Saturday, September 16, 2023

Open letter to the editors of The Indo-European Puzzle Revisited

(SENT FROM KÖLN ON 12 SEPTEMBER 2023, PUBLISHED IN PRAGYATA, DELHI, ON 13 SEPTEMBER 2023) Open letter to the editors of The Indo-European Puzzle Revisited Dear Doctores, Congratulations upon the successful completion of your editing of a collective scholarly book of seemingly historic significance. It is not without regret that in this letter, we will have to deal with a stain on the fair face of this book. A review in The Wire In the Indian paper The Wire (1 June 2023) we come across a review of The Indo-European Puzzle Revisited (Cambridge University Press), the book you have edited: “New Book on Indo-European Migrations Says ‘Out of India’ Theory ‘Firmly Refuted’”. We have downloaded the book and are presently reading it thoroughly with an eye on addressing the evidence offered in it. But meanwhile, this review already merits a review in its own right, especially your own statements quoted and instrumentalized in it. The Wire review is not exactly disinterested; it is not some piece of scholarly feedback. The fighting agenda of The Wire publishers and the article’s writer (viz. “The Wire staff”) already comes out in their very first sentence: “The authors of The Indo-European Puzzle Revisited use the examples of the Out of India theory [OIT] and Nazi German nationalism to warn against the political misuse of new genetic research that has impacted our understanding of the Indo-European migrations.” Clearly the 41 scholar-authors have addressed a much wider field than the OIT (and thus far, in the actual research part of the book, we haven’t even seen them addressing the OIT at all), but that is the one point of interest for The Wire, the only one that warrants devoting a review to the book. They have never shown any interest in Indo-European (IE) research; they merely try to safeguard the political advantages that the Aryan Invasion/Immigration Theory (AIT) has conferred on them, as it once did on the Nazis. To what extent the Nazi angle is brought up in the actual papers remains to be seen, but for the reviewers this introductory passage is the book’s foremost message: criminalizing the OIT through association with National-Socialism. The occasion for the review article is this: “A new book on Indo-European migrations has cautioned against the misuse of new genetic findings for political and ideological reasons, including by citing an example from India. (…) It is edited by well-known archaeologist Kristian Kristiansen, linguist Guus Kroonen and geneticist Eske Willerslev and the contributors include familiar names J.P. Mallory, David W. Anthony and Alexander Lubotsky.” Is there currently a problem of “misuse of new genetic findings for political and ideological reasons”, a replay of what happened with skull-measuring a century ago? We haven’t heard of it, neither in The Wire nor from you, gentlemen. In all the jargon of aDNA and R1a1, we haven’t noticed anything that could nurture a sense of superiority. The only known case of ideological instrumentalization in this context, viz. of the then-recent genetic findings by David Reich, is a 2018 book by the Indian journalist Tony Joseph, Early Indians: the Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From. (It was answered in detail, and his ideological intentions mapped and connected with his stance on history, by Shrikant Talageri: Genetics and the Aryan Debate: “Early Indians”, Tony Joseph’s Latest Assault, 2019.) But Joseph’s book was an attack on the OIT, and an argumentation in favour of the AIT. Unless you had intended to warn against the AIT, this fact seems to militate against your stated objective. Since it is you who are quoted as making this allegation, perhaps you can explain this apparent contradiction; in your book you have missed the opportunity. All the names summed up here are familiar to us as supporters of a non-Indian homeland theory. Except for Eske Willerslev, whose work is little known to non-geneticists. A first look in the not-so-scholarly Wikipedia tells us that in his work, IE migrations are only a minor focus of interest, but still he is cited there as, surprisingly, refuting the Yamnaya-centric received wisdom: his research group “further showed that in contrast to Europe, early Bronze Age expansion of Yamnaya into Asia had limited genetic and linguistic impact in either Central Asia or in South Asia, contrary to earlier claims by the [David] Reich group from Harvard. The paper thereby challenges the so-called ‘Steppe Hypothesis’ for early spread of the Indo-European languages that seem to explain the early expansion of Indo-European languages into Europe but not Asia.” As a direct challenge to the established Yamnaya-centric view, this wouldn’t exactly fit into the Wire narrative. We too think the Yamnaya influence in South Asia is limited at best. Linguists cherish the view that the linguistic influence was decisive but have so far not been able to prove that, hence their enthusiasm when genetics seemed to provide such proof. But clearly there is no consensus on that yet. As you must have heard, from the Indian vantage-point non-Indian homeland theories are all variants of the over-arching Aryan Invasion Theory, nowadays squeamishly called Aryan Immigration Theory by its advocates. It is not forbidden to espouse a hypothesis, but for concluding with such a grim allegation against a rival hypothesis it would have been in the fitness of things to research this other hypothesis first before pontificating on it. But to judge from your output or even from your book’s index, you are conspicuously non-conversant with it. Mind you, though groomed in perfect ignorance of the OIT, AIT-observant scholars do often unknowingly produce insights propitious to the OIT. We already found several in the scholarly papers making up this very book. For your information, among this handful of people who have elaborated versions of the AIT (rather than the millions who applaud or support it), two of these authors are fairly popular in the small world of OIT researchers: Mallory because in his long career he has shown a level-headed awareness of the relativity of the Homeland question, contrasting with the Indian AIT party’s cocksure claim that there is a scholarly consensus about the Homeland question against which it is futile to posit any alternative, such as the OIT; and Kristiansen because he has painted a vivid picture of the disruptive and violent character of Europe’s Indo-Europeanization. For what little Indians know about this European part of our topic, Kristiansen’s work serves in summary to prove that Europe shows, both archaeologically and genetically, what an “Aryan invasion” looks like; and thereby contrasts with India, where this population replacement scenario and this disruption in material culture traceable to outside origins are absent. Painting a realistic picture of this Aryan invasion of Europe emphasizes a contrario the glaring lack of proof for an Aryan invasion of India. Hence, Prof. Kristiansen, your good reputation in the minuscule world of OIT pioneers. A strange debate The strange phenomenon characterizing the Homeland debate is that it is completely one-sided. There are shrill tirades against the OIT from several Indian political movements, and curt condescending remarks by Western academics, like the one we are addressing here. The only exceptions are a few papers ca. 2000, most notably by Michael Witzel and Hans Henrich Hock, and less well-known, ca.1840, when a first OIT/AIT debate took place, with Veda translator Alexandre Langlois and historian Mountstuart Elphinstone defending the OIT against the then-rising tide of the AIT. Since then, there are just no argumentations against actual claims developed by Out-of-India theorists. The term “OIT” in outbursts against it, including your own remark, is not an ad rem critique of a rival hypothesis after studying it, but merely a label imposed on a straw man. Looking around for explanations, we think first of all of the fact that many of you academics have no scholarly respect for non-academics, like the skepticism your colleagues of yore had against non-entitled discoverers such as Michael Faraday or Heinrich Schliemann. It is the reaction we hear most often from back-benchers at Indo-Europeanist conferences, to the extent that they know of the OIT at all. But it is a mistake, again stemming from a basic ignorance about the OIT, this time about its crew. To get our own case out of the way first: after a few brief stints as visiting professor at minor Indian universities, we are back to the status of “non-affiliated Oriental philologist and historian”, eking out a meagre living with free-lance political journalism. Though fully qualified for this debate, with thirty years of experience in the thick of it, this lack of status is often held against us, esp. by laymen and sophomores. More consequential is how some AIT champions express their disdain for the OIT’s mastermind, “bank clerk” Shrikant Talageri. Alright, nothing to do about it, his academic status (though Doctor Honoris Causa) is inversely proportional to the brilliance of his analysis, and socialites who merely go by status feel emboldened to look down on him. Scholars, who go by knowledge, ought to behave differently, but let’s say the time hasn’t seemed ripe for that yet. Since many in your camp insist on disparaging an opponent for his lack of status, instead you could have started with addressing legitimate “but” AIT-skeptical professors from top Indian universities, who are of the same academic rank and by now similarly numerous as the crusaders for the AIT. You could for instance take your pick from the Archaeology faculty at top institution IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) Gandhinagar. When we participated in a Harappa conference there last February, we witnessed all kinds of technical quarrels, as is normal among scholars (disputant doctores), but saw no one stand up to defend the Aryan immigration scenario. Among this faculty is Michel Danino, a naturalized French Jew, author of a book significantly titled The Invasion that Never Was. (Normally we don’t specify whether someone is Jewish, but it’s you who chose to throw the Nazi label around against an array of scholars, among whom are also Jews.) In the introduction to the collective book The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia (1995), editor George Erdosy already wrote that a contrast of views on the Aryan Immigration Theory was crystallizing along the border between linguists (pro) and archaeologists (contra). Apparently the linguists among you have succeeded in starkly ignoring the archaeological input for a full 28 years, all sermons about interdisciplinary cooperation notwithstanding. Or even longer, for it mainly was American professor James Shaffer, not exactly a “Hindu nationalist”, whose 1984 paper on the archaeological assessment of the hypothesised Aryan invasion threw the gauntlet against AIT complacency. He noted that already for more than half a century, well-financed excavations in the Harappan area had been looking for traces of the Aryan immigration (whether violent, as the archaeologists had expected, or under the radar, as they were later forced to postulate), but no trace had appeared. Indian archaeologists were becoming skeptical but the signal for them to gradually go public with this, at least in India to start with, was Shaffer’s statement. Most older OIT champions are converts from the AIT. The most important conversion to the Out-of-India position was by the dean of Indian archaeology, Prof. BB Lal, deceased last year at age 101. As we personally learned in our student days from leading Indologist Pierre Eggermont, it was Lal who first added an archaeological scaffolding to the linguists’ hypothesis of an Aryan immigration. In the 1950s, he had mapped out the newfound Painted Grey Ware in the Mahābhārata cities, and theorized that this must be typical for the Aryans on their way deeper into India. From the 1980s onwards, he understood that this had merely been an application of the Aryan Invasion paradigm, not proof of it as he and the AIT crowd had believed. The last decades of his life he wrote several books against the AIT, summing his position up as: “Vedic and Harappan are two sides of the same coin.” Pray, why can the mature BB Lal, with many other feathers in his cap (e.g. identifying the Harappan script’s now-unquestioned writing direction), be cavalierly ignored while the young BB Lal could be trumpeted as the decisive voice of archaeology in the Homeland debate? Those in India who clamour that “Western scholars have disproven the OIT”, are misinformed. The Wire staff, who make this claim, have clearly not read your book beyond the introduction. Those authority-exuding “Western scholars” have never addressed the OIT, only lambasted or at best ignored it. This conduct was explicitly advocated by leading Sanskritist Stephanie Jamison in her review of the only book that gives both sides of the argument a hearing, The Indo-Aryan Controversy edited by Edwin Bryant and Laurie Patton in 2005: she lambasts the very idea of a debate, likening the OIT to Biblical Creationism, unworthy of scholarly attention. In India, numerous people ascribe to “racism” the Western scholars’ wilful blindness to the ever-growing amount of OIT evidence. This is on the face of it very anachronistic, perpetuating the image of “Aryan race” theorists from a century ago, unaware that non-racism has become a matter of (not even enforced) consensus in Western universities. And yet, there are serious remains of the Western disdain for India typical of the colonial age at work here. We wonder whether any of you would dare to put it in cold print, but in colloquial interaction with dozens of participants in Indo-Europeanist conferences, we have noted that the argument of Indian academics supporting the OIT carries no weight with them because they disdain Indian universities per se. We expect that the ongoing geopolitical shift towards Asia is about to cure this. The crucial work in IE linguistics and till recently for the OIT has not been done by Indians secure in their Indianness, nor by Europeans ignorant of India, but by Europeans living in India. It all started from the 16th century onwards with several European travellers to India whose attention was drawn by linguistic similarities between their own and the native languages: Filippo Sassetti, Thomas Stephens s.j., Marcus Zuerius van Boxhorn, Jean Calmette s.j. The official birth of the IE theory in Europe was the arrival in the Paris Academy of a systematic treatment of the Greco-Roman-Sanskrit kinship by Gaston-Laurent Coeurdoux s.j. (1767), a Catholic missionary living in Andhra; and for India, the “philologer” speech by William Jones, a judge living in Kolkata (1786). When the OIT was elbowed out by the AIT, it was Europeans living in India who defended it, most permanently (scripta manent) Mountstuart Elphinstone in his History of India (1841). Today a prominent role is being played by the French-born archaeologist Michel Danino, and somewhat by ourselves, frequently in India since 1988. The reason is that, unlike most Indians, we can’t ignore the non-Indian branches of IE, and unlike most Europeans, we can’t ignore India: we are fully aware of its magnitude and importance. Europeans can hold week-long conferences about Historical Linguistics where India is hardly ever mentioned, even when discussing a language family of which half the speakers are in or from the Subcontinent. This forgetfulness about India was established when India was temporarily a mere colony, contrasting with the 17th-18th century when India was a wealthy mystery land in the distance. It will take a full mental decolonization before India is given its due again. Narratives of exclusion In spite of all the obvious lack of scholarly interest in the OIT, you people have recently confronted the OIT, no matter how briefly, but certainly very sharply. At least, The Wire quotes you: “‘We must be aware of the huge popular interest in the new genetic results, and the need to constantly and critically debate their dissemination… where complex knowledge can sometimes be transformed into dangerous stereotypes’, the book says in its introduction. (…) It continues: ‘One of the most destructive political misuses of the past has been in constructing nationalist narratives of exclusion.’” This is very true, only it is not the OIT against which this can be held. It is AIT champion Mallikarjuna Kharge, the then leader of the Congress parliamentary party and now its party chairman, who said on the floor of the Lok Sabhā (India’s House of Commons) in 2015: “You Aryans don’t belong in India!” Just last week, Udhayanidhi Stalin, State Minister in Tamil Nadu (seconded post factum by Karnātaka State Minister Priyank Kharge), stated, citing the AIT, that “Sanātana Dharma (= Hinduism) is like mosquitoes, malaria and dengue, like Covid-19, it must be exterminated”. Doesn’t that comparison of a targeted group with vermin remind you of another “Aryan”-monger’s fulminations? These calls to exclusion are not from some Twitter troll nor from some tattooed alcoholic SiegHeiler, but from top politicians. They are but recent examples of a discourse that goes back uninterruptedly to British days, starting with the British collaborator Jotirao Phule in the 19th century, and spawning characters like mid-20th-century Dravidianist leader EV Ramaswamy Naicker (invoked by Stalin as his inspiration), who actually preached violent methods: “If you see a snake and a Brahmin, kill the Brahmin first.” He expressly rejected the belief of “hate the sin, love the sinner”: for him, ending the sin required killing the sinners. Therefore he is on record as calling in so many words for a genocide of the Brahmins. An innocent-seeming fruit of this current is the AIT-based pseudo-Sanskrit neologism Ādivāsī, “aboriginal”, designating India’s Tribals (°ca. 1930). This is a one-word disinformation campaign painting the non-Tribals as immigrants. In fact, some Tribals aren’t even aboriginal: the northeastern Nāga, incidentally a native designation effectively meaning “tribal”, have immigrated from Southeast Asia only a thousand years ago, a short time for those making a fuss about Aryans allegedly immigrating some 3500 years ago. But the main point about this term is its intentional implication that the non-Tribals are immigrants/invaders. In his speeches, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist par excellence, unthinkingly uses this AIT-laden word. Interestingly, in the British period this politicized AIT had both pro-“Aryan” varieties, such as among the Sinhalese (Sri Lanka’s Indo-European-speakers in a sea of Dravidian-speakers) and Sikhs (after 1857 mostly a collaborator community, who even visually looked like how the Vedic seers get depicted in historical movies and comic-strips); and anti-Aryan varieties such as the anti-Brahmin and Dravidianist movements. The first variety withered away after Independence, the second kept on flourishing, permeating public discourse and in Tamil Nadu even forming the State Government for decades on end. For more than a century, the AIT has been used to demand the exclusion of non-Tribals, of North-Indians, of Upper-Caste people. But maybe this can also be said, though only for a more recent period, about the OIT? That would be a case of the “symmetry fallacy”, the lazy assumption that the opposite side must be behaving the same as this side. But let us give it a fair hearing. Are there any cases of OIT-minded scholars who deduce doctrines of exclusion? A good test case: leading AIT skeptic, geneticist Dr. Gyaneshwar Chaubey from Banaras Hindu University, has recently shown that the so-called aboriginal Munda speakers have in fact immigrated from Southeast Asia in the 2th millennium BC (just when you people assume that an Aryan immigration from the Northwest was taking place). Neither he nor his supporters have ever hinted that the Munda people, including the present-day Indian President, Mrs. Droupadi Murmu, are therefore somehow unworthy of their Indianness. Indeed, such an anti-immigrant stance would go against the grain of Hindu society’s traditional practice of extending hospitality to newcomers, such as the Malabar Jews, the Syrian Christians, the Parsis, the Armenians, the Baha’i, the Tibetans, and during World War II even a group of Polish Jews that had been rejected everywhere else. There is not one example that you or the Wire editors have cited, nor could cite, of an OIT-based attempt to exclude any Indian population group; whereas there are very many where the AIT has been put to such use in India. Not to mention cases well-known to you in Europe, where Jewish and even Indian-originated Indo-Aryan-speaking Gypsies were excluded for their degree of Aryanness. It is therefore only normal that from around 1990, any Indians who loved their country (“Hindu nationalists”) flocked to the OIT, or at least to the non-AIT, once news reached them that the pro-AIT consensus was not that solid after all. Note this distinction between anti-AIT and pro-OIT. In the 21st century, most people identifying as Hindus (people like the Wire editors may have Hindu names but rarely identify as Hindu, just as few contemporary Europeans will identify as Christian, whereas outsiders still call them that) strongly reject the AIT, but don’t care about the IE family’s other branches, hence about their link with India through a migration either way. Before that, Hindu nationalists like Vinayak Damodar Savarkar accepted the AIT, covered as it was in the prestige of Western science. It was also of little importance especially to nationalists, as the founding myth of many nations consists in a conquest or immigration. Bal Gangadhar Tilak even thought up his own version of it, with the Homeland being in the Arctic. But once the AIT started tottering, they collectively apostatized from it. At any rate, first there was a shift among scholars, only in a reaction to this did Hindu nationalism get involved. Only a negligeable minority of Brahmin casteists, who had been tutored to link their assumption of caste superiority with their presumed Aryan-invader origins, has weakly defended the AIT in the early years of this debate (today we don’t hear them anymore). And while they are certainly Hindu, they can’t be counted as “Hindu nationalists”. Typical for the latter is precisely that they try to erase fissures within the nation, which in India means the rejection of caste, while they treat caste-attached traditionalists as a nuisance. Thus, check the example of at once the most hate-evoking face of Hindu nationalism: Nathuram Godse, the murderer of Mahatma Gandhi, had been an anti-caste activist. His case against Gandhi was that the latter had condoned the Partition of India, whereas he himself had preferred an undivided India – which would necessarily have been a multicultural India. No matter how much many Hindus disliked or resented Muslims, they preferred to live under one roof with them rather than being excluded by them from a Partitioned-off part of the Motherland. The whole notion of Hindu nationalism is rather more inclusive than Europeans with their memories of two World Wars would give it credit for. In India, “nationalism” is a term hallowed by the Freedom Struggle. Mahatma Gandhi was a nationalist. Its second connotation is anti-separatism. The most serious separatist movements in recent memories have been in East Panjab and Kashmir, both characterized by the most extreme form of “cleansing” and exclusion, viz. killing thousands of non-Sikhs c.q. non-Muslims. By comparison, “nationalism” rings rather benign to Indian ears. But whatever one can say for or against the Hindu nationalists and their ideology, they have not contributed anything whatsoever to the research undermining the AIT or supporting the OIT: not creatively nor even institutionally or financially. To the extent that social policies presuppose the AIT (reservations and legal privileges for the Tribals and Dalits), the presently ruling Bhāratīya Janatā Party (BJP) has simply continued them. And given their organizational culture of anti-intellectualism, actually meddling in high-brow research questions is just beyond them. It is seriously insulting that papers attacking the OIT systematically describe the scholars concerned as “the Hindu Nationalists”. Have scholarly papers on the Homeland question ever introduced you not as “linguist Guus Kroonen” but as “Groenlinks/Green-Left activist Guus Kroonen”; or not “archaeologist Kristian Kristiansen” but “Sweden Democrat Kristian Kristiansen”? Even if true, this categorization would still be insulting. In the present case, worse than insulting, it is simply untrue. Among scholars, this ought to make it a serious reason for course-correction. And even worse than this: it is not based on any empirical data. It has the status of gossip. There are anti-AIT or pro-OIT researchers to whom this label could not possibly apply, like Indian Marxist Bhagwan Singh, author of The Vedic Harappans (who finally took issue with the AIT’s colonialist thrust; 1995). Likewise Athenian Sanskritist Nicholas Kazanas or Russian archaeologist Aleksandr Semenenko, two outspoken skeptics of Hindu chauvinism, or Russian linguist Igor Tonoyan-Belyayev; or indeed ourselves, neither nationalist nor Hindu. Let alone those who have never explicitly joined the anti-AIT camp but have contributed evidence eagerly cited against the AIT. And let alone those who really are Hindu nationalists, but whose work is methodologically impeccable all the same, e.g. Dileep Chakravarty. Note also that practically all aforementioned critics of the AIT, both Indian and foreign, have gone through a process of conversion. While their ideological commitments remained roughly the same, their position on the Homeland changed in the light of new or of freshly-reconsidered evidence, illustrating how a stance in the Homeland debate, about prehistoric events, is independent from ideology. One explicit Hindu nationalist in our circles is mastermind Shrikant Talageri, but not the way you imagine. He is India’s most perceptive critic of the so-called Hindu-nationalist party presently in power, the BJP, because for him this is an ideal, a principle, and not a label for a political party that has become completely untrue to it. Unlike the academic supposed-experts whose hearsay you have reproduced, he actually knows his subject, the people involved, their history, their stated goals, and their actual performance. But even he did not develop his OIT insights from his ideological moorings but through a process you as scholars should be familiar with: he noticed that the data did not add up to the established paradigm. This process is described passim in his books and additionally in his blogs, easily accessible but seemingly an impenetrable desert to academics. The Holy Grail of genetics The Wire staff further summarizes your contribution thus: “‘Where the original PIE speakers lived has been long contested: some say they lived in the steppes of what is today southern Russia, while others say they lived in what is today Turkey. But the authors of Revisited say that evidence from breakthrough genetic studies in 2015 points towards the former as the PIE homeland. At the same time, they believe that the results of these genetic studies must be used to dispel racist theories that were spread about the Proto-Indo-Europeans. If there is anything that the recent interdisciplinary biomolecular studies have shown, it must be that the once-dominant Eurocentric and supremacist perspectives on the Indo-European homeland are not supported by any genetic or linguistic evidence’, they say in the book.” Leave aside that the shifting sands in the over-all picture developed by the young science of genetics don’t warrant such precocious cocksureness about its provisional conclusions, and that this passage shows the familiar disregard for the contribution by some geneticists who happen to be Indian, the real question raised by this passage is: do you really recognize this as the meaning of your recent output? Having gone through a similar curriculum as you all, we thought that after World War II, all courses of Indo-European studies shunned the “supremacist” vantage-point, and even emphatically repudiated it. There is nothing that recent discoveries or new insights could add to this. Repudiating the supremacist distortions was necessary, but it is a station we have long passed. Are you really still busy proving that point? Aren’t you flattering yourself by claiming to have pin-pricked supremacist perspectives that had been taken care of by an earlier generation? But leave aside supremacism, at least the word “Eurocentric” still applies, quite literally. Here we don’t mean that people who situate the Homeland in Europe deliberately do so because of some Eurocentric prejudice. Maybe the founders of the US-based Journal of Indo-European Studies could have been suspected of such an attitude, viz. by critics like Stefan Arvidsson or Jean-Claude Demoule; but they are long dead. (On second thought, these critics might even be read as raising suspicions against the whole Indo-Europeanist discipline, including you.) A dwindling handful of Euro-Nationalist ideologues in the French Nouvelle Droite might also think this way, but they are amateurs without any influence on this debate. Indeed, in view of new findings, scholars like David Reich and Paul Heggarty have effortlessly moved their putative Homeland south of the Caucasus, i.e. outside Europe (though still outside India). We only mean that those who, with The Wire, insist on locating the Homeland in Eastern Europe, espouse an objectively “Eurocentric” position. This is especially striking since their explicit goal is to deny Homeland status to a region of Asia. About the theories that were developed in Germany to support nationalist ideologies, the Wire staff says: “In the pre-war period, the prehistoric spread of the Indo-European languages was increasingly attributed to the superiority of an alleged Indo-European-speaking ethnolinguistic unity, which, despite all linguistic evidence to the contrary, was claimed to have developed… in North Europe. The question of Indo-European linguistic origins was integrated into nationalist theories of German ethnic origins, which demanded a North European centre of spread.” While no big deal, this passage bespeaks a poor grasp of the relevant research. Gustaf Kossinna’s attempt, ca. 1910 (in “pre-war”, which war is meant?), to apply the budding science of archaeology to the Homeland question did not conflict with the then state of linguistics, still very fluid. Even now linguists have a hard time determining the Homeland, so what could this decisive “evidence” have been back then? The sub-discipline of Linguistic Paleontology, then not questioned yet, did argue for a northern (the “bear” argument) and a western (the “beech” argument) Homeland, criteria which Kossinna’s choice for the German-Danish borderland certainly satisfied. The Wire’s invocation of “linguistic evidence to the contrary” in 1910 is sheer bluff. Kossinna proved wrong, but that’s a risk every launcher of new hypotheses takes. Even during his lifetime, the general preference (crystallized in Gordon Childe’s 1926 book The Aryans: a Study of Indo-European Origins) clearly shifted back to Eastern Europe. Some academics who landed in the Nazi camp (pun unintended) would accept this while others stuck to the German option, as some post-War scholars have continued to do. But all of them taught variations within what Indians call the Aryan Invasion Theory. Yes, the Nazi scholars were all with the AIT (even Heinrich Himmler’s expedition to Tibet looking for lost Aryans was a disappointment: unlike the dolichocephalic Aryans, the Swastika-wielding Tibetans proved to very broad-skulled). The Wire dilates upon half-understood data from a far-away continent a century ago to fill up the space logically reserved for incriminating data from contemporary India, which remain glaringly absent. Your attack Coming closer to the point, The Wire informs us: “In the introduction, the book advises caution against nationalist theories about the Proto-Indo-Europeans from outside Europe: ‘Here we should mention the rise of an ‘Out of India’ model of Indo-European languages during the last generation, motivated primarily by Hindu nationalism. These are the same kind of forces that used the model of Gustaf Kossinna to support a Nazi racist ideology nearly one hundred years earlier. However, the Out of India model has been firmly refuted by recent aDNA [ancient DNA] results, and it has little or no support in historical linguistic research … [It] should serve as a warning example of the political impact of nationalism, even in the present.’” “Firmly refuted”? On the shifting sands of the fast-evolving discipline of genetics, nothing is “firm”. Very conflicting hypotheses are being proposed by different geneticists; it is a lively and interesting scene. But “firm”, certainly not. This is a misrepresentation of the state of the art. But there is something even more fundamentally wrong here. So you claim that the OIT was “motivated primarily by Hindu nationalism”? That is both a conspiracy theory and a lie. Conspiracy thinkers always suspect a sinister intention behind seemingly innocent facts. You say Hindu nationalism generated the OIT, exactly like numerous Hindu nationalists claim racism generated the AIT. Come to think of it, you two deserve each other. But what a funny concept: a political activist tries to strengthen his position by thinking up a scholarly theory, so good that even the specialists in the field run away with it. Whenever you hear an argument about isoglosses or mitochondrial DNA, don’t get fooled by the puppet-show, there’s a “racist” c.q. “Hindu nationalist” puppeteer behind it pulling the strings. As for “lie”, your claim is first of all untrue. The OIT 1.0 was thought up by Europeans together with the very realization that an Indo-European family exists (1767). The French freethinker Voltaire was one of the first to hear of it. He gave it wide publicity (and trend-settingly, he at once instrumentalized it ideologically, viz. to diminish the role of Christianity in making European civilization, which had first of all come from India), and others spoke similarly, such as Immanuel Kant. These are not marginal Hindu nationalists but the cream of European Enlightenment thinkers. For about half a century, it remained the default assumption, the dominant Homeland hypothesis, most explicitly in Friedrich Schlegel’s book Language and Wisdom of the Indians (1808). The main alternative back then was the Bible-based Armenian Homeland theory: from the Ark came Noah’s son Jafeth, the purported progenitor of the Indo-Europeans. (Ironically, it is to Armenia, south of the Caucasus, that David Reich and Paul Heggarty have recently, on genetic c.q. linguistic grounds, moved the putative Homeland.) The critical decade was the 1830s, when the AIT definitively gained the upper hand. By the mid-19th century some further seeming successes had cleared the field completely for the new peri-Caucasian Homeland theory. It would still have to compete with other attempts, esp. the North-European Homeland, but till today, whether Yamnaya or the Southern Arc, this central area of the Indo-European expanse (halfway between Sri Lanka and Iceland, between Tarim and Portugal) has remained the great favourite. Secondly, the OIT 2.0 was again the work of non-Hindus and non-political Hindus. It started in the 1980s with an archaeology-based (rather than a traditionalist scripture-based) higher chronology for the Vedas as per the book Karpāsa by KD Sethna, a Parsi. Then followed the repudiation of the AIT as still lacking the least bit of archaeological evidence (later admitted by AIT champion Michael Witzel: “no archaeological evidence yet”), by US archaeologists James Shaffer and Diane Lichtenstein; and likewise by the British anthropologist Edmund Leach. In this early stage, Hindu nationalism played no role at all. In the 1990s some Hindu amateurs (typically expatriate scientists dabbling in history) monopolized the attention. In the main, they were still far more AIT-rejecter than OIT-creator. This is another point that AIT polemicists like you fail to understand: the difference between anti-AIT and pro-OIT. Only a handful of scholars thought in terms of an emigration from an Indian Homeland, but millions upon millions of Hindus rejected the AIT. They didn’t give a damn about the story behind the non-Indian branches: being nationalists, their horizon stopped at the Khyber Pass. Moreover, they suspected that the emigration scenario was a wily trick from Westerners to somehow maintain a connection with India and thus keep a colonial foot in the door. When two books elaborating the OIT came out, Talageri’s The Rigveda and the Avesta: the Final Evidence (2008) and our own Asterisk in Bhāropīyasthān (2007), the most blistering reviews they received were not from AIT zealots but from a very vocal AIT opponent, space scientist NS Rajaram. Here was a stereotypical Hindu nationalist, given to heavy rhetoric and colourful anti-Westernism (though US citizen). Your Nazi allegations seem quite odd here, though: he made them himself about your kind. He was full of anti-colonial discourse about Western “racism” and all that. Together with fellow Hindu-American physicist Subhash Kak and with American convert David Frawley (and seconded by several India-loving US Orientalists) he brought some interesting facts about ancient Indian science to light, not compatible with the AIT’s low chronology. Alas, this crowd failed to understand the basics of the debate, such as the whole notion of an IE language family, e.g. by claiming that Sanskrit-related words in Lithuanian or Albanian were a matter of borrowing, or by rejecting the Indo-Aryan/Dravidian divide. Rajaram’s prominent presence on the early internet seems to have fixed a furious image of the OIT (in fact the non-AIT) in Westerners’ minds. When we hear all today’s hate speech against the OIT, it sounds like they are still fulminating against long-dead Rajaram. Time has stood still in the AIT champions’ mind. To be sure, till today some vocal and increasingly knowledgeable AIT skeptics continue to walk in his footsteps, such as ML Raja, with degrees in Medicine and History (in India most historians and philosophers first obtained a Science degree before following their hearts’ desire in the Humanities). His understanding of the IE framework and of the Homeland question’s stakes and history is still very poor, but his array of anti-AIT arguments has become very rich and remains largely unanswered. That AIT-minded authors have never even taken cognizance of these arguments is no excuse, at least not for scholars. But they concern only the affirmation or refutation of the AIT; the OIT specifics are another hypothesis. An incipient systematization of the AIT critiques resulting in a real OIT was pioneered by Sanskrit professors SS Misra and Nicholas Kazanas. The great breakthrough came with Shrikant Talageri’s book The Rigveda, a Historical Analysis (2000), along with its 2008 sequel just mentioned. In the oldest Vedic texts he discovered enough factual data to reconstruct ancient history. After that, once the OIT had become a specific narrative, a number of new faces flocked to it and extended the OIT-directed research to other disciplines, e.g. Premendra Priyadarshi’s work on the genetics of human, zoological and botanical emigration. This included outsiders from Russia, Italy and elsewhere, most notably Aleksandr Semenenko who is finding more matches between Vedic data and material findings, and filling an important gap in the OIT case: positive archaeological data for an Out-of-India emigration, as distinct from the absence of evidence for an immigration. So there you have the growing but still very small OIT crew. So what they have alleged is firmly untrue. It is very rare that we accuse people of telling lies. We are aware of the many influences on what people say: wishful thinking, peer pressure etc., and most ordinarily, hearsay. All on the background of degrees of ignorance, a factor of the human condition diagnosed by Socrates as the root of all evil. Often there are mitigating factors, so why spoil a (potentially) good discussion by bringing out the big guns and accusing people of lies? A lie is a consciously uttered untruth. You people were not somnambulating when you wrote what you wrote; to that extent this untruth was certainly a conscious one, for which you bear full responsibility. Only, you may really have believed it, which would make it a mistake rather than a lie. Though we don’t have your word for it, we will assume that this lie is not your own. As babes in the wood of India’s raw AIT/OIT confrontation, you have borrowed it from sources you have innocently trusted, and of which The Wire is quite representative. Thus, what has gone on between you and The Wire is a classic case of what, in our research of Indian political life, we have called the circular argument of authority. First India’s usual suspects feed Western intellectuals misinformation about India, then the Westerners start selling this hearsay as privileged inside information, and finally their authority-laden words are quoted back to the Indian public. When we prepared our doctoral dissertation on the Hindu political movement, the first thing we noticed was the veritable abyss between the extant academic literature on it and the reality on the ground. Having researched several more books on this topic and the disinformation techniques determining the reporting about India’s political relations, we are now convinced that the last few decades’ main corpus of research literature on this topic will become a laughing-stock once the power equation that fosters such disinformation has lapsed. But that’s all we will say about it for now: you people have better things to do than pondering India’s ideological cauldron, try finding the Homeland instead. Godwin’s law in academe You have unilaterally chosen to burden this old debate with references to the National-Socialist movement. Most of us thought that Adolf Hitler and fellow ideologues like Alfred Rosenberg were laymen, whose opinion is not really worth a scholar’s consideration, at least not for arriving at the answer of his research questions. But you brought them in to criminalize a whole school of scholars, of no lesser rank than you. We have not so much chosen to draw attention to your intemperate attack because it is slanderous: to stay in the kitchen of India’s controversies, you have to be used to the heat of violent language or what they now loosely call “hate speech”. We could have consoled ourselves once more that this is just par for the course. But in this case, the slander is of an exceptional gravity. In contemporary Western culture, accusing anyone of anything Nazi is the single worst allegation you can make. This point really must be emphasized: it is you, not us, who have soiled this debate with off-topic Nazi references. As we have often found out: when an outsider dares to criticize an established authority, the whole establishment gangs up against the critic to shift the blame for the commotion to him. It is all very feudal in character: when a premodern earl’s son broke a precious vase, not he but the footman got the blame (that’s the story of our own bans from the Religion in South Asia list and from the Indology list). So let’s be clear, it is you who have claimed that Misra’s, Talageri’s, Kazanas’s and others’ OIT is a replay of the Nazis’ stance on the “Aryan” question, no less. Would you dare to repeat this to their faces? There is also a human side to this conflict, but you have benumbed yourselves to this dimension by keeping the demonized OIT scholars at a distance. From our student days we remember an incident where allegations flew between professors until the Dean of the Faculty forced them to reconcile. Here such mechanism seems unavailable because of the lack of human relations. The water still seems to be too deep. Neither you nor the sources you have parroted have been able to underpin this allegation with any incriminating facts. In fact, all the trouble we take here to explain matters is a generous gesture of goodwill towards you, for it is not up to us to do any explaining. Those who utter an allegation are ipso facto guilty of slander unless they prove their point, or retract it and apologize. So far, no such proof. In the present power equation, you have no pressing need to³ retract or apologize: most of the establishment in the West and part of it in India will only, if this polemic ever gets any publicity, praise you as champions in the struggle against ugly vicious history distortion. They will ignore anything argued here against the standard hate narrative and use that very narrative to demonize us. The last thing they will countenance is a climbdown from their high horse of false indictment. We have no power to shame, let alone to force, people into doing what we think they ought to do. And even if we had, we’d choose not to use it. It’s only a matter of honour. No one can be forced to do the honourable thing. As free speech absolutists we also don’t believe in punishing people for failing to do the honourable thing. Honour has no use; you just have it, or you don’t. We’ve been here before. In 1993, Sheldon Pollock, one of the tallest Western Indologists, ludicrously wrote that National-Socialism was but applied Pūrva Mīmānsā, the most orthodox of Hindu philosophies. We took the trouble of drawing attention to this scandalous slander and refuting it, but this has made no difference at all. He didn’t even pretend to any scholarly objectivity but declared candidly that this way he wanted to contribute to the anti-Hindu struggle then crystallizing around the demolished Ayodhya temple. He and most academic and journalistic India-watchers worldwide pretended this temple had never existed, though evidence for it was accumulating and in 2003 the temple remains were excavated. None of them ever admitted to having been wrong. (You will understand why not everyone is impressed by claims of “academic consensus”.) Perhaps this precedent is relevant for our present dispute: accumulating evidence countered by “Nazi” slander… And Hitler in all this? So, suit yourselves. But we should not walk away from this dispute without reminding everyone where the Nazis, whom you chose to bring in, stood in the Homeland debate. For them, the AIT was a cornerstone of the racist worldview. First, the dynamic White Europeans went all the way to the land of the indolent Brown natives, and conquered it. Then like proto-Nazis they installed the caste system as a kind of racial Apartheid. (At that stage they still produced lofty philosophies, which explains the handful of Nazi takers for the tall light-skinned Buddha or the caste-conscious Bhagavad Gītā.) But they still fell for native charms and racially mixed somewhat, thus losing much of their superior qualities and becoming the dirty superstitious Hindus we know. Fortunately for them, their cousins in distant Britain had preserved their racial purity and generously came over to provide the benighted ex-Aryans with good governance. The Nazi use of the Swastika also fits in with the AIT. Hindus in the West often have to hear that “Hitler borrowed the Swastika from Hinduism”. The true story is different. If Hitler had believed it was Hindu in origin, he never would have chosen it. He rarely talked about Hindus, and only contemptuously. Instead, he was aware of the Swastika’s frequent occurrence in Troy and Greece (of which he was an admirer) and in the Baltic (where many Nazi Party rank-and-file had gone to fight the Bolsheviks in 1919-20), so he deemed it European. Next, the Aryan invaders had taken it along during their conquest of India, whence it then made its way to India’s Buddhist “colonies”. So it is as a European symbol that Hitler glorified the Swastika. This, by contrast, is what he thought of the Hindus: “We know that the Hindus in India are a people mixed from the lofty Aryan immigrants and the dark-black aboriginal population, and that this people is bearing the consequences today; for it is also the slave people of a race that almost seems like a second Jewry”. (For the German original, see: There you have it: according to Hitler, the Aryan invasion explains the state of the Hindus today. Or rather “Aryan immigration” (Einwanderung), for then already he followed the current fashion of avoiding the toxic-masculine term “invasion”. He really was one of yours. Yours sincerely, Dr. Koenraad ELST Köln (Cologne), 12 September 2023 PS: note that Köln is not only where today the Indogermanische Gesellschaft’s conference is taking place; it was also the city of the remarkable anti-Nazi statesman Konrad Adenauer, after whom the undersigned was named.


Sanjay2015 said...

Another mystery here is what Thomas McEvilley documents in The Shape of Ancient Thought. Namely, the eerie parallels (and highly unlikely to be coincidental in many cases) between early Greek philosophy and Indian philosophy. He takes the cliched scholarly position that the yogic, philosophical seeds that set the stage for the Upanishads, etc. to go against Vedic IE ritualism was started from some Dravidian influence(even though there has never been any scholarly evidence for this).

The more interesting question is whether the yogic, philosophical strain was an internal IE development parallel with IE ritualism. That is a much more parsimonious explanation for the early Greek/Indian parallels. Just speculation, but we already know that IAs (i.e. Mitanni) were present in West Asia/Asia Minor at an early stage in history.

Could the evidence that McEvilley points to provide further evidence of some form of OIT?

Anonymous said...

Hey there! 🚀 Awesome read! 😄 What if we explore how this relates to modern linguistic evolution? 🤔 #LanguageNerd
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Superfly Productions said...
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Superfly Productions said...

This open letter raises excellent points about the need for more interdisciplinary approaches in Indo-European studies. Incorporating archaeological and genetic data is crucial for a comprehensive understanding. The dominance of the Steppe Hypothesis should indeed be challenged with fresh perspectives and diverse evidence.

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