for religious understanding and tolerance.
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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio honored Ahluwalia at a special reception at his official residence Gracie Mansion in New York on Wednesday to celebrate the festival of Diwali.
de Blasio presented Ahluwalia a proclamation that declared October 19, 2016 in the city of New York as ‘Waris Ahluwalia Day’.
Lauding Ahluwalia’s talents of being a fashion designer, writer, actor and model, de Blasio said as a Sikh, Ahluwalia “proudly wears his Dastar (turban) wherever he goes and so he sends a powerful message to our city to our country of countering ignorance, celebrating inclusion and advocating for religious understanding and tolerance in everything he does.”
Addressing a gathering of over 300-400 Indian-Americans and other people from the South Asian community, de Blasio extended a special greeting to his “Sikh brothers and sisters” and underscored that an attack on any community and individual because of their faith is an “attack on all of us.”
“We believe that when any community is attacked, any individual is attacked because of who they are, because of their faith, because of where they come from, the attack on one is an attack on all of us,” de Blasio said.
Joined by his wife First Lady Chirlane McCray, Ahluwalia and others members of his administration on a stage erected in the sprawling lawns of the Gracie Mansion, de Blasio said whenever any community is affronted, the New York Police Department is present to protect that community.
“Whenever there is a hate crime, we will call it a hate crime and act on it as a hate crime, protect the people and say it is unacceptable in the city of New York to act in any bias fashion against any people of the city.”
Amid loud cheers and applause, the Mayor said a special Diwali guide will be distributed to New York teachers through the Department of Education to help them educate students in the city about the “meaning” of the Indian festival of lights.
Ahluwalia thanked the Mayor for the “incredible honor” and said that while Diwali has been celebrated for centuries, this year its message of triumph of good over evil is “more important and relevant than ever.”
He said while he has called New York City home ever since he moved here from India as a child, after the 9/11 terror attacks, “people would glare at me with anger and hate as I walked down my own streets, in my own hometown.
“That was very confusing for me,” he said, adding that six months after the 9/11 attacks, he was assaulted and nearly lost vision in his right eye.
The Mayor and his wife began the reception by lighting the traditional lamp. The city’s First Lady was dressed in traditional Indian attire of a yellow salwar kurta.
India music, including popular movie songs played in the background.