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14928 - SPECIAL ARTICLE The Value of Place Names in India...

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SPECIAL ARTICLE june 26, 2010 vol xlv nos 26 & 27 EPW Economic & Political Weekly 410 The Value of Place Names in India Anu Kapur Why do places have names? Can places be referred to without names? Who names territories? What kind of knowledge do names contain? How durable are place names? What are the processes that have shaped the names on the canvas of India? What changes have place names seen in India? What value should be given to place names? Based on a study of the names of India’s states and union territories, this research explores the above questions. The research support provided by Aakriti, Aparna and Punam is truly appreciated. Anu Kapur ( [email protected] ) is with the department of geography at the Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi. N ames of places are channels for locating, analysing and comprehending the world. Charts of travel, trade and weather, the broadcast of news would lose specificity in the absence of the name of a place. 1 Locating without Names It could well be that the earliest settlers used forms of settlement, colour of soil and vegetation to differentiate areas. As science advanced, latitude and longitude became a device to locate points on the earth. The form of locating a place on remote sense imagery is to refer to its path and row. The former are the near up and down lines on the grid of the imagery, while the horizontal lines are the row coordinates. Numerical codes could be an alter- native to working without a name. This is somewhat akin to what the telephone and postal department and the transport authority have done. When the Survey of India set out to demarcate a land they used a combination of an alphabet and a numerical code. Like the Chinese box, India was sliced into neat square pieces, where the smallest box represented the largest scale. To begin with, the British drew, 34 grids that covered India. These grids are straight lined and numbered vertically. Each grid is divided further into 16 grids. These are named alphabetically from A to P . Each of these grids are further divided into 16 squares numbered from 1 to 16. When all these forms of reference to a place are used for an area like, say, Delhi. Here is what it would read like: 28 degree to 53 degree latitude and 76 degree to 77 degree longitude, or path 96 and row 51 or numerical postal code of one or the alphabetic transport code DL . The Survey of India would reel out the numbers 53 D /13, 53 D / 14, 53 H /1, 53 H /2, 53 H /3 and 53 H /6 as the caller identity for Delhi. Now replace these numbers, alphabets and codes with the word “capital”; and what springs to light is a place with certain characteristics. Then call the area Delhi. The latter provides a sure and specific distinctiveness. This is what a name does. The process of naming is rarely accidental. But pinning down the person or authority who coined the names of administrative units of India is a difficult, if not an impossible, task. What seems clearer is that the Article 3 of the Constitution of India states that Parliament has the powers to “alter the name of any State”.
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