It is now more than a century since the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) made its way into history books and encyclopedias the world over, as the basis for the history of ancient India and the source of the Vedic civilization. Though linguistic in origin, the climate in which it evolved?dominated by British colonialism and German nationalism?ensured that it soon acquired a political and even biological form, giving rise to such notions as the Aryan race and the Aryan nation. Government departments in British India like the Anthropological Survey mixed up physical appearance and character traits and made it a tool of divide and rule.
Because of its European origin and orientation, there were attempts to shift the origin of the Vedic Civilization and its language to sources in lands closer to Europe. This gave rise to an academic discipline called Indo-European Studies, devoted to exploring the origin of Europeans, their language and culture. A major result of this approach has been to make India and its culture including the Vedas to be of non-Indian origin. The Aryan invasion (or migration) has been the lynchpin of this discipline.
While the defeat of Nazi Germany and end of European colonialism put an end to the political needs of these theories, they have survived in Western academia because of the heavy investment that scholars have made in Indo-European studies. Recent findings in science, particularly in population genetics have delivered a mortal blow to the Aryan Invasion Theory. This has led its proponents to resort to propaganda and political lobbying to save it by overturning scientific and historical facts.
This campaigning, like during the recent controversy over the revision of California schools curriculum, is only the latest manifestation of the kind of struggle that is waged whenever new discoveries overthrow old ideas. The most famous of these took place in the time of Galileo. In the end, the supporters of Indo-European studies are no more likely to succeed than Galileo'sopponents, who too had the support of powerful political and religious interests. Ultimately, it is truth not personalities that will prevail though the battle for truth is likely to be prolonged. It is best to take a long-term view and prepare the ground for a new generation of researchers.
Background: a myth that refuses to die
When judged by evidence and logic, the various Aryan theories, especially the Aryan invasion theory (AIT) must be regarded one of the weakest intellectual exercises in recent history?an intellectual failure of the first magnitude. But if longevity and capacity for survival are measures of success, then the Aryan myth?it is hardly a theory?must be counted among the most successful. A product of speculations in comparative linguistics, influenced by German nationalism and British imperialism, it has continued its influence in academia and beyond for well over a century. Even today, when the whole foundation has collapsed, it has not lost its capacity to influence events, of which the recent controversy over proposed changes in what is taught in California schools is only the latest example.
How are we to explain this and what needs to be done to ensure that such a pathological situation does not persist indefinitely into the future? These are weighty questions that have to be addressed at several levels? factual, educational and political. They clearly lie beyond the scope of a single article like the present one. So what is done here is to place it in perspective by looking at the present debate and the turmoil that it has created as a natural human reaction whenever there is a fundamental shift in world-view, as happened in the time of Galileo. We begin by looking at the latest scientific and historical facts pertaining to the Aryan myth.
(To be concluded)