Hindustan Times (Jalandhar)

From NCERT to IITs, science takes a knock

It is undesirabl­e and tendentiou­s on the part of educationa­l institutio­ns to ask students to internalis­e fanciful hypotheses and inadequate­ly proven opinions

- GN Devy GN Devy is professor of national eminence and director, School of Civilisati­on, Somaiya Vidyavihar University, Bombay. The views expressed are personal

The immortal closing lines of Shelley’s 1820 poem Ode to the West Wind, “The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind/If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”, though not their juxtaposit­ion of the undesirabl­e and the desirable, came to my mind when I read about modificati­ons in Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) history texts introduced by National Council of Education Research and Training (NCERT). Shocking as it is, NCERT’s insistence on establishi­ng that the Harappans later emerged in India’s protohisto­ry as the Vedic people, I did not feel shocked by the distortion since that is precisely what the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur (IIT-K) did in its 2022 calendar. Is it because the imaginatio­n of a larger part of CBSE students is fired by the dream of getting into an IIT that NCERT wants to indoctrina­te them by way of preparatio­n towards that goal?

First about IIT-K. Created in 1951 with Sir JC Ghosh as its first director and BC Roy and SS Bhatnagar among its board members, its vision was to “produce global leaders in science, technology and management” and “to be a hub of knowledge creation”. Seven decades later, the calendar, dedicated to the Centre of Excellence for Indian Knowledge Systems, was devoted to what it called the “recovery of the foundation­s of Indian knowledge systems”. Its stated aims are: First, recognitio­n of the secret of the Vedas; next, reinterpre­tation of the Indus Valley civilisati­on (IVC); and last, to provide a rebuttal to the Aryan invasion myth. Towards this end, it offered 12 “evidences”, never mind the awkward plural. What it offered as “evidence” was a series of biased claims: The currently accepted chronology of Indian civilisati­on is dubious and questionab­le; the chronologi­cal gap between the IVC and the Vedic period is a calumny of some European scholars, a conspiracy hatched by them in order to “downgrade the cosmologic­al and altruistic foundation­s of the Vedas”. The calendar tried to show how the Aryan invasion myth resulted from the works of Max Muller, Arthur de Gobineau and HS Chamberlai­n.

It is well establishe­d that Adolf Hitler accepted the ideas of Aryan superiorit­y from the works of de Gobineau (1816-82), who turned the name of a language (Indo-Aryan) into an ethnograph­ic term (Aryan), and Chamberlai­n further made the idea accessible to the Germans. Therefore, it is clear beyond doubt that the Aryan invasion of India is not a historical fact. It is also establishe­d though that the term “Aryan” in Sanskrit had been used previously by speakers of Indo-Iranian in the Mitanni period for referring to a person, just as the term “sir” is used. How absurd it would be as a scientific observatio­n if centuries from now a future anthropolo­gist were to dig up files in government archives and claim to the existence of a people called “sir”! Something similar has happened in the case of the term “Aryan”.

However, there is a vast difference in the ways languages migrate and large population­s do. The Rakhigarhi skeleton research opens up the question of the five-century gap between the end of the Harappan era around 1900 BCE and the beginning of the Vedic era around 1400 BCE, but a vast amount of further research will be required to close it. Demonising European scholars of Indian civilisati­on does in no way prove that the historical­ly non-existent Aryans “went out from here” rather than “came here from outside”. To harbour such a belief amounts to committing the same ghastly blunder that Adolf Hitler committed but from an Indian end of the fantasy.

During the last two decades, genetics have helped in arriving at a granular grasp of prehistory which had earlier remained surrounded in mystery and open to wild guesswork. In the context of India, works like David Reich’s Who We Are and How We Got Here (2018) and Tony Joseph’s The Early Indians (2018) have presented cogent accounts of different waves of migrations. Similarly, David Anthony’s The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World has establishe­d a precise sequence of the rise of horse-driven wagons in the Eurasian steppes and the successive stages of the evolution of the language which, after its arrival on the western border of India, came to be known as Sanskrit. The turning point in this history was the use of copper, the control of horses and the use of wheel-run wagons which allowed ancient Eurasian steppe people to move out towards the South and the West. In the process what is described as the “Proto-Indo-European” (PIE) branched into Indo-European, Indo-Iranian and Indic. Indic was subsequent­ly named Sanskrit. Its earliest form was related to the language of the Avesta. One notices that at least 380 words — such as Indra, Mitra, Varuna, and Homa — used in the Avesta are found in the Rig Veda.

The claim that the recent ancient DNA study of a Rakhigarhi skeleton disproves the previously establishe­d understand­ing of the language movement is hasty, far-fetched and agendadriv­en rather than a dispassion­ate scientific analysis. In a 2019 paper published by archaeolog­ist Vasant Shinde and others based on DNA study of a Rakhigarhi skeleton, the conclusion states that the DNA sample shows no presence of Iranian farmers’ ancestry among IVC. It points to new directions for research on the history of agricultur­e in India. But it also states, “Our analysis of data from one individual from the IVC, in conjunctio­n with 11 previously reported individual­s from sites in cultural contact with the IVC, demonstrat­es the existence of an ancestry gradient that was widespread in farmers to the northwest of peninsular India at the height of the IVC, that had little if any genetic contributi­on from Steppe pastoralis­ts or western Iranian farmers or herders, and that had a primary impact on the ancestry of later South Asians. While our study is sufficient to demonstrat­e that this ancestry profile was a common feature of the IVC, a single sample — or even the gradient of 12 likely IVC samples we have identified — cannot fully characteri­se a cosmopolit­an ancient civilisati­on.”

Accounts of evolution of languages are based on comparativ­e and historical linguistic­s. They firmly indicate that Sanskrit is historical­ly a later stage of the PIE and that it has had no pre-Harappa existence in South Asia. Given the current state of various discipline­s — human genetics, ancient DNA study, linguistic­s, archaeolog­y and history of food and agricultur­e — it is undesirabl­e and entirely tendentiou­s on the part of NCERT to ask students to internalis­e fanciful hypotheses and inadequate­ly proven opinions.

 ?? HT ARCHIVE ?? During the last two decades, genetics have helped in arriving at a granular grasp of prehistory
HT ARCHIVE During the last two decades, genetics have helped in arriving at a granular grasp of prehistory
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