Cities and towns are often named after deities and divinities. Historically, it was believed that the said city or town would receive God’s grace if it is named after the deity they pray to. This can be seen although majorly in India, but also outside of India: Athens is derived from ‘Athena’ the Goddess of wisdom preached in ancient Greece. Similarly most of the Indian cities and towns are named after deities, and numerous examples could be cited for instance Allahabad: the abode of God. But we cannot use this example post 16 October 2018.
On the eventful evening of 16 October 2018, the Yogi Adityanath government decided to change (or as they claimed: rectify the prior change made) ‘Allahabad’ to ‘Prayagraj’. The Yogi Adityanath government stated that Prayagraj was renamed to Allahabad in 1575 under the reign of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. He also stated that prior to this change, since the advent of time, the town was known as Prayagraj, and this is re-establishing the original name and not merely a change of name.
Within a frame of less than a month, another Uttar Pradesh town was renamed. This time, the district of Faizabad got renamed to Ayodhya and Yogi Adityanath cited this as a Diwali present to the citizens. This was in context to the fact that the festival of Diwali is a celebration of Lord Ram’s return to his hometown Ayodhya after 14 years in exile. The mythological town of Ayodhya is believed to be present day Faizabad, and this was allegedly rectified by the Yogi Adityanath government, this Diwali.
UP-ites were barely over Allahabad’s change of name when this happened and barely anyone accepted the changes so made with open arms when another news came swinging that the Gujarati town of Ahmedabad was to be renamed ‘Karnavati’ soon.
A pattern can be seen here; a pattern of ‘saffronization’. This saffronization is visible almost everywhere, from NCERT textbooks (where supposedly Akbar lost to Maharana Pratap in the battle of Haldigathi), to painting Hajj Office and Lucknow Police Stations saffron and now the names of Indian towns. One wouldn’t be wrong to say that the Bharatiya Janta Party promised this and is very well keeping its promises. From slogans like ‘Mandir Wahin Banayenge’ to renaming Faizabad to Ayodhya, the path of painting the country saffron has been found by the government and is moving forward on it.
Saffronization is an Indian political neologism used by critics and others to refer to the policies of right-wing Hindu nationalists that seek to recall and glorify ancient Hindu cultural history and strive to promote Hindutva and the idea of a Hindu nation.
The first view of this was made public by the act of demolishing Babri Masjid, by providing the justification that Babri Masjid was unlawfully constructed since there existed Ram Mandir for a very long time and the Masjid was made by demolishing the said Mandir. As per the government, the demolition was entirely justified. BJP leader and former president of the same party, L.K. Advani hosted a Ram Rath Yatra across the country in the celebration of the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
Another example of the BJP highlighting its Hindutva ideology is the case of a few men raping an 8 year old Muslim girl named Asifa in a small town in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. 2 BJP leaders supported the actions of these men and led the protests against their prosecution on the grounds that ‘Hindu supremacy needed to be established’ and it can be established by suppressing the preachers of Islam. The ministers had to resign, but not before he public got a glance of their ideology.
Coming back to renaming of towns, although the Chief Minister and the state assembly is well within its rights when it decides to change the name of a district and it cannot be proclaimed that the state is exceeding the powers it has whilst making the said changes, it has to be realized that there might be propaganda behind this. The same propaganda that the Bharatiya Janta Party campaigned about pre-elections: Hindutva. Yogi Adityanath is a self-confessed Hindu fundamentalist and is also the propagator of the slogans such as ‘Mandir Wahin Banayenge.’ And it’s not just towns, and it’s not just now; one of the first acts of the Yogi Adityanath government was to rename ‘Mughalsarai’ railway station to ‘Deen Dayal Upadhyaya’ railway station, which was overlooked since it was a small town and also the first of the many changes.
Even though there is nothing unlawful or illegal, such actions taken with such intent do go against the fundamentals of a diverse nation which India proudly claims itself to be. India has always glorified its diverse history and the towns are a standing proof of that diverse past. It is being erased by the rightist actions of the government in the name of construction of a Hindu nation.
Furthermore, the right-wing promulgators fail to recognize that the fundamentals of a Hindu nation are also violative of the principles of secularism, which India has promoted since before its independence from the British. Although some critics state that India is not secular, it is pseudo-secular at best; but that’s a whole other issue.
So the final and foremost question is: even though it is lawful and legally justifiable to re-name cities based on Hindu mythology, how far is it socially, culturally, and morally justifiable to do so at the cost of another cultural history and whether it should be acceptable that a culture and an ideology is promoted at the cost history of another culture.
Co-Authored by Fagun Sahni & Naimish Tewari First Year learners | Symbiosis Law School, NOIDA