Gunga Din House, a senior boys’ boarding house at an independent school in Oxford, England, has been renamed over perceived racist connotations.
The fee-paying school, in a letter to alumni, described how the “high ideals of equality, fairness, and human dignity” had prompted the original naming of the senior boys’ quarters by a past headmaster 80 years ago, who took inspiration from the heroic Indian water-carrier named Gunga Din of Rudyard Kipling’s 1890 poem.
Though those ideals aligned with “today’s core Dragon values of kindness, courage, and respect,” the name Gunga Din had to be changed because it had become “derogatory, and even used as a racial slur,” the letter provided to The Epoch Times stated.
It was, therefore, now against the school’s “ethos of inclusivity and diversity,” and no longer appropriate to use. The boarding house will now be known as Dragon House.
The school did not provide further comment on the name change.
The renaming follows The University of Edinburgh’s recent renaming of one of its central campus buildings, the David Hume Tower, over alleged racist comments in a footnote to one of Hume’s works, which the 18th century philosopher wrote some 260 years ago.
Dragon School alumnus Alexander Pelling-Bruce, writing in the Spectator on Sept. 10, condemned the name change decision, calling it “pure madness,” and one of the “weirdest attempts to sanitise the present by obliterating the past.”
When performing an internet search, Pelling-Bruce said he could only find two instances of less than polite usage of “Gunga” or “Gunga Din”: one in 1997 and the other in 2009.
Pelling-Bruce advised that any alumni “dismayed by the Gunga Din nonsense ought to pledge to withhold any future donations (and withdraw any outstanding), and not attend any alumni events.”
He also suggested that current parents, “who apparently were not consulted over the name change,” could “collectively withhold” school fees.
Historian Niall Ferguson, author of “Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World” and a former Dragon School parent, wrote on Twitter that he found the renaming “deeply disappointing.”
— Niall Ferguson (@nfergus) September 13, 2020
Rudyard Kipling’s poem Gunga Din was published 130 years ago in 1890.
It takes the form of the memoir of a British soldier serving in India in admiration of a regimental Indian water-carrier, or bhisti, named Gunga Din.
In the poem, Gunga Din heroically saves the narrator’s life but is shot in the process and loses his own life.
The narrator pays tribute to Gunga Din calling him, “The finest man I knew.”
He praises Gunga Din for his fearlessness and, despite the imminent danger, and notwithstanding often being treated badly by the soldiers he served, for compassionately going to “tend the wounded” on the battlefield.
By the end of the poem, the narrator concedes that Gunga Din is the superior man and better than himself and the other soldiers, who are portrayed in earlier lines as abrupt and shallow.
The concluding line of the poem is, “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!”, which entered common English parlance and has passed down the generations until today as a genuine compliment and expression of high admiration.
Water carriers appeared frequently in traditional English literature, often lauded for their loyalty to the British crown, gallantry in battle, conspicuous bravery under fire, and the esteem in which British soldiers held them.