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Decoding India's Renaming Phenomenon: RCR to Lok Kalyan Marg

Colonial Clubs & Exclusive Spaces: Unveiling Delhi's Elite Past Through Racecourse Road

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Script & Video Editor: Zijah Sherwani Copy Editor: Karan Mahadik Sr. Editor: Divya Talwar

Once upon a time, there was a road in Delhi called Racecourse Road. It had a fascinating history intertwined with India's colonial past. You see, the British, always fond of their leisurely pursuits, took a chunk of land from Indian farmers to build a racecourse club there. Indians were mostly barred, except for the wealthy and connected.

But times change, and so do names. After India gained independence, there was a wave of renaming places to shed the remnants of the British Raj. Kingsway became Rajpath, and Queensway became Janpath.

Fast forward to 2016, and Racecourse Road had its turn. It was rechristened as Lok Kalyan Marg, meaning "Path of Public Welfare." The name of Race course metro station was changed as well as India's PM address, from the iconic 7RCR to 7 Lok Kalyan Marg. However, this renaming spree by the government seemed more like a political move rather than a meaningful change.

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Let's backtrack 

To escape the uncomfortable political environment in Calcutta, the British shifted to Delhi in 1911, organizing the grand Delhi Durbar for King George V and Queen Mary's coronation.

Now, being British, they acquired vast lands from farmers and allocated an area for their beloved horse racing, founding the Delhi Racecourse Club in 1926.

Of course, this wasn't the only club. The British established exclusive ones like Calcutta Cricket Club (1792), The Bengal Club (1827), The Madras Club (1832), and even one in the Byculla of Bombay (1833).

Membership in these clubs was rigid and intolerant, just like our colonizers.

According to the British, these clubs provided a place for them to "let their hair down" with people of their "own kind." They went to the extent of blackballing a British man from the club due to members' suspicions about his wife's background.

Naturally, Indians were excluded for the longest time, unless they were wealthy, well-connected, or Indian royalty.

Stanley Reed, the longest serving Editor of The Times of India (1907-1924) even said

Discrimination isolates the British and causes a natural resentment among 'educated Indians.
Stanley Reed, British Politician
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The British had a habit of anglicizing Indian city names. They couldn't pronounce Awadh, so it became Oudh, Kalikata turned into Calcutta, Kasbe Pune transformed into Poona, and Kanhapur/Khanpur became Cawnpore. They even changed the Portuguese name Bombaim to Bombay and removed Patnem from Madras.

After gaining independence, India embraced renaming to signify the end of British rule. Kingsway became Rajpath, and Queensway became Janpath. Some anglicized names were further modified for linguistic correctness: Bombay to Mumbai, Calcutta to Kolkata, Madras to Chennai, and Orissa to Odisha.

These changes were primarily political decisions rather than driven by a specific ideology.

Now, let's talk about the ruling government's renaming spree. Lok Kalyan means "public welfare," but it seems like a costly effort to change an old name that wasn't controversial or problematic. Similarly, renaming Rajpath to Kartavyapath or Rajiv Chowk serves little purpose. For Delhiites, it will always be Connaught Place.

Old names reflect a city's history and its landmarks. Do you also wonder about the true motives behind such changes? Let's conclude with a quote from renowned architect AGK Menon.

The only purpose that is served by roads being renamed is a sense of accomplishment among politicians. There are many layers of history to a city and names of places are a symbol of these layers, which should not be erased.
AGK Menon, Architect

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Topics:  Colonial history   Indian History   7RCR 

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