Dear Independent, You've Got To Be Kidding Us About Bombay

11/02/2016 12:36 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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MUMBAI, INDIA - JULY 29: People enjoy after heavy rain at Gateway of India on July 29, 2015 in Mumbai, India. Heavy rains caused major waterlogging in many areas, leaving residents and commuters stranded, and causing a huge traffic gridlock. Waterlogging in many areas has led BEST to divert bus routes and trains being stalled as tracks are under water. The temperature here dropped to 28.5 degrees Celsius due to the rain, according to the weather department. (Photo by Arijit Sen/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

A British newspaper has decided to cease referring to the city of Mumbai as that and will instead fall back to Bombay, the colonial-era name for India's greatest metropolis.

The decision, the paper's editor said, was a reaction to the growing intolerance in India as he saw it, and because if you call it Mumbai, you are doing the bidding of the Hindu nationalists. "If you call it what Hindu nationalists want you to call it, you essentially do their work for them," he said yesterday.

It's one thing for Indians to dislike the change in names and the character of the cities they grew up in and grumble about it. Quite another for a British newspaper, with naïve bluster and a shocking lack of self-awareness, to resort to what it seems to think is some sort of an honourable act of civil international disobedience.

[I]t's a legitimate, constitutional change, not a mafia decision enforced by the barrel of the gun.

Oh man, the poor Indian people suffering under Hindoo nationalists. Let's lend them a helping hand by making sure at least in London the name Mumbai won't appear in print again.

It's horrifyingly wrong.

Mumbai is not a city held hostage by Hindu nationalists, or anyone for that matter. The name of Mumbai and many other cities in India was changed through the democratic process. Political parties contested elections, rose to power and legislated a change in the names. You might disagree with their politics, but it's a legitimate, constitutional change, not a mafia decision enforced by the barrel of the gun. Oh wait, you know which name for the city was thus enforced?

Bombay is an anglicized version of the name the Portuguese colonizers gave the city -- Bom Bahiya, meaning the 'good bay'. The local Marathi speakers always referred to the city as Mumbai, even when its official name was Bombay.

So the name Bombay was imposed on the city's residents by not one, but two sets of marauding European imperialists. In its desire to make a statement against the Hindu nationalists, the paper has inadvertently allied with the oppressors from India's past nightmares.

This undying western habit of presuming that Indians lack agency and need rescuing would be laughable if it weren't so troubling. The paper did not pause to consider the real horror that not so long ago, this country was run by what the elite in London thought was good for the Indians.

"I'd rather side with the tradition of India that's been open to the world, rather than the one that's been closed, which is in ascendance right now," the paper's 32-year-old India-born editor Amol Rajan said, explaining his decision.

It's cute that Rajan thinks it matters to anyone in India whose side The Independent is on, but we will let that pass.

The Independent has stepped outside the remit of journalism and waddled into a display of misguided political bravado where none is called for.

With any real understanding of contemporary India, the paper would have known that it remains an acrimonious democracy. This is not to say that India is safe from tendencies towards fascism or cultural majoritarianism. There is much that is stemming from the politics of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party that is deserving of resistance and condemnation. But that is being done routinely and soundly by Indian political parties and commentators both at home and overseas. Western and foreign commentators are of course welcome to add to it, and they do, as evidenced by The Guardian's routine and biting criticism of Narendra Modi, which are enthusiastically shared here.

But The Independent has stepped outside the remit of journalism and waddled into a display of misguided political aggression where none is called for. India will survive, thank you very much, without a British paper owned by a Russian oligarch taking up the cudgels on its behalf.

"As journalists, as someone who edits The Independent, it's incredibly important to be specific about our terminology," the editor said.


The Independent should go back to calling Mumbai by its correct name. If it fails to do so, we might decide to stop selling Tetley tea in England. The consequences will be grave.

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