The first study of DNA samples of the skeletal remains excavated from Rakhigarhi site in Haryana finds no traces of Iranian farmer or Steppe pastoralist ancestry, and questions the Aryan invasion and migration theories, according to Prof Vasant Shinde of Deccan College, Pune and Dr Vageesh Narasimhan of Birbal Sahani Institute, Lucknow. The team of 28 researchers was led by Prof Shinde, who was Vice Chancellor of Deccan College Pune.
The Aryan controversy was relaunched in 2017. In an article, ‘How genetics is settling the Aryan migration debate’ Tony Joseph, former editor of Business World, argued that the population of the Caspian, Central Asian and Indian regions share a common DNA (The Hindu, June 16, 2017). Endorsing the Aryan Migration Theory, Joseph contended that Indo-European language speakers, who called themselves Aryans streamed into India sometime around 2,000–1,500 BC when the Indus Valley Civilisation came to an end. They brought with them the Sanskrit language and a distinctive set of cultural practices.
Joseph insisted that India is a multi-source civilisation, not a single-source one, and draws its cultural impulses, tradition and practices from a variety of lineages and migration histories. While the left historians remained silent, the left parties were exuberant. CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury gleefully Tweeted: “The historical evidence of Aryan migration and the confluence that India is. Brilliant piece by @tjoseph0010”.
Then, once again eulogizing Tony Joseph’s article, Yechury observed: “Akin to the proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back, some recent findings based on scientific investigations on the genetic data suggest that there was, indeed, an Aryan migration into India around 3,500 to 4,000 years ago” (‘Battle Against Post-truth’, Frontline, June 21, 2017). Yechury argued that the latest scientific study suggests that Aryans came to India from somewhere near the Caspian Sea in Central Asia/Europe, which has shattered the fascist agenda in India.
Decades after the end of colonialism, the creep of a colonial brand of science in third world nations seems to continue as a neocolonial activity. The latest example of imposing Western genetic research on the third world is Tony Joseph’s work, Early Indian’s: The Story of our ancestors and where we came from, based on findings of Harvard geneticist David Reich. Joseph depends on Reich to articulate his hypothesis. David Reich’s newly book, Who We Are and How We Got Here, raised controversies. On March 23, 2018, Reich published an essay on the book in The New York Times Sunday Review, titled, ‘How Genetics Is Changing Our Understanding of ‘Race’. Reich wrote, “It is simply no longer possible to ignore average genetic differences among ‘races’”.
Dissenting and protesting against Joseph’s icon, David Reich, a group of 67 scientists and researchers from disciplines ranging from natural sciences, anthropology, genetics, medicine, biosciences, sociology and history, wrote a rebuttal on March 30, 2018. It was signed, inter alia, by Alondra Nelson, Joseph L. Graves Jr., Lundy Braun, Nathaniel Comfort, Richard Cone and Robert Dessalle. They argued that Reich’s understanding of race is seriously flawed.
The Aryan-Dravidian issue and North/South divide began with church missionaries in India who positioned themselves as Indologists. John Wilson, president, Royal Asiatic Society of Bombay and Moderator of Church of Scotland, was one of the pioneers of the Aryan theory. Wilson used the Aryan Invasion Theory to highlight Aryan Dravidian conflict in his work, India: Three Thousand Years Ago. Another Scottish missionary, John Stevenson, who later became president of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, contended that pre-Aryan aborigines consisting of Dravidian and Munda language families were a single people. Stevenson argued that the Dravidian element was less in the North which was first invaded by Aryans, greater in the Deccan and maximum in the Tamil region where the invasion of the Aryan Brahminical race extended in the Age of Ramayana. Then, Brian Houghton Hodgson propagated a unitary aboriginal language and people in India, prior to the Aryan invasion. John Baldwin presented the invading Aryans as fanatical religious enthusiasts. F. Max Muller and Monier Williams also ardently propagated the Aryan Invasion Theory.
In affiliating Dravidian languages to the Scythian group in the Steppes of Southern Russia and Ukraine, Bishop Robert Caldwell, member, Royal Asiatic Society, pointed out how F. Max Muller was supported by Bishop John Coleridge Patteson. Caldwell was assisted in his Dravidian studies by an array of missionaries such as Rev. J. Brigel, Rev. J. Clay, Rev. J. Dawson, Rev. E. Diez, Rev. F. Kittel, Rev. F. Metz, Rev. G.U. Pope, Rev. A. Graeter, Rev. C. Graul, and Rev. H. Gundert. Alexander Cunningham, first director of the Archaeological Survey of India, supported the Aryan Invasion Theory. Anglican priest Issac Taylor, in The Origin of the Aryans, outlined the Aryan invasion and subjugation of aborigines in India.
T.E. Slater, missionary and member of Christian Literature Society, Madras, contended that Dravidians in India possessed a superior civilisation prior to the Aryan invasion. John Barton of the Church Missionary Society propagated themes such as Aryan invasion, suppression of original inhabitants, and slavery. Herbert H. Risley, a colonial officer, discovered 2,378 castes belonging to 43 “races, on the basis of a “nasal index”. The main racial groups included Indo-Aryan, Turko-Iranian, Scytho-Dravidian, Aryo-Dravidian, Mongoloid and Mongolo-Dravidian.
Stuart Piggot and Mortimer Wheeler set the seal with their archaeological works and Aryan invasion became the hallmark of ancient Indian history. In the post-colonial period, Aryan invasion and later migration theory were aggressively defended in Indian academia by Left historians such as Romila Thapar, R.S. Sharma, Irfan Habib and D.N. Jha. There are Western lobbies who still share similar ideas. American anthropologist David Anthony’s The Horse, the Wheel and the Language. How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World (2007) is a typical example.
Prof. Dilip Chakrabarti, one of the foremost authorities in South Asian Archaeology, in his recent work, Nation First, observes that apart from historical and racial issues, the Aryan invasion has been given socio-political dimensions primarily by Christian missionaries. The role of missionaries in propagating the Aryan theory has also been discussed by Prof. Rosalind O’ Hanlon. The Delhi-based Indian Society for Promotion of Christian Knowledge and Chennai-based Gurukul Lutheran Theological College are frontline missionary institutions articulating the Aryan Invasion Theory and subjugation of Dravidians and Scheduled Castes in India. The Dalit Christian Forum of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India is another body, which propagates Aryan invasion and migration theory. Similarly, the World Council of Churches aggressively promulgates the Aryan Invasion Theory in the context of subalterns.
Eminent archaeologists and anthropologists such as B.B. Lal, George F. Dales, A. Ghosh, Kenneth Kennedy, J.P. Joshi, S.R. Rao, B.K. Thapar, R.S. Bisht and V.N. Misra have discarded these Aryan invasion and migration theories. Jim G. Shaffer and Dianne Lichtenstein trace Euro ethnocentrism, colonialism and racism in the allegations of mythical invasions and migrations. Indologists Michel Danino and Nicholas Kazanas have brilliantly exposed the major issues underlying the Aryan debate. For the Indian Left, these scholars of global reputation are fascists with a communal agenda.
The Bronze Age civilisation which attained its maturity in the third millennium BCE had its formative stages at Kunal and Bhirrana in the Saraswati Valley, beginning in the fifth-sixth millennium BCE. Eminent physical anthropologists such as Kenneth A.R. Kennedy, John Lukacs and Brian Hemphill believe there is no evidence of “demographic disruption” in North-West India between 4500 and 800 BCE. This junks the possibility of any intrusion by so-called Indo-Aryans or other people during that period. Prof. Kenneth A.R. Kennedy has extensively used recent developments in osteobiographical analyses, taphonomical sciences and forensic anthropology in establishing trauma and violent death in skeletal assemblages and has rejected outright the hypothetical theory of invasion and massacre by Aryans. These scholars are a permanent eyesore for Indian leftists and journalists who hardly refer to them in their cover stories or bibliographies.
In 1999, US biological anthropologist Todd R. Disotell worked with the early migration of modern man from Africa towards Asia, and found that migrations into India “did occur, but rarely from Western Eurasian populations”. The same year, Estonian biologist Toomas Kivisild, with fourteen co-authors from various nationalities, suggested a connection between Indian and Western-Eurasian populations but opted for a very remote separation of the two branches, rather than a population movement towards India.
In 2000, thirteen Indian scientists led by Susanta Roychoudhury studied 644 samples of mtDNA from ten Indian ethnic groups, especially from the East and South. In a paper, Fundamental Genomic Unity of Ethnic India, they identified a fundamental unity of mtDNA lineages in India, in spite of the extensive cultural and linguistic diversity.
A major study in 2006 by Indian biologist Sanghamitra Sengupta and fourteen co-authors, was based on 728 samples covering 36 Indian populations. They published their paper, Polarity and Temporality of High-Resolution Y-Chromosome Distributions in India Identify both Indigenous and Exogenous Expansions and Reveal Minor Genetic Influence of Central Asian Pastoralists. The authors emphasise how their findings revealed a minor genetic influence of Central Asian pastoralists in India. This study indirectly rejected Dravidian authorship of the Indus-Saraswati civilisation since it observed that the data are more consistent with a peninsular origin of Dravidian speakers than a source with proximity to the Indus-Saraswati Valleys.
Another study in the same year, by Sanghamitra Sahoo and eleven colleagues, covered the Y-DNA of 936 samples covering 77 Indian populations, 32 of them hunting-gathering communities. The sharing of some Y-chromosomal haplogroups between Indian and Central Asian populations is most parsimoniously explained by a deep, common ancestry between the two regions, with diffusion of some India-specific lineages northward. So the migration was not into India; it was out of India.
Sanghamitra Sahoo and her colleagues also found no evidence in the genetic record claimed by Colin Renfrew in late 1980s. In his work, Archaeology and Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins, Renfrew attributed Indo-European origins to the beginning of agriculture in Anatolia and identified Indo-Europeans entering India around 9000 BP, along with agriculture.
The Aryan-Dravidian issue and North/South divide began with church missionaries in India who positioned themselves as Indologists
Stephen Oppenheimer in The Real Eve: Modern Man’s Journey out of Africa (2003) noted that we find the highest rates and greatest diversity of the M17 line in Pakistan, India, & eastern Iran. Oppenheimer discards the Aryan invasion and suggests that M17 could have found his way initially from India or Pakistan, through Kashmir, through Central Asia and Russia, before finally arriving in Europe.
Recent studies by D.E. Hawkey on 29 dental morphological features confirm that Indus Saraswati society shared similarities with Indian Mesolithic hunter-gatherers rather than with intrusive pastoral population from the west. The Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in collaboration with researchers of Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, analyzed 5,00,000 genetic markers across 13 states in India. The genetics proved that castes grew directly out of hunter-gatherer groups during the formation of Indian society. The study highlighted that it was impossible to distinguish between castes and tribes since their genetics proved they were not systematically different. It also reveals that the current Indian population is a mix of ancient North and South bearing the genomic contributions from two distinct ancestral populations—the ancestral North Indian and ancestral South Indian.
Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, in Who Were the Shudras?, specifically warned against misappropriation of the Aryan Invasion Theory. He observed that the Aryan theory was not allowed to evolve out of facts but facts were selected to prove this pre-conceived theory. Former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister C.N. Annadurai in Ariya Mayai (Aryan Illusion) says there is no substantial evidence to prove that Aryans invaded India and destroyed the Dravidians.
In the context of foreign collaboration in Indian Archaeology, Prof. Dilip Chakrabarti pointed out in 2008 that the issues of race and migration have not gone away from mainstream Euro-American archaeology. They have relocated their space in the archaeological scheme under the new rubrics of ethnicity, historical linguistics and archaeo-genetics. Chakrabarti underlined the fact that people working in South Asian Social Science faculties in foreign universities conveniently develop a tacit patron-client relationship with their Indian counterparts in major Indian universities.
This has much relevance in the context of contemporary intervention by Western lobbies in deciding the culture and heritage of Asian and African nations. In the late 1960s, Satish Sabbarwal warned that varied forms of academic colonialism may manifest in ex-colonies.
Diane Lewis has given the significance of western anthropology as a colonial tool and also an important methodological assumption that the study of the “primitive” or non-Western world could take place only from the vantage point of the Westerner or outsider. Joan Geo observed that splendid sites are in poorest countries, and access to knowledge about them is controlled at least in part, by agendas, funding agencies and cultural institutions of Europe and America.
Western bias in human genetic studies is both scientifically damaging and unfair since people of European ancestry continue to be vastly over-represented and ethnically diverse populations largely excluded from human genomics research. This is the view of Sarah Tishkoff and her colleagues from University of Pennsylvania and Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, supported by the National Institutes of Health and the American Diabetes Association.
Hussain Fahim and Katherine Helmer contend in their paper, Indigenous Anthropology in Non-Western Countries: A Further Elaboration, that third world countries have restricted foreign anthropological research while vigorously encouraging indigenous anthropology to conduct studies relevant to nationally defined development goals.
The first attempt to interpret national elections in India within a racial framework was at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, in 2014. On May 27, 2014, a panel discussion was organised by the teachers association to commemorate Jawaharlal Nehru’s death anniversary. Prof. T.K. Oommen, former Prof. of Sociology, pointed out the different voting patterns in the northern and Western regions of India, compared to the East and South, since the former areas have an Indo Aryan Population. He meant that the Northern and Western Indian population has ancestors who migrated to India in 1500 B.C., as per the Aryan Invasion Theory protagonists.
Prof. Oommen is a hardcore propagandist of the Aryan Invasion Theory. But few are aware of that in 1984-89 he was vice chair, Church and Society, World Council of Churches, Geneva. The World Council of Churches maintains close links with communist parties and regimes across the globe. The intervention and propaganda of media men like Tony Joseph as last word in genetics and palaeoanthropology is dangerous to our academics as well as social congruity.
The much-awaited DNA study of the skeletal remains found at Rakhigarhi now shows no Central Asian traces, indicating the Aryan invasion theory was flawed, and the first urbanisation on the banks of Indus–Saraswati, its mature stage and decline were through indigenous people.
(The writer is an eminent archaeologist and and currently a member of the Academic Committee, IIAS, Shimla)