Each year, as the holiday season approaches, Priti Ohri, a 32-year-old online media and marketing professional, takes a pause from her busy life in New York City to hand-write personalized greeting cards to mail to friends and family around the world.
After carefully inspecting the assortment of greeting cards, she picks the perfect specimen that would convey her thoughts. "There is definitely something to be said about hand writing a message and sending it out the old fashioned way," she said. "It shows that you've put thought into it." She even buys the holiday-themed postage stamps with snowmen and Christmas trees for that extra holiday touch.
On Diwali, however, she sticks to phone calls, Facebook and e-cards. No stamps exist to commemorate the festival celebrated by millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains around the world that signifies the dispelling of darkness. Lights, candles and traditional clay diyas illuminate homes as families and friends gather for fun, food and prayer.
Dr. Shailendra Kumar, a urologist and prominent member of the Hindu American community based in Maryland, has been leading efforts to get a stamp to commemorate Diwali since 2001, but with no luck so far. "Every religion and culture has been recognized by the U.S. Postal Service," he said. "We are 1.2 billion people spread over 120 countries, and one of the oldest religions in the world."
Stamps commemorating major religious holidays exist for Christmas, Hanukkah and Eid. However, one for Diwali, which falls on Nov. 13 this year, still has yet to come to fruition.
Dr. Donald Reid, professor emeritus of history at Georgia State University, explained the history of holiday stamps. Following two official stamps for Christmas, the U.S. started to issue Hanukkah stamps in 1996 -- an official recognition of Jews being accepted as a full part of American society and participation in public life. Then in 1997, African Americans were able to get Kwanza stamps, recognizing them as participants in American society. A stamp for Eid was issued shortly before 9/11.
"Different groups within the nation-state want power, recognition, legitimacy as an accepted part of the society, and postage stamps are one way to express this," Dr. Reid explained. "Commemorating men or women, events, sites, religious holidays are a way of asserting who 'we' are as Americans, an official recognition of our belonging in the nation."
Each year the United States Postal Service receives as many as 40,000 letters proposing designs for postage stamps. The 10-member Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee reviews each design, and either rejects it or sets it aside for future consideration.
"Typically, 20 to 30 of these subjects are approved each year," said Mark Saunders, corporate communications officer of the U.S. Postal Service. These designs range in subject from prominent historical figures to cars.
In a letter to Dr. Kumar dated Aug. 4, 2011, the U.S. Postal Service wrote, "Proposal for a Diwali stamp remains under consideration by the Citizens' Stamps Advisory Committee for future stamp issuance." This has been the same response for the past six years, according to Dr. Kumar.
The committee has laid out a series of criteria for selection on its website. One of those listed reads: "Themes of widespread national appeal and significance that reflect our nation's inclusiveness, events and persons will be considered for commemoration."
Despite Dr. Kumar's efforts since 2003 at collecting almost 400,000 signatures through an online petition, there has been no Diwali stamp.
Dr. Kumar has even led lobbying efforts over the years. More than 80 state and federal lawmakers have supported his efforts. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-South Carolina), former chair of the Congressional Caucus on India, requested the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee to meet with Dr. Kumar and other community leaders on the issue a few years ago. In the meeting, Dr. Kumar asked what other steps he could take to have the stamp approved. The response he and his team received was to keep doing what they were doing.
A stamp would symbolize an official acceptance of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains as an important segment in the American mosaic, much in the way that other ethnic, religious and cultural groups have gained acceptance. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there are almost 3 million Indians in the U.S.
"We have stamps for candies, sweaters and ceiling fans -- trivial things -- but nothing to represent a festival that has the universal message of the victory of good over evil," Dr. Kumar said. "I can't pinpoint the holdup. It's mind-boggling. The Indian American community has contributed to this country in a very significant way."
Similarly, Ohri, whose holiday preparations are in full swing, argues that some of the brightest minds in this country are Indian or Hindu. "Why not give them the respect of recognizing their heritage? Having a stamp would mean we're finally making it here," she said. She leaves the kitchen to light candles along her windowsill. "Maybe next year."
Click through the slideshow to view photos from Diwali celebrations:
Happy Diwali! How are you celebrating Diwali this year? Share your story with us. Email your photos and reflections to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Text submissions should be 300-400 words in length. We will accept them until Nov. 15, 2012. Check out our Diwali liveblog.