Erasing the past

To rename the 150-year-old Mughalsarai railway station in Uttar Pradesh after Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ideologue Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, who was mysteriously found dead on the railway track close to the station in 1968, doesn’t make much sense if the objective is to systematically erase Mughal history. Islamic and Hindu cultures mingled in India for centuries, leaving a plethora of shared or overlapping nomenclature — too many to wipe out. How far do we go back in history and what do we choose to excise? Yet this prominent example is but one in a long list of stations, roads and other venues that are slowly and steadily being renamed. Are we witnessing a movement that seeks to rewrite or erase parts of history? Some seek to justify this process and draw parallels to movements in other countries, such as the movement against Confederate monuments and memorials in the U.S., or the movement to bring down the Cecil Rhodes statue in Oxford in the U.K. But these are not the same. In the U.S., fierce debates continue to rage over allowing Confederate statues — symbols of the country’s dark history of slavery and white supremacy — to stand, and parks bearing the names of Confederate leaders have been renamed Justice Park and Emancipation Park. The net impact has been to bring a measure of solace or closure to those who suffered racist attacks. And in the U.K., students have led protests to bring down the statute of Cecil Rhodes, the British-origin Prime Minister of Cape Colony who espoused racist views, yet left behind a generous and lasting corpus of funds in higher education. This hints at a broader social realisation of the legacy of colonialist racism.

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