Book Summary: Genetics and the Aryan Debate by Shrikant Talageri- III
In the previous two parts, we saw Talageri deconstructing the new genetic evidence presented in support of an Aryan theory. So strong is the textual data of the Rigveda, almost inscriptional, in matters of chronology, that evidence from other disciplines should hold up to it. In fact, archaeological and linguistic evidence is in staunch support of the evidence in Rigveda. Talageri, in fact, draws an opposite conclusion of an ‘Out of India’ migration based on these evidences. He simply says that the genetic evidence, itself on sticky grounds, is in contradiction to extensive evidence available till now. Hence, it is only logical and adhering to basic tenets of scientific endeavour that the claims of the new evidence come into serious question. Peculiarly, in a reverse manner, the existing and established evidence measures up to the candle of genetic evidence. Think of the drowning man and the clutching of straws. If Aryan theory is there; the caste system, the horse, and the Saraswati cannot be too far behind. Talageri looks at them critically and finally comments on the ethical and moral issues involved in the whole debate in this concluding part.
THE INDO-IRANIAN PARADIGM
The linguists propose that Indo-Iranians migrated from Steppes to Central Asia and then split into two, and migrated into the Saptasindhu and Afghanistan areas respectively. They shared a common ‘Indo-Iranian’ culture, manifesting in the two closely related texts-the Rigveda and Avesta.
R1a1 is a haplotype claimed to be a genetic signature prevalent in Indo-European language speaking countries. The Aryan proponents claim an injection of the Steppe DNA and the R1a1 into the local populations and tribals of India from the custodians of the Sanskrit language- the upper castes, and the Brahmins in particular.
The author asks us to consider two things. The Steppe DNA evidence in India is only after 2000 BCE; the first attested being in the Swat sample from 1200-100 BCE. More importantly is the distribution of the R1a1 haplotype which should show good presence in Iran as much as the Chenchu tribals (26%) and Manipur (50%) in the East India. Iran however shows a dismal 3-4% presence of this haplogroup in western parts, and less than 20% in the central and eastern parts. This is grossly less than the presence of R1a1 haplotype in the Dravidian tribes of South India. The same haplotype is higher in the west of Iran: 43% amongst the Semitic Shammar tribes of Kuwait and 52% among the Ashkenazi Levites in Israel! Hence, IE languages can spread without the genetic spread; and genetic spread can happen without spread of languages. At best, it is only a weak correlation; and correlations do not make for causation as our most basic statistics courses tell us.
Hence, Talageri says that the lack of the First Indian ancestry in the DNA of Indo-European speakers outside is no argument against OIT theory. Rigveda has roots and shoots of many languages of the west. The Avesta, which appeared in parallel shows no such signs. It however shows connection with only the mythology and language of Rigveda. This is strong evidence of the spread of language and culture from India outwards rather than the reverse.
WHEN DID THE CASTE SYSTEM BEGIN?
The ubiquitous Aryans again enter into the ‘caste system’, something which Prakash Shah, Dunkin Jalki and others take down so completely in their book, ‘Western Foundations of the Caste System.’ Tony Joseph now proposes his theory on the Aryan related caste system based on ‘latest genetic evidence.’ There are plenty of pleasing assumptions and startling inferences from those assumptions as Ambedkar wrote about the Aryans and the caste system while completely rejecting the thesis. ‘The Aryan theory is so absurd that it ought to have been dead long ago,’ wrote Ambedkar. Genetic evidence is the new kid which Ambedkar was not aware about. But the assumptions and the derived conclusions stay intact.
Quoting from a 2013 genetics paper called ‘Genetic Evidence for Recent Population Mixture in India’ by Priya Moorjani and others, Tony Joseph stakes his claim saying that from 2200 BCE to 100 CE, there was an extensive mixing of the genomic pool with the result that almost all Indians including the so-called isolated tribals have a mixture of the First Indian, Harappan, and Steppe ancestries in varying degrees. Around 100 CE, there was ‘sudden downing’ of the shutters on the intermixing. A new ideology gained power which engineered society on a massive scale. This widely successful social engineering was the ‘caste system’. The traditional custodians of the oldest layer of IE languages in India broke the society by this system. Who else were these breakers, but the wily ‘Aryan’ brahmins?
From 2000 BCE to 100 CE, the Aryans did not have the caste system, but it fell on the ankles of Indian society around 100 CE. A social engineering on a never attempted scale gained wide success in ordering the hierarchies based on caste. The proof for this comes from the Ra1a haplotype which is in higher prevalence among the upper castes than the lower castes, and it is twice as high in the Brahmins as compared to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Another proof which Tony Joseph explains is that Steppe genes has the highest levels again in the groups of traditional priests, expected to have written the Sanskrit texts. This could be because people with higher Steppe ancestry seemed to have a central role in propagating the Vedic culture. Endogamy rules allowed excessive Steppe ancestry persisting even today. A neat theory, but a block of soft cheese. And Talageri puts a lot of bullets here.
Firstly, there was never a time in the history of India, especially in 100 CE, when there was an all controlling authoritative regime which could plan and implement a wildly successful social engineering. Secondly, it is unbelievable that after a free intermixing for two millennia, suddenly the brahmins could differentiate from their own Aryan and non-Aryan brethren an exclusive status to start the caste system. Certainly, they did not have genetic studies at their disposal. Thirdly, if Aryans are not co-terminus with the caste system as per Tony Joseph, but came much later in 100 CE, then how are they still associated? The caste system would be more a result of contemporary factors of that era like invasions by Greeks, Persians, or Scythians or by injection of new western ideas and ideologies due to contacts with the first Christians or the Imperial Romans. Fourthly, the Sanskrit texts, especially the much-maligned Manu Smriti, as agreed by many scholars, are often descriptive texts of that time and place, and they were not prescriptive, normative, or authorized for enforcement by any authority.
Further, intermixing and flow of every single kind of racial type and nationality has been going all along from time immemorial to the present day. Nationalities, religions, regions, occupations, communities, jatis have mixed so thoroughly that it would be funny to freeze the period of 100 CE when suddenly a group identifies itself having special characteristics to become the wily priests. And so powerful is the segregation and dominance that it continues till present without any questions and without rebellion.
The final criticism is on the R1a1 gene. It is higher in South Indian brahmins only because they could have migrated from North India in the recent 2000 years. North India has a higher proportion of this gene as many studies quote and the decreasing proportion of this haplotype as one move from North to South could be because that happens naturally with migrations. In the closest area of contact with the Steppes, the proportion is higher. With downward migrations, the proportions would decrease. A more movement of Brahmins towards South may explain the higher proportion, but the reasons are geographical rather than Aryanism. R1a1 gene has higher proportions in many non-brahmin castes of the North and West: Khatri (67%), Ahir (63%), Gujarat Lohana (60%) and so on, much more as compared to the brahmins of that area. The Ror, Jat, and Pathan communities have higher proportions than the brahmin communities of the north!
In such a highly mixed state of communities for 4000 years, Tony Joseph manages to extract exact numbers and figures for various communities from few random samples and constructs a highly implausible story on the origin and propagation of the caste system. Weak correlations should not be confused for strong causations, as the AIT/AMT authors so eagerly indulge in.
AIT/AMT proponents have an impelling need to deny the Sarasvati identification with the Ghaggar-Hakra river since their whole theory comes into question. The author shows by clear textual references that the Sarasvati was a glowing and flowing river mentioned clearly in the Old Rigveda. The New Rigveda gives more importance to Indus river and spoke even in celestial terms about Sarasvati. The geography of the rivers, the flora, and the fauna described in the Old Rigveda clearly puts Sarasvati at the place where Ghaggar-Hakra stands today. Plate tectonics and diverting river courses changed the flow of rivers, making the Sarasvati dry so that by 1900 BCE- the end of a mature urban phase, a very prosperous civilization on the banks of the entire course of Sarasvati left towards the east and west too.
Archaeological records of this Sarasvati civilization go back to even 7000 BCE. There is a huge archaeological evidence of different phases of a thriving civilization on the banks of the river Sarasvati as shown very elegantly by Michel Danino in his book, ‘The Lost River.’ Archaeology, linguistic analysis, and textual analysis show a continuing Vedic Harappan civilization with absolutely no evidence of a forced invasion of any kind by outside foreigners. The Steppe pastoralists may have come in 2000 BCE, but at best they came silently and mixed with an existing civilization.
The author also shows clearly by his deep analysis of the Avesta and Rigveda that all the commonalities between the two are in the New books. There is no connection with the Old Rigveda, proving again a one-way migration from India outwards as far as the textual evidence is concerned.
AIT/AMT proponents obviously go into a counter-argument mode rather strongly, because this picture strongly puts a live atom bomb under their seat. And they start making ludicrous propositions and extreme efforts in denial. The Sarasvati becomes identified with a river in Afghanistan called Harahvaiti, the sea mentioned in the Veda becomes a lake, linguistic derivations get distorted, and so on and so forth. Talageri shows that there are early and prolific references to Sarasvati for a river in Haryana in the exact place geographically where the Ghaggar-Hakra flows, and a very late and single record of the name of Harahvaiti in Afghanistan. The Rigvedic-Avestan records and documents show a movement of Iranians from Haryana to Afghanistan accounting for taking the name of Sarasvati and giving it to a river in Afghanistan. The proof is convincing, especially if taken in conjunction with archaeology.
Tony Joseph starts on the same mode with same circle of proponents patting each other’s backs. This is eerily like the Sanskrit German Indological scholarship on Mahabharata, Gita, and other texts where a closed circle of scholars kept perpetuating the lies and frauds by offering scholarships, academic posts, travelling allowances while at the same time ignoring the traditional scholars and commentators. This perpetuation however is a hot air balloon, as Talageri shows. The main argument of Tony Joseph apparently is that the enfeebling and reinvigorating of rivers is a recurring phenomenon and there was nothing special about the enfeebling in around 2000 BCE leading to large scale migrations. This could have been more because of a drought in that period as shown by geological evidence. Second, Tony Joseph concentrates on a poetic reference to the waves of the powerful Sarasvati bursting the ridges of the hills, to argue that Sarasvati could not be Ghaggar -Hakra, which was never that powerful. Because Ghaggar-Hakra is weak, say the AIT scholars, it cannot be the Sarasvati. Circular reasoning rears its head again!
Sarasvati was powerful; it became weak due to several reasons; it became the Ghaggar-Hakra as the matching of all records is near perfect. But quoting a Vedic source draws Talageri into a battle where he is best at. He has analysed the complete set of data in the Rigveda deeply and thoroughly. The evidence from the Vedas which he mounts on this aspect would put any contrary position to shame.
The author Talageri concludes that the Sarasvati of Rigveda and the Ghaggar-Hakra of the present times, and with all that it implies. The first implication is the death of the AIT theory.
The poor horse again gets into the arguments for the AIT hypothesis. The horse as skeletal remains or as images in seals and artefacts is rare in Harappan civilization excavations. It is ubiquitous in the Rigveda. The Aryans wrote the Vedas. The Aryans came from the Russian Steppes or some other foreign place riding on horses. The horse is an import to India. Hence, the Harappans are not Vedic, but the Steppe immigrants are. The Aryans rode them, domesticated them, used them in sacrifices, and made extensive references to them in the Vedas.
There are three claims of the AIT proponents: The horse was well known to the Proto-Indo-European speakers in their Homeland, before 3000 BCE; the horse was known to the Vedic people throughout the period of its composition; and the horse is not native to India, but native to a large area spread from the Steppes of South Russia in the west to Central Asia in the east.
Talageri accepts the first two and proves in reverse that the very fact that the horse is an import shows that the Homeland is India, in fact. There are unambiguous archaeological records of the horse remains in the pre-2000 BCE era of India. Chess sets depicting horses at Lothal amongst many other representations elsewhere too make similar claims about the non-existent horse light. Linguistic evidence also completely disproves any idea that the horse was unknown to the non-Indo-European language speakers of India before the Aryans supposedly came, says the author. This is a very emphatic argument for the horse existence before the Aryans came. But the opposing proponents do not want to listen and debate.
THE MORALS, ETHICS, AND IDEALS IN THE DEBATE
Tony Joseph accuses the anti-AIT proponents of being super-sensitive to the idea of foreign arrivals into India. This is to claim an originally pure status of Indic civilization. Invasions and migrations have been a constant feature of the world in shaping demographics. However, Talageri says the difference is the political use of the AIT to divide the nation. Also, the migrations and invasions are recorded events in places like America and Africa, whereas Indo-European language arrivals are not. They base on speculations, theories, and analyses in various field like archaeology, linguistics, texts, and now genetics. There is hence a difference in the Indian context.
Talageri feels that the AIT theory basically, based on false premises and conclusions, tries to deny the Indic or Hindu civilization roots to the people of the country. The Anglo-Saxons invaded the British Isles and established the English language, but it would be foolish to call them foreigners. But a Hindu claim of being a native of the country has the whole of AIT coming down to prove that he/she is a foreigner. The AIT is an attempt, consciously or not, to deconstruct and dismantle whatever remains of a Hindu identity, says Talageri.
Talageri believes that unfortunately two diverse groups support the AIT for their own purposes and agendas. Some class of Brahmins use the AIT to declare their own superiority; and equally virulent in the support of AIT are the anti-Brahmins and ‘anti-Brahmanism ideologists’ like the Dravidians, leftists, neo-Dalit groups, and such politically motivated intellectuals, parties, and forces.
Ironically, Talageri says clearly that Indian culture is not identical with Sanskrit or Vedic culture and denies that they are the fundamental well-spring of Indian culture. This is in fact agreeing with the AIT proponents. But he goes further on this. He shows in his previous works that Rigveda was not the work of any ancestral ‘Indo-Aryans’, but a local text composed in the Bharata sub-tribe of the Puru people. The Puru lived in the areas of Haryana and UP.
The Anu and Druhyu tribes were to the west and north of Puru. The other eleven branches of Indo-European speakers spread from these Anu and Druhyu tribes to the other parts of the world. There were also IE speakers in the east of Puru, the Iksvaku, just as there were in the south too like the Yadu and Turvasa/Turvasu. Apart from this, there were speakers of other language families than the IE: Dravidian in south, Austric further east, and Burushaski in the far north.
Indian culture and tradition are a melting pot of three races (Caucasoid, Mongoloid, and Negroid) and six language families (Indo-European, Dravidian, Austric, Sino-Tibetan, Burushaski, and Andamanese). The original Puru element of Hinduism may have gained prominence due to political power, but over millennia, there has been a rich and complicated mixture of all the Indic elements. The complete mixture to a unified Hindu religio-cultural unit is such that it is unfortunate and even dangerous to separate the individual elements. It is an attempt which does not make sense, says Talageri forcefully. The Vedic Sanskrit is an important part, but it is a part of the organic whole and trying to weed it out is only a desperate effort to balkanize our country. The practices of the Andaman islanders, and the pre-Christian Nagas are as Hindu in the territorial sense, as Sanatana in the spiritual sense as is classical Sanskritic Hinduism.
Indian culture and Hinduism are an amorphous mixture of Vedic/Sanskritic culture, Sangam culture of the south and the rich ethnic (mainly tribal) strands of culture. Talageri makes his point on the OIT theory proposing India as the Homeland, and disagreeing thus with Tony Joseph. The conclusions from archaeology, linguistics, textual sources, and now from geology is clear on this which makes genetics irrelevant in this issue, says Talageri emphatically. Future debates should be honest, open, informed, and logical taking the evidence into consideration. It should not rely on media or academic power. Is Tony Joseph ready to pick up the challenge? Or take the major route of AIT/AMT proponents- just shut the eyes and ears to ignore.
Indic civilization and culture are an unbroken continuity for thousands of years. The Vedic civilization continued into the Harappan civilization and the later post-Harappan eras too. At the heart of all these Aryan arguments of a ‘foreign culture’ and thus a discontinuity is to deny this longest civilizational continuity. India is an amorphous homogenous mix of different cultures and different people. The Vedas constitute an important component, but not the only one in this complete whole. It is dangerous and divisive to try and weed out the individual components. It is an attempt at Balkanisation of this great country which today is the only one standing on the principles of Sanatana Dharma. Everyone of this land is a part and inheritor of this great culture irrespective of what faith they may be following. Instead of accepting our common and great civilizational past as a true Indic liberal, the Aryan proponents are keen to show that a strong root of our culture does not belong to us!
We all grew up fed on the Aryan invasion theory, which is now completely internalised. Nobody ever bothered to question it. Scholars, academics, intellectuals, scientists, linguists have now started questioning the AIT/AMT based on solid evidence. The problem is that the AIT theory has constructed a great super edifice for decades, and if the foundational base rips out, the entire edifice collapses. Therefore, the huge resistance to discard the theory. Genetics shows a ray of hope, and thus this last straw has a vigorous promotion to silence the AIT/AMT critics.
Genetics is an important science and it clearly shows migrations across the world. Language and culture may have a different and important role in directing evolution and selecting some genes; but genes carrying languages and culture along with them is very doubtful in the present scientific context. Language and culture can spread without a concomitant genetic spread. Even if genetics has that capacity to prove migrations of languages, it should not contradict other established findings; and should not become an independent candle to which established evidence needs matching to in reverse. That is bad science.
The main contention of Talageri is that texts, linguistics, and archaeology represent the data and hard evidence; and genetics is akin to experiment and theories. It is only proper science that if experiments do not match the data, the theories and experiments need rejection and not the data. Unfortunately, in the Aryan issue, there is ignoring or questioning of the data itself in a classic case of improper science! The fault is not with genetics, a wonderful science, but the way of its application by a faulty or even mischievous understanding.
Michel Danino has looked at the Sarasvati extensively in his classic, ‘The Lost River’ and completely rejects the Aryan theory. There is incontrovertible evidence of the existence of Sarasvati and its association with the Ghaggar-Hakra of present times. Koenraad Elst, in his recently published ‘Still No Trace of an Aryan Invasion’, shows extensive evidence against the Aryan theory, again rejecting it directly. Elst rues the fact that the AIT proponents do not even want to look at the researches of Srikant Talageri, leave alone reading the Vedas. The discussion has become one-sided and closed to any modifications, which is rather sad. Marianne Keppens devotes a full chapter on the Aryan linkage to the caste system in the deeply researched book, ‘Western Foundations of the Caste System’ based on the works of Dr SN Balagangadhara. Keppens contends that these link claims, propagated by political concerns mainly, are faulty and bogus.
Talageri says strongly that genetics is irrelevant to the whole issue of the Aryan debate. Without genetics, the evidence is clear on disproving AIT/AMT and proving a reverse migration. For him, the textual Rigvedic chronology is strong enough to establish an out of India migration. It is an independent witness, regardless of even archaeological evidence. However, archaeology stays solidly in support of Talageri. AL Chavda and Dr Priyadarshi, the latter in a four-part series, have written great rebuttals of the original paper on which Tony Joseph’s book stands. They have shown the original Reich paper to be having more holes than a Swiss cheese. So, finally we have a double whammy; genetic evidence is irrelevant to the debate; and the bit of evidence is questionable.
SOME QUESTIONS RAISED TO SHRIKANT TALAGERI AND HIS RESPONSES
Query 1: Sir, the slightest criticism which one can offer is you calling genetics ‘mumbo-zumbo’ and personal criticism of a few individuals. It threatens to take some shine off his arguments. In a clinical rebuttal of an issue or a person, the language perhaps needs to be above criticism. The strength of Talageri’s arguments should suffice to silence the critics.
Response by Shrikant Talageri: I have specifically stated that genetics is “mumbo-jumbo”; when it is used to “prove” certain alleged movements of cultural features like language, religion, games, music, etc. I have never denied that it can show the movements of people and can help map out ancestral lineages. About personal criticism of a few individuals, you are doubtless referring to my use of the phrase “racist-casteist “. I have used this phrase twice: once on p.20 and again on p.164.
Let me clarify: I stand by my use of the phrase on p.164, since it is part of an explanation for the strong support that this theory receives from certain Brahmin scholars who, in spite of being staunch Hindus, support the AIT, and believe in a relationship between caste differences and the “Aryan invasion/immigration “. Dr. Ambedkar took note of this phenomenon of certain Brahmins supporting the AIT in order to maintain their ethnic superiority to, or at least ethnic difference from other castes. But this will require a separate discussion.
About my use of the phrase on p.20, I wrote it in my first draft in the first flush of writing, and never got around to rereading and correcting that particular part of my book. It was only when I was rereading my own computer file, when the book was fully printed, that I realized that my use of the phrase in that particular sentence was unnecessary and unwarranted, and even a bit petty and in bad taste. I felt uncomfortable about it, but it was too late to change it. I do respect the person named for his other important work on Hindu issues, but have contempt for his utter arrogance and intransigence in flatly refusing to discuss or even consider the irrefutable evidence for the OIT. This of course, did not warrant my use of the phrase in that sentence but it explains why I ever used it in the first place.
However, I immediately contacted my publisher, and made the following correction for the next print (only 150 copies were printed in the first shot, as per the publisher Aditya Goel, and the corrections have now already been made in the next batch of printed books): the phrase “the racist-casteist Hindu activist”; has already been changed to the “AIT-supporting Hindu activist” on p.20.
Query 2: Sir, ironically you say clearly that Indian culture is not identical with Sanskrit or Vedic culture and deny that they are the fundamental well-spring of Indian culture. This is in fact agreeing with the AIT proponents. Can he please explain this a little more?
Response by Shrikant Talageri: In fact, it is those who accept that Indian culture is identical with Sanskrit or Vedic culture who are in agreement with the AIT proponents. Both agree that the Vedic culture (originally restricted, in the Rigveda, to an area from westernmost Uttar Pradesh westwards to the borders of Afghanistan, and which refers to no other part of India to the east or south of this area) is the “fundamental well-spring” of the at least the “Indo-Aryan” culture of the whole of India!
In fact, these AIT opponents go even further than the AIT proponents: the latter at least agree that other aspects of Hinduism (idol-worship and temple culture, eastern philosophies, tantric rites, and countless other things not found in the Rigveda) are equally Indian, being the equally old religious features of other parts of India (which they however treat as “non-Aryan”). But the former will have to tie themselves into knots to try and explain why, if the Rigvedic culture alone is the well-spring of Indian/Hindu culture, all those other things should also be regarded as Indian/Hindu when they are not found in the Rigveda. They must then be regarded as “later developments” from an originally Rigvedic culture. This then can lead to the Arya Samaj kind of reaction, which wants to discard “later things” as “impurities” in an originally Vedic all-India culture!
The AIT regards the different Puranic tribes, kingdoms, and dynasties as all being descendants of the invading “Aryans”; who are first recorded in the restricted space of northwestern India. The AIT opponents who regard ancient Indian culture as identical with Sanskrit or Vedic culture likewise believe all the different Puranic tribes, kingdoms and dynasties are components or descendant- components of the northwestern composers of the Rigveda!My analysis of the evidence tallies with the traditional Indian picture depicted in our historical traditions. A comparison of the Puranas with the Rigveda shows other Indo-European and non-Indo-European tribes/peoples spread out all over India, and also shows that the composers of the Rigveda were the Bharata Purus who occupied the identical area described in the Puranas as the (western part of the) area of the Purus. The aspects of Hinduism not found in the Rigveda are the religious features of all these other tribes/peoples. All as equally old, as equally Indian, and as equally Hindu as the religion of the Rigveda.
Featured Image: From what they were we are