Listen to the court – SC warning against renaming places by abusing history, and invoking it selectively, is valuable and timely

Source: The post is based on the following articles

“Plenty In A Name – Why naming public spaces after India’s rich flora, fauna, and not history figures, makes so much sense” published in The Times of India on 1st March 2023.

“The Express View: Listen to the court” published in the Indian Express on 1st March 2023.

Syllabus: GS-1: Urbanization, their problems and their remedies.

Relevance: About renaming places.

News: The Supreme Court has recently dismissed a PIL that sought a renaming commission focussed on “ancient India”.

Note: Immediately after Independence, to reverse colonial legacies India changed the names of several places

About the case

A PIL has been filed and sought the Court’s intervention in restoring the “original names” of places “renamed by barbaric invaders”. The petitioner had contended that several roads, public places and cities in the country are named after “foreign looters” and argued that the “benevolent nature of Hinduism had resulted in wiping out of it from Pakistan and Afghanistan”.

However, the court dismissed the PIL and said that the “country cannot remain a prisoner of the past”. The bench criticised the petitioner for going by the playbook of those who “invoke history selectively” to create “schisms in society”.

Note: European names were inserted into towns, cities and countries in several parts of the world during the so-called Age of Discovery in the 15th to 18th centuries. For instance, Constantinople was renamed as Istanbul in 1930.

In recent times, such renaming exercises have become the stock-in-trade of the votaries of identity politics who obsess about “outsiders”, “invaders” and “looters”.

What is the significance of the SC’s comment?

The apex court reaffirmed the “rule of law, secularism and constitutionalism” and cautioned against bigotry. The court’s directive to abide by “the principle of fraternity enshrined in the Constitution’s Preamble” and its words of caution against the abuse of history must be heard.

Why India should revamp the philosophy of naming or renaming places after history?

India is expected to add another 416 million people to its cities by 2050, taking the urban population share to 50%. This will be associated with major infrastructure expansion. Each new project, street, or square will need a new name. So, India has to revamp the philosophy of naming.

Words have power, and names can act as economic multipliers. For instance, US data indicates homes on ‘Lake’ streets average 16% more than the national median home value.

What should be done while naming or renaming places?

Follow global protocol: Top airports around the world and most have straightforward geographical titles. For instance, Amsterdam, Beijing, Dubai, Incheon, Los Angeles, and Munich.

Similarly, in many countries, streets are named by their simple number and direction. All of this is both user-friendly and conflict-reducing.

Can pay homage to nature: Singapore Changi Airport has been permitted to be named after a legendary tree, and around 300-odd streets named after Oak in California. India can follow similar approach.

Name after famous personalities: Public spaces can be named after popular figures from arts, entertainment and sport in the contemporary world.

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