Locals of Bakhtiyarpur feel that the name of their city identifies with the history of Islamic bloodshed and is a blot on their accepting and loving nature. They demand justice to history by changing the name of the city invoking the great Magadh Empire legacy
History has many ironies! Consider this one. An invader who attacked, looted, and ruined a significant part of historical Magadh heritage is immortal there because a city and a railway station are named after him. Yes, I am talking about ‘Bakhtiyarpur’.
During my recent trip to Bihar, I discovered that around fifty to sixty km away from the Patna, capital city of Bihar, there is a district named after Bakhtiar Khilji. The ruthless killer who not only brutally killed thousands of men, women and children but also destroyed the much famous Nalanda University and other centres of learning and temples.
The frustrating part is that, if one has to go to Nalanda, the person has to board at Bakhtiyarpur railway station. I also boarded my train at Bakhtiyarpur. There were many questions with me regarding the injustice of history.
As I was struggling with my queries, I spotted an elderly gentleman. In his seventies, the man was surrounded by youths, and all of them were addressing him as ‘Gandhi baba’. When asked why the name Bakhtiyarpur, he said, “Yeh naam humlogon ke upar ek dhabba hai. Azadi ke 70 saal ho chuke hain, kai saare road ke naam badle jaa chuke hai, lekin pata nahin kab Bakhtiyarpur ka naam badlega… (This name is like a blot on us). It has been more than seventy years of Independence, numerous cities and roads, have been renamed but still, we are waiting for this name, i.e. Bakhtiyarpur to be changed. It is excruciating. I appeal to the politicians to change the name soon and give an appropriate name for the city by keeping in mind the historical backgrounds of this place”.
Bakhtiyar Khilji who was the military general of Qutb-ud-din Aybak and who destroyed the famous Nalanda University in 1193, is projected as the founder of Bakhtiyarpur by ‘secular’ intellectuals. Obviously, common people who see Khilji as an invader would not be happy in carrying this colonial baggage as the name of their city.
The Burning of Nalanda
There is a lesser known story about burning of Nalanda University by Khilji. It is said that Bakhtiyar Khilji had fallen sick and doctors in his court failed to cure him. Then, someone advised him to get himself healed by Rahul Sri Bhadra, the Principal of Nalanda University.
This is the most suitable time to change the name of the place. How can you name a place in the name of a murderer? We use the historical names of the cities, not the ones that were given by invaders and killers. — Suresh Dwivedi, Asst Professor, Nunuwati Jagdeo Singh Mahavidyalaya, Bakhtiyarpur
Khilji was too proud of his Islamic culture and refused to get himself treated by a person who did not belong to Islam. By the passing of time, his health got worsened, and he was left with no option but to get cured by Sri Bhadra. But Khilji put a condition and asked Bhadra to heal him without any medicines.
Angered by the fact that an Indian scholar knew more than the doctors of his court, Khilji decided to destroy the roots of knowledge, Buddhism and Ayurveda, from Bharat. He set fire to the huge library of Nalanda and burned down nearly 9 million manuscripts. He also killed monks and scholars of the University. It is said that the burning of the great library of Nalanda is considered as one of the most despicable acts of barbarism in recorded history and when he set fire to the library of Nalanda, historians claim that it took six and a half months to burn the library entirely. The area, then known as Magadh, was once the centre of ancient Indian civilisation.
Politics on Name Change
The request to rename the railway station and city was made way back in 2006 by the RJD Supremo Lalu Yadav when he was the Railway Minister.
In a report published in Telegraph in 2015, an RTI filed by an activist, Gopal Prasad, has revealed that Lalu Yadav wrote to then home minister Shivraj Patil on March 30, 2006, forwarding two requests - one from Buta Singh, the former Governor of Bihar, and Bhupinder Singh Hooda, the Chief Minister of Haryana at the time. The purpose was to rename Bakhtiyarpur railway station after freedom fighter Sheelbhadra Yajee.
"Since the ministry of home affairs is the nodal authority for the renaming of a railway station, I would request you to accord the approval at the earliest kindly," the letter from Lalu said.
"A proposal for changing the name of Bhaktiyarpur as Sheelbhadra Yajee Nagar had been received from the State Government of Bihar through the Ministry of Railways vide their letter dated March 30, 2006. The matter could not be processed further due to non-receipt of the additional information sought from the State Government concerned," the MHA said in reply to the RTI query.
Recently Union Minister and senior BJP leader Giriraj Singh have also demanded to rename Bakhtiyarpur and Akbarpur in Bihar, saying “Why should we have the names given to us by invaders?” While advocating the renaming of Bakhtiyarpur, Giriraj Singh said, “I hail Yogi Adityanath for renaming Allahabad as Prayagraj. If somebody captures your house while you are down, then there is no reason why you should not reclaim it once you gain some strength”.
"There are hundreds of such places across the country, including in Bihar which need to be changed. Bakhtiyarpur is a case in point, Giriraj Singh said.
The minister’s demand to rename Bakhtiyarpur drew flak from Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM). While RJD spokesman and MLA Bhai Virendra mocked him and said “Can he rename his parents? Attempts to polarise voters in the name of Mughals and invaders would not succeed”, former Bihar Chief Minister and HAM president Jitan Ram Manjhi also disapproved of Giriraj Singh’s statement.
But the point is, it was Lalu Yadav who once advocated to change the name of Bakhtiyarpur, then why his party and its leaders are now against this demand to rename the city !
Decades-old Popular Demand
After meeting more locals, I realised that they are craving to rename their city and railway station. Even they have protested many a time against the Government and demanded to rename Bakhtiyarpur.
Abhay, a local youth said, “We have been fighting this battle for long. I have been watching all this for the last two decades. Interestingly, the current Chief Minister of Bihar Nitish Kumar’s paternal village Kalyan Bigha falls under Bakhtiyarpur, and that is why we believe that he should also feel the pain of common people of Bakhtiyarpur.”
“We are not demanding anything which is unethical; it is our right. We feel ashamed of calling ourselves ‘Bakhtiyarpurwaasi’,” he added.
“After Yogi Adityanath Government renamed Allahabad as Prayagraaj, once again demands started pouring in from different quarters to rename Bakhtiyarpur. Earlier when he renamed Mughalsarai junction as Pt. Deendayal Upadhyaya junction, people of Bakhtiyarpur hit the streets against the Government in Bihar demanding to rename Bakhtiyarpur”, Abhay said.