Are street names a result of political decisions?

The naming of streets after people is a relatively recent phenomenon and quite a politic decision

Updated - April 18, 2018 02:53 pm IST

Published - April 18, 2018 01:05 pm IST

 MG Road Photo: murali kumar k

MG Road Photo: murali kumar k

The naming of streets is a tricky business. In the old days, streets got their names off occupations. They could be named after a Baker, a Shoemaker, or after prominent landmarks. In India, we have our own versions, such as Chikoo-wadi, Parathe-wali Gali, or Chandni Chowk.

The naming of streets after people is a relatively recent phenomenon and quite a politic decision. To name a street after a person, is to say that this person is significant, and must remain in public memory. We have streets named after monarchs, politicians, scholars, artists and prominent businessmen. Very, rarely do we have a street named for an activist. There is of course, Mahatma Gandhi; several Indian cities have an MG Road by way of acknowledging the father of the nation. However, the more confrontational and anti-establishment an activist is, the fewer the chances that his/her name will be enjoined to a street sign.

Unless, of course, it’s someone else’s activist. Recently, Dutch activists went about ‘renaming’ streets after Ahed Tamimi, the Palestinian teenager who was imprisoned for hitting an Israeli soldier. What makes it a fine act of diplomatic trolling is that one of these streets named for Ahed leads to the embassy of Israel in Amsterdam. I do not know whether The Netherlands officially supports such a renaming but, at any rate, the state seems not to be in any hurry to punish the activists who made the change. Such trolling of another state via renaming of the street on which the embassy stands is not new. Iran did this masterfully way back in 1981. Bobby Sands was a member of the Irish Republican Army which was opposed to British rule. Sands was in prison and had undertaken a hunger strike along with a handful of other IRA activists. He withstood the strike for 66 days before he died aged 27.

He had many supporters, even as far as Tehran. The Iranian government decided to honour his memory — and stick their tongue out at the British — by renaming the street on which the British Embassy stood.

The UK officials, naturally, were not amused; they thought of the IRA as terrorists. So they responded by turning their backs on the new Bobby Sands Street. The front entrance was moved around to the back, so that the opposite street could be given out as their official address.

There seem to be fewer such challenges to the power of rival nations in India. This is always a tricky thing to do, of course. It’s because once we do start reminding each other of the abuses of power in each other's backyard, we’re going to start running out of streets to rename.

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