It is a matter of surprise that in the year 2012 an RTI activist from Jammu enquired from the office of the PMO about any notification regarding Sunday as a public holiday. Interestingly it was told that the Government of India has issued no order till now which officially declares Sunday a public holiday. As far as the inception of Sunday being a holiday in India is concerned, it may be suggested that in the year 1889 due to the efforts and seven years of struggle by one Narayan Meghaji Lokhande, from Thane, Bombay, the Colonial Government declared Sunday a holiday. Later, in commemoration of Narayan Meghaji Lokhande, the Government of India released a postal stamp on May 03, 2005, citing him as a pioneer of the labour movement in India. Although the demand for a one day holiday was in context to a resting day for industrial workers, incidentally the day chosen was Sunday.
Enquiry on the issue of connectivity between ‘Holyday’ and ‘Holiday’ with respect to Sunday is interesting. Sunday became an off day in Britain in 1843 and a decade after it was officially recognised as a public holiday. Some scholars have suggested that it was a result of the pressures of industrial society in Britain that prompted this decision. However, the other side of the story is entirely different. Mostly it is believed that as per the Old Testament and New Testament in Christianity God created the world in six days and the seventh day is considered as a day of rest for the God. Justo L. Gonzalez, a noted scholar, in his popular work ‘From the New Testament to the New Creation’ (2017) has some different ideas to suggest regarding Sunday theory of ‘Holyday’ and ‘Holiday’ in cultural parameters rather than a by-product of the industrial economy and its social class. Citing on the basis of primary pieces of evidence, he is of the opinion, of how and why the Christians have worshipped on Sunday from the earliest day to the present? After discussing the views and practices relating to Sunday in the ancient Church, Gonzalez turns to Constantine and argues upon the policies necessitating as Sunday being observance. He then recounts the long process, beginning in the middle ages and culminating with Puritanism, whereby Christians came to think of and strictly observe Sunday as the ‘Sabbath’. Finally, Gonzalez looks at the current state of things, exploring especially how the explosive growth of the Church in the Majority World has affected the observance of Sunday worldwide. The book is supported by interesting reviews, to quote, Mark Noll (author of Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind) “Justo Gonzalez here puts to excellent use his singular combination of biblical, historical, theological, ecumenical, and cultural wisdom to explore a subject at the heart of individual Christian life, corporate Christian community, and public Christian witness. As it tracks variations, shifts, and controversies in ‘Sabbath’ observance from pre-Christian days to the present, this learned but the wonderfully accessible book explains why corporate worship on ‘the Lord’s day’ should still be as encouraging as it has been so consistently for so many in the past”
Here a word on Sabbath day is necessary to explain. The Sabbath is a weekly day of rest or time of worship given in the Bible as the seventh day. It is observed differently in Judaism and Christianity and informs a similar occasion in several other faiths. Though many viewpoints and definitions have arisen over the millennia, most originate in the same textual tradition of “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”. Observation and remembrance of Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments (the fourth in the original Jewish, the Eastern Orthodox, and most Protestant traditions, the third in Roman Catholic and Lutheran traditions), sometimes referred to individually as the Sabbath Commandment. Even now, in the crisis of pandemics the Liverpool police had to work hard to dissuade the Sabbath followers not to turn in masses, even in the oldest democracy of the world, undoubtedly the United Kingdom. In the United States of America, the Sabbath and Sunday could well be seen in proximity. As Sunday is a ‘Holyday’ for Christians but this traditional day off didn’t acknowledge the many Jewish workers in factories for whom Saturday was the Shabbat, or Sabbath. This begins at nightfall on Friday, running through to nightfall on Saturday, and is the most sacred time of the week. The first change regarding the Jewish day of rest happened in America in 1908. A mill in New England allowed a two-day weekend so that its Jewish staff could observe the Sabbath. This was a hit with workers and led other industries nearby to introduce a five-day week too.
If one ponders upon the connectivity of ‘Holyday’ and ‘Holiday’ in context to Sunday than one may also explore its relevance to other cultural geographical zones. Islamic states such as UAE, Saudi Arabia etc do not have a holiday on Sunday, but on Friday. So, with lesser polemics it may well be argued that Sunday has lesser connection to the needs of the industrial society in the light of the above facts, which may not augur well for few.
Of the innumerable colonial legacies that can be bracketed as an impact factor of the Colonial Milieu on India, one may scrutinize the effects of Sunday on Indian customs and rituals. However, an objective analysis suggests that fortunately the Colonial Milieu had lesser impacts upon the Indian society if it is compared to a deeper penetration in the hitherto unknown part of the world before the 16th century that is Trans Atlantic. But on such issue a counter-narrative is bound to erupt that India is a land of festivity and beliefs round the year, there cannot be an argument on this factual assertion, so other than Sunday, which has a biblical sanction, a week end holiday is a question out of reckoning in the diverse conditions of India. Thus, the colonial legacy of Sunday fits into the logical canvass of such ideologues that look upon each day in a week only in the form of sunrise to sunset and at the end of the week a ‘Sunday’. To what extent such idealists are suited to be framed in a collage designed for the by-products and remnants of Colonial Milieu? It is a subject of another debate. Interestingly for many inhabitants of the west too, Sunday developed as a restive boozing day than a Sabbath, but Sabbath was its driving force and there cannot be a reasonable denial of this.
Mostly it is believed that as per the Old Testament and New Testament in Christianity God created the world in six days and the seventh day is considered as a day of rest for the God
Since inception as an independent political identity, the nation has truly accommodated and recognised the core values of every cultural group, irrespective of its origin in form of restricted and gazette holidays. Those who are misinterpreted as progressives solemnly pledged that it happened only because of the deeper penetration of ‘project modernity’ owing allegiance to Enlightenment-era of Europe. However, such progressives are rather loose ends uprooted from the core ethics of the nation, as progressiveness cannot be a progression form core values but a continuous built-up upon core values. Contrary to this, the counter-narrative in present times raises a pertinent question – why ‘modernity’ is termed as ‘project failure’? The answer is not too complicated, as it rested on the core western idea of reason that ‘one shoe fits all’ and Sunday was one such reason-based shoe. Not only accommodating but respecting the otherness has nothing to with ‘project modernity’ in India’s context, as a consciously versed Indian will simply say, it is part of our traditional heritage so deeply embedded in our ethos to accommodate otherness, so colonial legacy of Sunday continues.
(The Author is a Professor of History, Pt DDU Gorakhpur University and Member ICHR)