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Where did Indians' ancient ancestors come from? Indo-Aryan debate rages on

Indo-Aryan people are an ethnolinguistic group of people that speak diverse Indo-Aryan languages

Subhashish Panigrahi | Global Voices 

Map
Map of Indo-European migrations. Image by Joshua Jonathan via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY SA 4.0

Indo-Aryan migration theory, a controversy for the ages, is fueling discussions once more in India after an article published in The Hindu newspaper highlighted the genetic evidence that the Indo-Aryan peoples came from Central and to South

Indo-Aryan peoples are an ethnolinguistic group of people that speak diverse Indo-Aryan languages and currently live predominantly in the region. The population of the modern descendants of this group is more than 1 billion, or a seventh of world's population.

There has been a long tug-of-war between those who are for and against the theory that Indo-Aryans arrived in India from outside. Among opponents of the theory in India are nationalists — who sometimes cast it as a product of designed to denigrate India — as well as some researchers.

The alternative theory proposed by opponents based on Rigveda, one of the oldest religious sculptures of Hinduism, suggests that the Aryans were indigenous to the The idea of a pure race and the social division that many scriptures recommend based on one's race has pushed the conflict even further.

Mainstream researchers tend to reject this theory on the basis of linguistic and genetic studies. Instead, they say evidence points to Indo-Aryans and Iranians originating from the Proto-Indo-Iranians. After this split during the period 1800-1600 BCE, the latter group was settled around Iran while the former migrated to Anatolia (most of modern-day Turkey), Pakistan, northern India, and The classic models attempt to explain how migrations would have happened around 1500 BCE from Central and Eastern to South and Anatolia, which possibly brought the ancestors of the peoples and their language to India.

A detailed article published on June 16 in The Hindu, titled “How Is Settling the Debate”, touches upon many other societal aspects linked to the hypothesis, such as the patriarchal social structure in India and how the language came to the along with the Aryans.

The article cites multiple instances of research carried out in different countries, both approving and disavowing the theory. One citation is of a recent piece of research done by 16 scientists that led to the publication of a peer-reviewed journal paper titled “A Genetic Chronology for the Indian Subcontinent Points to Heavily Sex-Biased Dispersals” published in the journal “BMC Evolutionary Biology”:

In particular, genetic influx from Central in the Bronze Age was strongly male-driven, consistent with the patriarchal, patrilocal and patrilineal social structure attributed to the inferred pastoralist early Indo-European society. This was part of a much wider process of Indo-European expansion, with an ultimate source in the Pontic-Caspian region, which carried closely related Y-chromosome lineages, a smaller fraction of autosomalgenome-wide variation and an even smaller fraction of mitogenomes across a vast swathe of Eurasia between 5and 3.5 ka.

Harvard Professor David Reich, who has been working for a long time on this subject favoring the Indo-Aryan migration theories, is also mentioned. In 2009, he published the paper “Reconstructing Indian Population History“, and later in 2016 in an interview highlighted the mixed races of the Indian subcontinent:

In the beginning of 2007, we started studying at the whole genome level, the whole organism level, the from initially twenty-five diverse Indian populations. It’s now more than 200 that we’ve studied. We picked these populations to be as diverse as possible, capturing the linguistic diversity of India. […]

[…] the great majority of Indian groups today are descended from a mixture of basically just two ancestral populations, one which we call the ancient ancestral North Indian and one which we call the ancestral South Indian. Everybody is mixed in India without exception. Even the most isolated groups, which are hunter-gatherers living in the forest or isolated places, everybody is mixed with at least 20 percent of each of these ancestries.

‘If the evidence has really changed, I will also change my view’

Audrey Truschke, assistant professor of at Rutgers University in the US, tweeted out the article:

Sitaram Yechury, a veteran leader of the Community Party of India, and Devdutt Pattanaik, a mythologist and writer, similarly hailed the article:

However, Anand Ranganathan, a consulting editor at the Indian news outlet Newslaundry.com, attacked the article in the Hindu:

Nityanand Jayaraman, a Facebook user, also pointed at the possibility of a close connection of north with the people of and Pakistan:

Interesting article on how Yogi Adityanath and Vishnu Bhagwat may be more closely related to their brothers in and than they care to acknowledge. And about India's multiculturalism.

Sanjeev Sanyal, a writer who earlier opposed the Aryan invasion theory, has written on Facebook that he would read the recently published papers and is ready to change his opinion if there is a changed evidence:

The genetic evidence on “Invasion” appears to have shifted to support a around 2000 BC (according to this article anyway). Have not closely followed the latest papers, will need time to read the new papers on this. If the evidence has really changed, I will also change my view. Only way to do research.

The debate on whether Indo-Aryans migrated from outside India and brought their oldest language to the region continues to rage and pave the way for more anthropological research on the people, cultures and languages of the region. There are over 780 languages across India which makes India one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world. However, of these languages, only 22 enjoy constitutional protection while over 196 languages are endangered.


This article, written by Subhashish Panigrahi, was published on Global Voices on June 21, 2017.

First Published: Fri, June 23 2017. 09:27 IST
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