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Dehradunam, Rishikeshah: New names for railway stations stir controversy in Uttarakhand

Hindustan Times logo Hindustan Times 3 days ago Suparna Roy

In a bid to promote use of Sanskrit in Uttarakhand, the Railways ministry decided to rename the name of its stations in the state. The signboards which have names of railway stations written in Hindi, English and Urdu will now be written in Hindi, English and Sanskrit.

Look out from a passenger train © REUTERS/Amit Dave Look out from a passenger train

So, Dehradun railway station became Dehradunam and Rishikesh was renamed as Rishikeshah. But this has led to controversy over getting the names right.

How the controversy started

The move to have a Sanskrit name for railway stations in Uttarakhand started when a local BJP leader wrote to railway officials in January asking why the names of the places on railway signboards were not in Sanskrit as it was mandatory under railway manual to have names of places on such boards in the second official language, which in Uttarakhand’s case is Sanskrit.

Last week, name of Dehradun railway station was written in Sanskrit as Dehradunam, along with Hindi and English, when the station re-opened for public after three months. The name for Doiwala railway station also in Dehradun has been written ‘Doiwalah’ and a new railway station in Rishikesh as ‘Yog Nagari Rishikeshah’.

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Challenge of finding the right Sanskrit names

Rekha Sharma, senior divisional commercial manager Moradabad railway division, which manages the stations falling under Garhwal region, said though no official notification had been received by the division from the railway headquarters for writing of the names in Sanskrit, they have started work for getting the Sanskrit names right.

“First of all, the state government has to provide us with how the names of the railway stations are to be written in Sanskrit. Only then we would be writing to the railway headquarter to clarify on that fact of adding a fourth language on station signboards,” said Sharma.

Speaking on the name of Dehradun railway station being written in Sanskrit, which was later changed, Sharma said, “The name was written by the construction agency which was renovating the station. They had put up a board with the name written in Sanskrit. The board was removed as soon as the matter came to light.”

The railway official, however, agreed that the name of a new railway station in Rishikesh (Yog Nagari Rishikeshah) has been written in Sanskrit along with Hindi and English, as the name was suggested by the state government.

Rajendra Kumar Singh, public relations officer for Izzatnagar railway division that manages the railway stations falling under the Kumaon region, said the names of stations would be written in Sanskrit after orders are received from railway headquarters.

However, a senior railway official from Kathgodam railway station in Nainital, wishing not to be named, said, “Even though official orders have not been received, preparations are afoot to write names of stations in Sanskrit.”

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Protests over not having Sanskrit railway signboards

Meanwhile, the Sanskrit School-Colleges Teachers’ Committee submitted a memorandum to Dehradun station director on Wednesday protesting against removing Sanskrit name from Dehradun station signboard.

The memorandum states, “Sanskrit is the second official language of the state and writing the name of one of the main railway stations of the state in Sanskrit indicates the due respect is being given to the language. But changing it back to Urdu is a sign of disrespect. If the station’s name is not changed back to Sanskrit within 24 hours, then members of the committee will be forced to make the changes on its own.”

Janardhan Kairwan, president of Haridwar-based Uttarakhand Sanskrit Teachers’ Association said that if the name of Dehradun station is not written in Sanskrit, then the association will sit on a protest.

“As per rules of the Indian Railways; names of stations are written in the second official language of the state. So it is only right that the name of Dehradun station be written in Sanskrit. The change of name at Dehradun station shows the lack of interest by the state government to give the second official language its due respect,” said Kairwan.

The rationale behind Sanskrit as second language

In 2010, former chief minister of Uttarakhand, Ramesh Pokhriyal gave Sanskrit the status of second official language of the state. According to Sanskrit scholars, Uttarakhand is Dev Bhoomi (sacred land) and as such it is natural to have Sanskrit as its official language. They emphasised that until the language is brought into public domain, it will not become the language of people.

Madan Kaushik, cabinet minister and official spokesperson of the Uttarakhand government, said that being Dev-Bhoomi, Sanskrit has been spoken in Uttarakhand since time immemorial, therefore, it is natural for the language to be an official language of the state. “People have been speaking in Sanskrit since ages in this land, from saints to common people, every one spoke in Sanskrit earlier. Over the years, the speakers of the language have reduced but that does not reduce the importance of the language in the state. Slowly with efforts like introducing Sanskrit in schools and adopting villages where the language can be spoken for day-to-day conversation, we will be able to revive Sanskrit language again”, said Kaushik.

What Sanskrit scholars have to say?

Manoj Kishor Pant, assistant professor and president of teachers’ association in Uttarakhand Sanskrit University Haridwar said that efforts taken by the state government to promote the language are mostly stuck to promises on paper.

“If changes are made in road sign board or names of offices, and they are written in Sanskrit along with Hindi and English, then people will eventually start noticing those words and at least know certain words in Sanskrit. Only by these small efforts can the language be used more often by people,” added Pant.

Two villages where officials are promoting speaking of Sanskrit on a daily basis

To keep the Sanskrit language alive in Uttarakhand, the state’s Sanskrit Academy has also adopted two villages in Garhwal and Kumaon each where officials are promoting speaking the language on a daily basis.

Ashok Kimothi, a retired government inter-college teacher who hails from Kimotha village in Chamoli district, one of the adopted Sanskrit-grams, said Sanskrit is not the mode of communication in the village, but most people know how to speak the language.

“Day to day conversations in Kimotha village are done in Garhwali, but around 70% of the population know Sanskrit because children from an early age are taught the language in the Sanskrit Acharya Vidyalayas, so they know language, but people do not always talk in Sanskrit,” said Kimothi.

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