Friday, March 11, 2016

As signage around villages in Terai are being changed, there’s urgent need to revoke them

The name of Biyahi River has been changed to Behai without the local community's consent.

If you want to erase a community’s history, first attack its language and traditions – the community will slowly cease to exist.

While I write this, some group of people might be considering coining new words to replace the ages-old names of the places in the Terai. It’s not just changing names, it’s an attack on the language and culture of the region.

I had been hearing about the cultural attack on the names of villages and places in Udayapur after the influx of migrants from hills. One of the prominent examples I had been hearing was renaming “Satpatiya” to “Satpatre” – while it’s just a tip of the iceberg, the names of places are being changed throughout the Terai because of the influence of Nepali speaking populace.

A few days ago, I was pillion-riding on the Sitapur-Birendra Bazaar section of the East-West Highway in the Saptari district. As we passed by the “Gaihri” River, I was surprised to see the signage placed by the Department of Roads. The river has been renamed as “Gahidi”. As we moved a bit westwards, yet another change was awaiting us. The name of “Biyahi” River has been changed to “Behai”.

If you keep on following the upstream of Biyahi River, you will come across another river “Samdahi”. Interestingly, both the Biyahi and Samdahi rivers have been named after Tharu words that connote “first wife” and “second wife” respectively. And changing the name into Behai doesn’t make any sense at all. 

As we talk about building a strong Nepal and giving equal rights to all, how one community can think of  living in harmony with others if such types of cultural attacks are meted out by the newly-arrived migrants.

It’s not only the change of names, it’s the colonisation mentality which can never let peace prevail if such things keep on happening. 

The name of Gaihri River has been changed to Gahidi which doesn't make any sense at all.

Now let’s ponder over the names. The Gaihri River was named after its depth. It is the deepest river in the area. However, changing the name doesn’t make any sense at all. What is the meaning of “Gahidi”? It’s just a colonisation mentality – to rule over the local people and their mentality. Why has the local administration full of Nepali speaking people resorted to changing the names? Have they consulted the local communities? The simple answer is – NO. And they never thought of giving priority to local concerns.

Likewise, the name of “Bhiriya” village in Saptari district has been changed to “Bhediya”. When I talked with the local elders, they said that the place was named after its location – steeper than other places. Now changing the name to Bhediya connotes that it’s a settlement of people who raise sheep. And it’s not the case!   

As I keep on talking about the changing of names, it is not only limited to the names of places – even the commodities, fruits and vegetables have been renamed.  As I eat the green leafy “Bathuwa”, the vegetable vendors calling it “Bethi” always keep on hammering on my head.

It’s just like British India renaming Kolkatta, Chennai, Mumbai, Bengaluru to Calcutta, Madras, Bombay and Bangalore respectively. It took the local people decades after India got independence from the clutch of British rule to get back the original names. However, it’s not too late in our case. We need to fight with the local administration, the newly migrated Nepali speaking populace and the colonising mentality to get back the original names.

The communities and few handful people who are behind these changes should always keep in mind that changing the names of the places and trying to colonise the mentality of local people will never lead to communal harmony. While trying to prove the supremacy of oneself, the rights of others should never be trampled down or encroached upon.

If you have heard of similar change of names, please add them in the comment section of this blog. The list will be a reminder to the local leaders and youth who are working towards saving the culture and tradition of Terai region.