We, the people of India, are all Africans, Harappans, Steppe Asians and more
While BJP trumpets Hindu nationalism in its election campaign, the question, ‘Who are we?’ has been answered brilliantly by Tony Joseph in a new book, Early Indians: The Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From. Elucidating new genetic studies that have revolutionised our ability to trace ancestry, Joseph shows that all races across the world originated in Africa. We are all Africans of a sort, some of whom entered India directly, and some indirectly.
India is not a country of original Aryan Hindus invaded by Muslims, as portrayed by some RSS historians. Primitive ape-like proto-humans lived in India over 100,000 years ago. But the land’s first Homo sapiens came from Africa 65,000 years ago, and spread gradually. The proto-humans lost ground and eventually became extinct.
From Tourist to Immigrant
Another out-of-Africa branch that had settled in the Zagros Mountains of Iran entered India 7,000 years ago. It brought agricultural techniques that helped create the great Harappan civilisation. This developed major cities, the Indus Valley script and Dravidian languages.
The Harappan civilisation stretched across 1 million sq km, one-third the size of modern India. It was far larger in population and area than the more famous ancient civilisations of Egypt or Mesopotamia. We Indians should be boasting about this as our greatest, most globally dominant era. Alas, we have been unable to translate the Indus Valley script, and so lack detailed knowledge of those times.
Droughts and earthquakes changed the course of the Saraswati river on which many Harappan cities had been established. This ultimately ended the Harappan civilisation.
Waves of new migrants from the Central Asian steppes arrived between 2000 BC and 1000 BC. They called themselves Aryans. They were a mix of several out-of-Africa groups that had once resided in Mongolia and Europe. They brought early versions of Sanskrit and Vedic beliefs, and mixed intensively with the existing people of north India to produce the Ancient North Indians. They mixed much less with those in the south. Yet, all these groups originated in the out-of-Africa migration, and so were distant cousins.
Later immigrants included Tibetan-Burmese and Austro-Asiatic groups from the east. Much later came a succession of immigrants through the Khyber Pass: Greeks, Huns, Sakas, Uzbeks (later called ‘Mughals’) and finally Europeans. Joseph compares India with a pizza having original Africans as its base, a sauce from Iran that helped create Harappans, and toppings from the Asian steppes and other parts of the world.
All Hindu castes, dalits and tribals have a mix of original African, Harappan and Steppe genes. Caste is a recent social invention, reflected in sharply reduced inter-marriage and genetic mixing after 100 AD. This happened thousands of years after the initial Aryan immigration.
A Pigment of Imagination
These findings will dismay traditional Hindus who believe that Aryans originated in India and spread later into Central Asia and Europe, taking with them Sanskrit, which developed into other Indo-European languages. Many people, all the way from Germany to Iran, call themselves Aryan. Amazingly, despite having blond hair, blue eyes and white skins, they too are descended from the earliest Africans. Colour, language and rituals are no indication of ancestry, only genes are.
A hundred years ago, using linguistic and archeological evidence, European historians like Max Müller theorised that the Aryans came from Europe and Central Asia into India. That thesis seemed falsified by the new genetic studies 15 years ago, based essentially on female genes. These suggested that the early Africans may have developed into Aryans in India, who then migrated to the steppes and Europe. The RSS was thrilled that science suddenly seemed to vindicate their belief that Aryans originated in India.
However, that theory has now been torpedoed by the latest genetic research, which takes into account male genes too. This research vindicates Max Müller’s theory. The biggest-ever genetic study was done by 92 scientists from all over the world, overseen by David Reich, Kumarasamy Thangaraj and others. This was published as recently as March 2018, titled ‘The Genomic Formation of South and Central Asia’ (bit.do/eQmhF).
The research looked at DNA extracted from the remains of 612 ancient skeletons, from sites ranging from Central Asia to Iran and the Indian subcontinent. These samples were compared with the DNA of 246 genetic groups in modern South Asia. This was the biggest, most authoritative genetic study ever.
It showed conclusively that the only Aryans that ever migrated from India to Europe were the gypsies, or Roma. All other Aryan streams came in the other direction, from the steppes into India. Those steppe streams were mixtures of out-of-Africa groups settled in Mongolia and Europe. These intermingled for centuries, and then migrated to India.
India is a country of unrivalled diversity, with 22 official languages and thousands of dialects, plus a multitude of ethnic and religious groups. Such a country should, in any case, be celebrating its diversity rather than narrow majoritarianism. Genetic evidence now shows that Hindu majoritarianism is as mistaken on scientific as moral grounds.
Our genes show we are all African, Harappan and Steppe Asian in differentdoses. That is what makes us Indians, not an imaginary Aryan exclusivity.