Genetic proof for the AIT? Look again – Koenraad Elst

David Reich

Koenraad ElstThe message to take home for now is that even Dr David Reich, celebrated by India’s Aryan Invasion champions, … locates the Homeland outside Europe and helps to disprove the really existing invasionist Homeland theory, viz. with the Pontic steppes as Homeland. – Dr Koenraad Elst

Authorities on science and the scientific temper very wisely teach students never to use Wikipedia as a source: it is often amateurish and incomplete, and on any controversial subject (not just politics) it is invariably partisan, with one of the contending parties having captured the “encyclopedia” entry and preventing  the other parties from entering corrections or their own versions. And yet, it is while browsing through a reference that turned out to lead to a Wikipedia page, that I found the following quotation by Harvard geneticist David Reich that had escaped my notice during the whole hullabaloo triggered by India’s anti-Hindu crowd that finally, “genetics has proven the Aryan Invasion Theory”. Here goes:

Ancient DNA available from this time in Anatolia shows no evidence of steppe ancestry similar to that in the Yamnaya (although the evidence here is circumstantial as no ancient DNA from the Hittites themselves has yet been published). This suggests to me that the most likely location of the population that first spoke an Indo-European language was south of the Caucasus Mountains, perhaps in present-day Iran or Armenia, because ancient DNA from people who lived there matches what we would expect for a source population both for the Yamnaya and for ancient Anatolians. If this scenario is right the population sent one branch up into the steppe—mixing with steppe hunter-gatherers in a one-to-one ratio to become the Yamnaya as described earlier—and another to Anatolia to found the ancestors of people there who spoke languages such as Hittite. – Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past by David Reich. Pantheon, New York, 2018.

His putative Proto-Indo-European Homeland lies neither in the Yamna area of the Pontic steppes, the great favourite, nor in Anatolia, the little favourite, but in a third region, tentatively indicated as “Iran or Armenia”, south of the Caspian Sea. That region equally lies outside India and therefore necessitates an immigration or invasion into India in order to explain the presence of a branch of Indo-European there. That is all that interested the anti-Hindu section in India: in order to spite the Hindus, it wants to be able to say to them that they are invaders. The implication would be that they can be divided into “aboriginal” and “invader” communities, and that they have no right to chide the Muslims or the Christian missionaries for having entered India as invaders.

But us scholars, we know that the hypothetical Aryan Invasion was not some generic invasion from just anywhere as long as it wasn’t India. No, it had a specific Homeland, and a lot of effort has already gone into elaborating the archaeology and genetics of the Pontic area in order to correlate these with a linguistic scenario, viz. the disintegration of the ancestral Proto-Indo-European language into its several branches, from Celtic and Germanic to Tocharian and Indo-Aryan.

Now, what Reich says here, is that the Pontic area was not the Homeland. He adds the detail that at least the arrival of the Anatolian branch of Indo-European into Anatolia does not correspond to a gene flow from the Pontic area. So, exit the Pontic area as a candidate for Homeland status? I already thought so for several other reasons, starting with the common-sense observation that this thinly populated region does not support the kind of demographic heavyweight to displace or radically transform the demographic powerhouse of the Harappan civilization. To conquer and transform Europe was possible, especially if you kill off much of the male population, as indicated by the genetic record for the -3rd millennium. There is plenty of evidence tracing the population and culture of Europe back to the Pontic area, so to that it was a Homeland,– but only a secondary Homeland. As one of the leading Indo-Europeanists, Paul Heggarty from Leipzig University, said at the German Orientalist conference of 2017: the Pontic Yamna (“pit-grave”) culture came too late to be the ultimate Homeland. It was a secondary Homeland, itself already a settlement area for immigrants from elsewhere.

According to the Out-of-India Theory, that ultimate primary Homeland was North India. Reich, who isn’t too sure of his case, sees it in Armenia (already proposed as a Homeland by Thomas Gamkrelidze & Vyacheslav Ivanov) or Iran. That discussion of where exactly can be left for another occasion. The message to take home for now is that even David Reich, celebrated by India’s Aryan Invasion champions, as also by New-Rightist Euro-Nationalists, locates the Homeland outside Europe and helps to disprove the really existing invasionist Homeland theory, viz. with the Pontic steppes as Homeland. – Koenraad Elst Blog, 15 June 2019

» Dr Koenraad Elst is Visiting Professor, Indo-European Studies, Indus University, Ahmedabad, and Chairman, Ram Swarup & Sita Ram Goel Memorial Fund.

Africa to India, India to Europe migration map



Book Review: Why Koenraad Elst is important for Hindutva – Aravindan Neelakandan

Koenraad Elst

Aravindan NeelakandanStill No Trace of an Aryan Invasion: A Collection on Indo-European Origins by Dr Koenraad Elst. Aryan Books International. 465 pages. Rs 750.

Belgian Indologist Dr Koenraad Elst is a dangerous scholar. With a cruel pleasure the establishment media and mediocre scholars bracket him with crackpots like P.N. Oak and zealots like N.S. Rajaram. Interestingly, both the establishment Hindutva side (as far as that exists) as well as the newly emerging “Internet” Hindutva types are not exactly comfortable with him. Nevertheless, when the dust settles, his books will stand as invaluable testimony and source to express the Hindutva side of things in the most honest manner possible. Blunt but honest.

His latest book Still No Trace of an Aryan Invasion ( Aryan Books International, 2018) is a significant addition to the Aryan invasion/migration (AIT/AMT) and out-of-India theory (OIT) debates. There are 30 essays in this collection. These include in-depth analyses of issues related to caste, ethnicity and race, and book reviews, and rejoinders.

Manu as a weapon against egalitarianism

The first essay, “Manu as a weapon against egalitarianism” (50 pages), should be made an essential read for all Hindutvavadis who want to defend Dharma and more importantly understand it in the present context. Manu Smriti, Elst points out is not a caste manifesto as our Leftists tend to think. Its scope is vast and it is also self-contradictory. An important aspect that Elst highlights is the fact that Manu tried to explain the castes engaged in “defiled” trades as a consequence of the mixing of varnas.

A Chandala was to Manu the result of a servant father and a Brahmin mother. Elst points out that here Manu gives in to a typically intellectual “tendency of subjugating reality to neat little models, in this case also with a moralistic dimension” because Elst states that the children of mixed caste marriages even then did not form new castes but were accepted into one of the two parental castes. Here, Manu was simply expressing his own contempt against mixing of the varnas.

Nietzsche did not borrow his racism or antisemitism from Manu, points out Elst. On the other hand he simply reinforced his own prejudices that had their roots in contemporary Europe through his faulty reading of Manu. The term Chandala becomes important for Nietzsche. But,

In a far-fetched departure from Manu’s use of the term, he relates the concept of Chandala to the psycho-sociological origin of the Jewish national character and thence to the psychology of resentment allegedly underlying Christianity. – Still No Trace Of An Aryan Invasion (pp. 49)

At the same time “Manu’s strict opposition to caste-mixing tallied with Nietzsche’s aristocratism” which in turn “was also susceptible to co-optation into the then-emerging racialist reading of human reality as well as of Nietzsche’s own work”.

How the book got its title: Cameron Petrie’s lecture in 2011

In 2011, Elst attends a lecture by Cambridge archaeologist Cameron Petrie on Harappan archaeology. The archaeologist begins with a slide showing the map of Ghaggar river (considered as Vedic Saraswati), the same one that Michael Danino had shown in his book on Saraswati. But there is a disturbing difference. While the map used by Danino showed quite a concentration of Harappan sites, “Petrie’s map shows a paucity of sites in the same region”.

Elst gets troubled seeing the slide. Fortunately “the very next item in his talk reversed this impression” showing “hundreds of as yet unexcavated Harappan sites” in the very Ghaggar river area. Elst concludes this essay with what could be the most straightforward question to Cameron Petrie: “as a field archaeologist fresh from the recent most excavation” if he had “ever come across actual pieces of evidence for an Aryan invasion.” His response and Elst’s subsequent surmise provide the title for this book.

He smiled and agreed that he too had no such sensational discovery to announce. So: as of 2011, after many decades of being the official and much-funded hypothesis, the Aryan Invasion Theory has still not been confirmed by even a single piece of archaeological evidence. – Still No Trace Of An Aryan Invasion (pp. 62)

The Buddha and Caste

The essay, “The Buddha and Caste” explodes many myths propagated about Buddha and Buddhism. Buddhism was not an egalitarian people’s movement against the “oppressive” Vedic system as it is portrayed today mainly by Ambedkarites and almost uncritically accepted by many. On the other hand, Elst points out the following:

More than 80% of the hundreds of men he recruited, were from the upper castes. More than 40% were Brahmins. … The successor-Buddha prophesied for the future, the Maitreya, is to be born in a Brahman family, according to the Buddha himself. – Still No Trace Of An Aryan Invasion (pp. 74-5)

When Hindus point out that they venerate Buddha as one of the Avatars of Vishnu, the anti-Hindu argument is that it was the typical “Brahminical” strategy of assimilation. But Elst points out that this identification was actually started by Buddha himself or came originally from the Buddhist sources.

Buddhist scripture makes much of the Buddha’s noble birth in the Solar lineage, as a relative of Rama. The Buddha himself claimed to be a reincarnation of Rama, in the Buddhist retelling of the Ramayana in the Jatakas. He also likened himself to the mightily-striding Vishnu. Later Hindus see both Rama and the Buddha as incarnations of Vishnu, but the Buddha started it all by claiming to be Rama’s reincarnation. – Still No Trace Of An Aryan Invasion (p. 76)

Elst—playing devil’s advocate in a quasi-humorous way—thinks that even the “progressive” depiction of Buddha which started in the colonial period might have its roots in racism:

Some pre-WW 2 racists waxed enthusiastic about descriptions by contemporaries of the Buddha as “tall and light-skinned”, which would have made Buddha a proper ethnic “Aryan” in the sense of “Nordic”. – Still No Trace Of Aryan Invasion (p. 76)

But what is even more amusing though not surprising is a continuity—an abiding interest (or shall we call it an obsession?) that still exists—with Indologists like Michael Witzel, who, on account of the “taller stature and lighter skin”, attribute to the Sakya tribe of Buddha an Iranian origin.

Horseplay at Harappa revisited

Speaking of Michael Witzel, Koenraad Elst has a critical admiration for the Harvard Sanskritist. He rejects some of the attacks made on Witzel by Hindu activist-scholars, particularly N.S. Rajaram. Witzel had intentionally exaggerated a clumsy mistake done by Rajaram into a hoax laden with Hindutva conspiracy.

Elst goes through this sordid episode in the essay on ”Horseplay at Harappa Revisited” (pp. 210-4).

Here Elst is clearly in opposition to the deciphering of Harappan symbols done by Rajaram and Jha. For example, he was “unpleasantly surprised” the way N.S. Rajaram insisted that the famous seal with two unicorn-like animals with plant motif was “a shorthand for the rendering of the Aum sign in the Devanagari script, which is some 2000 years younger than the Harappan seals and grew out of the Brahmi script which didn’t have that particular Aum sign.” Also, Rajaram’s reply to the hatchet job done by the Frontline article, “making yet another low-credibility claim for a horse depiction, only added to the atmosphere of ridicule.”

But Elst points out how the presence of the horse is now well established in the Harappan archaeological complex. Elst also defended Rajaram against lynch-mob journalism. He states he even admired the way Rajaram faced it.

But overall, the attack on Rajaram and Jha made by Witzel in collusion with Frontline had a significant impact on the credibility of the Hindutva movement in the international academic and media circles with crucial consequences in the future. This is the observation that Elst makes. Though Rajaram clearly repudiates the crackpot “ancient Hindu world” notion of ex-INA freedom fighter P.N. Oak, he gets bundled with P.N. Oak and Elst gets bundled with both—a cute and easy way to dismiss him by guilt of association.

Elst defends the book on global mythology by Witzel against the charges of racism leveled by Rajaram (Rajaram, Witzel and Racism, Pp. 215-24). Elst finds no evidence for racism in the book and takes N.S. Rajaram to task for alleging so.

Review of Origins of World Myth, a book by Michael Witzel

There is also an essay on the review of Witzel’s book, Origins of World Myth (2013). In the essay, Dr Elst informs the reader that when he posted the review in the “Indo-European Research List”, it was “promptly banned” by Steve Farmer, a sidekick of Witzel, because it was “too political” and “too anti-Witzel”. Yet, the review, “Globalization of Mythology” (pp. 148-58) is neither political nor anti-Witzel. The review is also available on Swarajya. Elst actually considers the explanation provided by Witzel as “a far more detailed explanation of the really existing myths” than given by even Carl Jung.

Elst moves almost affirmatively into Witzel’s binary of the older body of Pan-Gaean Gondwana mythologies and the latter body of Laurasian mythologies. According to Witzel, the “concept of Shamanic heat” and the careful management of this “power” ‘is a very old “Pan-Gaean” trait and “is retained in medieval Indian Kundalini Yoga”. Similarly, the slaying of the dragon or demon by the hero belongs to the Laurasian mythology complex.

It was 40,000 years Before Present (BP) that “certain aspects” of Pan-Gaean Gondwana mythology existed, which, despite the name “Gondwana”, was actually an “Out of Africa mythology complex”. Whereas the Laurasian mythology complex “must have been present by 20,000 years BP at the latest but probably much earlier” and this Witzel speculates to be ‘in Greater Southwest Asia—around 40,000 BP …” (Witzel, 2013, p. 291). Problems might emerge when speculative mapping of current socio-cultural perceptions are mapped onto these binary branches of the global mythological tree.

Shockingly, Dr Elst himself makes one such disturbing speculation based on Witzel’s view that the older Pan-Gaean Gondwana shamanism only had dancing and not “the typical Siberian feature of shamanistic drumming, and they do not have much of a shamanistic dress.” Based on this Elst states:

I might remark that the Paraias of South India (yes, those whence the English language has borrowed the word pariah) form a borderline case: they certainly are known for ecstatic drumming and dancing to achieve controlled spirit possession. Their distinctive tradition stands out against Vedic Hinduism as much closer to Shamanism. Till recently, they were kept at a distance by Brahmin priests as ‘untouchables’ not because they were despised (though they may have been that too) but because they were feared, viz. for carrying with them the world of the spirits and the dead. – Still No Trace Of An Aryan Invasion (p. 154)

The Paraiayar community in Tamil Nadu, though a Scheduled Community (SC) today, was not “‘till recently kept … as untouchables” by Brahmins because of the fear of ghosts. Nor are they the only community who use “ecstatic drumming” for inducing altered states of consciousness. In fact, what distinguishes the Paraiyar community and their traditional priests, the Valluvars, is the reputation they had for their astrological knowledge. Thiruvalluvar, one of the greatest Tamizh seer-poets, belonged to the Valluvar community.

Professor Gustav Oppert, a professor of Sanskrit and comparative philology at Madras Presidency College, in his work on the “original inhabitants” of India provides a picture of Valluvars as the hereditary priests among the Paraiyars (though he wrongly calls them as Pallas). He states:

The present position of the Valluvar is highly interesting. He is famous for his superior attainments in Astrology, and is much consulted when horoscopes are to be cast. Though socially an outcaste, he is respectfully treated by Brahmans and especially by Brahman ladies, who often have recourse to his advice. He wears the holy brahmanical thread or yajnopavita, in Tamil pununul or punul. At the weddings of Pariahs and Pallar he utters Sanskrit passages in the marriage ceremonial, the meaning of which he probably does not know. Considering how jealous the Brahman priests are of keeping secret their sacred verses, it is very strange indeed that the Valluvar knows and uses some of them. – On The Original Inhabitants Of Bharatavarsa Or India (1893) (pp. 67-8)

However Oppert tries to explain this “paradox” within the framework of Aryan-Dravidian divide—as the Valluvars having learnt the mantras “at a time when friendly relations still existed between the Brahman settlers and the original population”.

Some of the most sophisticated mystical philosophical writings in Tamil are attributed to the writings of Valluvars. Oppert even quotes Gnana Vettian (a 16th century text, authored by Valluvar, not to be confused with Thiruvalluvar, in which a Vettian—a hereditary undertaker of Pariah caste—speaks of wisdom) , where the Vettian calls upon the people to “wear the sacred thread” and “carry all the insignia, especially the white umbrellas and white chowries, as well as the golden fans used by the gods and sages, beautiful marks and clothes” and “praise by worshipping the beginning and ending of Om, in which lustre of wisdom and divine essence are manifest”.

There are evidences from inscriptions which show that the Valluvars were indeed Brahminical priests employed in temples whose status seemed to be on par with the image we have of Brahmins today. Though during Chozha period their status did suffer, they still retained their ritual high positions in many of the important temples. While English made the word “Pariah” to mean an outcaste, traditional Hinduism gave him the title of “the great Pariah who mounts the elephant”.

Clearly the discrimination and suffering that the Paraiah community underwent have their roots more in the political and social power struggle that happened in South India starting late 9th century onward than in the Shamanic traditions of Pan-Gaean Gondwana and Laurasian branches of the global mythological tree.

Nevertheless, on the whole, the book review by Elst is positive, academic and contains nothing “political” nor does it contain the fallacy of ad hominem (which one seldom sees in the writings of Elst, despite vicious attacks on him from a section of establishment academia as well as from a section of Hindutvaites).

Essays on Sheldon Pollock

In this collection, there are two essays critiquing, in detail, work done by Sheldon Pollock, who has been nurturing a thesis that the Hindu Darshanas—particularly Mimamsa—through Indology, influenced or even shaped the Nazi ideology and policies, including genocide: “A Nazi Out-of-India Theory” (pp. 97-105) and “Sheldon Pollock’s idea of a National-Socialist Indology” (pp. 397-420).

Both are important in the sense that they alert Hindutvavadis to a new academic ammunition that is being assembled against them, in “in high places” as Elst calls it. So “when Hindus are writing for the umpteenth time that the AIT stems from colonialism and racism”, Sanskritist Sheldon Pollock and his “acolytes” have been, at least from 1993, elaborating and disseminating the thesis, “that Germany invested much in Indology and used it in its project of self-definition as ‘Aryans’ contrasting with the ‘Semites'”.

According to Elst, with Hindutvavadis opposing Pollack’s appointment to a prestigious Sanskrit literary conservation project funded by a Hindu industrialist, Pollock “sharpened his long-standing hatred of the Hindu nationalist movement into a paper alleging that Indology in general and the OIT in particular was much beloved of the Nazi establishment(pp. 99-100).

In “A Nazi Out of India Theory” (2012), Elst highlights Vishwa Adluri’s 2011 paper “Pride and Prejudice: Orientalism and German Indology” in the International Journal of Hindu Studies and its rebuttal by Reinhold Grunendahl in his 2012 paper in the same journal, titled: “History in the Making: On Sheldon Pollock’s ‘NS Indology’ and Vishwa Adluri’s ‘Pride and prejudice’’’. After studying both sides Elst writes:

I vaguely knew that Pollock was wrong in associating the OIT with National-Socialism, but not that he was so spectacularly wrong. His thesis is first of all that India was a central concern for the Nazis. This is put forward most emphatically (but only with bluff) by Pollock and, on his authority, generally taken for granted. … But Grunendahl shows from old and neutral sources that the Indology departments received no special attention, that they were small compared to Ancient Near-Eastern Studies, Sinology etc., and that the Nazi period showed no special interest in Orientalism in general or Indology in particular. If anything, they suffered in their orientation on India from the reigning emphasis on ‘Indo-Germanic studies’. – Still No Trace Of An Aryan Invasion (pp. 101-2)

The readers are also referred by this reviewer to “Surprising Aryan Mediations between German Indology and Nazism: Research and the Adluri/Grunendahl Debate” by Karla Poewe and Irving Hexham (University of Calgary) in the same journal (2015). Here the authors differentiate between two distinct worldviews and phases of German Indology and its use of the term “Aryan”. They observe:

German Indologists were not preoccupied with looking for a narrow Romantic nationalism that would somehow establish German scholarly superiority over the Orient and assert it against British, American, and Indian scholars as Adluri (2011) claims. Rather they constructed a worldview: initially a universal Romantic worldview that, importantly, included the Orient or at least India’s Hindu traditions, its myths and sagas, its play with time, as a congenial ally although even then pitched against different facets of the Judeo-Christian tradition. … Once housed in Nazi institutions like the SS Ancestral Heritage Foundation, however, the word “Aryan” became an instrument to mobilize people, indeed peoples, against Jews and to camouflage their murder by the Gestapo and SS. – Karla Poewe & Irving Hexham (2015)

Their paper provides a glimpse for Hindus as to in which direction this line of research is set to proceed. For instance, Poewe and Hexhale in their conclusion claim to have “mentioned only a few individuals that sought contact with European totalitarianisms, and sometimes they gave more than they received including direct criticism”.

In 2011, the book Breaking India (Malhotra and Neelakandan) did warn about this particular front being opened against Hinduism. We had quoted from Indologist Wilhelm Halbfass, who had made a strong criticism of this approach of Pollock as early as 1997.

Halbfass’s criticism is worth revisiting again. While agreeing that “the overt and brutal commitment to power and hegemony in National Socialism may alert us to the inherent, though less visible dangers in other structurally similar ideologies and discourses”, Halbfass alerts the scholars to Pollock’s project: “All ‘discourse of power’ and their applications are manifestations of one and the same underlying structure of thought and discourse which is called ‘deep Orientalism'”. Then Halbfass points out the kind of extrapolation that can be made:

Would it not be equally permissible to identify this underlying structure as ‘deep Nazism’ or ‘deep Mimamsa’? And what will prevent us from calling Kumarila and William Jones ‘deep Nazis’ and Adolf Hitler a ‘deep Mimamsaka ’? Indeed, Pollock draws a direct line from ‘Justice Sir William’ (Jones) to ‘SS Obersturmfuhrer Wust’ and postulates an inherent affinity between the hegemonic role of Sanskrit in traditional India (as propagated by the Mimamsakas and others) and the attitudes of its latter-day students among British colonialists or German National Socialists. In accordance with such premises, he sees the ‘legitimization of genocide’ as the ‘ultimate orientalist project’. Will all this bring us closer to the goal of a ‘critical,’ ‘postmodern’ and ‘postcolonial’ Indology?… What would such a new Indology be like? Pollock admits that his own ideas are still very tentative. For the time being, they do not offer a potential alternative to the quiet and patient pursuit of understanding (‘dialogic understanding’) which is never uncritical, but cannot be iconoclastic either.’ – Wilhelm Halbfass, Research And Reflection: Responses To My Respondents (1997) in Beyond Orientalism: The Work Of Wilhelm Halbfass And Its Impact On Indian Cross-Cultural Studies (Eds. Eli Franco, Karin Preisendanz & Wilhelm Halbfass) (2007) (pp. 17-8)

Now what were called “still very tentative” views in 1997, after two decades, have grown into a powerful academic stereotype while the critical observation of Halbfass that “they do not offer a potential alternative to the quiet and patient pursuit of understanding” still stands.

Elst has alerted us to how this gross distortion and negative stereotyping of Hindu Darshanas are evolving into a mighty poisonous tree in the academic substratum that is fertile in Hinduphobia.

In the essay on Pollock and so-called “NS Indology”, Elst makes a very detailed critique of Pollock and exposes the groundless nature of his thesis. Here is an important observation:

Note that in all Pollock’s quotations from NS Indologists, only one Hindu is mentioned by name, repeatedly: the Buddha. He tries to make the Mimamsa thinkers with their chiseling of Sastra law into an inspiration to the Nazis (as if they needed Mimamsa to conceive of inequality), but never manages to find a Nazi quote about them. None, for example, about the 12th-century Sastra commentator Bhatta Laksmidhara, whom he himself drags in frequently as justifying societal hierarchy. On the other hand he presents the Buddha as an antidote to Vedic inequality, yet that same Buddha turns out to be very popular among the Nazis. – Still No Trace Of An Aryan Invasion (p. 409)

It is not just Sheldon Pollock the individual Hinduphobic academic. Pollock has simply been “mainly surfing on an already-existing zeitgeist” to which he himself adds “his authoritative voice”. This zeitgeist actually is an abiding tendency to criminalise Hinduism through things perceived negatively—in the case of Sheldon Pollock, it is without evidence—”the worst allegation one can possibly make, viz. the accusation of responsibility for the Holocaust” (p. 418).

Tony Joseph’s DNA Evidence for Aryan Invasion/Migration Scenario

The last essay of this 465-page book is on the article of Tony Joseph marshalling the “DNA evidence” in support of “Aryan invasion/migration” scenario.

While Elst correctly identifies the bias in the article of Tony Joseph, he also cautions those in the opposite camp of AIT/AMT that there is a problem here we need to deal with.

Nonetheless, their belief in an all-male incursion into India that has left traces in the Y-genes may well have substantial ramifications for Indian history, even by implying an Aryan invasion. And while none of them has been quoted as actually having proven, through his research, an Indo-European invasion, it is still possible that some of them do think so. … It will take argumentative acumen and a serious research effort to convince them otherwise. – Still No Trace Of An Aryan Invasion (pp. 456-7)

This book is essentially a collection of various articles, blog-entries, papers etc. presented by Dr Elst between 2008 and 2017 on the Aryan question. Dr Elst attends various international conferences and interacts with global academia. He has razor sharp academic rigour and an objectivity rarely seen today among the academics dealing with this particular issue.

He is one person from the Hindu side who knows the webs getting woven, ammunition being forged and stereotypes being constructed within the academia that will have serious ramifications for the Hindutva movement. Naturally he is a man in a hurry and hence at times he makes harsh criticisms against the self-congratulatory complacency Hindus indulge in.

Consider the following words of caution and advice to the Hindus in the book:

If you want the Aryan debate to go anywhere, OIT writers have to observe a complete moratorium, without ifs and buts, on references to the last two hundred years. No more Max Muller or Michael Witzel! … Having spent time in the real world, interacting with real scholars, I know the real situation, which is that the AIT is still taught from all the important platforms. People who tell you differently, live in a fantasy world and … they ultimately only hear their own opinions. Fortunately, we can ignore recent history including these Hindu will-o-the-wisps, and start work on the really available testimonies to ancient history. – Still No Trace Of An Aryan Invasion  (p. 209)

Not exactly the best way to endear one to people who think they have won the Aryan debate. But then this is a caution that can save us from the final defeat.

Except his Decolonizing the Hindu Mind (Rupa, 2005) most of his books have the dull textbook-like covers which are the trademark of Voice of India. This book is a welcome exception. The cover is attractive. One wishes the Hindu intellectuals and think-tanks project this book and organise panel discussions and author-interaction on it.

By promoting this book among Hindus, discussing and debating it, we will be doing a great service to ourselves. We will equip ourselves to fight our battles better. If this book does not get the enthusiastic reception it deserves among us, then it is a sad commentary, not on the non-existing marketing skills of Elst, which he does not need, but on us—our inability to respect Saraswati. – Swarajya, 7 May 2019

You can buy the book here.

» Aravindan Neelakandan is an author and contributing editor at Swarajya.

Koenraad Elst

Who’s afraid of Amit Shah? – Ravi Shankar

Amit Shah

Ravi Shankar EttethAmit Shah is the new Indian power player who has authored the neoteric playbook to redefine politics. The man who is said to own an entire library on Chanakya is not a people pleaser. … Many inside and outside the BJP are afraid of him. … The media hates him because he hates the media, a trait he shares with his guru Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  – Ravi Shankar

Demonising opponents often backfires when bandwagons capsize unexpectedly. Ask Rahul Gandhi. No Indian politician has been demonised more vituperatively than BJP’s most successful president ever and current Home Minister Amit Shah. His critics, and there are many in the media, Opposition and even in his own party (though super-discreet), paint him as the architect of the Gujarat riots, judicial puppet master, digital stalker, keeper of the caged parrot, EVM manipulator—short of eating small children and conducting human sacrifices during the full moon; they have manufactured Shah’s image as India’s Evil Incarnate. Not even Rasputin or Richelieu have earned such infamy. But he had the last laugh after designing Victory 303 for the BJP. The fear and ire have only escalated since. Where does such hatred among the liberal and centrist circles come from?

Amit Shah is the new Indian power player who has authored the neoteric playbook to redefine politics. The man who is said to own an entire library on Chanakya is not a people pleaser. He appears humourless in public and abjures charm offensives. Many inside and outside the BJP are afraid of him, since he wears power rather heavily on his shoulders. The media hates him because he hates the media, a trait he shares with his guru Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Having been officially Modi’s closest associate since 2002, Shah became the prime target of journalists crying for his mentor’s blood. The foreign press was even more vicious. Modi was denied a US visa though he was a sitting chief minister. Sonia Gandhi called him “maut ka saudagar”, which planted the first seeds of hatred for the Gandhi family in Modi and Shah. The Congress portrayed them as matching Gujarati Slobodan Miloševics who throttle democracy by hateful hook or the bloody crook for power’s sake. But in the state polls that followed the riots, Shah was re-elected from his four-time constituency, Sarkhej, consecutively with an imposing 1,58,000 vote margin. In 2007, the margin was 2,35,000 votes. In his first Lok Sabha election in May, Shah captured Gandhinagar by a record 5.57 lakh votes.

In 2014, when Modi swept India on the development platform, the campaign’s logistical backbone was Amit Shah’s organisational genius. In bitterly divisive 2019, Shah delivered the country to Modi again, bettering the score. Obviously India wanted a break from decades of corruption, dynastic entitlement, minority appeasement, regional disruptors and weak military responses. Modi, now firmly in the saddle and crafting an inclusive Renaissance persona believes the country’s major threat is from terrorism—domestic and foreign. The day of the inclusive patriot has set, and a vigilant nationalist is in charge of South Block. Under Home Minister Amit Shah’s watch, Modi is sure that India is in safe hands, as well as his own place in history. – The New Indian Express, 7 June 2019

» Ravi Shankar is a cartoonist, author and columnist in New Delhi.

Amit Shah & Narendra Modi


Can the Modi government fix the false secular narrative? – Minhaz Merchant

Narendra Modi and Omar Abdullah

Minhaz MerchantIt is the large, accommodative tent of Hinduism that has historically kept India secular. The Congress began subverting secularism in the 1980s, first with the infamous Shah Bano case and then appeasing—but never empowering—Muslims. – Minhaz Merchant

Sworn in as Prime Minister for a second successive term, Narendra Modi’s remark that minorities have been “deceived” by a false narrative of secularism deserves close attention.

Classical secularism separates the state from the church. That is the Anglo-Saxon Protestant definition. The United States, increasingly Catholic and [Protestant] evangelical, and much of continental Europe see it differently. By banning burqas from public spaces, for example, France and Belgium are allowing the state to intervene proactively on matters of faith.

A political tool

In India, secularism carries an entirely different meaning. It is a cynical political tool. For centuries, Indians took secularism for granted. Parsis fleeing persecution in Iran, Jewish refugees and Muslim traders, everyone made India their home. Caste, region, culture and language mattered more than religion. A Tamil Muslim had more in common with a Tamil Hindu than with a Bengali Muslim.

The complex caste matrix, overlaid with religion and region, rendered secularism an accepted socio-cultural fact. Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar thought it wholly unnecessary to use the word secularism in the Indian Constitution. In a seeming contradiction, India has been a crucible of communalism for centuries. Hindu-Muslim riots were endemic. But secularism as an antonym for communalism entered the political lexicon only after Indira Gandhi inserted it into the Constitution in 1976 during the Emergency. Ever since it has become a political device to create and secure vote catchments.

Well before the BJP came to power in 2014, I defined secularism thus: “Jawaharlal Nehru was a secular man. He would have been mortified at what passes off as secularism in modern India. In its purest sense, secularism requires treating religion as a private matter. It must not enter the public domain. Pray in public or pray in private. But keep your faith at home. Influential sections of especially the electronic media, suffused with hearts bleeding from the wrong ventricle, are part of a great fraud played on India’s poor Muslims: communalism dressed up as secularism. The token Muslim is lionised—from Azim Premji to Aamir Khan—but the common Muslim languishes in his ghetto.”

When former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh said Muslims had the first right to India’s resources, he violated the first principle of secularism: being religion-neutral. Omar Abdullah, the former chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir, declared in Parliament during the 2008 trust vote that he was a proud Muslim and a proud Indian. Wrong order. A truly secular person would have reversed the sequence: proud Indian and proud Muslim. For Hindus too, it must be Indian first, Hindu second. Religion is private, nationality public.

Is majoritarianism secular? Obviously not. India is a Hindu-majority country but it is not, has never been, and can never be, a majoritarian country. It is the large, accommodative tent of Hinduism that has historically kept India secular. The Congress began subverting secularism in the 1980s, first with the infamous Shah Bano case and then appeasing—but never empowering—Muslims.

Blatant appeasement

Congress thus deceived Muslims in two ways. First, it instilled in them a fear of “Hindutva” political parties: vote for us or you’ll be at their mercy. For 30 years, Muslims have done exactly that.

The second deception was appeasement. The Congress told Muslims, vote for us, we’ll look after your interests.

Thirty years later, Muslims have woken up to the bitter truth: they are the poorest, the most socio-economically backward group in India.

How did it come to this? If the Congress and its regional secular bedfellows like the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), during their decades in power, had really cared for Muslims, had truly empowered them with education and jobs, would Muslims be as marginalised as they are today? That is the great deception “secular” parties have been guilty of. Modi called it “cheating” the minorities. He is right.

The Congress used its fraudulent version of secularism for decades to impoverish and disempower a community to gain votes. But it achieved something even worse.

Minoritism rejected

It provoked a counter-reaction from moderate Hindus. Dismayed by the brazen minoritism, genuinely secular Hindus began to drift towards the BJP. The trend accelerated over the past few years, leading to the electoral outcomes of 2014 and now 2019.

The BJP has been guilty as well of pandering to Hindu majoritarianism. Modi did well to admonish Sadhvi Pragya Thakur for her remarks on Nathuram Godse and Mahatma Gandhi. That isn’t enough. The BJP, now in power for another five years, must recognise that just as the minoritism of the Congress is simply wrong, so is majoritarianism.

If India wasn’t innately secular, and if the 80 per cent Hindu majority was a united entity, the BJP would win every election hands down. It doesn’t, because Hindus are not a monolith. It will be tempting for some in the BJP to see the 2019 Lok Sabha landslide as an affirmation of majoritarianism. It isn’t.

It is a rejection of minoritism.

Secularism, practised inclusively as it should be practised—not as practised fraudulently by the Khan Market gang, to use the Prime Minister’s endearing term—should be the holy grail of the new Modi government.

» Minhaz Merchant is the biographer of Rajiv Gandhi and Aditya Birla. He is a media group chairman and editor, and author of The New Clash of Civilizations.

Muslims for Modi


Shankaracharya demands government fulfil its promise to build Ram temple – PTI

Swaroopananda Saraswati

The Shankaracharya of Dwarka Math, Sri Swaroopanand Saraswati, said the government should fulfil its promise of constructing a Ram temple at Ayodhya. – PTI

Shankaracharya Swaroopanand Saraswati on June 2nd said the government should fulfil its promise of constructing a Ram temple at Ayodhya. “The government should fulfil its promise that hitherto could not be translated into reality,” he told reporters in Vrindavan.

“Since the matter is pending before the apex court, we expect the decision to come shortly and construction of temple should start,” Swaroopanand said.

He said Mughal emperor Babur had never visited Ayodhya and there was never a mosque at the site of Lord Ram.

Targeting the BJP, Swaroopanand said, “There is lot of difference between Ram of the BJP and Ram of seers.”

“The Ram of BJP is an ideal human being, while we worship our Ram,” he added.

Swaroopanand said […] issues like unemployment and development were “sidelined” in the Lok Sabha elections.

“The government should focus on issues like ban on bovine export, withdrawal of Article 370 from Kashmir, making holy rivers pollution free, etc.,” he said. – MoneyControl, 3 June 2019

Sanjay Raut

We will be beaten with shoes if we fail to fulfil Ram temple promise this time: Shiv Sena – ANI

The BJP, in its election manifesto, had stated that it would “explore possibilities within the framework of the Constitution and take necessary steps to expedite construction of Ram temple.”

Shiv Sena spokesperson Sanjay Raut on Thursday said that people will ‘beat them with shoes’ if they do not fulfil the promise of Ram Temple construction this time.

“In 2014, we promised construction of the Ram temple but we did not accomplish it. The concluded election was also fought in the name of Lord Ram. Before elections, we went to Ayodhya with party chief Uddhav Thackray ji, we have committed ourselves to the construction of the temple and I feel this time around Ram temple’s construction will start. Because if we don’t, the country will stop trusting us and will beat us with shoes in anger,” he said while speaking to ANI here.

Raut stated that the temple will be built soon as NDA has a majority in the Lok Sabha with 350 seats.

“Now BJP has 303 MPs, Shiv Sena has 18, NDA has more than 350, what more is needed to construct the temple?” he asked.’

On May 27, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had hinted at stepping up efforts for construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya, saying “Ram’s work has to be done.”

“We have to do Ram’s work and we will get it done. This is our work. Ram lives in us, so this is our work and we will do it ourselves. Even if we outsource it to somebody, we have to keep an eye,” Bhagwat had said while addressing an event in Udaipur in Rajasthan.

RSS, the ideological mentor of BJP, has repeatedly called for the construction of Ram Temple at the disputed land in Ayodhya.

The BJP, in its election manifesto, had stated that it would “explore possibilities within the framework of the Constitution and take necessary steps to expedite construction of Ram temple.”

In March, the court appointed a panel of mediators, headed by former Supreme Court judge Justice F. M. I. Kalifulla, and gave it eight weeks to meet all stakeholders and explore the possibility of an amicable settlement to the contentious issue.

The panel submitted the report on May 10 and the SC is expected to take up a decision in this regard. – The New Indian Express, 6 June 2019

Ram-Nam bricks donated by Hindus for a Ram Temple at Ayodhya


India’s cacophonous polity becoming a nation – Gautam Sen

India’s Flag

Gautam Sen The modern urban Indian has arrived and his identity is increasingly national and, for better or worse, it does not wish to see the country bested by either enemies or friends abroad. – Dr Gautam Sen

The mere fact of size and geography assured India’s diversity and an underlying fractiousness. It has long been fragmented by religious difference between Hinduism and Islam as well, though the consequences were not uniformly negative over time. Yet the absence of fundamentally estranged rival divine beliefs among the majority prevented the deeper alienation that characterised pre-modern Christian Europe and the major religious identities within Islam.

The politicisation of caste in India is a relatively modern phenomenon, implanted by British imperial policy, subsequent struggles for equality and competition spawned by reservation privileges that accentuated multiple fissures. And of course, linguistic and regional tensions also surfaced as nationhood posed the delicate question of linguistic primacy. But this prologue fails to capture the dynamics that have unfolded in post-independence India and seem poised to change India durably, as Hindol Sengupta recently suggests.

In the aftermath of independence, Indian social and political consciousness remained quiescently local but a sense of national identity subsumed under the afterglow of the freedom struggle prevailed. The regional, linguistic, religious and caste identities had not yet become assertive. This is was the era of Jawaharlal Nehru, the principal emotional and psychological legatee of the fruits of the independence struggle though other more fissured identities were not totally dormant. But the Congress Party under Nehru managed to mostly negotiate and overcome their potentially divisive consequences by submerging them within an ecumenical Congress party that managed to mobilise regional leaders within its fold. Of course, the success of this strategy was incomplete, as the drifting away of Kerala from the Congress fold by the late 1950s demonstrated. It was after Nehru’s death in 1964 that the dormant reality of political division and its stark consequences reared its head.

After the hiatus of political succession that witnessed conflict over economic policy in the backdrop to war in 1965 and serious food shortages, the preceding dynamic of a degree of national political consensus reached a watershed. Mrs Indira Gandhi emerged as supreme leader in 1969 in the aftermath of a political coup that scattered the old guard of the Congress Party that had gathered around her father for two decades. She sought to create a new alliance of political forces to find a constituency to which she could appeal over the heads of regional Congress satraps and also find a novel national basis that would supersede regional loyalties.

Mrs Gandhi, emboldened by her successes in the 1970-71 war, embraced anti-poverty as her economic policy, overturning a brief Congress high command flirtation with economic liberalism in the late 1960s. And she sought to forge a national coalition of the depressed classes and a Muslim vote bank. But the genie was out of the bottle and the dormant forces of regionalism surfaced with vengeance, though outwardly there was often a pan national ideological veneer, like communism in Bengal. Indira Gandhi never truly managed to overcome truculent local leaders. India became a nation of regional governments and coalition government despite brief exceptions at the national level. India’s underlying diversity on multiple axes became the reigning reality of India’s political identity.

Yet there was an important and relatively unnoticed churning beneath the surface that had unleashed inexorable forces of change within Indian society. A potent mirror of this dynamic was the Indian film industry that had produced somewhat sombre social reality films in the 1950s and the 1960s, in part, for the better-educated, anchored in the aspirations of the independence struggle of national unity and mass economic well-being. There was a subsequent dramatic levelling with more popular films that entertained a growing mass audience, with relatively little novelty in conception or depiction, combining standard dance routines with villains succumbing to dashing heroes.

But a newer genre was also quietly becoming established of thoughtful film productions with more demanding plots that entertained both the immediate senses and the mind, filmmaker, Aamir Khan its popular Bollywood exemplar. What it highlighted was the emergence of a more significant strata in society of the urban and more urbane, educated and with weaker moorings in regional consciousness and language. This is a class more motivated by national identity, pragmatic in their interests and ideologically more complex and less one-dimensional.

This cohort has grown is size with rapidly expanding cities and media communications that were always significant in India, but rendered irresistible by the Internet revolution. They are scheduled to reach 600 million in the next decade and are the beneficiaries of India’s steady growth spurt since the mid-1990s.

The political culture of this very important enlarging group also impacts the consciousness of their less-educated peers from their own local society. They unavoidably locate their pride in their own history and civilisational achievements, as similar social groups everywhere do. For the overwhelming majority of these hundreds of millions that past is about the real or imagined greatness of Hindu civilisation, its travails and historic struggles. To them the idea of secularism, as the depiction of their society may be the everyday practice in which they engage in reality, but is not wholly meaningful. Abstract secular ideology cannot provide an account of thousands of years of history rooted in their epics and ancient texts, which, in the bargain, exhibit, intrinsic intellectual fascination and merit. The urbanised Indian is also understandably exercised about good governance and rankled by the routine corruption in society that hits them in their pocket daily.

Any political movement that grasps this profound change is destined to dominate India’s political life. And it is vital to recognise that mere slogans that articulate grievances about daily life and denounces dishonesty are past their sell-by-date.

Deceptive subterfuges can no longer distract a major part of the electorate, well informed as it is and highly critical of lapses and proudly disrespectful of authority. The modern urban Indian has arrived and his identity is increasingly national and, for better or worse, it does not wish to see the country bested by either enemies or friends abroad.

Parochial India is gradually coming full circle and espousing an Indian identity, with money in the pocket as the norm that creates self-confidence. It is unlike the Arab Spring because it hasn’t been corroded by instrumental foreign intervention though it shares a somewhat parallel pining for the good life, fuelled by a demographic transformation that portends far-reaching consequences in many developing countries. Yet in the Indian case, the religious culture is reflexively pragmatic and the absence of a cataclysmic millenarian world-view promises a benign impact on the wider world. – Fortune India, 9 April 2019

» Dr Gautam Sen taught international political economy at the London School of Economics for more than two decades and was a member of the Indo-UK Roundtable.

Mumbai local train


How Britain tried to ‘erase’ India’s third gender – Soutik Biswas


Soutik BiswasIn South Asian cultures, hijras are thought to have the power to bless or curse fertility. They live with adopted children and male partners. In 2014, India’s Supreme Court officially recognised a third gender—and eunuchs (or hijras) are seen as falling into this category. – Soutik Biswas

In August 1852, a eunuch called Bhoorah was found brutally murdered in northern India’s Mainpuri district.

She lived in what was then the North-West Provinces with two disciples and a male lover, performing and accepting gifts at “auspicious occasions” like births of children and at weddings and in public. She had left her lover for another man before she was killed. British judges were convinced that her former lover had killed her in a fit of rage.

During the trial they described eunuchs as cross-dressers, beggars and unnatural prostitutes.

‘Moral panic’

One judge said the community was an “opprobrium upon colonial rule”. Another claimed that their existence was a “reproach” to the British government.

The reaction was strange considering that a eunuch was the victim of the crime. The killing, according to historian Jessica Hinchy, curiously triggered British “moral panic about eunuchs” or hijras as they are called in South Asia.

“She was a victim of the crime but her death was interpreted as evidence of criminality and immorality of the eunuchs,” Dr Hinchy told me.

British officials began considering eunuchs “ungovernable”. Commentators said they evoked images of “filth, disease, contagion and contamination”. They were portrayed as people who were “addicted to sex with men”. Colonial officials said they were not only a danger to “public morals”, but also a “threat to colonial political authority”.

For nearly a decade, Dr Hinchy, now assistant professor of history at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, trawled the colonial archives on eunuchs that provided unusually detailed insights into the impact of colonial laws on marginalised Indians. The result is Governing Gender and Sexuality in Colonial India, arguably the first in-depth history of eunuchs in colonial India.

Eunuchs often dress up like women and describe themselves as being castrated or born that way. A disciple-based community, it has important roles in many cultures—from sexless people guarding harems to singing and dancing entertainers.

In cultures in South Asia, they are thought to have the power to bless or curse fertility. They live with adopted children and male partners. Today, many consider eunuchs transgender, although the term also includes intersex people. In 2014, India’s Supreme Court officially recognised a third gender—and eunuchs (or hijras) are seen as falling into this category.

Bhoorah was among the 2,500 recorded eunuchs who lived in the North-West Provinces—now India’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh and neighbouring Uttarakhand.

Years after her murder, the provinces launched a campaign to reduce the number of eunuchs with the objective of gradually causing their “extinction”. They were considered a “criminal tribe” under a controversial 1871 law which targeted caste groups considered to be hereditary criminals.

The law armed the police with power of increased surveillance of the community. Police compiled registers of eunuchs with their personal details, often defining “an eunuch as a criminal and sexually deviant person”. “Registration was a means of surveillance and also a way to ensure that castration was stamped out and the hijra population was not reproduced,” says Dr Hinchy.

Eunuchs were not allowed to wear female clothing and jewellery or perform in public and were threatened with fines or thrown into prison if they did not comply. Police would even cut off their long hair and strip them if they wore female clothing and ornaments. They “experienced police intimidation and coercion, though the patterns of police violence are unclear”, says Dr Hinchy.

The community reacted by petitioning for the right to dance and play in public, and perform at fairs. The petitions, says Dr Hinchy, point to the economic devastation caused by the ban on dances and performances. In the mid-1870s, the eunuchs of Ghazipur district complained that they were starving.

One of the most shocking moves of the authorities was to take away children who were living with eunuchs to “rescue them from a life of infamy”. If eunuchs were living with a male child, they risked fines and jail.

Many of these children were actually disciples. Others appeared to have been orphans, adopted or enslaved as children. There were also children of musicians who performed with eunuchs and appeared to have lived alongside them with their families. Some eunuchs even lived with widows who had children. British officials saw the children as “agents of contagion and a source of moral danger”.

“Colonial anxieties about the threat that hijras posed to Indian boys overstated the actual number of children residing with the community,” says Dr Hinchy. According to records, there were between 90 and 100 male children found living with registered eunuchs between 1860 and 1880. Very few of them had been emasculated and most of them were living with their biological parents.

“The short-term aim of the law included cultural elimination of the eunuchs through erasure of their public presence. The explicit, long-term ambition was limiting, and thus finally extinguishing, the number of eunuchs,” says Dr Hinchy. “To many high-ranking colonial officials, the small eunuch community endangered the imperial enterprise and colonial authority.”

The British also began policing other groups which didn’t fit the binary gender categories—effeminate men who wore female clothing, performed in public and lived in kin-based households, men who performed female roles in theatre and male devotees who dressed as women. “The law,” says Dr Hinchy, “was used to police a diverse range of gender non-confirming people.”

In many ways, the attitudes of the British and the English-speaking Indian elites to eunuchs echo aspects of Hindu faith that colonial rulers found abhorrent.

Indologist Wendy Doniger has written about the British rejection of the sensual strains of Hinduism as filthy paganism. However, religion was not a factor in the colonial rejection of eunuchs—it was more about “contamination”, “filth”, their sexual practices and public presence.

Yet, despite this dark history, eunuchs survived these attempts to eliminate them by evading the police, continuing to have a visible public presence and devising survival strategies. Dr Hinchy writes that they became skilful at law breaking, evading the police and keeping on the move. They also kept their cultural practices alive within their communities and in private places, which was not illegal. They also became adept at hiding property, so that police could not register it.

Their success is clear by the fact that despite being often defined as deviant and disorderly, Dr Hinchy says eunuchs “remain a visible presence in public space, public culture, activism and politics in South Asia”.

In India, they continue to make a living by dancing at weddings and other ceremonies despite facing discrimination and living on the margins. Theirs is a stirring story of resilience and survival. – BBC News, 30 May 2019

» Soutik Biswas is BBC’s India correspondent and features editor in New Delhi.

Hijra Hands