(This story is being republished from The Quint's archives on the occasion of MS Golwalkar's birth anniversary. It was originally published on 14 May 2019.)
“And after all what authority is there to prove our immigrant nature? The shady testimony of Western scholars?”
MS Golwalkar, We or Our Nationhood Defined
“We will ensure the implementation of NRC in the entire country. We will remove every single infiltrator from the country, except Budha, Hindus and Sikhs.”
Amit Shah, April 2019
What do the two statements above have in common? And what do they have to do with the Aryan migration theory? Everything, as we will show.
Because now, for the first time, genetics has given something archaeology and linguistics, for no fault of theirs, could not – a sure-footed answer to Golwalkar’s question.
Also Read : How We, The Indians, Came to Be
These definitive answers have come only now, in a study titled ‘The Genomic Formation of Central and South Asia’, because only now have scientists figured out how to extract DNA from individuals who have been dead for thousands of years and sequence them.
Tony Joseph in his book Early Indians writes that not only did the Aryans migrate, they and three other earlier migrations make up the Indian population as we see it today. He uses the analogy of a pizza to explain this.
“The foundation or the ‘base’ of the pizza is the ancestry of First Indians, who came to India 65,000 years ago – these were the Out of Africa migrants, who went on to populate the rest of the world.
And the ‘sauce’, my book says, are the Harappans. The Harappan civilisation was created by a mixed population of First Indians and West Asian migrants, who reached India 9,000 years ago or a little earlier. In many ways, it’s the Harappans who are the cultural glue that holds us together.”
The ‘cheese’ are the Aryans who arrived in India between 2000 BCE and 1000 BCE, that is about 4,000 or 3,000 years ago, from the Central Asian Steppe region, the areas that would be known as Kazakhstan. They were more prominent in north India than in south India. But they did spread across the Indian subcontinent in various proportions.”
“The ‘toppings’ are other migrations that brought other components of Indian civilisation.”
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“The origin of our people, the date from which we have been living here as a civilised entity, is unknown to the scholars of history. In a way, we are ‘anadi’, without a beginning,” writes MS Golwalkar, a man RSS workers reverentially call Guruji, in Bunch of Thoughts, the book closest to being the Bible for the Sangh Parivar.
The western concept of territorial nationalism, which is the idea that all inhabitants of the country share a national identity irrespective of their differences, has “emasculated the nation”, Golwalkar writes. He has a more colourful analogy than the pizza one above to describe it.
“It is like attempting to create a novel animal by joining the head of a monkey and the legs of a bullock to the main body of an elephant! It can only result in a hideous corpse,” he writes.
He uses another animal analogy to drive home the point.
A lioness adopts a baby jackal and raises it as her own with her cubs. One day, the siblings venture out and see an elephant. While the lion cubs get ready to fight, the jackal is scared and runs back to his mother.
"No doubt, you have grown here on my milk. But you cannot help your nature," the lioness tells the jackal.
So what is to be done with the jackals – read Muslims and Christians? Golwalkar is a lot more unrestrained his earlier work, written in 1939, called We or Our Nationhood Defined. So unrestrained, in fact, that the RSS has officially distanced itself from the book, partly because he writes that Germany’s genocide of Jews “a good lesson for us in Hindusthan to learn and profit by”.
In the short volume, written after he was chosen to head the RSS, Golwalkar writes:
“... the foreign races Hindusthan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e., of the Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment – not even citizen's rights.”
VD Savarkar, in another foundational text of the RSS, defines a Hindu as someone for whom India is their pitrubhumi (ancestral land) band his punyabhumi (land of his religion).
“This definition contains factors of inclusion as well as exclusion,” writes Michael Witzel, a Harvard academic. “Non-Hindus, such as Muslims (and Christians), cannot be proper Indians unless they are “Hindu Muslims,” that is, Hindu by culture and Muslim by religion. Conversely, all Indian non-Christians and non-Muslims are automatically counted as Hindus, even the aboriginal tribal populations.”
Amit Shah’s comment on the NRC at the beginning of this article is particularly illustrative and now can be put in its proper context.
Shah has this time expanded the definition of “infiltrators” from Bangladeshi immigrants to conceivably every Muslim and Christian in the country. “Budha, Hindus, and Sikhs,” can, however, stay. In other words, it has factors of inclusion and exclusion, as defined by Witzel.
It is easy to see how the ideological thread remains un-severed from Golwalkar and Savarkar to the present-day leadership of the BJP.
It is even easier to see how the edifice crumbles in the light of scientific truth.
The idea that a nation must have one culture, one language, one race and one religion is hardly original to the Sangh Parivar. In the 1920s and ’30s, while the Hindutva ideology was taking shape in India, a similar power was rising in the West.
‘Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer’ was the rallying cry of the Nazis. The Race Spirit, which Golwalkar invokes multiple times and according to him will awaken and subjugate the “foreign races”, is equivalent to the German Volksgeist, as Christophe Jaffrelot argues.
Genetics, however, teaches us that there are no pure races. Even those who think of themselves as Aryan carry more than 50% of their DNA from the Out-of-Africa First Indians. There is no master race or sons of the soil. No one among us belongs to a “foreign race”. We are all migrants.
However, if we were to follow the Sangh’s logic, who among us has a better claim to the ownership of the land than the rest?
“Ideally it should be a tribal woman because she is most likely to be carrying the deepest-rooted and widest spread mtDNA lineage in India today, M2. In a genetic sense, she would represent all of our history, with very little left out.”
When the Aryan “invasion” theory was first propounded by Orientalist Europeans such as Max Mueller, India’s upper caste nationalist elite were quick to embrace it.
The idea that the Europeans and the upper castes have a common ancestry “provided legitimacy to the colonial rule,” writes Braj Ranjan Mani in Debrahmanising History. It also gave a “notion of social superiority of the Hindu elite” which “legitimised the brahman and allied castes as natural leaders of Indian society”.
He complains that a “general belief seems to prevail in the Colony that the Indians are little better, if at all, than savages or the Natives of Africa.”
The Hindu revivalists were also initially warm to the idea. The vanguard of the Hindu conservative movement started by Dayanand Saraswati was tellingly called the Arya Samaj. Saraswati’s disciple Swami Vivekananda considered Max Mueller “the modern avatar of Sayana”.
However, much had changed by 1939, when Golwalkar wrote We or Our Nationhood Defined. A kinship with the Britishers was no longer desirable.
This U-turn, however, left Golwalkar with the task of having to deal with his role model Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s assertion in 1898 that the Aryans had come from the North Pole.
This he does, rather hilariously. Golwalkar says it was not the Aryans who came from the North Pole, it was the North Pole that left the Aryans.
The Arctic Home in the Vedas was verily in Hindusthan itself and that it was not the Hindus who migrated to that land but the Arctic Zone which emigrated and left the Hindus in Hindusthan.
The foundation laid by Savarkar and Golwalkar was in due course of time, expanded into the Indigenous Aryan Theory (IAT) and the Out of India (OoI) theory by a cottage industry of Hindutva-friendly historians and ideologues.
That the theory gave legitimacy to Hindutva’s politics of exclusion is not a coincidence. And it remains the RSS’ stated position on the subject.
If, as the OoI theory claims, the inhabitants of India (who were Vedic Aryans, of course), spread their culture and Indo-European languages to West Asia and Europe, it stands to reason that they would also have taken their genes with them.
According to genetic studies, none of the population groups in West Asia or Europe had ancestry from the First Indians, except one. The Roma, earlier called the Gypsies, a small nomadic people heavily discriminated against, do carry genes from the First Indians. “This is the exception that proves the rule,” writes Joseph.
That should be that for IAT then, although the theorists are unlikely to concede defeat.
The Crowning Glory of India
In the 1920s, excavations along the Indus valley unearthed the Harappan civilisation. It was soon clear that it was a wonder unmatched by any contemporary civilisation.
It was quite clearly the crowning glory of Indian civilisation.
Soon began efforts to co-opt them into the Aryan scheme of things. It was claimed, as quite naturally follows from the idea that Aryans are indigenous, that the Harappans were Vedic Aryans.
There is strong archeological evidence to refute this, the most striking being the near-absence of the horse and the chariot in the Harappan civilisation and the centrality of the same in the Vedic culture.
“In the language of genetics,” Tony Joseph writes, “the Harappans contributed to the formation of the Ancestral South Indians by moving south and mixing with the First Indians of peninsular India and also to the formation of the Ancestral North Indians by mixing with the incoming ‘Aryans’.”
After the Harappan civilisation declined, India “had to wait for more than a millennium for its ‘second urbanisation’ that began after 500 BCE”. The incoming Aryans, coming as they were from the grasslands of the Steppe where they were herders, had a mobile lifestyle and a distaste for urban settlements.
After the collapse of their civilisation, the Harappan elite migrated to the south. There they found a “more congenial atmosphere for their language and culture partly because the ‘Aryans’ had not yet reached peninsular India,” writes Joseph.
Therefore, if anyone can claim the legacy of the Harappan civilisation, it is the Dravidians who speak languages born out of the Harappan tongue (which we know thanks to remarkable linguistic evidence outside the scope of this article) and carries a higher percentage of Harappan ancestry.
However, it is important to note that the elements of Harappan culture merged with that of the Vedic Aryans and other strands of our multi-source civilisation to produce many of our current practices. Harappans are the glue of our civilisation, writes Tony Joseph. They are the sauce of the Pizza Nation.