Bid to erase 'Bombay' from Mumbai

Bombay was renamed Mumbai after the goddess Mumbadevi, the protector of fishermen, the area's original inhabitants.
Bombay was renamed Mumbai after the goddess Mumbadevi, the protector of fishermen, the area's original inhabitants.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Hindu nationalists intensifying efforts to eradicate remnants of British reference to city

MUMBAI • Twenty years after Bombay was officially renamed Mumbai, Hindu nationalist politicians in India are stepping up efforts to rid the city of the remnants of its British moniker.

The far-right Shiv Sena party made international headlines in 1995 when it wrought the change, but many residents still use the old colonial name outside the political arena and due to force of habit.

With the Bombay High Court and Indian Institute of Technology Bombay just two of several institutions still using its English appellation, foreign tourists could be forgiven for feeling confused.

"When Bombay became Mumbai, everything else should have followed and I don't know why it's taking so long," said Mr Arvind Sawant, a Shiv Sena lawmaker for south Mumbai.

Shiv Sena is strongly pro-Marathi, the dominant language and ethnic group in the state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital.

The party renamed the western Indian city after the goddess Mumbadevi, the protector of fishermen who were the area's original inhabitants, shortly after being elected to run the state government.

Marathi speakers had always called the city "Mumbai", and the move was popular among that community, whereas "Bombay" was an anglicised take on the Portuguese colonial name "Bom Bahia", or "good bay".

Mumbai's switch was one of a number of Indian city name changes in recent years, notably Chennai, which used to be Madras, and Calcutta, now known as Kolkata.

After India's central government officially approved Mumbai's renaming, the city's civic body, called the Bombay Municipal Corporation, became the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation in early 1996.

But some other state institutions remained unchanged and Shiv Sena, now a junior partner in the state government, has unfinished business as far as the renaming programme goes.

"All of the government institutions have to be changed," said Mr Sawant, who wants the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central Indian government to start by agreeing to Shiv Sena's demand to rename Mumbai's top court. The party lost power in 1999 and the renaming of the historic courthouse, which was established in 1862 under British rule, dropped off the agenda.

"The Bombay High Court should be the Mumbai High Court. I've raised the issue in Parliament and the government has to follow through with it. We are demanding that they change it now," he said.

India's Justice Minister D. V. Sadananda Gowda has reportedly agreed to put the proposal to the Cabinet before tabling it in Parliament, where it is likely to be passed.

Mr Sawant also has public university IIT Bombay in his sights but admits that persuading private establishments, such as the Royal Bombay Yacht Club and Bombay Gymkhana, to dispense with part of their heritage will be more difficult.

"We cannot force them to change their names but we expect them to and they should do it now," he said.

The director of IIT Bombay and chief executive of the Bombay Gymkhana both declined to comment when contacted.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 14, 2015, with the headline 'Bid to erase 'Bombay' from Mumbai'. Print Edition | Subscribe