The Many Names of One Country: Must We Consider Changing India’s Name to Bharat?

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Centuries ago, Shakespeare used the phrase “What’s in a name?” in his famous play Romeo and Juliet. This adage implies that the name of a thing doesn’t matter as much as the qualities possessed by it. Further, ever since Shakespeare penned it, the phrase gained global recognition and stood the test of time. But, a few days back it failed to hold good in India when the very name of the country was challenged. This happened when a petition was filed before the Supreme Court of India, to amend the name of the country. The proposed name change is from India to Bharat or Hindustan.

The Issue

The Supreme Court bench headed by the CJI dealt with the petition filed from Delhi. The petition revolved around seeking directions by the Hon’ble SC for the central government to amend Article 1 of the constitution. Further, it aimed to change the official name of the country from India to Bharat or Hindustan.

The Court Proceeding

Advocate Ashwin Vaish, on behalf of the petitioner, stated that the public direly needs such an amendment. This is especially due to the history of this country. He further contended that the English name fails to represent the culture and tradition of the nation. This is because it has a Greek origin and reminds people of the years of slavery faced by the country. Hence, it is imperative to change its name to Bharat.

Changing the name would help instil a sense of patriotism and pride among the citizens. The counsel relied on the recent amendments in the names of certain states as per Indian ethos. He argued the need to recognize the country by its original and authentic name ‘Bharat’.

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Replying to the contention, the bench stated “Why have you come here? India is already called Bharat in the Constitution under Article 1.” The court highlighted that the Constituent assembly has already debated on this issue. As it was after heated debates that “India that is Bharat” found its place in the Constitution.

Further dismissing the petition, the court held that the plea could be treated as a representation to the government. There is nothing else that the Court could do in this case.

What are the Different Names of India?

India is among the few countries that the world knows for its glorious past. Article 1 of the Constitution of India states, “India, that is Bharat, will be a union of states.” Jawaharlal Nehru in his work ‘Discovery of India’ penned down the different names of the nation. These included India, Bharata, Hindustan, etc.

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Four years after he published the book, the Constitution came into force. Apart from these three names, there are several other nomenclatures used across the point of time to describe this South Asian Subcontinent. These nomenclatures changed with time and include names like as below:

Meluha 

This is the oldest name of the nation per the ancient Mesopotamian literature. It owes its origin to the Indus Valley Civilization.

Aryavarta 

The Manu Smriti used this word to name the nation. It was dominant during the Indo-Aryan Civilization.

Bharat

This name is among the two names the constitution recognises. It found popularity during India’s struggle for independence by way of phrases like ‘BHARAT MATA KI JAI.’

Hindustan/Hind

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Darius, the Persian ruler, described the land across the Sindhu River as ‘Sindh’. The Persians later changed this to Hind, as Persians pronounce letter ‘s’ as ‘h’. Darius called this subcontinent as the land of Hind or Hindustan. The two words ‘Hind’ and ‘Sthan’ thus gave rise to Hindustan.

India

Alexander added a Greek touch to the word ‘Hind’. Greeks often take ‘h’ to be silent in their vocabulary and thus everything that had a prefix ‘hind’ changed to ‘Ind’. This gave us the present name of India.

Apart from these names, some other prominent nomenclatures used for present India included, Jambudvipa, Dravida, Nabhivarsa, etc.

The Debate Behind the Name of Independent India?

Owing to the myriad names held by the nation, the debate while finalizing the name of independent India was sure to take place. Post-independence, Dr B.R. Ambedkar chaired the Constituent Assembly. The committee went for elongated discussions on each article before finalizing the constitution. When the matter of article 1, dealing with the ‘name and territory of the union’ took place before the house, the views stood divided.

How is Article 1 Interpreted? 

Article 1 of the Constitution states – “India, that is Bharat will be a union of states.” Many members of the assembly opposed the proposed wordings. They provided the following alternatives:

Shri H.V. KAMATH suggested amending the first article. It should state, ‘Bharat, or in the English language, India will be and such’. For this, he placed reliance on the Irish Free State, which changed its name to represent its authenticity.

HARI GOVIND PANT represented the hill districts and expressed on their behalf the desire to call India “Bharatvarsha and nothing else”.

SETH GOVIND DAS proposed changing the article to “Bharat known as India also in foreign countries”. He further stated that-

“Naming has always been and is even today of great significance in our country. India, that is, Bharat are not beautiful words for, the name of a country. We should have put the words Bharat known as India also in foreign countries. That would have been much more appropriate than the former expression. We should, however, at least have the satisfaction that we are today giving to our country the name of Bharat.”

But, the committee accepted none of the suggestions given by the members. During a vote on the question of amendment in Article 1, the House stood at 38 Ayes and 51 Noes. Thus the amendment was negatived.

Author’s Note

After more than 73 years of independence, the debate over the name of the nation still stands strong. On the international front, many countries got rid of their past. They changed their names to represent their traditional identity. These include Ceylon to Sri Lanka; Burma to Myanmar; Spanish East Indies to the Philippines; New Spain to Mexico; etc. Indeed, India is not the original name of this country and has a foreign past. Further, the name Bharat finds acceptance in our National Anthem, Freedom Slogans, etc.

Thus, it is now for the Central Government to decide the fate of the representation.


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