Many people have been sending me links to this article, By rewriting history, Hindu nationalists aim to assert their dominance over India. Here’s a key section:
The RSS asserts that ancestors of all people of Indian origin – including 172 million Muslims – were Hindu and that they must accept their common ancestry as part of Bharat Mata, or Mother India. Modi has been a member of the RSS since childhood. An official biography of Culture Minister Sharma says he too has been a “dedicated follower” of the RSS for many years.
Sharma told Reuters he expects the conclusions of the committee to find their way into school textbooks and academic research. The panel is referred to in government documents as the committee for “holistic study of origin and evolution of Indian culture since 12,000 years before present and its interface with other cultures of the world.”
Sharma said this “Hindu first” version of Indian history will be added to a school curriculum which has long taught that people from central Asia arrived in India much more recently, some 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, and transformed the population
There are several threads here. First, it is a fact that the ancestors of South Asia’s non-Hindus were Hindu. There are minor exceptions, such as the Parsis, who are ~75% Iranian. One can quibble as to whether many tribal and peasant populations were truly Hindu in a formal and explicit sense. But I think this is a semantic dodge. Muslims would recognize these beliefs and practices as Hindu, no matter if one was a Brahmin monk or a member of a tribe which still sacrificed animals.
I’ve looked at the genotypes of a fair amount of South Asians of Muslim background. The overwhelming (usually exclusive) proportion of their ancestry is South Asian. It’s a fact that the ancestors of non-Hindu South Asians were Hindu.
But, the article and a dominant theme in Hindu nationalism today are that distinctive historically important groups like Indo-Aryans are indigenous to South Asia. This is set against a narrative of invasions and migrations from the outside, which is presumed more friendly to a multicultural paradigm (I have a hard time keeping track of the political valence of all these things). To some extent, the reality of invasions and migrations cannot be denied, whether it be Alexander, the Kushans, or the various Muslim groups. But these historical invasions left little genetic imprint.
When 2009’s Reconstructing Indian Population History was published things changed for the impact of the earlier migrations. By the time the ancient Greeks were recording observations of India in Classical Antiquity, it was already noted as the most populous nation in the world. I was initially skeptical about the result in Reconstructing Indian Population History, that there was massive admixture between West Eurasians (ANI) and indigenous South Asians (ASI) because that would imply massive migration. Additionally, phenotypically the pigmentation genes didn’t seem to work out if the source population was European-like.
Nearly 10 years on we have a lot more clarity. Ancient DNA has changed our understanding of the past. Massive migrations were common. And, the pigmentation and genetic profile of modern Europeans is recent, within the last 4,000 years. The source population(s) for “Ancestral North Indians” (ANI) may not have been Europeans in the way we’d understand them. In fact, a follow-up paper, Genetic Evidence for Recent Population Mixture in India, hinted at two admixtures. There’s a fair amount of circumstantial evidence now that one component of “Ancestral North Indian” relates to West Asian populations and another component to the more classical steppe Indo-Aryans. The former is more widespread across the subcontinent than the latter, which is concentrated in the northwest and among upper castes.
I do understand Indians who want to interpret their own history through the lens of their own cultural priors. The problem is that genetic science has proceeded so fast in the last few years that many propositions which were speculative in the 20th century are testable in the 21st century. Some Hindu nationalist friends and acquaintances express embarrassment and worry about the track that Indian nationalists are going on. I don’t know what to say, but Americans have their own delusions and blithe acceptance of propaganda, so I’m not going to be one pointing fingers. Other Indians have told me via Facebook that they “believe in the results from the 2000s” (when they were more congenial to their viewpoints?). I guess that’s one strategy; just keep up with the science until it starts refuting your model.
That being said, with the ubiquity of datasets one can explore questions oneself without too much concern for politics. Additionally, the Indian government may suppress analysis of ancient DNA through soft coercion and negative incentives, but I’m sure at some point Pakistan will let people dig things up (South Asian Muslims seem less angry that they invariably turn out to have very little recent West Asian ancestry; I suspect because they always on some level knew that that was so).
I recently posted my South Asian Genotype Project results. Though the sample size is small, since I have provenance it allowed me to get more clarity on what’s going on in the 1000 Genomes samples for South Asians.
There are several things I can tell you. For example, I have samples for a Sindhi and Gujarati Lohanna. They cluster near each other, and with Sindhis. Similarly, a Gujarati Muslim sample is also in with the Sindhis.
In contrast, other Gujaratis are placed between Pakistani populations and South Indians. A Vania and Solanki sample helped me label “Gujarati Middle Caste.” The Gujarati Patel samples, are even more shifted toward South Indians, and admixture analysis implies less Indo-Aryan in these samples than other Gujaratis. The Gujarati_ANI_1 is between the middle caste and the Sindhi cluster. I assume Guju Brahmins would be in here, but I don’t have a pure individual from that community.
Gujarat seems to be a state with a lot of connections to Sindh, so you see a wide range of variation in this state on the ANI-ASI cline.
I’ve collected enough Brahmin samples from the four states of Southern India to see that they are very similar genetically (one exception is a Niyogi Brahmin who seemed more ASI-shifted than usual). If they don’t come from the same migration event, they diverged at around the same time. IBD analysis would show that Iyers are closer to each other than they are to Brahmins from Andhra Pradesh surely, but on admixture analysis there’s almost not difference.
Brahmins from North India are different from South Indian Brahmins, in being more ANI-shifted. It seems that to a great extent Brahmins from outside the Gangetic heartland can be modeled as North Indian Brahmins with local admixture. Bengali and Maharashtra Brahmins have shifted away from North Indian Brahmins, but not as much as South Indian Brahmins. Bengali Brahmins are also East Asian shifted, confirming the reality of local admixture.
One result that surprises me is how genetically similar Dalits from North and South India are. The Chamar samples from Uttar Pradesh seem to have some levels of Indo-Aryan admixture, but overall they’re not that different from Dalits from Tamil Nadu.
Additionally, non-Brahmin and non-Dalit individuals from places like Bengal and Tamil Nadu/Sri Lanka, and Andhra Pradesh are very distinct from Dalits. In other words, the caste system is not simply the traditional upper castes vs. everyone else, but it’s deeply structured. The implication here is that caste may predate the Indo-Aryans (this is not a new inference). Or at least not be related them.
Finally, there is a curious pattern where gene flow into southern Pakistan (Sindh) is more shifted toward the Middle East than in northern Pakistan (Punjab, the Pathan areas). I suspect this is due to dynamics which date deep into prehistory, rather than more recent events. Also, Brahmins from North India show a skew where more of their ancestry is steppe and less of it is West Asian. There has been extensive speculation why this might be, so I’ll leave that for the comments.
Addendum: The second ancient DNA paper from Southeast Asia states that the Munda Juang from Odisha are 37% Austro-Asiatic.