On my way home from Aligarh Muslim University, I was scrolling through the newspaper when I stumbled upon a piece of news that left me speechless – Aligarh was undergoing a transformation into Harigarh. As a student of Aligarh Muslim University, this development struck a chord with me.
A few days earlier, Mayor Prashant Singal of Aligarh had proposed the change of the city’s name to Harigarh, a proposal that was officially passed on November 8th with unanimous support from all counselors. This event may not seem momentous at first glance, but it stems from a proposal made two years ago, in 2021, by a Hindutva organization, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). VHP claimed that the name Harigarh had roots in Hindu mythology.
Under the leadership of Yogi Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh, several district names had already been changed, such as Allahabad to Prayagraj, Faridabad to Ayodhya, and Mughalsarai Junction to Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Junction. Even Agra Airport underwent a renaming, becoming Deen Dayal Airport. Deen Dayal was an RSS-affiliated Indian politician with a Hindutva ideology.
Post-independence India has witnessed numerous changes in city names, often adopting a phonetic approach. Calcutta became Kolkata, Bangalore transformed into Bengaluru, and Trivandrum was rechristened Thiruvananthapuram. In the 1990s, further name changes occurred, with Bombay becoming Mumbai and Madras evolving into Chennai. These alterations reflect a transition from the English usage imposed by colonizers to the restoration of pre-colonial names.
After the Hindutva government came into power, we observed a radical shift in the renaming of places, particularly targeting Muslim Urdu names and replacing them with broader Hindutva nomenclature. This signifies a reclaiming of Hindutva ideology by its propagators, and numerous examples illustrate this trend.
In Haryana, Gurgaon underwent a transformation into Gurugram, citing the significance of ‘gramam’ in relation to Guru Dronacharya, an upper-caste icon known for instructing the cutting of Ekalavya’s finger. Hindutva proponents argue that ‘Gurgaon’ is a distorted version of ‘Gurugramam’ where the word ‘Gurgaon’ is from local haryanvi culture. This narrative extends to the renaming of gardens, stadiums, and metro stations, showcasing a broader effort to alter the nomenclature of various places and monuments.
Calls have been made to rename ‘Agra’ to ‘Agrawal,’ challenging its association with the Mughal capital. Narayan Singh proposed changing the ‘Taj Mahal’ to ‘Ram Mahal’ or ‘Krishna Mahal,’ while ‘Qutub Minar’ is suggested to be renamed ‘Vishnu Sthamb.’ This endeavor by the Hindutva movement aims to reshape history by substituting Muslim-Urdu names with pre-Muslim era names in their language. Humaira Afreen from Presidency University coined the term ‘Nam Wapasi,’ likening it to a process of saffronisation similar to ‘Ghar Wapasi.’
Umrah Beg, a student from Aligarh Muslim University, expressed concern, stating, ”It’s part of a broader agenda of erasing Muslim history in India and erasing Muslim identity. They are changing names of cities and rewriting textbooks, attempting to incorporate Islamic roots within the Hindu fold and erase individuality.”
Through this renaming process, Hindutva seeks to establish a Hindu Rashtra, employing appropriation as a tool to expand its influence. They associate themselves with figures such as Ambedkar, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, and certain caste leaders, giving these names a saffron hue. Even the lotus, originally rose-colored, is symbolically transformed into saffron.
Munazzah Sajid, a local from Aligarh, shared, ”There are localities in Aligarh where banners display ‘Harigarh’ instead of ‘Aligarh.’ I believe Aligarh has always been a site of communal disputes, and changing it to Harigarh could exacerbate these tensions. It erases the history and legacy of this place. Not to mention the fact that it’s very unnecessary.”
The renaming process is more than a change of names; it involves altering the emotional, cultural, and historical fabric of a city tied to its name. Changing a name is akin to removing an integral part of a body. In the present climate, Hindutva forces find it easier to make such changes, but it is essential for us to raise our voices and resist the saffronisation process in whatever capacity we can.
Afreen, H., Afreen, H., & Bites, L. (2019, March 17). Legal bites. Legal Bites. https://www-legalbites-in.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/www.legalbites.in/amp/ghar-wapsi-naam-wapsi-resurgence/
Ahmad, R. (2018, October 12). Renaming India: Saffronisation of public spaces. Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2018/10/12/renaming-india-saffronisation-of-public-spaces
From “Aligarh” to “Harigarh”: Uttar Pradesh continues its name changing spree. (n.d.). The Wire. https://thewire.in/government/from-aligarh-to-harigarh-uttar-pradesh-continues-its-name-changing-spree
The Hindu Bureau. (2023, November 8). Proposal to rename Aligarh as Harigarh to be sent to Uttar Pradesh government. The Hindu. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/civic-body-passes-proposal-to-rename-aligarh-as-harigarh-motion-to-be-sent-to-government/article67509460.ece
Singh, J. N. (2020). The Sociolinguistic Saffronisation of India. In Routledge eBooks (pp. 57–71). https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429325250-ch02