ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Politics of Punjab’s ‘Law of Historical Memory’

A number of places named by India’s colonial rulers have been renamed since independence. The Punjab government has proposed introducing a bill that aims at erasing memories of British rule by renaming places that have English names. The proposed bill and the politics of renaming are rooted in the “nationalisation” of heritage. It misses the complex ways in which the British were actively engaged in fashioning what is now considered “national heritage.”

Since 1947, several places that were originally named by the British have been renamed. Till today, several decades after independence, this seems to be a never-ending project. Nowhere was the need for renaming places felt with greater urgency than in the capital, Delhi. And, given that Delhi was also the imperial capital, nowhere were there more places to be renamed. So, after independence, Kingsway Road became Rajpath, and Queensway became Janpath; Irwin Road became Baba Kharak Singh Marg; King Edward Road was renamed Maulana Azad Road; Viceroy’s House, understandably, became Rashtrapati Bhavan; Willingdon Airport became Safdarjung Airport; Lady Hardinge Serai changed names several times, and now houses the Maulana Azad Education Foundation. The War Memorial to the Indian Army was renamed Teen Murti, while the Commander-in-Chief’s House became Teen Murti Bhavan, and the Museum of Central Asian Antiquities became the National Museum. Later on, Curzon Road became Kasturba Gandhi Marg, while Alipore Road became Sham Nath Marg. More recently, Race Course Road was renamed Lok Kalayan Marg, whereas Dalhousie Road became Dara Shikoh Road. Despite these attempts, there remain a large number of places in today’s Delhi that remind us of British rule: Kingsway Camp, Civil Lines, Hudson Lane, Willingdon Crescent, Andrews Ganj, Coronation Park, Outram Lines, Cavalry Lane, and Gwyer’s Hostel in the University of Delhi are some of the well-known examples.

Historians have often bemoaned the practice of renaming places. On the recent move to change the name of Dalhousie Road, well-known historian Irfan Habib observed,

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