Indian ancestry and antiquity: It’s our heritage
by B S Harishankar on 03 Jul 2019 41 Comments

“You cannot rebuild your civilization with somebody else’s babies”. This controversial statement was made in March 2017 by US Congressman, Rep. Steve King, an ardent champion against mass Muslim immigration into Europe, which has altered the continent’s demography and culture. A prominent Iowa Republican, his original tweet was in the context of support for Dutch politician Geert Wilders. King wrote that Wilders understands how culture and demography determines a nation’s destiny.


King’s comment was criticized as racist. King said that he spoke on this issue in  Europe, and said the same thing ten years ago to the Germans who are  a declining population, unwilling to have enough babies to reproduce themselves and sustain their culture. King also told them to keep their birth rate up and teach children their hereditary values.


After King’s statement, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan exhorted Muslims in the city of Eskisehir in Turkey to make not three, but five children, as they are the future of Europe. Erdogan was campaigning for a referendum that would solidify his power (You are the Future of Europe, Erdogan tell Turks, The New York Times, March 17, 2017).


Culture and demography are powerfully interrelated. As Samuel Huntington emphasized in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order, culture is both a divisive and unifying force, a civilization’s identity, shaping the patterns of cohesion, disintegration and conflict in post-Cold War world. David Goldman’s recent book, How Civilizations Die (and Why Islam is Dying Too) argues that when the fertility of the nation falls below replacement level, its civilization eventually disappears. He contends that demographics shed light on the rise and fall of nations and civilizations.


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. He cautioned how western academics may exercise intellectual domination through economic and political patronage of individuals and institutions with disastrous consequences.


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.


Decades after the end of colonialism, this 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.


Regarding Aryan invasion/ migration theories, US biological anthropologist Todd R. Disotell, in 1999, 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 14 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, 13 Indian scientists led by Susanta Roychoudhury studied 644 samples of mtDNA from ten Indian ethnic groups. 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 14 co-authors, was based on 728 samples covering 36 Indian populations. This study indirectly rejected a Dravidian authorship of the Indus-Sarasvati 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-Sarasvati Valleys.


Another study in the same year, by Sanghamitra Sahoo and 11 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.


Recent studies by D.E. Hawkey on 29 dental morphological features confirm that Indus Sarasvati society shared similarities with Indian Mesolithic hunter gatherers rather than with intrusive pastoral populations from the west. 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.


 In his meetings or in email discussions with a plethora of scholars, Tony Joseph has not included Kenneth A.R. Kennedy, John Lukacs, Brian Hemphill, D.E. Hawkey, Todd R. Disotell, Toomas Kivisild, Susanta Roychoudhury and Sanghamitra Sahoo. Joseph does not even care to cite them in his work.


Earlier, vindicating Tony Joseph’s article on the topic, CPI (M) general secretary Sitaram 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 contended that the latest scientific study corroborates that Aryans came into India from somewhere near the Caspian Sea in Central Asia/ Europe, which has shattered the fascist agenda in India.


The Aryan issue as an invasion hypothesis was picked up from beginning by a long list of colonial missionaries such as John Wilson, John Stevenson, Bishop Robert Caldwell, Bishop John Coleridge Patteson, 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, Rev. H. Gundert and T.E. Slater. Tony Joseph belongs to this lineage.


Talal Asad, in Anthropology and Colonial Encounter, observes that anthropology is rooted in an unequal encounter between the West and the Third World, which goes back to the emergence of bourgeois Europe, an encounter in which colonialism is merely one historical moment. He notes that it is this encounter that gives the West access to cultural and historical information about the societies it has progressively dominated, and thus, not only generates a certain kind of universal understanding, but also reinforces the inequalities in capacity between the European and the non-European worlds.


Vine Deloria points out that tribal people have traditionally been understood by Westerners as the last remnants of a hypothetical earlier stage of cultural evolution, and this so-called “primitive” stage of human development is a necessary preamble to any discussion of human beings and the meaning of their lives. Deloria argues that the stereotype of primitive people anchors the whole edifice of Western social thought.


Recent excavations at Rakhigarhi, Haryana, with funds from American NGO, Global Heritage Fund, are suitable evidence of western intervention. Rakhigarhi sparked a global controversy in early 2014 when eminent South Asian archaeologists criticized the intervention of foreign lobbies on this crucial archaeological site and funding by an opulent NGO. Global Heritage Fund’s founder, Jeff Morgan, is a former Silicon Valley entrepreneur. Its Asia Board of Directors includes Agnus Forsyth, Nada Hosking, and Daniel Thorne.


The much-awaited DNA study of the skeletal remains found at Rakhigarhi shows no Central Asian traces, indicating the Aryan invasion theory was flawed, and Vedic evolution was through indigenous people (Harappan site of Rakhigarhi: DNA study finds no Central Asian trace, junks Aryan invasion theory, The Economic Times, June 13, 2018).


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.


Veteran archaeologist, Prof. Dilip Chakrabarti, in Nation First: Essays in the Politics of Ancient Indian Studies (2014), cautioned, “from now on, there will be increasingly successful attempts to take over Indian archaeology from the Indians, by miscellaneous groups of racially arrogant people masquerading as archaeologists under the umbrella of various foreign NGOs.”

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