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Saturday, 29 July 2017

Aryan Migration – From Academics to Politics: An Unfortunate Journey

Krishnendu Das
(Research Scholar, Department of Archaeology, University of Calcutta) 

In his 1947 article “Harappa 1946 : The Defences and Cemetery R -37” British archaeologist Robert Eric Mortimer Wheeler declared that “ The Aryan invasion of the Land of Seven Rivers, the Punjab and its environs, constantly assumes the form of an onslaught upon the walled cities of the aborigines
….On circumstantial evidence, Indra stands accused''. 1 And it was for the first time a linguistic theory found its backbone in archaeology. The theory of a common ancestor of the north Indian languages and the languages spoken in Europe was taking its shape when in the 18 th century Sir William Jones discovered striking similarities between Sanskrit and the European languages. This simple observation gave birth to a theory that some Aryan speaking people invaded the Indian subcontinent around 1500 BC and demolished the Harappan  people and its civilization. But archaeological evidence was still wanting until Sir Robert issued his aforementioned fatwa.
He found a scatter of some 37 unburied skeletons from Mohenjodaro which led him to speculate a slaughter by the Aryan god Indra. In no time, the theory found wide acceptance in the scholarly world. But the situation took a new turn when archaeologist G.F. Dales of the University of Pennsylvania published his ground-breaking findings titled The Mythical  Massacre at Mohenjo-daro in Expedition magazine in 1964
Dales, who would later become one of the co-directors of Harappa Archaeological Research Project, showed that these skeletons belong to different stratigraphical levels and were not recovered from the uppermost level of the site. This evidence goes against the Aryan invasion theory because if there were any kind of massacre by some intruders they should have belonged to the uppermost level or the final phase of Mohenjodaro, which was definitely not the case. Moreover some of the skeletons  bore cut-marks which had been healed and it amply proved that the injuries had got nothing to do with their death. And except Mohenjodaro, no such evidence was found from any other site of the Harappan civilization which would establish Sir Robert’s arguments

When the Aryan invasion theory lost its validity, the Aryan migration theory gradually started taking its place. A group of scholars still assume that after the decline of the great Harappan civilization, a group of Indo-Aryan speaking people migrated from central Asia and entered the Indian subcontinent in several waves.2 3 4 The theory says that these Indo-Aryan people pushed Dravidian speaking Harappans towards south India. And the entire north, west and eastern spans of the Indian peninsula were gradually Aryanised within a few centuries. This age-old theory was also based solely on the linguistic assumptions and not properly evidenced by the archaeological parameters. Just like the Aryan invasion theory, the Aryan migration theory also faced stiff challenges since its inception by scholars from as diverse fields as archaeology, anthropology, geology, genetics, linguistics and so on. Recent studies in the above mentioned fields have decidedly showed the utter inharmonious nature of this theory. But the biased minds seem not to care about that. To make things worse, the battle between the invasionist/migrationist and the non-invasionist/migrationist scholars gradually took a shape and form of a  political duel. While Marxist scholars started vouching for the migration theory, the scholars belonging to the nationalist school are upholding an altogether antithetical theory. And a sheer academic debate lost its identity and dignity in the noose of different political agendas. We know that only archaeological evidence can securely unfurl the petals of the remote pasts. Because archaeology gives out the ground reality of the ancient ages from the core of the ground. That is why our history should be written according to the archaeological findings. But in the case of the Aryan migration theory, the whole process that followed was just set upside down. After the proposition of the theory, some illustrious scholars attempted to fit the new archaeological findings in consonants to the Aryan migration theory. To be true, there is nothing in Indian archaeology around 1500BC time period that displays the evidence of any kind of mass migration or several waves of population movement towards South Asia from outside. It was the time when the Harappan civilization was tilting towards its de-urbanised phase. The population movement, which is archaeologically attested during this time period, was from the north-west Indian Harappan territory to the inner India. If the Harappans were Dravidian-speaking people and they were pushed to the modern day south Indian region by the intruding Aryans, one should expect some late Harappan sites in the said region. But the archaeological reality says otherwise as there is no Harappan site beyond Daimabad, which is a late Harappan site of Maharashtra. And this archaeo-reality flings the migrationist scholars to a point of absolute uncertainty.

However, the argument is not enough to combat the enthusiasm of the migrationists. They stick to some old arguments and perhaps intentionally try to give the whole issue a political overtone.
I used the word “intentionally”, because the recent archaeological findings point towards a continuous development and transformation of the Indian civilization and not any kind of invasion/migration. But there is a more specific reason for using this term that warrants some elaboration. It is widely accepted in the scholarly world that the use of the horse was not known to the Harappans and that the horse was introduced in the Indian subcontinent by the invading/migrating Aryan folks. In their 2000 book The  Deciphered Indus Script , Natawar Jha and N. S. Rajaram claimed that they had discovered a lone broken seal with the depiction of a horse from the plethora of the Harappan seals and sealings. But after a close scrutiny it is translucently clear that it was the computer of the claimants which pieced a horse head together with a hind part of a Harappan seal animal. This incident offered a golden opportunity to the migrationist scholars to portray every horse evidence from the Harappan sites as a mere assiduous nationalist or Hindutva endeavour. But in reality, true horse bones were recovered from several Harappan sites belonging to the mature Harappan levels which were securely dated between 2700 BC to the 2000 BC and which had nothing to do with the so called migrations of some fictitious Aryan tribes. Every evidence of horse that was unearthed from a Harappan site dated  before 2000 BC was doubted and the competency of the scholars who identified them were also questioned. A significant incident can be cited in this connection. In a 1974 article 5, A.K. Sharma, an expert in faunal studies, identified the remains of true domesticated horse from the mature Harappan level of Surkotada, a  prominent Harappan site of Gujarat. But Sharma’s claim lacked widespread acceptance as migrationist scholars stamped the specimens as onager or wild ass. After some 20 years, a renowned archaeologist and horse specialist of Hungarian origin, Sandor Bökönyi, came to India and confirmed Sharma’s identification after examining the said specimens.6 The aggrieved Sharma then reacted: “This was the saddest day for me as the thought flashed in my mind that my findings had to wait two decades for recognition, until a man from another continent came, examined the material and declared that ‘Sharma was right’. When will we imbibe intellectual courage not to look across borders for approval? The historians are still worse, they feel it is an attempt on the part of the ‘rightists’ to  prove that the Aryans did not come to India from outside her boundaries.”7

 However, the unrelenting controversy does not end here. Richard Meadow of Harvard University and Ajita Patel were still in very much doubt about the identification, though they failed to convince the Hungarian master Bökönyi.8And for historians and archaeologists in our subcontinent, crying a political conspiracy is perhaps the easiest thing to do when the fault lines of one’s theory get exposed. Even Amartya Sen argued in The Argumentative Indian  citing the example of the attempt of Jha and Rajaram that if a textbook of history displayed the evidence of horse in the Harappan civilization, then it was nothing but a  process of saffronisation. However, one may perhaps expect a scholar of Sen’s stature to be more focused in academic discussions, rather than taking political sides. In reality, scholars having different political inclinations try to interpret a fact in a way that suits their respective political agendas. That’s why migrationist scholars refuse to understand a simple archaeological fact that horse evidences were also very meagre up to the early historical times as in the Harappan civilization sites. And if the remains of the horse had anything to do with the so called Aryan migration, it should have increased immediately after the said incident which is not the case. The other arguments about the Aryan migration were also treated somewhat in an identical manner. Here what is really regrettable is that a purely academic debate was pulled down to a dirty game of politics. We should be more open-minded to accept the archaeological evidences, in whatever form they  present themselves before us. Even today, we don’t know for sure the true nature of the language that was used by the Harappans. It may be the so called Indo-Aryan or Dravidian or an altogether different one, but we have to find the solution in a purely unbiased academic way and not with any kind of preconceived notion. The need of the hour is to safeguard academics from the vicious political interest which tends to take unfair advantage of it and attempt to provoke people in one way or the other. Recent archaeological and anthropological studies point towards a conclusion that there was no incident of any kind of mass migration or a continuous wave of migrations into the Indian subcontinent during the time  period of 2000 to 1500 BC. But we should remember that this theory does not establish the claim of a group of people to be more Indian because of their indigenousness. The criteria of being Indian have been clearly laid down in its constitution. Anyone fulfilling those criteria are Indian and enjoy the rights  provided by it. Our history has no doubt shaped our present, but our present should not be coloured by what happened in the remote past. That is a pure academic concern. Let academics speak for itself.


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