New York: A commemorative Diwali stamp will be issued by the US in 2016, capping seven years-long efforts by Indian-Americans and influential American lawmakers to have a stamp marking the Indian festival of lights, a move welcomed by the community.
The stamp that shows a photo of a traditional 'diya' lit against a sparkling gold background and the words 'Forever USA 2016' written below will be formally unveiled on 5 October.
"An important recognition for the more than 3 million Indian-Americans who celebrate Diwali," tweeted Senator Mark Warner, Co-Chair of the Senate India Caucus.
— Mark Warner (@MarkWarner) August 24, 2016
The postage stamp will be issued by the US Postal Service (USPS) from November "honouring Diwali, the festival of lights," Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney from New York said.
USPS Sally Andersen-Bruce of Connecticut photographed the diya and Greg Breeding of Virginia designed the stamp, with William Gicker of Washington serving as the project's art director.
The Diwali stamp is a result of "years and years of hard work," Maloney said on Wednesday.
She lamented that despite Diwali being an "important spiritual and cultural festival" for many Indian-Americans and millions around the world, it had not been given its own commemorative stamp till now. Given that every other major religion has its own commemorative stamp, she said a stamp for Diwali had been a long over-due.
She was joined by India's Consul General in the city Riva Ganguly Das, Chair of the Diwali Stamp Project Ranju Batra and eminent Indian-American attorney Ravi Batra as she made the "historic" announcement from the steps of the City Hall.
Maloney underscored that the stamp would also be a "very important revenue generator" for the US postal department.
The efforts in the Indian-American community had been spearheaded by Ranju Batra, who as chair of the Diwali stamp project and with the help of other community leaders, got tens of thousands of signatures for petitions to issue the stamp.
Maloney had also informed Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his visits to the US in 2014 and 2015, about efforts to get a Diwali postage stamp issued, Batra said.
Ravi Batra called the move as the "strongest soft power that combines a billion people of India" as he lauded Maloney for her years-long efforts.
Among other lawmakers Senators Mark Warner and John Cornyn and House members Joe Crowley, Ed Royce, Ami Bera, and George Holding, all past or present co-chairs of their chamber's India Caucuses, also led significant campaigns to assure Congressional support for this measure.
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, the only Hindu member of Congress, led the most recent write in campaign to the USPS with hundreds of signatories.
"This has been a long and arduous process but this act by the USPS to recognize this special day and to further increase
and enrich our nation's tapestry of religious and cultural diversity will be greatly appreciated by many," Gabbard said.
"This year and for many more, diyas and spirits will shine brighter, as will greetings cards and gift packages sent donning the Diwali stamp," said Suhag Shukla, Hindu American Foundation (HAF) executive director and legal counsel.