Street and Place Name Changes in Kolkata: India’s First Modern City
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Calcutta, India’s first modern city, was developed along the west bank of Hugli River – a tributary of the Ganges. The city was renamed “Kolkata” in 2001, which generated a great deal of debate among the city’s literary communities and notables. The practice of naming and renaming of streets, parks, and other important places is not new in Kolkata. Not only did the independent government of West Bengal show a passion for renaming the streets and roads of Kolkata, but the colonial government was also not far behind in the naming and renaming spree. Until the first half of the nineteenth century, the street and place naming in Kolkata were based on the city’s geology, flora, and fauna. In the later part of the colonial period, the British government commemorated governors-general and viceroys in street naming. Since independence in 1947, the city’s major thoroughfares, streets, alleys, and parks have been renamed after national and regional leaders as well as social reformers involved in India’s freedom movement and socio-cultural transformation. More recently, renaming of the urban landscape in Kolkata commemorated legendary icons of Bengali film industry such as Satyajit Ray, Pramathesh Barua, and Suchitra Sen. Within a framework of the critical toponymic study, this chapter examines the street and place-name changes in the city of Kolkata along with its historical background. It demonstrates that while the renaming of streets and places after independence could be explained by the process of decolonization, a strong sense of nationalism, symbolic capital, and the restitution of justice, the recent toponymic inscription on the city landscape is more chaotic and cannot be explained by a single approach. Although the citizens can request street-name changes to the Road Renaming Advisory Committee of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, the current street renaming is more of an administrative function largely determined by the whim of West Bengal’s ruling party.
KeywordsStreet and place-name changes Decolonization Urban landscape Justice restitution Kolkata
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