This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Zulfikar Manto. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Look At Context First, Judge Historical Or Mythological Characters Later

More from Zulfikar Manto

Today, we are going through a phase where we are constantly tempted to give history and mythology a second look. Both the political left and right have given their judgments on various characters, real and otherwise and have acted accordingly. We have (almost) unanimously decided that Aurangzeb was a tyrant king and has been compared to Hitler in Germany, and thus, we have done away with the name ‘Aurangzeb Marg’.

Also, a certain section of the population believes that Guru Dronacharya was a casteist bigot who’s not worthy of being immortalised in Gurgaon’s new name. After years of being ignored, Sardar Patel is back in the ‘Hall of the Elite’ as his colossal statue is being constructed. Different people have different views, and these views change with time, even as the facts connected with those individuals remain unchanged. The Sangh supported BJP would have decried all of Gandhi’s ideologies a couple of years ago, but have now dedicated the ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ to the same, ‘Father of the Nation’.

I know I am talking about historical and mythological references together, but in this context, there’s hardly a difference between the two. Both refer to stories of people and events set in a different era, often at a different place, whose narratives differ from source to source. Both, however, give us deep insights into the way human societies function, be it the history that we were taught in school, or the mythological stories narrated to us, in our homes.

These stories are narratives of the past that tell us the results of actions taken and helps us understand the world better. By critically analysing a sequence of events either from history or mythology, we can know what caused what, and ideally, plan our actions better. It is in this context that understanding history and mythology is important, as narratives differ from one another, reading between the lines becomes essential. description of a king by a poet in his court is expected to be significantly different from those written by others. As we discover more sources and understand the context better, we get an opportunity to re-evaluate our perceptions of different people and events.

The temptation that we, however, must avoid when we re-evaluate history is that we don’t evaluate these against or compare them with modern benchmarks. It is important to keep the context in mind when we’re re-evaluate a certain narrative.

Calling Aurangzeb a tyrant because he wasn’t secular, as we understand ‘secularism’ today, would be unfair as the whole idea of secularism is fairly new. A lot of the Sultanate and many Mughal kings saw themselves as reformers and tried to impose their idea of morality on their subjects. For a lot of Hindu kings, this meant a ban on gambling, and in the case of Aurangzeb, it meant a ban on idol worship.

Morality has different meanings across time and space and thus, it would be unfair to call Aurangzeb’s religious intolerance as immoral.

As far as execution of the Sikh Guru is concerned, it must be seen from the perspective of power rather than religion. Kings and other powerful people have always been insecure about their position of power and have tried to eliminate those who could question it (Indra from Hindu mythology was no different). The differences between the Sufi saint Nizamuddin and Sultan Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq are well-known despite both of them being Muslims. Also, if Aurangzeb was a tyrant, who wasn’t, by that definition?

Shah Jahan who is celebrated as a romantic and tolerant king was also someone who spent loads of public money on palaces and gardens that common people had no access to. Aurangzeb, although a harsher dictator, was a much better administrator. By quoting such examples, my objective is not to justify Aurangzeb’s tyranny, but only to suggest that one must not compare the aristocracy of the 18th century with today’s democratic setup.

The same goes for almost all historical figures. Gandhi got married at a very young age because child marriage was a norm back then. Dronacharya’s classist actions were in line with what was expected from a teacher in the royal family. The revolt of 1857 might have been the ‘First War of Independence’, according to new history textbooks but a lot of parties back then had participated in the rebellion for their own political and financial reasons.

The idea of India as a landmass containing 29 states is a post-1947 construct and thus it would be wrong, to term as traitors, the kings and kingdoms who sided with the British at the time of the revolt.

As we rewrite narratives, it is important to pay heed to the temporal and spatial context and re-evaluate events based on those factors and not judge them on the scales of what constitutes our morality now.


Image source: Asian Curator at The San Diego Musuem Of Art/Flickr
You must be to comment.

More from Zulfikar Manto

Similar Posts

By Mrittika Mallick

By Rohit Malik

By Akshat Vats

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below