The Indian villages desperate to change their names

  • 5 January 2019
Harpreet Kaur
Image captionHarpreet Kaur wrote to the prime minister, requesting him to change the name of her village

Across the northern Indian states of Haryana and Rajasthan, many villages with “embarrassing” names have been pushing to get them changed for years now. BBC Punjabi’s Arvind Chhabra talks to some of the people who have been leading this campaign.

“My village’s name is Ganda [meaning dirty or ugly in Hindi],” Harpreet Kaur wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2016 in an attempt to officially change its name. She added that just the name of the village was enough to prompt humiliating taunts from whomever she met.

“The situation was so bad that even our relatives mock us relentlessly,” she said.

In 2017, Mr Modi directed authorities to change the village’s name. Today, the renamed village of Ajit Nagar stands proudly in the northern Indian state of Haryana.

The village council chief, Lakwinder Ram, said they had been trying for years to get the attention of the government and change the name. “When that didn’t work, we thought that perhaps a young person writing directly to Mr Modi might move him,” he said. “There was not a soul in the village who didn’t want the name to change.”

Locals say that Ganda got its name when a flood ravaged the area decades ago. An officer who visited in the aftermath of the disaster saw all the debris that had been swept in and remarked that it was extremely dirty or “ganda”. Since then, they say, the name just stuck.

Mr Ram added that the name of the village also drove away potential grooms since they did not want a bride from a village that had such a humiliating name. “We are extremely relieved now,” he said.

But Ganda is hardly a unique case.

Representatives from more than 50 villages have pestered the Indian government for a name change in the recent past. The reasons are varied – some names are seen as racist, others were just bizarre and a few more downright embarrassing for its inhabitants.

“The requests of some 40 villages have been accepted and implemented,” Krishan Kumar, a senior federal government official, said.

Among these, is a village called Kinnar which means transgender in Hindi. That became Gaibi Nagar in 2016.

And in the northern Indian state of Rajasthan, a village in Alwar district used to be called Chor Basai. But since the word chor means thief in Hindi, the village’s new name is now just Basai.

Image captionMughalsarai is located about 20km from the holy city of Varanasi in northern India

But the process to get the name of a village changed is not that easy.

To begin with, the state government must be convinced enough to take up the issue with the Indian government, which has the final authority.

But before they can grant the request, the government also has to get clearances from other official units including the railways and postal department as well as the Survey of India. This is to ensure that the new proposed name does not exist anywhere else in the country.

Image captionA sign board in Lula Ahir

For residents of Lula Ahir village in Haryana state – a derogatory term for a disabled person in Hindi- the process has been fraught with bureaucracy. They first wrote to the state government in 2016, unhappy with the village name.

“We wanted to change the name to Dev Nagar,” village council chief Virender Singh said.

They waited for a response for six months – only to receive a rejection letter since a village named Dev Nagar already exists somewhere else in the country.

Back at the drawing board, the village council decided to try once again with another name – Krishan Nagar. “We wrote to the administration again and kept following it up with them,” Mr Singh said. “But it just went from one department to another.”

In July, they thought their luck had changed when the state’s chief minister announced that the village had a new name. Instead, they found out that the decision hadn’t been formally implemented by the central government yet. Officials confirmed that the request is still “under process”.

“We have just been waiting and waiting ever since,” Mr Singh said with a shrug.

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