By Kumar David –
All nationalists say “We are the oldest, biggest, finest, fastest or fattest” – Out-of-India hypothesis suffers a setback
It must be an inferiority complex that drives people to declare “Our culture is the oldest, or our ancient irrigation system the greatest, our this or our that, or whatever, is the best”. The less a person’s achievements, the more likely to take refuge in a collective myth. Extremism is the theme of the rising global Alt-Right; narrow nationalism a sickness afflicting Sri Lanka. Such trends must be debunked.
It’s fair before I debunk it that I tell you what the Out-of-India (OI) hypothesis says sans my judgemental criticisms. The bottom line of the OI claim is that at a minimum language, and if you are more ambitious civilisation, took off from India and spread westward to Persia and the Middle East, through the Causes and Anatolia to Europe, and perhaps even Eastward through Central Asia. All this happened, depending on which OI school you subscribe to. Was it about seven thousand years ago (5000+ BC), or before the last ice age ten to twenty thousand years ago? Figure 1 gives an idea of the former version where human civilisation is said to have originated in the lower Indus Valley.
To be fair I need to make a concession. OI does not claim that human beings (homo sapiens) first evolved in India. No, no not at all; it is conceded that humans emerged in Africa some 160,000 to 190,000 years ago and migrated through the Horn of Africa into Arabia 100,000 (plus or minus 20,000) years ago. That is, Out-of-Africa 2 (OA-2) is not contested. It is conceded that OA-2 people migrated along the coast through Persia into India and then via Malaya to New Guinea and crossed the sea reaching Australia about 40,000 years ago. This is too well established to be disputed. OI only refers to events tens of thousands of years after that; it refers to a period after Palaeolithic times (Stone Age), to the early Bronze Age, the beginning of settled agriculture, writing, mumbo-jumbo religions, counting, record keeping and scripts. OI aficionados also conceded that another OA-2 migration route turned north-west into Europe tens of thousands of years ago and a third moved through Central Asia to the Far East.
What OI theorists – Hindu nationalist intellectuals supported by a very small number of Western anthropologists – claim is that Indian civilization must be viewed as an unbroken tradition that goes back to the earliest period or formative phase of a proto-Indus civilisation about 5000 BC. In 1995, a gathering of 43 Hindutva historians and archaeologists adopted a resolution re-dating the Mahabharata war to 3139-38 BC and declared this to be “the sheet anchor date of Indian chronology”. An outfit known as the Vedic Foundation gives a chronology of ancient India which starts in 3228 BC with the descent of Krishna. The Mahabharata War is dated at 3139 BC. The Buddha is re-dated to 1894-1814 BC not 563-483 BC, a claim that will evoke hilarity in Lanka and render Emperor Asoka and his offspring Mahinda and Sanghamitta imposters! These claims are supplemented with “evidence” of the linguistic primacy of Sanskrit, erratic genetic “data” and astronomical readings, all used to claim an earlier dating of the Rigveda to the fifth millennium BC, against the better established 1500 BC plus or minus 200 years. .
This myth creates a continuous chronology of India in contrast to a discontinuity between the Indus Valley or Harappan period end the Vedic period. It also fuses the South Indian or Dravidian peoples into a continuum with North Indians and fits the nationalist myth of a homogeneous Indian populace. The discontinuity between the Harappan and Vedic periods is called a fake implanted by British and Western colonialists to justify the conquest of India by inserting the concept of breaks into Indian civilisation. Pie in the sky schools of Hindutva claim a timeless glory “of the divine dignitaries who graced the soils of India with their presence and divine intelligence and revealed the path of peace, happiness and divine enlightenment for the world that still is the guideline for true God-lovers who desire to taste the sweetness of his divinity”.
The well-established Aryan invasion theory (now modified to a more gradual Aryan migration and invasion theory) is illustrated in figure 2. The name ‘Aryan’ refers to steppe pastoralists of the region between the Black and Caspian Seas and the vast Central Asian grasslands. These migrations, merged with or conquered remnants of the Indus valley civilisation in decline because of climatic changes, early in the second millennium BC.
The “standard” view of anthropologists the world over known as the Kurgan Hypothesis is that Indo-European migrations, including the Indo-Aryan, occurred between 4000 BC and 1000 BC. The core was the Caucuses, Southern Russian steppes, modern Kazakhstan and other “-stans” from where nomadic people with horses and the technology of the chariot spread into Eastern and Central Europe, Greece, India and Persia, and this is given as the reason why Indo-European languages are related. This is shown in fig. 3. It is this standard view that Out-of-India theorists hotly contest and argue the opposite claim that Indo-European languages originated in India and spread out westward as in the previous fig. 1.
new and fantastic twist has been added to the OI argument. The largest volcanic eruption since homo sapiens emerged on the planet is the Toba eruption in Sumatra 73,000 years ago which gave rise to a long volcanic winter. It may have created a ‘population bottleneck’, a sharp reduction in the size of human, animal and plant populations. Such events reduce variation in the gene pool and thereafter a smaller population, with a smaller genetic diversity to pass on genes to future generations. A fringe group of OI enthusiasts contend that the Toba eruption shrank global population to a tiny fraction of what it had been previously and that almost all non-African survivors were in India. Why India? Well your guess is as good as mine and except for the Hindutva fringe the claim is not taken seriously by anyone else. But to stay with the story, OI aficionados contend that when the last glacial period (ice-age) ended about 10,000 years ago, hey presto these survivors ventured out of Mother Bharat with Sanskrit on their tongues and bearing civilisation on their shoulders. Why they remained stuck in India for some 60,000 years before that is a point that seems to have been missed OI theorists.
A recent paper titled “The Genomic Formation of South and Central Asia” uses genetics to examine the ancestry of ancient inhabitants of the subcontinent. The paper authored by 92 scientists from around the globe inquires into the subcontinent’s history and its meaning for Indian civilisation theories. Its conclusions based on genetic evidence are interesting. The mixing of Iranian agriculturists and South Asian hunter-gatherers first created the Indus Valley population. Then around the 2nd millennium BC steppe pastoralists refereed to previously, invaded the subcontinent causing upheavals in the Indus Valley. Some of the Indus people then migrated south to mingle with ancient hunter-gatherers and father the South Indian Dravidians. The study therefore has dealt a fatal blow to the OI hypothesis, at least at the genetic level.
Nationalism, like all isms and religions, can serve useful purposes or can be harmful. When it motivates economic development and inclusive sentiments in a multi ethnic population it is beneficial. On the other hand it is often destructive in politics, motivates narrow ideologies and encourages fake science. An example of the last I dealt with under the title “Hindutva exposes its fake idolatry” in my column of 3 February. No! I have not been bitten by an anti-Indian bug, it is just coincidental that both that and my column today may be read by Hindutva nationalists as anti-Indian. But that is nonsense, I am not one bit anti-Indian.