Interview with Shrikant Talageri on “Genetics and The Aryan Debate”

Interview with Shrikant Talageri on “Genetics and The Aryan Debate”

India’s mainstream media and academia, which are dominated by the left-liberal-secular brigade have been misleading the Indian public with its spin on the Aryan invasion debate by any means possible.

The Aryan question continues to remain highly controversial and multidimensional in nature. India’s mainstream media and academia, which are dominated by the left-liberal-secular brigade have been misleading the Indian public with its spin on the Aryan invasion debate by any means possible. The latest entrant on the scene is Tony Joseph who has been writing articles on the Aryan issue in the mainstream newspapers positing the question of origin of the Indo-Aryan people as being ‘settled’ in favour of Aryan migration theory based on Genetic research. Last year he came out with his book ‘Early Indian’ which seeks to further establish his position.

However, his position has been highlight contested and many scholars have called his assertions and conclusions into question. IndiaFacts itself has published responses by AL Chavda and Rajeev Srinivasan to his articles. Yet, there was a need for a comprehensive examination of the Joseph’s work in general and the Genetic studies in particular.

This need has now been fulfilled with the publication of ‘Genetics & The Aryan Debate: “Early Indians” Tony Joseph’s Latest Assault by Sri. Shrikant Talageri published by Voice of India publication, New Delhi. The volume has been brought out as part of publication initiative by Ram Swarup- Sitaram Goel Memorial Fund.

Sri. Shrikant G. Talageri is an independent scholar and author of many books dealing with Aryan issue, including two books analyzing the evidence present in the Rigveda titled ‘Rigveda: A Historical Analysis’ and ‘Rigveda and Avesta: The Final Evidence’.

Here is an excerpt from his interaction with IndiaFacts.

Shrikant Talageri IndiaFacts interview
Shrikant Talageri

1. Congratulations on the publication of your new book. I understand that your book is a review of and a response to Tony Joseph’s latest book Early Indians. Can you share with our readers about the evolution of this book and what made you to write this?

To start this story, which is about “Aryans”, at the very beginning:

a. Even as recently as 500 years ago, no-one in the world had even suspected, and no tradition in India or anywhere in the world had left any idea or record to even remotely suggest, that there was such a thing as “Aryan”/Indo-European languages, or such an idea as that of a race of “Aryans” who entered India from outside bringing these languages into India.

b. When the Europeans, after 1600 CE, started establishing their presence in India, they discovered that Sanskrit and the major languages of North India were related to their own European languages. This led to the classification of the languages of the world into different language-families. India has six such families: Indo-European, Dravidian, Austric, Sino-Tibetan, Burushaski and Andamanese. The Indo-European languages spoken in India constitute one of twelve branches of the Indo-European language-family. The twelve branches, starting from the west, are Italic, Celtic, Germanic, Baltic, Slavic, Albanian, Greek, Armenian, Anatolian (long extinct), Iranian, Tocharian (long extinct) and Indo-Aryan.

c. This led to an academic quest for the geographical location of the “Original Homeland” of the Indo-European languages, on the basis of three academic disciplines relevant to the subject: Linguistics, Archaeology and Textual/Inscriptional Analysis. For over two hundred years, the dominant academic theory was that this Original Homeland was in South Russia and that the “Indo-Aryan” branch entered India around 1500 BCE with the influx of Steppe invader immigrants who brought the Vedic Sanskrit language and Vedic religion and culture into India. Within India, this theory has been the ideological base for a wide range of destructive and disruptive political ideologies.

d. In the early 1990s, a spate of research books suddenly started exposing the numerous fallacies in this theory (called the AIT or “Aryan Invasion Theory”), and after three decades of detailed research, there is now an alternate theory (called the OIT, or “Out-of-India Theory”), which shows that the Original Homeland (of all the branches) of the Indo-European language family was in North India, and that the migration of the other eleven branches from India is a matter of recorded history – recorded in the Rigveda and the Puranas.

e. With the weight of all the evidence in the three academic disciplines (Linguistics, Archaeology and Textual/Inscriptional Analysis) now fully on the side of the OIT, the rainbow coalition of political forces (many of them masquerading as academic scholars) pushing the AIT has now abandoned these three fields of study, and has started arguing for the AIT on the basis of what is claimed to be new and conclusive scientific evidence based on “Genetics”. In the last few years, this propaganda was put forward in bits and pieces in the media which made it difficult to pin it down. In the last few years, international teams of “genetic scientists” have started producing “reports” claiming clinching genetic evidence for the AIT. Their primary spokesperson in the Indian media has been Tony Joseph with his articles in The Hindu..

Answering stray media articles was a pointless task. But in 2018, Tony Joseph has finally published a full-fledged book “Early Indians” to present his Final Evidence, and the entire “Juggernaut” of the rainbow coalition of forces has been pressed into action in the media, social media and academia on a war-footing to promote his war-efforts. This has made it imperative as well as convenient to fully expose the AIT war-machine once and for all.

2. While preparing your critique of his book, what are the some of the prominent claims in the Early Indians that you found objectionable or problematic? Can you give a brief summary of some of the important arguments you make against Joseph’s assertions?

I have dealt with and demolished every single claim and point made by Tony Joseph in his book. If the discerning reader of both the books can point out some notable point that I have failed to deal with, I will be grateful to have it brought to my notice.

Specific major points made by him have been dealt with in separate chapters: the claim for the Harappans being Dravidian language speakers (ch.1), the identity of the Vedic Sarasvati (ch.10), the evidence of the Horse (ch.11)

His genetic case has been dealt with in three chapters (chs.3,7,8), and his attempt to link the caste system with the AIT in one chapter (ch.9). I have also dealt with his attempt to claim a high moral stand for himself and to link the OIT with a Brahminical and cultural imperialistic caste-agenda (ch.12).

The rock-solid evidence disproving his “Genetics”-based case has been elaborated in four chapters detailing the chronology and geography of the Rigveda in the context of the linguistic Indo-European case (chs.2,4,5,6).

3. While genetic research has been considered very important for understanding our past and proponents in both the camps of Aryan immigration into India and Aryan emigration out of India have made use of genetic studies for promoting their view-points, you make an interesting observation in the book stating: “whatever else any genetic evidence may prove about ancestral lineages, it cannot prove anything about the origin and migrations of the Indo-European languages, and any attempt to make it do so is nothing but pure mumbo-jumbo”. Can you elaborate more on this for our readers?

Genetics has absolutely nothing to do with the solution of the Aryan problem. You cannot prove or disprove either the AIT or the OIT on the basis of any “genetic” evidence – and definitely not in contradiction to recorded history.

Let me elaborate: the Ashoka pillars are scientifically dated from 268-232 BCE. Even earlier to that, we have scientifically dated Greek and Chinese records pertaining to North India. All of this conclusively shows that the whole of North India as far east as Bihar, Bengal and Orissa in the second half of the first millennium BCE was populated by native speakers of “Aryan” languages. In the face of this, what would you say to claims about “genetic” data and evidence conclusively proving that “Aryans” first entered into India from the northwest after 100 BCE?

In the same way, we have the scientifically analyzed data from the Rigveda and the Avesta and the scientifically dated data from the West Asian inscriptions and texts pertaining to the Mitanni kingdom of Syria-Iraq in 1500 BCE. This evidence shows that the ancestors of the Mitanni kings were “Indo-Aryan” speakers who emigrated from North India well before 2000 BCE during the period of the New Rigveda. The Old Rigveda precedes the New Rigveda by many centuries. The data in the Old Rigveda shows that the Vedic people were native inhabitants of a linguistically purely “Aryan” area in North India from well before 3000 BCE. In the face of this, what would you say about claims about “genetic” data which is supposed to conclusively prove that the “Aryans” first entered into India from the northwest well after 2000 BCE?

Genetic data may prove specific ancestral strands in the DNA of individuals, or of entire communities, or even of the whole or a major section of the Indian population. But how can it show that some particular ancestral strand represents the original speakers of “Aryan” languages? It cannot – and any genetic data which claims to show this can only be described as mumbo-jumbo.

Tony Joseph (on behalf of the 92 “scientists” he claims to be a spokesperson for) claims that there is clinching “genetic evidence” for a Steppe migration from Central Asia into north-western India between 2000-1000 BCE, and these Steppe immigrants, in the course of time intermixed with the population in every single corner of India.

I have shown in detail (ch.7) how the data in the Reich report being propagated by Tony Joseph does not substantiate, and in fact even contradicts, these claims. Nevertheless, for the purpose of discussion in the book (and leaving the more technical quibbling on the “genetic” data to those who like and understand the subject) I have nominally accepted that the genetic data in the report may be assumed to prove this genetic case as claimed by Tony Joseph. But it does not prove that these Steppe immigrants brought the “Aryan” languages with them. As I put it in my book: “these languages were already present deep inside northern India as far back as 3000 BCE with antecedents going back into the more remote past.” Therefore “this ‘genetic evidence’ only means that any Steppe people who entered South Asia from present-day Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan after 2000 BCE got integrated into the local populace everywhere, accepting the local languages and the general culture and traditions, like most other later ancient people in the historical record (the Greeks, Persians, Scythians, Huns, etc.)“.

The absurdity of Tony Joseph’s genetic claims can be judged from his claims about R1a1, which he describes as the “genetic signature” of the “Aryans”: “how do we know that R1a and its subgroups are linked to Indo-European language speakers in India? There is an easy way to check: look at the distribution of R1a among Indian population groups and see if they are linked to the traditional custodians of the Sanskrit language, the upper castes in general or the Brahmins in particular” (p.167). The Brahmins are the custodians of “Sanskrit” as also of “texts written in Sanskrit“. Ironically, R1a1 is found in much higher or comparatively similar percentage in non-Brahmin castes like Khatris (67%) and Gujarat Lohanas (60%), and even in non-Aryan speakers like the Manipuri people of the east (50%) and purely Dravidian tribes of the South like the Chenchu (26%) and Kota (23%), as compared with most Brahmin communities: the Iyengars have 31%. The endogamous “Aryan” Parsis in India and the endogamous Zoroastrians still in Iran, “the traditional custodians of the Avestan language“, have less than 20% (many Iranian groups going as low as 0-3%), while the non-“Aryan” Semites to their west include the Shammar Arabs in Kuwait (43%) and the Ashkenazi Levites of Israel (52%): the Ashkenazi Levites are “the traditional custodians of the Hebrew Old Testament text and language“!

4. One of the chapter headings that caught my eye was ‘The Old Rigveda vs. the New Rigveda’. Can you enlighten our readers on what you mean by old and new in the context of Rigveda and how such a distinction is helpful in understanding the text and history of the times?

The Rigveda consists of two parts: the Old Rigveda (books 2-4, 6-7) and the New Rigveda (books 1, 5, 8-10). The Old Rigveda was composed long before the New Rigveda and represents a much older era. This is the consensus even among the Indologists. There are many factors showing this sharp distinction between the Old Rigveda and the New Rigveda. The most notable feature is the vocabulary.

Just one word will illustrate the difference: the common word for “night” in all modern Indo-Aryan languages, and also the commonest word in Classical Sanskrit and the Prakrits, and in languages (Dravidian, Austric, even South-east Asian) which borrow words from Sanskrit, is rātri. This word is found very commonly in post-Rigvedic Vedic literature, but in the Rigveda it is found only in the New Rigveda and is completely missing in the Old Rigveda.

The language of the Old Rigveda stands apart from the whole mass of other Indo-Aryan languages including the language of the New Rigveda! The word for “night” in the Old Rigveda is nakt-. Few modern Indians, even speakers of Indo-Aryan languages, will be at all familiar with this word, but it is found in all the other branches of Indo-European languages outside India (except Armenian, which has lost the word): Avestan naxt-, German nacht, modern Greek nukhta, Latin nocte, Old Russian noshti, Old Irish nnocht, Albanian natë, Lithuanian naktis, Tocharian nakt, Hittite nekuz.

This distinction between the Old Rigveda and the New Rigveda is vital in decoding “Aryan” or Indo-European history. As I have shown, a huge mass of names, name-types, words, meters, etc. common to the Rigveda, the Avesta and the Mitanni data, is found only in the New Rigveda, but is completely missing in the Old Rigveda. These words are not found in a single one of the 280 hymns or 2351 verses in the Old Rigveda. But, out of the 686 hymns and 7311 verses in the New Rigveda, they are found in the names of the composers of 309 hymns, 3389 verses, they are found occurring within the text in 225 hymns and 434 verses, and the common meters are found in 50 hymns and 255 verses. The Old Rigveda clearly represents an era very much earlier than the common era of the proto-Mitanni, the Avesta and the New Rigveda. The scientifically dated Mitanni kingdom of 1500 BCE, ruled by the distant descendants of the proto-Mitanni people, helps us to establish the date of the Old Rigveda as going beyond 3000 BCE. This solves many mysteries: it shows the Vedic people to be identical with the Harappans, and conclusively proves the OIT and Indian Homeland theory.

5. You dedicate one chapter on the Caste question titled ‘When did the Caste System Begin?’ wherein you critique Tony Joseph’s interpretation of genetic evidence for understanding the origination of caste system. You contextualize your critique by noting how for ‘evangelists, dividing the targeted people or nations into mutually antagonistic groups has always been an important part of their evangelistic strategies.’ Can you briefly shed light on Joseph’s claims about caste system and why they are problematic?

The title of the chapter is “When Did the Caste System Begin?”, but I have not dealt with the beginning of the caste system in this chapter. This question is one of those which features on the cover of Tony Joseph’s book, and which his book purports to answer.

His thesis, based, or so he claims, on another earlier “genetic” report of 2013, is that for more than a thousand years after the Aryan invasion, the invaders freely mixed with the local populations all over India, and it was only in 100 CE that there was a “sudden downing of the shutters on the intermixing” and the caste system became rigid. This should suggest that the caste system has nothing to do with the Aryan invasion, and Tony Joseph first pretends to accept this idea. But then he manages to twist and turn his arguments in all directions to bring out the conclusion that it was after all the product of racial distinctions resulting from that “invasion” – distinctions sought to be perpetrated, according to him, by the scions of the invaders: the “Brahmins”. My chapter deals with various aspects of these claims. In my chapter I have only brought out all the fallacies in his arguments which seek to link the caste system with the AIT

Here, though I have not dealt with this in my book, let me make a point about the caste system: and its beginnings. Yes, I have always considered the caste system (although it has its good aspects – but these are debatable, like the pros and cons of the joint family system) as the bane of Hindu society. But the subject requires a long and detailed debate totally unconnected with any “Aryans”, and this is not the place for it. And there is no question of allowing the enemies of Hinduism to fish in troubled waters.

In most human societies in the world, there are two kinds of social divisions. In older or more primitive societies, human beings are divided into tribes with division of functions among the members of the tribe. In more developed “civilizations”, they are divided into classes with hierarchies, which, though not inherently hereditary, tend to become hereditary due to the vested interests of the “upper” classes. India is a unique case in the whole world where we see a combination of these two types of divisions: the tribes became “castes”, and entire castes tended to occupy places in the class hierarchy with vested interests developing in those in the upper places. In post-1947 India, with the innumerable new kinds of dirty political games which have become viral in Indian society, the situation today, in my opinion, is almost irretrievably polluted.

6. One final question, a recent research published in Science magazine speaks about the possible movement of cattle genomes from the region around Indus valley (wild zebu cattle Bos indicus) to the West around 4200 years ago. How significant is this discovery to the AMT/OIT debate?

I am not aware of this study. If so, it confirms the OIT perfectly.

While human beings constitute just one species, and human beings have been migrating in every possible direction all over the world since time immemorial, with these migrants adopting, abandoning or transmitting cultural features (including language, religion, etc.) in countless unpredictable ways, it is not possible to connect human movements automatically with the movements of cultural features without other more concrete evidence.

But the movement of domesticated plants or animals from one part of the world to another (if taken in conjunction with other historical records of human migrations) can provide strong clues. The proto-Mitanni (Vedic people from the period of the New Rigveda) migrated from India to West Asia sometime between 2500 and 2000 BCE. In my google blog “The Elephant and the Proto-Indo-European Homeland“, I have pointed out how the appearance of Indian elephants and peacock motifs in West Asia coincides with the recorded movements and activities of the Mitanni in West Asia. This new research that you refer to then adds the Indian zebu cattle to that list.

Incidentally, in my book, I have pointed out how Tony Joseph’s fairy tale about “Steppe pastoralists” migrating to India between 2000-1000 BCE is not confirmed by the appearance of western domesticated cattle into India in that period.Genetics and the Aryan debate: “Early Indians” Tony Joseph’s Latest Assault by Shrikant Talageri is available on Amazon.

Featured Image: Amazon

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. IndiaFacts does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.

Nithin Sridhar

Nithin Sridhar has a degree in Civil Engineering, and having worked in the construction field, he passionately writes about various issues from development, politics, and social issues, to religion, spirituality, and ecology. He was the former editor of IndiaFacts (2016-2020)- a portal on Indian history and culture; He is editor of Advaita Academy dedicated to the dissemination of Advaita Vedanta. He is a Consulting Editor to Indic Today Magazine. He is based in Mysuru, Karnataka. His first book "Musings On Hinduism" provided an overview of various aspects of Hindu philosophy and society. His latest book 'Samanya Dharma' enunciates upon general tenets of ethics as available in Hindu texts. However, his most widely read book is "Menstruation Across Cultures: A Historical Perspective" that examines menstruation notions and practices prevalent in different cultures & religions from across the world. He tweets at @nkgrock.