By Khalid Bashir Ahmad
NAMING and renaming places and old or new infrastructure by a government is a common practice all over the world. However, it is not always that these officially assigned names click with the people. In Kashmir, there are several instances when christening or rechristening of places, roads and bridges by a government has failed to meet public acceptance.
In olden times, Kashmir was divided into two parts – Kamraz and Maraz – representing the north and south parts of the Valley, respectively. As the story goes, two ruling siblings, Kamran Dev and Marhan Dev, had divided the kingdom between themselves. Kamran ruled north Kashmir which came to be known after his name as Kamraz and Marhan ruled south Kashmir which got its name after him as Maraz. People in Kashmir still refer to north and south Kashmir as Kamraz and Maraz, respectively. During the Dogra rule (1846-1947) also, the Valley was administratively divided into two districts of Baramulla and Anantnag. The Srinagar tehsil, now forming two districts of Srinagar and Ganderbal, was part of the Anantnag district.
The Dogras changed the name of north Kashmir tehsil of Handwara to Uttarmachipura which then comprised the areas now forming the districts of Kupwara and Bandipore. The new name did find mention in official records including the Census Reports but on the people’s level the tehsil continued, as it does today, to be known as Handwara.
The central Kashmir tehsil (now district) of Budgam was renamed, again by the Dogras, as Sri Pratapsinghpura tehsil after Maharaja Pratap Singh who ruled Kashmir between 1885 and 1925. Officially, the new name was popularized through government orders and documents but failed to generate any sentiment of acceptance among the people who refused to embrace the name change.
In 1964, Kashmir saw the construction of its first concrete bridge over the Jhelum near Qamarwari. Earlier, bridges in the Valley were made of wood only. G. M. Sadiq’s government broke this age-old tradition, built this bridge in concrete and named it as Nur Jahan Bridge in memory of the 17th century Mugal queen and wife of King Jahangir. The name did not click with the public. They called it Seemath (Cement) Kadal and it continues to be known by this name.
In 1982, Chief Minister Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah inaugurated a newly constructed bridge over the Jhelum in downtown Srinagar, few meters upstream of an old bridge, the Fateh Kadal. It was named as the Biscoe Bridge after a famous educationist and author of Kashmir under Sunlight and Shade, Tyndale Biscoe, whose bust was also installed there. Although, Biscoe is revered by the people of Kashmir for his contribution in the field of education, the name of the bridge did not amuse them. They called it Nov (New) Fateh Kadal. During a protest demonstration over an unrelated issue, Biscoe’s bust was disfigured. Later, it was mysteriously removed. Today, people do not even recall that the bridge was named after Tyndale Biscoe.
On reconstruction, an unnamed culvert on the Tsunt Kol, an outflow channel of the Jhelum, near the Radio Kashmir building, was named as Aziz Bridge in memory of Master Abdul Aziz who was an associate of Maqbool Sherwani. The duo is known to have misled the Tribal Raiders who were on their way to capture Srinagar in 1947 before the Indian Amy could land there. The name of the culvert did not find favour with the public. During militancy in Kashmir, the plaque installed on the culvert was broken by some unknown persons. Today, it is a nameless bridge over the Tsunt Kol.
Another instance is of the Afzal Beg Bridge, situated few meters from the Sangarmal shopping complex, again on the Tsunt Kol. The National Conference government named the reconstructed bridge after the former Deputy Prime Minister and once Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s close associate, Mirza Mohammad Afzal Beg but, again, without any public acceptance.
There is this famous and busy road in Srinagar running between the Radio Kashmir and Lal Chowk, known as the Residency Road. The road derived its name from the official residence of the then British Resident in Kashmir, situated on its eastern take-off point. In 1976, a year after Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah had returned to power after 22 years following his dismissal and arrest in 1953, his government renamed the road as the Sherwani Road in memory of Maqbool Sherwani. However, like in the above cases, the new name did not find favour with the public and continues to be known by its colonial name – the Residency Road.
On 19 July 2004, Mohammad Yusuf Rather, Chief Engineer of Kashmir’s public works department, was killed in a bomb blast at Kapran in south Kashmir where Deputy Chief Minister Mangat Ram Sharma was addressing a public meeting. Sharma and two other ministers escaped unhurt but Rather was not as lucky. Later, the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed led coalition government named the street running between Jahangir Chowk and Batamaloo as the Engineer Mohammad Yusuf Road but the name change failed to register itself with the people. They still know it as the Secretariat Road or the road leading to Batamaloo.
There are instances where the governments succeeding the autocratic rule in Kashmir have, through official communications and text books, actively popularized renaming of some places like Anantnag and Shankaracharya, a south Kashmir district and a hillock in Srinagar, respectively. During the Dogra, rule these names were not very popular among people and even official records of that period and books written by foreigners mostly mention these by their previous names.
One of the instances of people accepting without any reservation the name change of an existing infrastructure is the rechristening of the Hotel Road running between the Corporate Headquarters of the J&K Bank and the Budshah Bridge, and the Guerdav Kadal, a bridge over the Tsunt Kol at its take-off point. Both the road and the bridge were renamed by the Sadiq Government (1964-71) as the Maulana Azad Road and the Maulana Azad Bridge, respectively, in memory of a prominent Indian National Congress leader and independent India’s first education minister, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad who was also a prominent religious scholar.
There is, at least, one instance in recent history when renaming of an institution by the government was successfully resisted by people, especially the youth. On 5 November 1973, the Mir Qasim Government was to rechristen the Government Women’s College, Maulana Azad Road as Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial College for Women. Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah was to be the Chief Guest at the function. However, the government cancelled the function in the face of violent protest demonstrations by the students of different colleges in Srinagar.
- The article was originally the author’s Facebook status
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