How Renaming the Cities is a Part of Decolonisation and Historical Justice
Renaming project may not seem very utilitarian in the short-run, however, in the long run it decolonises the people who were subjected under the violent supremacy of foreign cultures. Prayagraj is Bharatiya, Allahabad was a foreign interruption!
-Bhaskar Kumar, Snehil Kumar Singh
Indigenous cartography existed in various forms in pre-colonial Africa. Unfortunately, the indigenous cartographic heritage of the continent suffered a major setback during the period of imperialism and colonialism. A foremost threat to the traditional cartographies of the African people has been the colonization and deformation of original local geographical names. As an enduring legacy, place anmes are revered by the people for their cartographic, cultural, ethnographic, social, historical, linguistic, economic, political, spiritual, intellectual, scientific and geographical significance. The names of present day nations, as recognized by the United Nations, usually reflects the nation’s linguistic heritage, and countries that was once colonized and exist under a colonial given name usually changed their name to better reflect their independence and the new national identity.
Allahabad has been recently renamed as Prayagraj by the Yogi Adityanath Government in Uttar Pradesh
The above example has been given to show how distortion of the names of palces is a serious threat to the indigenous heritage and cultural identity of the people. Over a considerable length of time, a good number of Indian names of cities were deformed by foreign rulers at different point of time ranging from sultanate periods to colonial period. Some were replaced with alien names, while some others became victims of a wave of Islamisation, Colonisation and linguistic mutilation perpetrated by some extraneous forces and characterized by orthographical and pronunciation deformations. In particular, the Islamic rule and eventual colonization of Indiaseriously affected local geographical names. By colonising Indians indigenous place names they were consequently stripped of their original linguistic meanings and value, as well as their cartographic, historical, cultural and scientific significance and functions. The large-scale deformation or corruption of local Indian place-names by extraneous forces, especially during the eras of expedition, voyage/exploration and invasion and colonization, has been widely acknowledged and reported in literature. It is undisputed fact that geographical names are in several ways very crucial to the sustenance of national cultural identity as well as socio-economic development.
Why Not Local Names?
Across India and other countries which have been subject to foreign the corruption of local place names is considered an act of injustice. There is, therefore, a generally felt dire need to correct the past injustices with regard to place names (Mbenzi, 2009, 1).Streets and places bearing colonial names need to be renamed, because if we retain these names, we are promoting colonialism.
In several postcolonial African countries, efforts have persistently been made to restore some place names to their pre-colonial indigenous names. In reality, there are only a few countries in post-colonial Africa that still retain their colonial names. The place-name restoration attempts in Africa are aimed at recording and promoting the use of indigenous names in lieu of their foreign or corrupted versions. Consequently, naming and renaming of places have continued to feature prominently in several African countries after independence.
A few months before Mughal Sarai Jn was renamed as Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya Jn
According to an American scholar the truth is, as indigenous scholars and activists have been telling us for at least a century, that the majority of streets, towns, lakes, forests, schools, and other government institutions are named after white men (and sometimes women) who achieved fame for colonizing the land, establishing a system of white supremacy, and annihilating indigenous people, culture, and language. The indigenous peoples of the United States have never been allowed the opportunity to decolonize, which stems from an inability of a great number of Americans to recognize they are part of a colonizing class. As many important indigenous and African-American thinkers have reminded us, communities of color are still under occupation in the United States today.
Language and naming are important tools of colonial control. In colonial India, for example, British administrators controlled the population by naming everything in English – from encouraging local people to give their children proper English names to insisting that English education was modern while learning in Sanskrit was outdated (as for the hundreds of regional and vernacular languages, those weren’t even worth thinking about, except to control local populations). Buildings, streets, and schools were named after the heroes of colonial conquest as well as muslim conquets which the country survived before the advent of britishers in india. After a long struggle for independence from British rule that ended in 1947, there was a massive movement to change the names of these institutions that had once born the names of the masters.
Manifestation of Decolonial Process
Part of the decolonial process meant that street names lost their British character, giving way to a multitude of streets named after the heroes of independence, such as M.K. Gandhi. These name changes all have, however, a particular history and politics that tell us about both the current political moment and the historical past. The changed street names are often printed above or on top of the old names – traces of the colonial past are all around the subcontinent, and have certainly not been forgotten.
India is not the only post-colonial country to engage in massive renaming campaigns. After the fall of the USSR, statues of Communist leaders were toppled all over Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia, and thousands of streets named for Stalin and Lenin were either restored to their original names or given new ones. Countries throughout Latin America and Africa have also moved away from colonial names.
Hence the renaming of cities to its older names sought to identify and restore the historical injustice and atrocity attached with the present name of the city. It is an attempt to wipe out the symbols of oppression and mutilation perpetrated by some in the past in order to restore the pride and dignity of indigenous people. In this regard the renaming of Allahabad to Prayagraaj reflects an attempt of government to restore the great Indian culture flourishing for thousands of years before being ravaged by Muslim invaders who attacked upon the cultural ethnic texture of India.
(The writers are students of National Law School of India University, Bengaluru)