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Monday, March 01, 2021

Why Tamil Nadu govt decided to withdraw order changing names of over 1,000 places

The government decision had drawn flak from different corners. The government panel did not have representatives from the postal department or Railways, two agencies in India who have a larger stake in the names and addresses.

Written by Arun Janardhanan | Chennai |
Updated: June 19, 2020 10:30:55 pm
tamil nadu, tamil nadu name change, tamil nadu places name change, coimbatore, chennai, coimabatore name change, egmore, vellore, tuticorin, indian express A view of the Chennai Central railway station. (Express Photo)

A Tamil Nadu government order amending the English spelling of 1,018 cities and places or giving them a totally new official name has been withdrawn on Thursday following criticism from many language experts, historians and many Tamil people on social media for failing to keep a standard in the transliteration and new spellings.

Late on Thursday night, K Pandiarajan, Minister for Tamil Official Language and Tamil Culture, tweeted saying that the order has been cancelled. “We are working on alignment of views by experts on Transliteration standards from Tamil to English. Hopefully, we should get this released in 2, 3 days. The GO on the change of English names for Tamil names for places has been withdrawn. Will absorb all feedback and reissue shortly,” he said.

The changes brought in by the government had surprised many in the June second week as the spelling of Coimbatore, the second largest city in the state, was changed to ‘Koyampuththoor,’ Tuticorin or Thoothukudi to ‘Thooththukkudi,’ and Triplicane and Egmore in Chennai city to Thiruvallikkeni and Ezhumboor (meaning the seventh village, as it was the seventh village bought by the British), respectively.

However, the government decision drew flak from different corners. When social media accused that it was a diversionary tactic from the charges of hiding over 200 Covid-19 deaths in Chennai city, language experts questioned the move asking the rationale behind the standards used in transliteration. The government taking help of Tamil professors, who have no clue about phonetics of another language, was also criticised. Moreover, the government panel did not have representatives from the postal department or Railways, two agencies in India who have a larger stake in the names and addresses.

However, after the decision to change names of places backfired, the ruling AIADMK had nobody to defend their decision, which eventually forced minister Pandiarajan to cancel the move to come out with a different order.

Talking to The Indian Express, V Jayadevan, Tamil professor in the University of Madras, who was part of the expert panel that amended names of places, said the order was cancelled due to criticism. “We will revise and submit a new list again. Out of over 1000 names, only few changes are being contested, such as Vellore, which was changed to Veeloor, but there was criticism about the inconsistency in the spelling we suggested for this. We hope to revise and submit the new list within a month,” said Jayadevan.

Why Tamil Nadu did not accept a seemingly pro-Tamil move

Because, going by the government move, there is no end for such changes.

For instance, veteran Tamil leader Vaiko questioned why the name of Tamil Nadu wasn’t changed. His demand was a change in the name to ‘Thamilnaadu,’ as it is pronounced in Tamil. He also demanded Egmore’s new name should be ‘Elumpoor,’ not ‘Ezhumboor’ as proposed by the government panel.

Former Justice of Madras high court, K Chandru, said the government did not expect this much debate and criticism. “After the name Madras was changed to Chennai, the Madras high court had to reject a petition that sought a change in the name of the court itself to Chennai high court. If such changes are made, then there will be no end to such demands with regard to thousands of names. What about place names referring to certain castes?,” Chandru asked, referring to Chaklippatti (linked to Chakkiliyan, Hindu backward caste) in Coimbatore or Sanarpatti (referring to a community who used to be palmyra tree climbers) near Dindigul or Pallakku Manyam (referring to a place where Palanquin Bearers used to live, which was owned by kapaleeswarar temple, and later turned as a residential settlement for poor people) in Mylapore.

Chandru said there was a saying in Tamil that “You may tell your name but do not reveal the place you come from” as people would find 1000 things about you based on that information. “Names of places evolve over the years, with the imagination of people and communities and castes. For a long period, I was reluctant to tell my friends in Madras that my native is Kumbakonam as it was perceived as a place of people who aren’t straight forward. I would just say that I come from Thanjavur. If someone insists, I will add that my village is just 6 kms from Tiruvarur hiding the fact that it was only 5kms from Kumbakonam. British had their own grievances against people of Kumbakonam, so the Oxford dictionary had two meanings, ‘a temple town in South India’ as well as ‘people who are known to be not straightforward.’ In 1925, the local municipality passed a resolution and demanded the British to remove the derogatory meaning about their place. Similarly, many live at Pallakku Manyam in Mylapore also would say that they come from ‘P.M Nagar’, as otherwise it would be revealing that they come from a slum board’s settlement,” Chandru said.

Chandru and a senior bureaucrat said pressure from caste Hindu groups also may have played a role in the sudden withdrawal of the government order on Thursday.

“The renaming of famous temple town Srirangam as Thiruvarangam (replacing ‘Sri’, a Sanskrit expression with ‘Thiru’) was one of the changes that faced strong criticism from many devotees part of the government in Chennai and Delhi,” said a senior government officer who knew about the development. In the ancient Tamil literature, Thiruvarangam was the original Tamil name of Srirangam.

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