What the Modi government is doing to prove Aryans were not invaders

This government seems determined to create a captive generation steeped in ignorance and confirmation bias.

 |  11-minute read |   11-09-2018
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In George Orwell's 1984, the government of the protagonist, Winston Smith's country, Oceania, is led by the mysterious Big Brother, and is constantly revising history to be in harmony with the current political situation.

For example, if Oceania is at war with Eurasia, then the official position is that they have always been at war with Eurasia. If the situation changes, the civilians are brainwashed to believe so. In this novel, historical revisionism is one of the main policies of the propaganda arm (Ministry of Truth) of Oceania's government.

Winston Smith is employed to revise newspaper articles and doctor photographs. This book was inspired from policies of the government of Soviet Union. During the rule of dictator Joseph Stalin, various revisionist tactics were used. Soviet schoolbooks were constantly revised to remove or "correct" photographs and articles that dealt with politicians who had fallen out of favour with the regime. History was frequently rewritten, with past events modi?ed so they always portrayed Stalin's government favourably.

aryans-690_091018043017.jpgStudy suggests India's predominant religion did not originate from a single indigenous population (Source: Reuters)

Historical revisionism is not a negative term by itself. It can both be legitimate and illegitimate. The positive use of the term means changing how one views a particular aspect of the history, in terms of academic pursuit, because of access to new data that allows us to revisit contexts or developments in scientific fields. More commonly however, the term historical revisionism refers to the changes in our chronicling of the past that occur with dominant ideologies and societal attitudes as historians amend the recognised views of events. This has a negative connotation and illegitimate aspect as it is distortion or denial of history for self-serving purposes like political or ideological goals.

The Indian subcontinent has been struggling to find a defining identity (like various African and South Asian countries post colonisation) while in their struggle against colonial rule and well beyond, after they have gained independence. As Asghar Ali Engineer mentions in an article dated May 13, 2000, in The Hindu, "The concept of nation-state becomes all the more controversial in a country which lacks religious, cultural and linguistic homogeneity. The classical nation-state came into existence in Europe on the basis of a shared linguistic and cultural heritage and future economic vision. That was not the case in colonised countries in Asia and Africa. The colonial powers did not establish their empires in religiously and linguistically homogeneous areas but wherever they could capture power. These administratively unified areas became a nation-state when the colonial masters left."

Not according to Mark Tully, who has covered India as BBC's correspondent for 22 years: "India is a Hindu nation forced to wear the ugly formless garb of Western secularism. Hindu nationalism is a backlash against this pedantic Nehruvian aspiration, the 50 year old soulless construct that sunders religion from its natural place in Indian public life. The Congress has to realize that public religiosity, not the private spiritual search was Gandhi's way. And this is the one true way for India." ( Ref: Times Of India, 18th August,1999- Rashmee Z Ahmed)

Hindutva, a militant form of Hinduism, is the glue that the Sangh Parivar, the umbrella group of Hindu nationalist groups in India, hopes will unite the country, imbuing everyone with a common sense of purpose, carrying the nation forward on a wave of development to a supreme place which will be akin the Ramrajya of yore, the golden age when the god king Ram ruled from Ayodhya.

This project is predicated on the axiom that the Hindus are much like flies caught in amber, their ancient wisdom and amazing marvels of technology frozen intact, under the permafrost that has settled under millennia of invasions and atrocities, just waiting to be discovered. One of the prerequisites of such a predication is of course that nothing important came from outside and everything was indigenous.

If the original Brahman from whose various body parts emerged the various castes — the Brahmin from the mouth, the Kshatriya from the arms, the Vaishya from the thighs, and the Shudra from the feet, had taken form from nowhere, he took form here on ancient Jambudwip and not on some island off the Bering Straits or the Yucatan peninsula.

The definition of a Hindu as given by VD Savarkar was that India had to be his pitribhumi (ancestral land) and his punyabhumi (the land of his religion). A Hindu therefore could not be descended from alien invaders. Since Hindus sought a lineal descent from the Aryans, and a cultural heritage, the Aryans had to be indigenous. This definition of the Hindu excluded Muslims and Christians from being indigenous since their religion did not originate in India.

In a genetic khichree that's taken place over millennia, with invasions, wars, rapes, cultural osmosis, matrimonial alliances, progeny outside wedlock, drawing and redrawing of boundaries, some people still suffer from the delusion that they still survive as perfect grains of dal and rice, and talk in terms of 'us' and 'them'.

The question of where the Aryan race originated from becomes crucial to this debate as it can make or unmake the BJP/RSS project. But what exactly is an Aryan?

The idea of the Aryan race emerged from language studies and an interpretation of the use of the word "Arya" in Sanskrit and Iranian. In the 1830s, a German scholar Friedrich Schlegel came up with a theory that linked the Indo-Iranian words (Arya) with the German word Ehre, 'honour'. Schlegel postulated that far from being a term to describe the Indo-Iranians, the word arya had in fact been what the Indo-Europeans called themselves, literally, "the honourable people".

Thus "Aryan" came to be synonymous with 'Indo-European', and gained traction among scholars, finally with Max Muller referring to the Aryan race in Lectures on the Science of Language in 1861.

To prove the unsullied nature of Hindu continuum, it is important that the ancient Aryans did not come from 'outside' whatever 'outside' might mean in a subcontinent whose political borders have been drawn and redrawn repeatedly over thousands of years. RSS spokesman Manmohan Vaidya told Reuters recently, "The true colour of Indian history is saffron and to bring about cultural changes we have to rewrite history."

1400-500 BC

The Pre-Buddhistic Period, when the Sûtras and the Philosophical systems made their appearance. 

The idea of hoary antiquity is a mystic one, not to be debated by facts. It lies in the realm of pride without substance, and the desire for the stamp of purity and perfection. The same kind of mindset that reveres icons without enquiring into their origins and contexts is drawn to this past without an address.

However, our understanding of our world today is based on triangulation of facts. Human genome mapping, focus groups, search engines with access to a zillion databases, leave little ground for idle speculation.

Our reverence towards the thinkers of the early 20th century and even before that is understandable for their insights, but we have to acknowledge that a lot of them had firm convictions based on emotion, impulse, imagination as well as confirmation bias of their class and caste (in the case of India).

The Aryan invasion theory has many variants. One of the more colourful ones was Bal Gangadhar Tilak's.

In his books Orion: Or the Researches into the Antiquity of Vedas and The Arctic Home in Vedas,  Tilak claimed that the Aryans came from the Arctic when the polar ice cap was destroyed in the last Ice Age.

10000 or 8000 BC

The destruction of the original Arctic home during the last Ice Age and the commencement of the post-glacial period.

8000-5000 BC

This was the age of migration from the original home. The survivors of the Aryan race roamed over the northern parts of Europe and Asia in search of lands suitable for new settlements. The vernal equinox was then in the constellation of Punarvasû, and as Aditi is the presiding deity of Punarvasû, according to the terminology adopted by me in Orion, this may, therefore, be called the Aditi or the Pre-Orion Period.

5000-3000 BC

The Orion Period, when the vernal equinox was in Orion. Many Vedic hymns can be traced to the early part of this period and the bards of the race, seem to have not yet forgotten the real import or significance of the traditions of the Arctic home inherited by them. It was at this time that first attempts to reform the calendar and the sacrificial system appear to have been systematically made.

3000-1400 BC

The Káą›ittikâ period, when the vernal equinox was in Pleiades. The Taittirîya Samhitâ and the Brâhmanas, which begin the series of nakshatras with the K?ittikâs, are evidently the productions of this period.

The compilation of the hymns into Samhitâ's also appears to be a work of the early part of this period. The traditions about the original Arctic home had grown dim by this time and very often misunderstood, making the Vedic hymns more and more unintelligible. The sacrificial system and the numerous details thereof found in the Brâhmanas seem to have been developed during this, time. It was at the end of this period that the Vedângajyotisha was originally composed, or at any rate the position of the equinoxes mentioned therein observed and ascertained.

For RSS founder MS Golwalkar's primary Islamophobic political agenda, any acceptance of the Aryans as invaders would put them on the same footing as the Mughals and therefore jeopardise indigenous formulations.

But he could not oppose Tilak.

Therefore his spin on Tilak's theory was to state that modern scientific research has shown the North Pole not to be stationary, and that "quite long ago it was in that part of the world... called Bihar and Orissa at the present". [The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate by Edwin Bryant; p 273]

1400-500 BC

The pre-Buddhist period, when the Sûtras and the philosophical systems made their appearance.

Dayananda Saraswati, founder of the Arya Samaj, in a chapter on cosmology in Satyartha Prakash, while answering a question pertaining to number of classes (castes) which were there at the time of creation of the earth, says, "In the beginning there was only one class of human beings. Later on they got divided into two depending upon their actions. Those who were learned and virtuous were called Aryas and ignorant and evil doers were called Dasyus."

They all originated in Trivistapa, which is now known as Tibet.

The purely racial "invasion" proposed by Max Mueller has been questioned by many, including the favourite whipping post of the Hindutva nationalists, Romila Thapar, as early as the 1960s.

The contemporary theory of Aryan origin corroborates data and evidence from over two dozen different fields of study and demonstrate a pattern of cultural, social and linguistic migration/domination/invasion of people speaking the Indo-European languages from Central Asia into India. This theory about the Aryan origin, which is currently the most authoritative theory among historians, does not state that the Aryans were an indigenous people. If one wishes to read about haplogroups - and gain some insight on the invasion theory - this piece is insightful.

The Hindutva groups are misleading the masses by criticising Max Mueller's Aryan Invasion Theory (which is already discredited) and historians like Konraad Elst deviously claiming that Harvard professor Michael Witzel and others, including Romila Thapar, are supporting Mueller's theory.

In fact, under the guise of criticising Mueller, the self-styled Hindutva historians (most of whom are engineers and businessmen) are promoting a theory that Aryans did not migrate from Central Asia but were the original inhabitants of India. This theory has been propped up as a propaganda item on numerous websites and is discussed as a community specific truth within the Hindutva circles. It holds no currency within established historical scholarship.

Other cultures have creation myths too but they have not gone to the obsessive extent the present government has done. The Modi government has constituted a high-powered committee ambitiously and long-windedly titled "The holistic study of origin and evolution of Indian culture since 12,000 years before present and its interface with other cultures of the world". Why specifically 12000, no one knows.

Announcing this panel, culture minister Mahesh Sharma, said the long-taught version that people from central Asia arrived in India only 3,000 to 4,000 years ago and transformed the population needs to be revisited.

mahesh-sharma-690_091018042631.jpgCulture minister Mahesh Sharma has shown a special interest in revisiting history (Source: India Today)

On March 6, Reuters reported that the 12-member committee met in early January this year to discuss "how to rewrite the history of the nation". Its main objective, according to the report was to establish "a clear line of descent" between the earliest inhabitants of the subcontinent and the Aryans. According to the minutes of the meeting, the panel's objective is to use archaeological data and DNA evidence to prove that Hindus descended from the earliest inhabitants of India and that Hindu scriptures were history, not mythology.

The timing and urgency of this is probably due to a recent discovery of the skeletal remains at the Rakhigarhi Harappa site that punctures Hindutva "exclusionism and parochialism" as one reader puts it.

The findings point at a "genetic footprint of an entirely more impressive order than the relatively inconsequential biological legacy of Islamic or European colonial invasions that often preoccupy the political imagination in India."

This desperation that manifests among those invested in cherry-picking, distorting, and deliberately misrepresenting history, from denial of migrations, assimilations, cultural contributions, to renaming roads and railway stations has to the three R's that we are witnessing in India today: Revivalism, Revisionism and Revanchism. This government seems determined to create a captive generation (those not fortunate or privileged enough to find other independent avenues of education here or abroad) steeped in ignorance and confirmation bias, bigotry, and xenophobia, unaware of India's syncretic, rich and layered past and traditions, ready to goosestep to the polling booths to carry out a travesty of democracy.

Also read: Shudras, not Aryans, built the Indus Valley Civilisation


Gautam Benegal Gautam Benegal @gautambenegal

Award winning animation filmmaker, artist, author, and social commentator.

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