This is the blog of Sukumar and friends.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Elegy for an infamous hoax

One of the most pernicious and mischievous theories to have blighted humanity in recent times is slowly but surely being discredited.
Anyone who comes to scrutinize the theory will find that it suffers from a ‘double infection.’ In the first place, the theory is based on nothing but pleasing assumptions and the inferences based on such assumptions. In the second place, the theory is a perversion of scientific investigation. It is not allowed to evolve out of facts. On the contrary the theory is preconceived and facts are selected to prove it.
No, this is not some modern-day politician or scientist talking about creationism or intelligent design', but Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891 - 1956), speaking of the 'Aryan Invasion theory' of India, a theory with no support whatsoever from Indian records, literary or archaeological, yet which provided the basis for racism in the Imperial context by suggesting that the peoples of Northern India were descended from invaders from Europe and so racially closer to the British Raj.
In the 1850's the young German scholar Friedrich Max Muller (1823-1900) introduced into English usage the unlucky term Aryan as applied to a large group of languages. The idea of a corresponding 'Aryan race' was rapidly taken up both in Germany and in England. The Aryan Invasion Theory served as a theoretical underpinning of the historical legitimacy of the British presence in India. But forty years later, one of the loudest European voices against the whole Aryan construct was none other than Max Muller! In 1888, he conceded that "the home of the Aryans" could not be pinpointed more precisely than "somewhere in Asia" and he denied having ever spoken of an Aryan race:
I have declared again and again that if I say Aryas, I mean neither blood nor bones, nor hair nor skull; I mean simply those who speak an Aryan language... To me an ethnologist who speaks of Aryan race, Aryan blood, Aryan eyes and hair, is a great sinner...
Twenty years before the Nazis' rise to power, Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) warned:
So great is the force of attractive generalizations and widely popularized errors that all the world goes on perpetuating the blunder talking of the Indo-European races, claiming or disclaiming Aryan kinship and building on that basis of falsehood the most far-reaching political, social or pseudo-scientific conclusions.

British imperialists and Nazis were not the only ones to sieze upon this drivel; racists from both the Indian right and left wings have sought common cause in this mischief. In Dr.Ambedkar's words,
The Aryan race theory is so absurd that it ought to have been dead long ago. But far from being dead, the theory has a considerable hold upon the people... The first explanation is to be found in the support which the theory receives from the Brahmin scholars... The Brahmin scholar believes in the two-nation theory. He claims to be the representative of the Aryan race and he regards the rest of the Hindus as descendants of the non-Aryans. The theory helps him to establish his kinship with the European races and share their arrogance and superiority. He likes particularly that part of the theory which makes the Aryan invader and conqueror of the non-Aryan native races. For it helps him to maintain and justify his overlordship over the non-Brahmins.
On the left of the political spectrum, we who were schooled in India have only to recall our textbooks, authored by prominent Indian historians with Marxist leanings, that dinned these dangerous myths into our heads.
Well, what does the genetic evidence indicate? Mitochondrial DNA is inherited solely from the mother, while the DNA of the Y chromosome is inherited solely from the father. These special DNA are not involved in sexual crossover and provide direct links to our maternal and paternal ancestors, respectively. They only undergo random mutations from generation to generation and the extent of mutation provides a timeline to the past. Analysis of the divergence of the DNA sequences of living humans from different locations around the world results in a family tree.
Our current understanding is that modern humans arose ~150,000 years ago, possibly in East Africa, where human genetic diversity is particularly high
write Peter Forster and Shuichi Matsumura in their Perspective in SCIENCE VOL 308, 965, 13 MAY 2005.
Early humans even ventured out of Africa briefly, as indicated by the 90,000-year-old Skhul and Qafzeh fossils found in Israel. The next event clearly visible in the mitochondrial evolutionary tree is a remarkable expansion
led directly to the only successful migration out of Africa, and is genetically dated by mtDNA to have occurred some time between 55,000 and 85,000 years
ago. Studies of the paternally inherited Y chromosome yield time estimates for the
African exodus that are in broad agreement with those derived from mtDNA... Which route did the first Eurasians take out of Africa? Most obvious, perhaps, is the route along the Nile and across the Sinai Peninsula leading into the rest of the world ... But if that were so, why was adjacent Europe settled thousands of years later than distant Australia? In Europe, Neanderthals were replaced by modern humans only about
30,000 to 40,000 years ago, whereas southern Australia was definitely inhabited 46,000 years ago and northern Australia and Southeast Asia necessarily even earlier.

Mitochondrial DNA variation in isolated ‘relict’ populations in southeast Asia supports the view that there was only a single dispersal from Africa, most likely via a southern coastal route, through India and onward into southeast Asia and Australasia. There was an early offshoot, leading ultimately to the settlement of the Near East and Europe, but the main dispersal from India to Australia ~65,000 years ago was rapid, most likely taking only a few thousand years.
(Macaulay, et al, SCIENCE, VOL 308, 1034, 13 MAY 2005)
Kumarasamy Thangaraj, et al, have reconstructed the origin of the Onge and Great Andamanese Islanders by analysis of their complete mtDNA sequences (SCIENCE, VOL 308, 996, 13 MAY 2005). Their
data indicate that two ancient maternal lineages... in the Onge and the Great Andamanese, have evolved in the Andaman Islands independently from other South and Southeast Asian populations. These lineages have likely been isolated since the initial
penetration of the northern coastal areas of the Indian Ocean by anatomically modern humans, in their out-of-Africa migration ~50-70,000 years ago. In contrast, the Nicobarese show a close genetic relation with populations in Southeast Asia,
suggesting their recent arrival from the east during the past 18,000 years.

These findings are further strengthened by the data on complete Indian genomes collected by Sun, et al, Mol. Biol. Evol. 23(3), 683-690 (2006), which is in good agreement with a rapid, initial dispersal of modern humans along the Asian coastline some 60,000 years ago.
There is now general agreement in the scientific community that Indian caste and tribal populations share a common late Pleistocene maternal ancestry in India. The large number of deep-rooting, Indian-specific mtDNA lineages cannot be explained by a recent introduction from neighboring regions and is consistent with the archaeological data, suggesting an initial settlement of South Asia 40-70,000 years ago, most likely over the southern route from Africa, followed by local differentiation, because the most frequent mtDNA component in India is virtually absent in the Near East and Southwest Asia. However, in contrast to the relative uniformity of mtDNA, the Y chromosomes of Indian populations display relatively small genetic distances to those of West Eurasians, which has been used to argue in favour of hypothetical migrations by Indo-Aryan speakers. Sanghamitra Sahoo, et al, have analyzed the prehistory of Indian Y chromosomes (Proc. Natl Acad. vol.103, no:4, 843-848, January 24, 2006). Their study significantly increases the available sample
size for India by typing 936 individuals from 77 populations, representing all four major linguistic groups. The greater range of mutations studied permits more detailed resolution of geographic patterns. The Y chromosomes were analyzed in the context of available data from West Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Europe, the Near East and Ethiopia. They conclude:
It is not necessary, based on the current evidence, to look beyond South Asia for the origins of the paternal heritage of the majority of Indians at the time of the onset of settled agriculture. The
perennial concept of people, language, and agriculture arriving to India together through the northwest corridor does not hold up to close scrutiny. Recent claims for ... a contemporaneous origin for the majority of the Indian castes’ paternal lineages from outside the subcontinent are rejected.

In 1946 B.R.Ambedkar concluded:
the Brahmins and the Untouchables belong to the same race.