Renaming Muslim Cities: An Act of Religious Polarization

The government in India has been on a name changing frenzy since over a decade. Initially, it was devoted to replacing the “original” names of cities by overcoming their popularized British names. These included the change from Bangalore to Bengaluru, Vizag to Vishakapatnam, Madras to Chennai and others. In the recent years, the trend has shifted towards renaming Muslim sounding city names. Many villages and towns in northern and western India are obliterating their history and adopting Hindu names by expelling century-old Muslim names. This act is fueled by the political outfits rather than societal demands. The unprecedented renaming of towns in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan under the leadership of BJP seems like an aggressive exercise to weed out Muslim names and replace them with Hindu ones. It is also an attempt to propagate the Hindutva ideology.

New names and conservative outlook

Just a few weeks ago, the BJP government in Rajasthan headed by Vasundhrara Raje renamed a cluster of villages that had Muslim names. Miyon Ka Bara was changed to Mahesh Nagar, Islampur became Pichanva Khurd, Salemabad to Shri Nimbark Teerth, Mandfiya to Sanwaliyaji, Navabpura to Nai Sarthal and Mohammadpur to Medikh Kheda. Backing this ridiculous move, the government stated that the villages were renamed as they were inhabited by a majority of Hindus. Another excuse was that the villagers were struggling to receive matrimonial prospects as the earlier name created the impression that these villages were occupied by Muslims. Such a thought speaks volumes of the conservative mindset and religious hostility of the society. Despite being a secular country, we possess animosity towards people of other religious groups. Forming inter-religious relationships seems like a far-fetched dream in a society that continues to breed communal hatred. In such grave times, instead of building a society of harmony, the government is ostracizing an entire religious minority in the process of renaming Muslim villages.

In Uttar Pradesh, the Mughalsarai railways station was renamed Dayal Upadhyay junction by BJP in June. However, Deen Dayal Upadhyay, the forerunner of BJP had nothing to do with Mughalsarai. The only association was that his body was found on the railway track leading to the junction under mysterious circumstances in 1968. BJP did not stop at just renaming the station, they also painted it saffron. This stands as a testimony to BJP’s efforts to saffronize the entire country. Apart from this, Yogi Adityanath changed the names of various localities in the Gorakhpur constituency – Humayun Nagar to Hanuman Nagar, Islampur became Ishwarpur and Alinagar became Aryanagar. Some BJP leaders have also raised a demand to rename Lucknow as Lakshmanpuri. Attempts are also being made by the Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad to rechristen Allahabad to Prayagraj, its name before it came under the Mughal ruler, Akbar in 1580. Thus by wiping out Muslim names from the Indian map, the BJP government is dismissing India’s rich history and cultural heritage.

Yogi Adityanath defended his name changing actions by arguing that the towns were named by Mughal emperors and that it’s high time that India cleanses itself from Islamic invasion. It is acceptable for the government to alter the names of those places that they built. But they don’t have the right to rename those towns that were built by others or have organically acquired the name of a community over the years. India’s past cannot be erased by the mere changing of names. We must realize that the country’s present owes a lot to its past. Historical monuments, such as Taj Mahal, Humayun’s Tomb, Qutub Minar and Fatehpur Sikri that attract the admiration of tourists from around the world were built by Muslim rulers. Does the government plan to demolish these structure as they were built by Muslim invaders?

The BJP government fails to understand that by renaming places, it is not upholding India’s independence from foreign invaders, instead, it is revengefully dividing the society by marking territories based on religion. While renaming places in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, the Hindutva party claimed to “purify” or reclaim the invader’s space. So are they trying to say that Muslims, who are equally a part of India, are impure?

The government seems to have all the time in the world to rename Muslim cities by finding a creative Hindu name for them. Why not use this same enthusiasm and energy is developing the town and improving its infrastructure?

Permanent damage of the Partition

The partition triggered riots, mass casualties and migration left lakhs of people homeless and thousands of women were raped on account of communal revenge. The death toll of the partition was two million.

It has been 71 years since the partition took place, but India, Pakistan and Bangladesh continue to endure its wounds and inspire hatred and fear among one another. India’s dark past associated with the partition will never cease to haunt the nation. In such a backdrop, how can government indulge in practices that blatantly discriminate against a religious group and treat them unfairly? How can they forget that India was torn into pieces in the past because of the poison of religion based politics? Since the BJP came to power, the humiliation faced by Muslims has reached new heights. The beef ban, love jihad, lack of seats to Muslim candidates during elections, attack on Tipu Sultan Jayanti as Tipu was a Muslim ruler, anti-Muslim comments by BJP leaders and the renaming of Muslim sounding towns – Through these acts, the government is vehemently targeting the Muslims.

BJP’s attitude towards Muslims is fueling religious animosity and polarizing the society. India has the world’s third largest Muslim population, but the government is excluding them from the mainstream society. Muslims are isolated in their country of birth. Mob lynching, hate crimes, dropping Muslim writers from textbooks, systematic closure of Urdu schools and now renaming of Muslim towns – What next? The insecurity felt by Muslims has elevated under the BJP regime. What is the future of Muslims in India? The answer to this question is definitely frightening in the light of their present condition.

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