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WHO ARE WE?

Speed News Desk | Updated on: 22 August 2018, 18:02 IST

The only indigenous people in India are the Adivasis, who Nihar Ranjan Ray described as “the original autochthonous people of India.” The rest, be they Dravidian or Aryan, Hindu or Muslim, Rajput or Jat, are migrants with as much or as little claim as the European settlers in the new world have to be known as Americans. It is true that the colonizing people in the Americas have managed to forge a distinct new identity and the world acknowledges them as that but to believe them to be an indigenous people would be akin to the patently bogus Afrikaner claim to be an indigenous African people.

Clearly both, the Aryans and Dravidians were migrant races that traveled eastwards in search of pastures for their cattle and fertile land for agriculture. This is where we run into ideological problems with the ultra-nationalist and conservative Hindu gerontocracy that are foisting a new genealogy upon our nation. The word out now is that we, Indians of today, are an indigenous people. Nothing can be further from the truth.

There are scientific ways to discover who we are. The recent advances in genetics have made it possible to draw linkages between peoples of different regions. Studies in India have not only confirmed that Nihar Ranjan Ray was right when he said that the Adivasi of Central India was the only real native of this country. A study by Dr. Michael Bamshad MD, geneticist at the University of Utah published in the June 2001 of Genome Research, explicitly states that the ancestors of modern upper caste Indian populations are genetically more similar to Europeans and lower caste populations are more similar to Asians.

Another study conducted by Andhra University scientists BB Rao, M Naidu, BVR Prasad and others, has found the southern Indian to be quite distinct to the northern Indian, in terms of genetic makeup at least.

Despite the divergent trails of genetic markers, Aryans and Dravidians may not be that far removed from each other. Linguists have for long been agreed that “English, Dutch, German, and Russian are each branches of the vast Indo-European language family, which includes Germanic, Slavic, Celtic, Baltic, Indo-Iranian and other languages, -- all descendants of more ancient languages like Greek, Latin and Sanskrit.

The linguists have reconstructed an earlier language from which the latter were derived. They call it Proto-Indo-European, or PIE for short.” Dr. Alexis Manaster Ramer of Wayne State University, USA digs even deeper and finds common roots between PIE and two other language groups: Uralic, which includes Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian; and Altaic that includes Turkish and Mongolian. All these three groups, Dr. Ramer argues, find their roots in an older language called Nostratic. If he is right then all Indian languages, Sanskritic or Dravidian are descended from Nostratic, spoken about 12000 years ago?

Dr. Vitaly Shevoroshkin at the Institute of Linguistics at Moscow, and another Russian scholar, Dr. Aaron Dogopolsky now at the University of Haifa, did a pioneering work in establishing the Nostratic language in the 1960s, and this today is the inspiration to younger linguists like Ramer.

Language, as linguists see it, is more just the heard word and the spoken for we can even communicate with gestures and signs. According to Dr. Derek Bickerton of the University of Hawaii, “the essence of language is words and syntax, each generated by a combinational system in the brain.”

Dr. Asko Parpola, a prominent Finnish scholar raises a fundamental question as to whether Sanskrit is a Dravidian language and advances enough evidence to suggest that is just what it is. Scholars have written on the similarities of words and syntax between the Dravidian languages, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and Tulu, and the Finno-Ugrian languages. While the modern versions of these Dravidian languages are considerably influenced by Sanskrit words, the old writings “do not contain a single Sanskrit word.” On the other hand, some scholars argue, a number of Dravidian “loanwords” appear in the Rig Veda.

Not only Sanskrit but languages like Latin and Greek too have a number of loanwords from Dravidian. For instance, the proto-Dravidian word for rice, arici is similar to oryza in Latin and Greek, and ginger is inciver in Tamil while it is ingwer in German, zinziberis in Greek. This lends much credence to the theory that the original Dravidians were of Mediterranean and Armenoid stock, who in the 4th millennium BC had settled in the Indus Valley.

The continued presence of a Dravidian language, Brahui, in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province still spoken by more than half a million people, further suggests that the Dravidians moved eastwards and southwards under Aryan pressure.

Whatever be its origins, it seems clear that the Sanskrit that emerged out of the Aryan Dravidian fusion was the language of a light skinned elite and was replaced by Persian, another Indo-European language of another light skinned elite.

Santosh Kumar Khare on the origin of Hindi in “Truth about Language in India” (EPW, December 14, 2002) writes: “the notion of Hindi and Urdu as two distinct languages crystallized at Fort William College in the first half of the 19th century.” He adds: “their linguistic and literary repertoires were built up accordingly, Urdu borrowing from Persian/Arabic and Hindi from Sanskrit.”

They came to represent the narrow competing interests of emergent middle class urban Hindu and Muslim/Kayastha groups. But the real sting is in the conclusion that “modern Hindi (or Khari boli) was an artificial construct of the East India Company which, while preserving the grammar and diction of Urdu, cleansed it of ‘foreign and rustic’ words and substituted them with Sanskrit synonyms.”

 

By - Mohan Guruswamy

First published: 22 August 2018, 18:02 IST
 
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