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This Indian historian fights the far-right, one makeup video at a time

Ruchika Sharma combines her passion for history and eyeshadow, taking on myths about the past shaping India’s present. Both her audience and the threats she receives are growing.

New Delhi, India – It is close to midnight. Ruchika Sharma sits in her makeshift studio at her home just outside India’s capital, New Delhi, a small mic hooked to her shirt. The 33-year-old historian and former professor is getting ready for her latest YouTube video show.

The recording hours are odd, but it is a considered decision. There is little ambient noise at this time, she reasons. For an independent creator like Sharma, a studio with fancy audio setups and soundproofing is beyond reach – especially since she knows that each video she puts out makes it harder for her to land a job.

Sharma looks at a phone that doubles as a teleprompter. Another phone serves as her recording rig. On two small wooden racks hung on the cream-coloured wall behind Sharma, sit a dozen history books. Also on the wall are a picture of Indian revolutionary icon Bhagat Singh, who was hanged by the British colonial regime in 1931, and a copy of the 17th-century painting of the Sasanian king Khosrow Parviz’s first sight of his Christian wife Shirin, bathing in a pool.

On her wooden table, alongside tripods and ring lights is an eclectic mix of cosmetic products: brushes, mascara, concealer, powder puff, and, most important of all, eyeshadow.

She hits the record button.

Sharma starts with an introduction to Nalanda, a sixth-century Buddhist university in northern India that was home to nine million manuscripts and was burned down in a major fire in the 12th century. A widely held belief – promoted by sections of India’s Hindu right, amplified by a government-run