Indian political campaigns usually base themselves on the “Indian” identity, and related sentiments. Most often, such leaders appeal to sentiments and emotions rather than constructive discussions about economics, science, and progress as a nation. There exists an associated pride in being a ‘pure’ Indian. Without factual, genetic evidence, there have been many theories hypothesized about the origins of the Indian population. What does genetics actually say about the Indian origins?
Linguistic analysis and archeology, and how Indians evolved
Before the advent of population genetics, linguistic analysis aided in the initial theories of the origins of Indians.
Indian languages are quite similar to European languages.
Based on this, there were two theories- the Nazis (and other colonial Indologists) spread the theory of Aryans (superior blue-eyed, fair races that conquered a number of places until the Indian subcontinent).
The other theory claims the opposite; that Indo-European languages originated in India and spread westwards.
There are other theories related to the Indus Valley Civilisation, and there are many questions related to which race moved southwards- did the Dravidians move down because of the Aryans, or did the Aryans move south?
Genetics- the flow of races
A number of studies on population genetics, coordinated by David Reich (1,2), provide startling results- the Indian origins are a result of massive migrations, that mixed freely with the local people.
The belief that Indians originated on this subcontinent is not true.
Extensive population genetic analyses support this hypothesis.
Indians can trace back their origins to 65,000 years ago when the first group of humans made their way to the subcontinent from Africa.
After this migration, there were more waves of major migrations, and these populations freely mixed with the initial population.
The subcontinent had the world’s largest population 20,000 years ago.
- 9,000 to 5,000 years ago, farmers from Iran’s Zagros region moved to northwestern India and freely mixed with the population- creating the Harappan people, and eventually, the urban Indus Valley civilization.
- The Harappans moved south and mixed with the local population, forming the Ancestral South Indian, whose culture was based on the Dravidian languages.
- The third migration occurred in 2000BC when Chinese migrants swamped southeast Asia and reached India. They brought in the Austroasiatic languages like Mundari and Khasi (found in the eastern and central parts of India).
- The fourth migration took place between 2000 and 1000 BC, bringing in people from the Kazakh Steppe, who spoke an Indo-European language.
The old colonial hypothesis may be true: Aryans migrated to India
Based on the genetic conclusions so far, Aryans migrated to India, carrying an older version of Sanskrit with them.
They mixed with the Harappans, creating the ancient North Indian population.
Even so, the Harappans themselves have connections that stemmed from outside the Indian subcontinent.
The mixing of populations seemed to have come to an abrupt stop around 100AD.
This led to an increase in differences in people in India for the last 2000 years.
One possible hypothesis is that the caste system became rigid around this time.
To give a perspective, the Chinese population continued to mix freely, and now they are a homogenous Han population, and in comparison, an Indian population is a large number of small populations.
Marriage was confined between members of the same caste, and therefore, restricted the free mixing of the population.
In the end, the question of whether the Indian population is “pure” is futile.
We are a mix of multiple populations, which just proves that the whole world is a family.