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CSM (2006.9.7): Tear up the maps: India's cities shed colonial names

By Mark Sappenfield | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

…Occasionally, however, Indians themselves can’t agree on which name and whose version of history to use. In 2000, the people of the hill country northeast of Delhi celebrated the creation of their new state – only to discover that the federal government had chosen to name it Uttaranchal.

The women and students who had lined the streets calling for a new state had united under the banner of Uttarakhand. Even the holy texts of the Hindu faith, perhaps written as early as 2,500 B.C., speak of the area as Uttarakhand.

But in a country where every state is a potential breakaway republic, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) worried that the name Uttarakhand might only encourage the state’s sense of itself as separate and unique. So it settled on a new creation with no history outside the modern Indian nation, and Uttaranchal was born.

To Sanjay Kothiyal, it was nothing less than domestic colonialism. “It hurt the people as a whole that they changed the name for which people were fighting,” he says.

With a different party in power, the name is returning to its ancestral antecedent. Says Mr. Kothiyal: “This is a question of pride.” [more]