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

History Student In An Ahistoric World

More from Santosh Kumar Mamgain

Being a history student is not an easy task. You are questioned for choosing humanities after class 10 by your friends, relatives and even your own parents. Not all history students come from the humanities background, but many do. By the time you graduate, you have a brilliant response as a defence. “I am preparing for the UPSC!.” Yet, this article is not meant to elucidate the struggles of studying history, but rather the struggles of a history student in facing a world whose ideology and vision of history is so ahistorical. The struggle to deal with the historical myopia of the society and the struggle to convince yourself that you are doing nothing wrong in challenging those rigid traditions – religious, patriarchal, societal, cultural, which are so imbibed in our day to day living that they seem eternal and inevitable unless we realise that these notions are in itself ahistorical.

For most people, history is nothing more than a ‘bunch of facts’. It is easier to demarcate, categorise and classify than to critically analyse, introspect and be subjective. So, people will expect you to churn out facts, dates, events and it will be an arduous task to explain the developments in the study of history and how history is no longer a narrative of kings and battles. People get disappointed when they expect facts from us and we deliver theories. But this is not a simple problem. I am pointing out a grave social problem – conflicting ideologies, which see history just as a tool to justify and further their ideological claims.

Even though a history student steers away from generalisations, judgements, objective facts and clear demarcation of categories, every word you speak is seen as a representative of some ideology or the other. People believe in the extremes of the right wing and left wing political ideology. So, if you questioned the notion of ‘Akhand Bharat‘ or the Gupta age as a ‘golden period‘, you will be deemed a communist. Every day when I have discussions on history with people, I am asked questions. Are you a communist? Do you support the JNU row? I have to remind myself and the person that it has hardly anything to do with the present issue. When people insist on categorising me in any of their pre-decided categories, I have to offer them new categories like post-structuralist or post-modernist. I got a very amusing reply to this once. “I can’t even pronounce it, how am I supposed to believe in it?”

I don’t claim to be an exponent of any of these categories and we live in a world where people believe history to be an ahistorical phenomenon. So, the whole ancient period, which many people see as being equivalent to that of a ‘Hindu’ period, is a glorious period which turned into rubble with the onslaught of invaders who were predominantly Muslim. In short, some people envisage history as long periods without changes while others think of it as something which has had sudden and phenomenal changes. People who have just heard the names of big historians like Romila Thapar, R.S. Sharma, criticise them for writing incorrect history. What they actually mean is that views of these historians don’t fit with their understanding of history.

They want to demarcate good history from bad history and heroes from villains. They just don’t want history. They need sociological categories with a peppering of facts and figures. And this ahistoricity is maintained consistently in defining culture, institutions, and people. So, a nation is ahistorical, the origin of Indian culture is untraceable, mythology is real, and any attempt to explain otherwise is met with contempt. Deep inside, there is a lack of appreciation of historical knowledge. Every person thinks he knows history and that history is no special knowledge, but ironically, most people and even the ruling regime tries to alter history according to their own vision. History becomes a tool of commemoration, something people can take pride in, driven by political exegesis, expressed in a language that is in most parts rhetorical and pragmatic to the extent of being adamant.

A history student grieves when they see such disregard for history. We give new names to places to suit our historical understanding, and in the process manipulate history. When we decide to commemorate a particular version of history which glorifies one stratum of society over the other, it shows our attitude towards history. A student of history scorns at the absurdity of historical shows which are not only factually inaccurate, but also manipulative, communal and provocative. And we hate it when we have to clear the web for people who don’t see any difference between history and mythology. So, people will ask you questions on the historicity of Ramayana and Mahabharata. And the biggest misery of a history student lies in the fact that most people are very sensitive to religious issues.

Any explanation, no matter how historically well placed, may offend their feelings. Secondly, when people ask you questions related to religion, they are actually testing you and later blame your response to your English medium education and neglect of Indian culture, or they have pre-conceived notions about the issue and what they want is an affirmation of their viewpoints, and unfortunately this is one thing that our historical mind is unable to churn out. Forget strangers, distant friends, or relatives. You can’t convince your own parents that you are talking out of historical curiosity and not vengeance against a religion and a nation. We are not anti-nationals, we are not iconoclasts of religion. We are just students of history. People will give us ‘evidence’ of Ramayana and Mahabharata, or the greatness of their religion or civilisation. You are left with only two options – either keep on debating, putting forward arguments and counter arguments to no avail or to facepalm and nod in affirmation. People hate historical insights on religion, so they would question the authenticity of history. What is history capable of? History is speculative or history is imperfect. You will never be able to solve the mystery of our culture. No matter how much you try, you are a product of orientalist education. These are some of the jibes thrown at us.

Forget deconstruction of language, culture and traditions. People are not yet comfortable to go beyond the elitist paradigm of history, beyond the political contours which are memorised. As you can’t explain them in your language, you have to explain them in their language. Yet, even this process seems futile as people perceive history as a chronological exercise and an account of kings and queens. How ironical is the condition where people are unwilling to know their own existence because their mind is laden with accounts of a class unrelated to their past or present. They are better off either lamenting the loss of an elitist cultural glory or creating modern discourse out of an objective demarcation of categories of the oppressor and oppressed. The world is not ahistoric, but by identifying history in a particular way, we have made our own existence ahistorical. And by perceiving history as dead and buried, we are making our present seem ahistorical. Walking down the lanes, a history student sees the changing histories – every moment of our existence that is part of history. He sees the new history books of the new regime, the new nomenclatures for a place, new commemoration. He is seeing history being changed every minute everywhere, but deep somewhere in the lanes of history, there is a tunnel where all changes are sucked by the darkness of mind, and all that is left is a stagnant world with a history that is so ahistorical.


Images source: Vishvesh War/ Flickr, Asian Curator at The San Diego Museum of Art/ Flickr


You must be to comment.

More from Santosh Kumar Mamgain

Similar Posts


By shreya ghosh

By Raina Chatterjee

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