On Monday morning, BJP national vice-president Vinay Sahasrabuddhe retweeted an anonymous handle called Eagle Eye that posted two pictures. One picture showed an old railway station signboard of Dehradun in which the name of the station was written in Hindi, English and Urdu. Another picture, supposedly of a new signboard, showed the Urdu script replaced by Sanskrit. /“Dehradunam”/ it said in Devnagri script. Sahasrabuddhe said in the tweet: “Thanks for sharing with us this important initiative of @RailMinIndia”. His tweet was retweeted by party spokesman Sambit Patra 10 minutes after that with just the comment: “SANSKRIT”. It got around 90,000 ‘likes’ and over 16,000 retweets and comments from BJP supporters hailing the move.
over the names of railway stations is nothing new. One would think that the name of a railway station and how the name is displayed on the signboards would be a no-brainer. But not quite.
Just like everything in Indian Railways, the naming of railway stations is also based on a set of codes and manuals that has evolved over a century. It even prescribes what colour, shape and size the names are to be written on the boards.
For starters, while Indian Railways may own the station, it does not get involved in the business of naming it. This, it leaves to the discretion of the state governments concerned because, obviously, a station is identified by the place it is in and not the other way around.
Therefore, when a state government wants to change the name of a city and wants that changed name to reflect on the public signboards like in railway stations, it writes to the Ministry of Home Affairs, which is the nodal ministry for these things. Even if a representation comes to the Railway Ministry, it replies saying this is a matter handled by the Home ministry and often it even forwards such representations to the MHA.
When the Uttar Pradesh government wanted to change the name of Mughalsarai station, one of the most important railway junctions in India, Railways waited for the Home Ministry and the state government to work out the formalities and notify the transporter. It was only after that the name was officially changed to Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Junction on station signboards and tickets. Same was the case with Allahabad which changed to Prayagraj and so on.
Which languages to use on the signboard to display the name of the station is also not so simple. This matter is governed by what is known as the Indian Railway Works Manual— a 260-odd-page official document that codifies everything related to civil engineering construction works, including the signboards on stations.
Traditionally, station names were written only in Hindi and English. Over time it was also instructed that along with these two languages, a third, which is the local language, should also be included. This is the practice even now. Even then the matter is not so simple.
Paragraph 424 of the Works Manual says that Railways should obtain approval of the state government concerned on the spelling of the names (in all three languages) before putting them on its signboards at stations.
“The station names shall be exhibited in the following order: Regional Language, Hindi and English, except for Tamil Nadu where the use of Hindi will be restricted to important stations and pilgrim centres as determined by the Commercial Department. Where the Regional language is Hindi, the name boards will be in two languages, Hindi and English…,” the manual says.
The usage of Urdu as a third language is tricky. In a place like Uttar Pradesh, where it is one of the official languages, Urdu is also inscribed on station signboards. Uttarakhand was once a part of UP, so the Dehradun station continues to have Urdu on the boards. But that is not all. Realising the uniqueness of Urdu as a language which is not really a regional language confined to a particular state in India, Indian Railways has separate rules for writing station names in it on its signboards.
In paragraph 424 of the works manual, it has a separate section which gives out an entire list of districts across India where all stations are to have Urdu names along with well. This list has been updated over time. It has districts from South Indian states to Maharashtra to Bihar, practically representing entire India.
Districts where railway station names are to be displayed also in Urdu
Darbanga, Purniya, Sitamari and Katihar, Bhopal, Khandwa, Morena, Gwalior, Guna, Sagar, Ratlam, Devas, Dhar, Indore, Khargone, Rajgad, Sehore, Raysen, Jabalpur, Siwni, Bareli, Bijnor, Lucknow, Meerut, Muradabad, Muzaffar Nagar, Rampur, Saharanpur, Pilibit, Baharaich, Gonda, Barabanki, Basti, Gurgaon, Balasor, Cuttack, Puri, Bardwan, Hubli, Chittor, Cuddapah, Ananthpur, Adilabad, Guntur, Kurnool, Karim Nagar, Khammam, Mehboob Nagar, Medak, Nellore, Nalgonda, Warangal, Nizambad, Prakasam, Rangareddy etc. (All the regions of Hyderabad including Hyderabad Nagar Mahapalika), North Arcot, Ambedkar, Dharamapuri, Sabarkanya, Khoda, Panchmahals and Baruch, Bellary, Bidar, Bijapur, Dharbad, Gulbarga, Kolar, Raichur, Shimoga, North Kanara, Kodgu, Dhane, Raygad, Ratnagiri, Nasik, Dhule, Jalgaon, Ahmednagar, Purne, Solapur, Aurangabad, Parbani, Bid, Nanded, Usmanabad, Buldhana, Ankola, Amarabati, Yawatmal and Nagpur.
Even after this, if there is a language that locals feel should be represented on station signboards, concerned Railway departments are mandated to include it after discussions with Zonal Railway Users’ Consultative Committee and the state government.
The politics around the names of places touch Indian Railway premises as well. Like in Dehradun, while a BJP MLA wrote to Railway ministry to get the name of the station written in Sanskrit, another group locally objected to the Urdu script being removed, sources said. In fact, local railway offices wrote to the district authorities in Dehradun to obtain the official Sanskrit name in September last year and also in February this year. For now, Railways maintains, station names in Uttarakhand would continue to display names the way they always did—in English, Hindi and Urdu.
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