Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Mumbai or Bombay

Just last year, I found out that Bombay had become Mumbai - in 1995. Boy, am I out of touch with Indian politics. Anyway, Christopher Hitchens, who can be both entertaining and infuriating, was the latter in a recent column about Mumbai. He writes that "Hindu chauvinists . . . forcibly renamed" Bombay, "Mumbai." He then compares the name change to the change of Burma's name to "Myanmar" by a military junta. Andrew Sullivan then claims he will no longer use the name Mumbai based on Hitchens' column.

There is absolutely no reason anyone should not use the name "Mumbai."
According to the article to which Hitchens links, Mumbai (then Bombay)
held free and fair elections, and the winners chose to rename the city
because of their heritage and the perceived colonial reminders of
"Bombay." Hitchens unfairly states that they "forcibly renamed it." He
offers no evidence of any force other than majority rule. Under
Hitchens' theory, anytime a city changes its name, it has been the
victim of unreasonable "force." Moreover, according to Wikipedia and Hitchens' link, the name Mumbai is not new but has always been used by Marathi and

I noticed that one reason Hitchens gives for condemning the use of
"Mumbai" is that we should want "Bombay" to be a "cosmopolitan city
open to its own citizens and to the world - a city on the model of
Sarajevo or London or Beirut or Manhattan." I was struck by his use
of the name "Manhattan" and not "New York City." Perhaps he
recognizes that under his theory Hitchens will now refer only to the "New
Amsterdam Times," and the "New Amsterdam Yankees" as New York City was
renamed only after a war between England and the Netherlands, and not
by any vote, but by an arbitrary decision by the Duke of York. In
fact, this would seem to offer a better moral reason to use the old
"New Amsterdam" than the old "Bombay."

Furthermore, the comparison to the renaming of Burma is absurd. In
Burma, an overthrow of the government by a ruthless military junta led
to the name change. In Mumbai, a democratic process led to the name
change. The difference is self-evident.

I think a good rule of thumb would be that, without an extremely
compelling reason, if a city or country changes its name voluntarily
under democratic processes, we should use it. That would lead to the
continued the use of "Burma" but not the continued use of "Bombay."


Keir said...

We say 'Germany', not 'Deutschland.' Who suddenly decided that we have to start calling Bombay something completely different?

Anonymous said...

India is for hindus, britain for christainity. Thereby the citizens if maharastra has the right to change the name. Shut up & get lost hitchens.

Anonymous said...

All colonial white racisit, shut up & get lost.