“Mental Slavery”

India’s current ruling party, the BJP, is almost the definition of a “broad church”, with moderates such as Prime Minister Modi but also complete loons and extremists such as the Hindu nationalists.

This is the sort of nonsense they tend to get up to when they’ve got half a chance; Shimla to be renamed Shyamala to end “mental slavery”.

This is the latest in a series of renaming activities that have been occurring since Shiv Sena (a really loony Hindu nationalist party, not amateurs at it like the BJP) renamed Bombay to Mumbai in 1995.

Some of these name changes have more historic justification than others.

The etymology for “Madras”, for example, referred to it as “black town” in the local language with “white town” reserved for the Europeans.

When Bombay was founded by the Portuguese, it was a collection of fishing huts. The reference back to some ancient temple to “Mumba Devi” is tenuous at best.

As for Calcutta being renamed Kolkata, I challenge anyone not paying extremely close attention to distinguish between the two pronunciations. That’s an expensive change of spelling.

Bill’s Opinion

71 years after Indian independence, what is meant by “mental slavery” is anyone’s guess. Are they suggesting that a name that most residents of Simla/Shyamala wouldn’t associate with the British still has some dangerous colonial issues? Given that the vast majority of Simla residents were born after the British had already left, this seems quite unlikely.

It’s comforting to note that the Indian government has solved all of the pressing higher priority issues facing the country already to be able to allocate any intellectual or more tangible resources to addressing this problem.

Finally, it’s going to be fun observing the inevitable debate about what to rename the country to.

No, seriously, “India” didn’t exist as a country prior to the East India Company’s foray from mercantilism into military expansion; “the Indies” and “India” were European nouns for swathes of territory far greater than the lands of the Deccan.

Most locals would have associated themselves to their local language, religion, ethnicity, region and ruling maharajah, rather than a supra-national identity.

A Bengali and a Keralan would not have recognised themselves as countrymen prior to the 1800s, as witnessed by the lack of support the southerners offered the easterners during the Mutiny of 1857.

The Indians can use whatever place names they want, of course, but using a colonial history as an excuse for driving a Hindu nationalist identity is an act of convenience not logic.

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