By Sumna Sadaqat
The acclaimed English litterateur Shakespeare in his famous play wrote the line ‘What’s in a name?’ But is it just so simple? Certainly, not! Especially for the right- wing governing party in India, the BJP, name has it all. Hindutva politics around names of monuments, cities, tombs, government offices under the BJP led government in India have become a frequent norm now. For the past eight years, such incidents are periodically raised to keep the issue smouldering in order to gain public support, win elections, and primarily as another baby step towards forming a Hindu Rashtra as envisioned by the RSS.
Generally, be it names of people or places foremostly they are an important part of one’s identity and being. Particularly a name of a place not just holds on to the culture associated with it, but describes the values, tradition and heritage of its inhabitants as well as unravels the geographical, political and social history of the region, which is probably why the current government is so interested in changing the names of places in an attempt to do away with the country’s historical legacy. It is not surprising to see that most of the places whose names have now been changed were earlier, ‘Muslim’ or had some affiliation with the Muslims. Similarly, the new names chosen are usually Sanskrit words, or after familiar personalities, mostly ambassadors of Hindutva. Not only is this trend will have a baleful influence on the largest religious minority in the country, but is equally or more of alarming for the majority community which gets a free call to indulge in low grade communal violence when the state takes such measures relentlessly.The Muslim community in India has suffered the brunt of questions on its dietary practices, clothing, institution of marriage and inheritance, congregation prayers, places of worship and even method of calling to prayer in the recent years, which has isolated the community politically and socially.
The BJP has rechristened, rather did the ‘Namkaran’ of many cities in its regime, including Bijapur, Allahabad, Osmanabad, Aurangabad and Faizabad to Vijaypura, Prayagraj, Darashiv, Sambhajinagar and Ayodhya respectively. All these cities are historically significant, Bijapur was an important province of the Bahmani Sultanate in the Deccan in the 14-15th century, besides Allahabad served as an administrative and cultural centre to Akbar and continued to attract Hindu devotees even with its ‘Muslim name’ for the Kumbh Mela, whereas Osmanabad was named after the last Hyderabad Nizam Mir Osman and Aurangabad was an important city under the Ahmadnagar Sultanate of the Deccan in the early 17th century. Thus, each city contributed to the diverse culture of the Indian nation in its own unique way, but the government is trying to erase the existence of this diversity through its divisive policies, since many such Namkaran’s are tabled as well. The BJP’s Delhi president, Adesh Gupta in April 2022, demanded the renaming of 40 ‘Mughal’ villages in Delhi in order to get rid of the slave mentality, comfortably misleading the people who are hardly aware that most names mentioned in the list do not belong to the Mughal era, rather were developed in the Delhi Sultanate period similarly the Sher e Kashmir cricket stadium is proposed to be renamed as Sardar Vallabbhai Patel Stadium.
Architecture throughout history has been used as a political tool by monarchs, colonial regimes, authoritarian rulers and governments either merely as a symbol of power or to even instil, rather impose a certain ideology amongst masses. It happened when the British structured the port cities of Calcutta, Bombay and Chennai or summer capitals like Shimla which still owe a lot to the colonial masters for their shores, drainage, barracks and transport network. These and other cities are still reminiscent of British rule in India and their culture is reflected in the types of structures, material used and décor inclusive of the names of many such places.
But not all architectural developments or renaming of sites has a similar orientation. One such and more relatable example is of the European powers who ensured to rename and redevelop the Andalusian or Spanish architecture of the Muslim dynasties after their miserable downfall in the region which resulted in the complete transformation of Muslim ruler’s palaces, places of worship (Masjid or mosque), gardens and markets to Christian cathedrals, churches, tombs, emperor residences and others, by just changing the name from the Arab or African title to its Spanish equivalent. In the transformation spree, Abdul Rahman I’s Rusafa Palace was changed to Convento de San Fransisco de la Arruzafa, capital of Abdul Rahman III Madinat al Zahra (beautiful city) was changed to Cordoba la Vieja and the mosque of Cordova after Ferdinand III was referred to as La Mezquita (the mosque) amongst many other such changes. After the culmination of approximately seven centuries of Muslim rule, European Christian rulers within a couple of centuries managed to get rid of every trace of Muslim rule and existence in the region by various means inclusive of manipulation in existing architecture. Seeing the rapid changes in India being analogous to Spain post Muslim rule is unfortunate, as for the democratically elected Indian government to follow the footsteps of anarchies in the 21st century is condemnable.
It is high time to realize that such instance of ‘Namkaran’ leave a deep imprint on the identity of its inhabitants leading to a feeling of alienation amongst the age-old residents, in whose memory countless cherished memories of monuments, cities, towns and alleys are registered. The place itself suffers, as this rips it apart from its own legacy. Besides, an adverse effect of such decisions is borne even by the education sector, as the students remain uninformed or misinformed about fundamentals of Indian history due to political pressure, minimizing the scope for studying history in a conducive and bias free atmosphere, delegitimizing the credibility of Indian education abroad. The government’s blind eye towards right wing groups unwilling to accept historical facts have resulted in demands of Tejo Mahalay, which becomes a matter of concern for the nation on a global level, hampering the image at international bodies and forums. Moreover, the cost of renaming is exorbitant, which a country with high poverty can ill afford, but the government sounds more interested in misusing public money instead of serving the people.
Besides, it is always the easiest to merely ‘name’ something, but it is equally difficult to ensure the upkeep of each and every site. This is reflected in the oddly maintained monuments across the country and the lack of basic facilities to attract tourists. The government seems to be least bothered for the heritage sites of which 321 have been declared to be encroached upon by locals in 2018. Since 2007, the National Mission on Monuments and Antiquities, clubbed with the ASI has only been able to document 1.58 lack monuments till now out of the targeted 4 lacks according to the CAG report 2022. This only reveals that more efforts are needed on the part of the government and its agencies to preserve monuments which have been neglected. It poses a larger question, which is, that is renaming monumental locations enough or are we really looking forward to fix the disrepairs in these structures, and preserve our united and collective heritage. This unprecedented drive can even result in the renaming of the country to Hindudesh as imagined by journalist Jay Dubashi way back in 1993. Moreover, the Namkaran of sites has something more sinister to it since it will open the doors to complete invisibilization of Muslims and elimination of the traces of composite culture once prevalent in India.