Bangalore and Babri

Tolerate one outrage and you tolerate them all

They just knocked down another edifice erected by a foreigner and restored it back to its previous (original, the demolition crew would contend) state. Yet while the demolition of the Babri Masjid carries with it the stigma of embarassment and shame, nothing of that nature accompanies the renaming (actually, changing the English spelling) of Bangalore to Bengaluru. And Mysore to Mysuru. And Mangalore to Mangaluru. And Shimoga to Shivamogga. And Belgaum to Belagavi. And so on. This was not an isolated act of etymological terrorism by the H D Kumaraswamy government in Karnataka. It was a full-fledged blitzkrieg.

Those seeking to explain the reasons for the change have not strayed far from the reasons offered by its proponents—that it setts right the wrongs of colonialism. But anti-colonialism just does not click in a city as cosmopolitan, as globalised and as forward-looking as Bangalore. A few chauvinists-looking-for-self-aggrandisement apart, most residents of Bangalore care little about the English spelling of their city. Kannadigas and local residents used to call it Bengaluru anyway. Some political observers are likely to see this as the latest in a trend that caused Calcutta, Bombay and Madras (remember them?) re-spell their names in English. But the truth is that the “let’s rename our city” agenda only crops up with governments suffering from policy-bankruptcy looking to do something that grabs the headlines. [Indeed, once they are done with reverting to ‘pre-colonial’ names, the new wave might even be—a la Bollywood—numerology : Benggalooroo?]

Renaming cities does nothing for any of its residents, and certainly not for its poorest ones. It just involves a waste of resources repainting signboards and reprinting stationery.

The principal argument against the demolition of the Babri Masjid was that the sentiments of the minority ought to be respected, even protected, from the tyranny of the majority—regardless of the validity of historical claims or indeed the actual views of the majority. That is an eminently sensible argument. And it is as applicable to the re-spelling of Bangalore as it is to the demolition of the Babri Masjid. So where’s the outrage then? Or do the self-professed advocates of rights and freedoms raise their placards and climb on to their podiums only when there is a religious or communal angle to it? Will an attempt to rename Ahmedabad or Hyderabad be greeted with the same resignation and silence?

Here’s the rub: it is precisely because Indians take such bloodless outrages lying down that other bloody outrages are allowed to happen.

62 thoughts on “Bangalore and Babri”

  1. hi,

    I would like to congratulate all my kannadiga friends on renaming Bangalore to Bangaluru. Actually Bangalore always was Bangaluru. It was just that the white imperialist guy that used to rule over india could not pronounce “Bangaluru”, which was why the name was changed to “Bangalore”. The white imperialist guy is now out of India. All other Indians can confidently pronounce “Bangaluru”. So I see no reason why people should not call bengaluru by that name which was given to it by the native people when it was first formed.

    My mother tongue is marathi. Not Kannada. But my sympathies are with my kannadiga friends I grew up with in Bengaluru. There is no reason to feel ashamed to call Bangalore “Bengaluru” from now on.


    Chitrakut Deshpande

  2. Hello,
    Jai, Sriram, Zulfikar, Confused, have represented the case well. Hituvali; I am pained you talk like a “possesed” of Xenophobia. though i sympathise with your sentiments. Whole world has gone thro name changes, and every where there will be somebody feeling hurt about it. The comparison to BabriMasjid is out of tune. What happenned there is an act of crime and had no sanction of the majority or Law. Bangaloreans are the most tolerant. Our wishes are to be respected. Yes, Democracy is Majority Rule. The official language of U.S.A. became English, instead of German by just ONE VOTE.
    I fully agree with Hituvli these” hurt guys” would have been very happy if our city was called some GUNJ.

  3. @ Nitin

    For example, you don’t have to work in the IT industry to benefit—the ‘old’ Bangaloreans (at least those who owned a plot of land or a house) have seen unprecedented asset appreciation. And during my most recent trip to Bangalore, one well-known blogger told me how some auto-drivers have moved up the value chain by ferrying call-centre/BPO staff between work and home. They’ve been able to pay off the vehicle loans (for the mini-vans) within a year.

    Property prices have gone up the roof everywhere in India and I dont think its limited to Bangalore only. Also, I myself live in our own house that has appreciated considerably, but then, I have this house for myself and have no intention of selling it, not if it goes to 20K per square feet or comes down to 20 Rs per square feet.

    Yes, there has been a rub off effect, but again only a minority has benefitted. I am a Professional in a field where money doesnt have the value it commands elsewhere, but still I was horrified when I visited Garuda Mall. Parking Charge for a 2 Wheeler is Rs.10 (Its the same for most other malls as well). Food (Basic, Westernized) starts at Rs.50.00 and a film ticket at INOX costs Rs.220.00 per seat (This is the basic class. Gold Class starts at 600.00). Do you think that any Middle Class (forget poorer people) can afford to spend that kind of money.

    I also think its wrong on your part to club events that have taken place over more than a Decade and say that it shows the anti-cosmopolitan element. I can show protests happening elsewhere for sillier reasons than the reasons for which protest was carried out. KFC event itself was a Political stunt, nothing more nothing less.


  4. Prashanth,

    Also, I myself live in our own house that has appreciated considerably, but then, I have this house for myself and have no intention of selling it, not if it goes to 20K per square feet or comes down to 20 Rs per square feet.

    Regardless of your decision to sell or not to sell, the fact is that you are richer now just because you own a house in Bangalore. That works for hundreds of thousands of middle class Bangaloreans who own property. Your assets may not be liquid but your assets have appreciated much more significantly because the knowledge industries brought in outsiders. This is just one example, but it shows that you don’t have to be in the IT industry to prosper from it.

  5. Prashanth, or you can let out a matchbox of a room in your terrace with a barely-there toilet for 4500/- a month rent. :). Dont take it personally, I am just trying to point the pitfall in your arguement. If Garuda mall appears to be very expensive or if pizza corner reserves the rights of admission, how does it compare with houseowners who demand astronomical sums for ramshackle rooms or dont let it for bachelors? I stand for free market economy, so have nothing to complain but the owner peeping in every now and then to check if i am screwing a girl or downing vodka is not what I pay for.

  6. Forget it Guys. My ranting maybe went a bit Wild :). Why crib when I can enjoy. Let the party run till we come to a sudden halt(as Delhi Traders are finding it out).


  7. Hi, came to your blog through Confused’s blog.
    I think comparing the name change of a city to the Babri Masjid demolition is …for lack of a word, comparison for the sake of it. In the case of the Babri Masjid, a religious structure that is sacred to many current citizens of this country, was demolished unlawfully, with no court or Parliament permission, no democratic process or consensus, without consulting the Muslims who hold it in esteem. Even if the Hindu claim is right in terms of history, the way to reach a solution would have ideally been a dialogue between Hindu and Muslim leaders and some sort of compromise and reconciliation. What is worse is that communal passions were whipped up with the ‘rath yatra’ and all the subsequent sloganeering.
    In the case of the name change, the city belongs to all its people, those who approve of the name change and those who don’t. It is not a deliberate assault on a section of the people as destroying a religious structure is. As someone has already pointed out, nobody’s stopping you from calling the city by its old name. Speaking of ‘old’, what is old – the British version or the previous version? My native place, a small town in Tamil Nadu, was totally mispronounced by the British. The original name had a religious history. I prefer the original name in that case because it reflects the history of that place. For example, the British referred to Kanyakumari as ‘Cape Komarin’, Kanpur as ‘Cawnpore’ and the Ganga as ‘Ganges’, but Kanyakumari, Kanpur and ‘Ganga’ are historically and culturally more accurate and appropriate. Kanyakumari and Ganga have a long historical and religious tradition associated with them. Same for ‘Thiruvananthapuram’, which is related to the chief deity of the place.
    On the other hand, being a former Mumbaikar, I hated the name change to “Mumbai” but now, I like the new name, too. And many of us sometimes still refer to it as ‘Bombay’. Both names have a history behind them. To be fair , ‘Bombay’ would not have existed if not for the British. It makes sense to retain the English name in that case. As for Chennai, even before the renaming, ‘Chennai’ was the other Tamil name besides ‘Madras’. I look at it this way. For a non-Maharshtrian outsider who knows little about Mumbai, the name change will probably enlighten him/her about the Marathi ethos and culture of the place while also reminding them that this city was built by the British.
    I have noticed that many other-state people do not bother to even familiarise themselves with the local language and customs. After all, cities are not just about economic prosperity, malls and discos. They are also about the people, they have a history and an ethos.
    As for your whining about tyranny of the majority, in a democracy, decisions taken by elected reresentatives are not always in consultation with the public, nor are they palatable. Even if taken by the public, the majority decision is not always in line with some minorities but that’s the way it is. As long as citizens’ fundamental rights are not violated, it is not ‘tyranny’. If you are really passionate about ‘Bangalore’, you and other like-minded people should register a protest in some public forum.

  8. Lotus Eyes,

    And how far back should we go? It’s quite well known that Bangalore was Benda Kaal Ooru before it became Bengluru. Going by your logic, why stop at Bengluru? I can guess your answer—for that’s what the elected representatives want. Why should they want that and not Benda Kaal Ooru? So you’ll notice that my post is not about the mechanics of our democracy. Rather the weakness among our citizens to allow anything to pass through as long as it is coated with chauvinism.

    If you are really passionate about ‘Bangalore’, you and other like-minded people should register a protest in some public forum.

    Thanks for all the advice. But if you think that elected representatives don’t have to consult the public and their decisions need not be palatable to everyone and that’s the way it is, what good is registering a protest at ‘some public forum’. For the sake of it? What are you offering—Amrutanjan for the hurt minority?

  9. Nitin,
    It is not Amrutanjan for the minority. If some people really hate the name “Bengaluru” so much and protest, maybe many more like-minded souls would pitch in. If the politicians see that there is significant opposition to their move, then perhaps they would not go about on a name-changing rampage.
    If you have noticed, we all get worked up only when the names of metro cities are changed/reverted. Probably the reason is that it hurts our cosmopolitan, international sesibilities. But, have you thought about it…just as you are offended by “Bengaluru”, someone else is offended by “Bangalore”. Whose opinion should then weigh more? I did not mean to say that, in a democracy, elected representatives should run roughshod over people’s opinions. But, we have to realise that there will always be a minority, always someone whose opinions are different and no decision can please everyone.
    The question of ‘tyranny’ and minority ‘rights’ is not applicable to every case. What rights of yours have been violated? Your fundamental freedoms are intact and nobody’s stopping you from using the name you like. It is only the official name that has been changed.
    As for my personal opinion on name change, as I said before, some name changes are ridiculous , whereas some are perfectly legitimate, considering the history of the place. I like the name “Bangalore” very much but I am not as passionate about it as you are. These are just personal opinions.
    Anyway, I will write about this sometime later on my blog.

  10. Awesome post and great discussion.

    It is exactly what the author pointed out. Policy-bankruptcy. And the moronic URA who suggested the name says : ““A name change would serve to awaken the consciousness of people to the existing inequality”. How the hell is that possible. Can this person even hear himself speaking. If he could he would realise how baseless and moronic it sounds.

    The problem with mose people who support this renaming is that they’d rather identify themselves as a Kannada rather than an Indian. They like to think it is their own property. This is the same sort of radicalisation that was/is being preached by Shiv Sena in Maharashtra.

    Rather than working to solve the “REAL” issues, they’d rather choose to rename the cities, hoping that will make the issues disappear. They seem to think that the problems are somehow tied to the name Bangalore. This kind of an argument is not too different from “akshay khanna” deciding to add an “e” behind his name and other such examples. I assume, these morons too might’ve contacted some foolish astrologer regarding this.

    This is sad and a bloody shame.

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