Ayodhya Verdict: Between History And Truth, India Must Rise Above Its Own Faults

“Remember, Remember,
the 6th of December,
the axes, the hammers,
that would dismember a mosque and a nation
that has since then –
only walked on embers.”
– Akhil Katyal

History has always been about the act of coming into confrontation with what is there, with what is apparently very obvious and in front of our eyes, that supposedly doesn’t hide anything more than what meets the eye and challenging that very notion but the way human histories are being taught in educational institutions today, aren’t how they work. It is impossible to classify the complexities of the human mind to brass tacks, how then are we expected to conform to an epicentric view of history?

A lot of India’s history written up until thirty years ago was extremely Congress-centric and while that history is safe, it has caused us to ignore the other aspects of truth for a long time. In such cases, the axiom that ‘whoever controls the present, controls the past’ holds very true because it was only after the occurrence of a shift in the political atmosphere of the country that people began drawing their inspiration from nationalist history and looking up to extremist leaders who primarily used Hindu symbols, alienating a huge part of the nation’s populace.

In history, a certain period is always examined in terms of either the period that precedes it or succeeds it and the process of reading history, in a manner that follows a certain pattern is a limitation of the discipline because while nationalist history might have been the need of the freedom movement — at a time when the British had stripped India of its pride and dignity, it was India’s ancient history and the golden age fallacy, which most nationalist historians drew upon that instilled a sense of self-reliance in the Indian.

However, nationalist history has outlived its purpose. It made attempts to counter the British way of reading Indian history and in the process of doing so, fell victim to its own contradictions. In a way, nationalist history kept falling back upon Eurocentric history, in terms of the ideas it propounded, unconsciously accepting the superiority of the coloniser and ultimately suffering the same limitations that European historiography did.

Members of the Sunni Waqf Board speak to the media after the verdict at the Supreme Court of India.

The truth is we are all closer to history than we appear to be at first glance. The contribution of nationalist historiography, to identity building, remains uncontested. The formation of the Republic of Ireland would not have been possible had the Irish not been able to exploit their sense of Gaelic Nationalism, and it is true that now when Mongolia is trying to build a national identity, they draw upon rulers of the Mongolian empire like Genghis Khan as national leaders.

It was Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who through his book The Arctic Home in The Vedas, had tried to instil a sense of social pride within the Indians by establishing a link between the colonised and the coloniser. He speculated that the Aryans used to life in far-off and cold regions, like the Arctic, from which they migrated to Asia and Europe in search of land and since Indians were descendants of Aryans, and India was first inhabited by the Aryans, speakers of Indo-European languages, the Indian should not feel inferior to the coloniser.

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan had also made a similar claim while working on a commentary on the Bible – the first of its kind by a Muslim. In it, he argued that Islam was the closest religion to Christianity, of course, he did so with the same intents that Tilak must have had while writing his book.

History is never read without a motive and most people come to the discipline with a preconceived notion of what history is and cast their findings as they seem fit to substantiate their claims, that are supplemented with selective reading. As long as we maintain this interface and read history backwards, as long as we keep going from the present towards the past, we cannot help but insert obliterations.

Cultures can be obliterated and replaced when there exists a cultural vacuum, this vacuum was created by the British who chose to brainwash Indians and then imposed the colonial mindset to fill in for the vacuum, something we never rid ourselves of. For example, no one really talked about Mahmud of Ghazni’s massacre of Somnath as an attempt of religious conquest, before it was brought up in the House of Commons in 1843 [Romila Thapar] and then we have the Nobel-prize winning Late VS Naipaul referring to Vijayanagara as ‘the last standing Hindu bastion in history’ and Amartya Sen loosely referring to Aurangzeb as Dara Shikoh’s “more sectarian brother.” Sometimes, we don’t realise it, but through generalisations, we choose to stand in the way of our own vision.

What is unsettling is that the ruthless, dogmatic textbook narrative of history arbitrarily obliterates and tries to get all the points on a graph to conform, so that it is possible to have a linear equation. History in India has often been taught as no more than a tussle between the indigenous and the Other, where the Other becomes a homogenous anomaly.

And, in order to make history more accessible in recent years, public intellectuals have tried shaping history in the public context by revising it instead of reviewing it. Widespread general ignorance about the country’s history is even being promoted in the best universities, which have become locations for mass critical misreadings of history.

Studying history has always meant searching for the closest possible alternative to the truth, but a widespread general ignorance about the country’s history is being promoted in the best universities, who’ve been conducting uncritical readings of history, while they protest against academicians like AK Ramanujan and Kancha Ilaiah.

We have a discipline from which all history has been removed and now all that we are left with is either politically correct historiography or historical propaganda that serves an agenda. In this atmosphere, it is not surprising at all that millennials and Gen-Z have come to imbibe what they’ve found themselves surrounded with, ramifications of which we saw almost twenty-seven years ago.

While the truth is expansive and ungraspable by the human intellect, history in India has always been about accommodating everything, giving a space and a sense of belonging to everyone, who came and stayed and not just pushing them out of the centre stage and driving them into the peripheries. It is only if we vow to shape history in this sense, that the vitality of the discipline will survive and we will be able to understand the truth in the most holistic sense of the word, at the least.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Getty Images.
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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.

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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.

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