On June 24, 2006, The Hindu reported that the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) has appealed to the Vice Chancellor of Bangalore University to encourage research through genetics on the subject of Aryan Invasion theory, after Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) tests of blood samples from people in the Indian subcontinent confirmed that the people in North and South India as belonging to one gene pool, and not different ethnic groups such as Aryans and Dravidians; and the human race had its origins in Africa and not Europe or Central Asia as claimed by a few historians. The ICHR Chairman, D.N. Tripathy claimed, ?The conclusion of some historians that Aryans came here 15,000 years before Christ does not hold water.? This might be one of the first genetics based study, but among academicians and scholars, the debate on Aryan invasion has been going on for the last six decades based on archaeological facts, evidences, myths and conjectures as well as based on linguistic studies equating Aryan race with Aryan language.
According to conventional ?Aryan Invasion Theory? Aryan migrated to South Asia, or to put in historical analysis, invaded South Asia. Among other evidences, the most prominent one supporting the theory is the close relationship of Sanskrit to languages widely spoken in Iran and Europe.
While for academicians and researchers, the issue may be merely of scoring points over one another, the theory has always been subject to political interpretation. The theory has widely been used to unite as well as to divide people. As early as in 1935, Winston Churchill used Aryan invasion to justify the British conquest in the following words, ?We have as much right to be in India as anyone there, except perhaps for the Depressed Classes, who are the native stock.? The terms such as dalits and panchamas (for subdued lower castes), adivasis (aboriginals), dasas (Dravidians) owe their existence to this theory, and these are the terms that have become very prominent in political vocabulary for mobilising people for political agenda.
It is in this context that the book, under review, is very significant. The author, Koenraad Elst, is among the researchers, who have been contributing to the discourse for the last two decades, arguing that ?the theory of an Aryan invasion of India has not been proven by prevalent standards and that all relevant facts can just as well be explained with alternative models?.
The book has seven chapters. The first two are book reviews of two interesting books by J. Bronkhorst and M.M.Deshpande, and Rajesh Kochhar respectively. Chapters three, four, five and seven are reproduction of papers/articles already published by the author in other journals/newspapers. The chapter six collates a series of response by the author to academic attacks by Prof. Michael Witzel on the Aryan invasion theory.
The Chapter one is aimed at taking the AIT theorists head on. It takes into consideration all the pro-invasion arguments and attempts a critique on them. The interesting part of the chapter is the distinction between invasion and immigration, in respect of Aryans, racist interpretation of Aryan invasion and the horse evidence. The author cites later excavation by archaeologists that prove the presence of ?horse?like figures/images in Harappan sites. The author fairly succeeds in providing counterpoints to each of the evidences given in support of Aryan invasion theory. Incidentally, the review was excellent enough to enthuse the readers to read the original book by Bronkhorst et al. Similarly, the second chapter is also an excellent critique through a book review of pro-AIT book by astro-phycist Prof Rajesh Kochhar. This chapter will not be understood unless the original chapter is read. The author has taken the arguments head-on.
Most of the readers who come under the definition of Amartya Sen's?argumentative Indian? will look forward to read the chapter three. It is the most interesting of all for it explores the real implication of the Aryan invasion debate. The article provides how the Aryan invasion debate has influenced the political movements such as Dravidian movement, Dalit neo Ambedkarism, Tribal separatism, Christian Mission, Indian Islam, Indo Anglian snobbery, Indian Marxism and Hindu Nationalism.
In respect of chapter four on the Harappan Script Controversy, I must admit, the author has taken a lot of pains and efforts not only to bring together multiple evidences and viewpoints on deciphering Indus scripts. It details all the hypotheses that link Indus scripts to Dravidian language, the Munda script, the Easter island connection, and also the hypothesis of the illiterate Harappans.
Nevertheless, the book will be a useful document for many students and scholars conducting work on this issue; and also for the common people who despite being silent participant in the discourse, and who despite having ?conditioned? opinion on the issue do not have time and opportunity to look into diverse resources available on the issue.
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