1. Political aspects of the Aryan invasion debate


Prof. Edmund Leach, Provost of King’s College, Cambridge, has aptly written: “Why do serious scholars persist in believing in the Aryan invasions? (…) Why is this sort of thing attractive?  Who finds it attractive?  Why has the development of early Sanskrit come to be so dogmatically associated with an Aryan invasion? (…) The details of this theory fit in with this racist framework (…) The origin myth of British colonial imperialism helped the elite administrators in the Indian Civil Service to see themselves as bringing ‘pure’ civilization to a country in which civilization of the most sophisticated (but ‘morally corrupt’) kind was already nearly 6,000 years old.  Here I will only remark that the hold of this myth on the British middle-class imagination is so strong that even today, 44 years after the death of Hitler and 43 years after the creation of an independent India and independent Pakistan the Aryan invasions of the second millennium BC are still treated as if they were an established fact of history”.145

Today, the unquestioning belief in the Aryan invasion is giving way to a debate.  However, many bonafide scholars hesitate to participate in that debate because they correctly sense that all kinds of political strings are attached to the different positions.  The present paper has mapped a few of these political influences.

The debate on the Aryan Invasion Theory is not logically affected by the political motives of its participants, though these motives are sometimes palpable through the rhetoric used.  Mapping these motives as a matter of history of ideas (and not as a way to decide the AIT question itself by means of political association) allows us to point out the following: on the pro-AIT side, justification of European colonialism, illustration of the racist worldview, delegitimation of Hinduism as India’s native religion by missionaries of foreign religions, Indian Marxist attempts to delegitimize Indian nationalism, and several separatisms in India seeking to bolster the case against Indian unity; and on the anti-AIT side, Indian nationalism seeking to make India’s civilisational unity more robust, and to score a point against the aforementioned “anti-national forces”.


    145E. Leach in E. Ohnuki-Tierney, ed.: Culture through Time, Anthropological Approaches, Stanford 1990, p.242-243, quoted by Dilip K. Chakrabarti in his review of Asko Parpola: Deciphering the Indus Script, Cambridge University Press 1994, in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, November 1995, p.428-430. Leach was among the first to recognize that the word rice, from Tamil-derived Greek oryza, ultimately stems from Sanskrit vrihi, and not some other way around.  The etymology of vrihi as allegedly Dravidian was always a showpiece of the Dravidian substratum theory, hence of the AIT.

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