I guess we all know by now the real issue with the renaming of the Dyal Singh Majithia college in Delhi is not the name per se. It is the fact that the institution is now so low on resources, with such high number of students, that to distract attention, the right wing administration has pulled the renaming rabbit out of its hat.
Frankly, living the last 3.5 years under a right wing rule one knows not to expect anything better. All they do is rename policies, programs, institutions and fill them up with zombies who have no clue of what to do. When in difficulty - distract. Or they make stupid grand programs that fail miserably and then keep tweaking them causing more misery. They know no better.
Let us come back to the renaming of this college. One of the ways right wing succeeds is through revisionist histories. It seeks to undo the greatness of past heroes and configure new ones who had a lowly or even contrary role to play in their times. For a moment, forget the fact that Dyal Singh Majithia was a Sikh, from a minority community, did great service to education by donating all his personal wealth, and is respected even in Pakistan. We know these aspects have lost value in these times under the new dispensation.
Look at the modus operandi of the move: the very act of renaming, presupposes a name. A name is a factor of language. Language is arbitrary. To understand, I would like to draw your focus to a game most of us played when we were kids: Name, Place, Animal, Thing.
For instance, there is no clue in the word 'chair' that it is a small platform raised on legs with a backrest. Same with 'apple'. There is no clue in the name that it is a spherical fruit, red, green or yellow, crunchy to munch, almost wholly edible. We name Things because we all agree to call it by that name in that language. That is why in language lies a linguistic community's sense and intelligence. Same for Animals. A 'lion' gives no clue that it is a four legged, ferocious mammal that likes to hunt its prey. However, Names are a little different. They are personal pronouns. But for some exceptions, they retain their structure and pronunciation across languages. That is because they belong to a particular Person or Place.
A name is a factor of language. Language is arbitrary. To understand, I would like to draw your focus to a game most of us played when we were kids: Name, Place, Animal, Thing.
What is Vande Matram? It is a phrase. It means: I praise thee, Mother. A phrase is neither a Name, nor an Place, nor an Animal, nor a Thing. When playing the game try scoring points by using a phrase. The other players will not allow it. Of course, given the uber nationalistic times forced upon us by the right wing, the phrase Vande Matram is now an important one but those are feelings. Feelings, however hyper, do not add or reduce anything to the fact that it is a phrase which became a name in a limited context of being the title of a poem. It is like 'good morning' or 'sleep well'. Just because a poem is written around a phrase does not make it a personal pronoun except for referring to the poem.
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Apart from their deviousness, as explained in second paragraph above in their renaming moves, the folly of the right wing is that they are so bereft of reasoning, in this case understanding even the logic of language, that they consider a phrase to be a person, after whom they want to name a place. Or are they? Had the right wing proposed a name, instead of a phrase, it would have defeated their purpose simply because no name really compares in this context.
The danger of such a move is, if it succeeds, there will be no language left for each of us to raise our voice against the right wing or even any other danger.
By bringing a phrase to replace a name, the right wing is turning language banal, meaningless. Now consider the fact that if language turns meaningless, how are we going to communicate with each other? Beyond regard for history, beyond regard for a genuine philanthropist and visionary, beyond regard for a dynamic community that led the freedom struggle, the real agenda of the right wing is to rob people of the tool of communication, to divide and splinter people into minuscule broken entities, and then control us. The danger of such a move is, if it succeeds, there will be no language left for each of us to raise our voice against the right wing or even any other danger.
That danger is our's, our whole society's, not of Sikhs alone.
Amandeep Sandhu is working on a book on Panjab.
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