Saturday, June 17, 2017

How genetics is settling the Aryan migration debate

Tony Joseph

June 16, 2017 23:49 IST


New DNA evidence is solving the most fought-over question in Indian history. And you will be surprised at how sure-footed the answer is, writes Tony Joseph

The thorniest, most fought-over question in Indian history is slowly but surely getting answered: did Indo-European language speakers, who called themselves Aryans, stream into India sometime around 2,000 BC – 1,500 BC when the Indus Valley civilisation came to an end, bringing with them Sanskrit and a distinctive set of cultural practices? Genetic research based on an avalanche of new DNA evidence is making scientists around the world converge on an unambiguous answer: yes, they did.

This may come as a surprise to many — and a shock to some — because the dominant narrative in recent years has been that genetics research had thoroughly disproved the Aryan migration theory. This interpretation was always a bit of a stretch as anyone who read the nuanced scientific papers in the original knew. But now it has broken apart altogether under a flood of new data on Y-chromosomes (or chromosomes that are transmitted through the male parental line, from father to son).

Lines of descent

Until recently, only data on mtDNA (or matrilineal DNA, transmitted only from mother to daughter) were available and that seemed to suggest there was little external infusion into the Indian gene pool over the last 12,500 years or so. New Y-DNA data has turned that conclusion upside down, with strong evidence of external infusion of genes into the Indian male lineage during the period in question.

The reason for the difference in mtDNA and Y-DNA data is obvious in hindsight: there was strong sex bias in Bronze Age migrations. In other words, those who migrated were predominantly male and, therefore, those gene flows do not really show up in the mtDNA data. On the other hand, they do show up in the Y-DNA data: specifically, about 17.5% of Indian male lineage has been found to belong to haplogroup R1a (haplogroups identify a single line of descent), which is today spread across Central Asia, Europe and South Asia. Pontic-Caspian Steppe is seen as the region from where R1a spread both west and east, splitting into different sub-branches along the way.

The paper that put all of the recent discoveries together into a tight and coherent history of migrations into India was published just three months ago in a peer-reviewed journal called ‘BMC Evolutionary Biology’. In that paper, titled “A Genetic Chronology for the Indian Subcontinent Points to Heavily Sex-biased Dispersals”, 16 scientists led by Prof. Martin P. Richards of the University of Huddersfield, U.K., concluded: “Genetic influx from Central Asia in the Bronze Age was strongly male-driven, consistent with the patriarchal, patrilocal and patrilineal social structure attributed to the inferred pastoralist early Indo-European society. This was part of a much wider process of Indo-European expansion, with an ultimate source in the Pontic-Caspian region, which carried closely related Y-chromosome lineages… across a vast swathe of Eurasia between 5,000 and 3,500 years ago”.

In an email exchange, Prof. Richards said the prevalence of R1a in India was “very powerful evidence for a substantial Bronze Age migration from central Asia that most likely brought Indo-European speakers to India.” The robust conclusions of Professor Richards and his team rest on their own substantive research as well as a vast trove of new data and findings that have become available in recent years, through the work of genetic scientists around the world.

Peter Underhill, scientist at the Department of Genetics at the Stanford University School of Medicine, is one of those at the centre of the action. Three years ago, a team of 32 scientists he led published a massive study mapping the distribution and linkages of R1a. It used a panel of 16,244 male subjects from 126 populations across Eurasia. Dr. Underhill’s research found that R1a had two sub-haplogroups, one found primarily in Europe and the other confined to Central and South Asia. Ninety-six per cent of the R1a samples in Europe belonged to sub-haplogroup Z282, while 98.4% of the Central and South Asian R1a lineages belonged to sub-haplogroup Z93. The two groups diverged from each other only about 5,800 years ago. Dr. Underhill’s research showed that within the Z93 that is predominant in India, there is a further splintering into multiple branches. The paper found this “star-like branching” indicative of rapid growth and dispersal. So if you want to know the approximate period when Indo-European language speakers came and rapidly spread across India, you need to discover the date when Z93 splintered into its own various subgroups or lineages. We will come back to this later.

So in a nutshell: R1a is distributed all over Europe, Central Asia and South Asia; its sub-group Z282 is distributed only in Europe while another subgroup Z93 is distributed only in parts of Central Asia and South Asia; and three major subgroups of Z93 are distributed only in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Himalayas. This clear picture of the distribution of R1a has finally put paid to an earlier hypothesis that this haplogroup perhaps originated in India and then spread outwards. This hypothesis was based on the erroneous assumption that R1a lineages in India had huge diversity compared to other regions, which could be indicative of its origin here. As Prof. Richards puts it, “the idea that R1a is very diverse in India, which was largely based on fuzzy microsatellite data, has been laid to rest” thanks to the arrival of large numbers of genomic Y-chromosome data.

Gene-dating the migration

Now that we know that there WAS indeed a significant inflow of genes from Central Asia into India in the Bronze Age, can we get a better fix on the timing, especially the splintering of Z93 into its own sub-lineages? Yes, we can; the research paper that answers this question was published just last year, in April 2016, titled: “Punctuated bursts in human male demography inferred from 1,244 worldwide Y-chromosome sequences.” This paper, which looked at major expansions of Y-DNA haplogroups within five continental populations, was lead-authored by David Poznik of the Stanford University, with Dr. Underhill as one of the 42 co-authors. The study found “the most striking expansions within Z93 occurring approximately 4,000 to 4,500 years ago”. This is remarkable, because roughly 4,000 years ago is when the Indus Valley civilization began falling apart. (There is no evidence so far, archaeologically or otherwise, to suggest that one caused the other; it is quite possible that the two events happened to coincide.)

The avalanche of new data has been so overwhelming that many scientists who were either sceptical or neutral about significant Bronze Age migrations into India have changed their opinions. Dr. Underhill himself is one of them. In a 2010 paper, for example, he had written that there was evidence “against substantial patrilineal gene flow from East Europe to Asia, including to India” in the last five or six millennia. Today, Dr. Underhill says there is no comparison between the kind of data available in 2010 and now. “Then, it was like looking into a darkened room from the outside through a keyhole with a little torch in hand; you could see some corners but not all, and not the whole picture. With whole genome sequencing, we can now see nearly the entire room, in clearer light.”

Dr. Underhill is not the only one whose older work has been used to argue against Bronze Age migrations by Indo-European language speakers into India. David Reich, geneticist and professor in the Department of Genetics at the Harvard Medical School, is another one, even though he was very cautious in his older papers. The best example is a study lead-authored by Reich in 2009, titled “Reconstructing Indian Population History” and published in Nature. This study used the theoretical construct of “Ancestral North Indians” (ANI) and “Ancestral South Indians” (ASI) to discover the genetic substructure of the Indian population. The study proved that ANI are “genetically close to Middle Easterners, Central Asians, and Europeans”, while the ASI were unique to India. The study also proved that most groups in India today can be approximated as a mixture of these two populations, with the ANI ancestry higher in traditionally upper caste and Indo-European speakers. By itself, the study didn’t disprove the arrival of Indo-European language speakers; if anything, it suggested the opposite, by pointing to the genetic linkage of ANI to Central Asians.

However, this theoretical structure was stretched beyond reason and was used to argue that these two groups came to India tens of thousands of years ago, long before the migration of Indo-European language speakers that is supposed to have happened only about 4,000 to 3,500 years ago. In fact, the study had included a strong caveat that suggested the opposite: “We caution that ‘models’ in population genetics should be treated with caution. While they provide an important framework for testing historical hypothesis, they are oversimplifications. For example, the true ancestral populations were probably not homogenous as we assume in our model but instead were likely to have been formed by clusters of related groups that mixed at different times.” In other words, ANI is likely to have resulted from multiple migrations, possibly including the migration of Indo-European language speakers.

The spin and the facts

But how was this research covered in the media? “Aryan-Dravidian divide a myth: Study,” screamed a newspaper headline on September 25, 2009. The article quoted Lalji Singh, a co-author of the study and a former director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, as saying: “This paper rewrites history… there is no north-south divide”. The report also carried statements such as: “The initial settlement took place 65,000 years ago in the Andamans and in ancient south India around the same time, which led to population growth in this part. At a later stage, 40,000 years ago, the ancient north Indians emerged which in turn led to rise in numbers there. But at some point in time, the ancient north and the ancient south mixed, giving birth to a different set of population. And that is the population which exists now and there is a genetic relationship between the population within India.” The study, however, makes no such statements whatsoever — in fact, even the figures 65,000 and 40,000 do not figure it in it!

This stark contrast between what the study says and what the media reports said did not go unnoticed. In his column for Discover magazine, geneticist Razib Khan said this about the media coverage of the study: “But in the quotes in the media the other authors (other than Reich that is - ed) seem to be leading you to totally different conclusions from this. Instead of leaning toward ANI being proto-Indo-European, they deny that it is.”

Let’s leave that there, and ask what Reich says now, when so much new data have become available? In an interview with Edge in February last year, while talking about the thesis that Indo-European languages originated in the Steppes and then spread to both Europe and South Asia, he said: “The genetics is tending to support the Steppe hypothesis because in the last year, we have identified a very strong pattern that this ancient North Eurasian ancestry that you see in Europe today, we now know when it arrived in Europe. It arrived 4500 years ago from the East from the Steppe...” About India, he said: “In India, you can see, for example, that there is this profound population mixture event that happens between 2000 to 4000 years ago. It corresponds to the time of the composition of the Rigveda, the oldest Hindu religious text, one of the oldest pieces of literature in the world, which describes a mixed society...” In essence according to Reich, in broadly the same time frame, we see Indo-European language speakers spreading out both to Europe and to South Asia, causing major population upheavals.

The dating of the “profound population mixture event” that Reich refers to was arrived at in a paper that was published in the American Journal of Human Genetics in 2013, and was lead authored by Priya Moorjani of the Harvard Medical School, and co-authored, among others, by Reich and Lalji Singh. This paper too has been pushed into serving the case against migrations of Indo-European language speakers into India, but the paper itself says no such thing, once again!

Here’s what it says in one place: “The dates we report have significant implications for Indian history in the sense that they document a period of demographic and cultural change in which mixture between highly differentiated populations became pervasive before it eventually became uncommon. The period of around 1,900–4,200 years before present was a time of profound change in India, characterized by the de-urbanization of the Indus civilization, increasing population density in the central and downstream portions of the Gangetic system, shifts in burial practices, and the likely first appearance of Indo-European languages and Vedic religion in the subcontinent.”

The study didn’t “prove” the migration of Indo-European language speakers since its focus was different: finding the dates for the population mixture. But it is clear that the authors think its findings fit in well with the traditional reading of the dates for this migration. In fact, the paper goes on to correlate the ending of population mixing with the shifting attitudes towards mixing of the races in ancient texts. It says: “The shift from widespread mixture to strict endogamy that we document is mirrored in ancient Indian texts.”

So irrespective of the use to which Priya Moorjani et al’s 2013 study is put, what is clear is that the authors themselves admit their study is fully compatible with, and perhaps even strongly suggests, Bronze Age migration of Indo-European language speakers. In an email to this writer, Moorjani said as much. In answer to a question about the conclusions of the recent paper of Prof. Richards et al that there were strong, male-driven genetic inflows from Central Asia about 4,000 years ago, she said she found their results “to be broadly consistent with our model”. She also said the authors of the new study had access to ancient West Eurasian samples “that were not available when we published in 2013”, and that these samples had provided them additional information about the sources of ANI ancestry in South Asia.

One by one, therefore, every single one of the genetic arguments that were earlier put forward to make the case against Bronze Age migrations of Indo-European language speakers have been disproved. To recap:

1. The first argument was that there were no major gene flows from outside to India in the last 12,500 years or so because mtDNA data showed no signs of it. This argument was found faulty when it was shown that Y-DNA did indeed show major gene flows from outside into India within the last 4000 to 4,500 years or so, especially R1a which now forms 17.5% of the Indian male lineage. The reason why mtDNA data behaved differently was that Bronze Age migrations were severely sex-biased.

2. The second argument put forward was that R1a lineages exhibited much greater diversity in India than elsewhere and, therefore, it must have originated in India and spread outward. This has been proved false because a mammoth, global study of R1a haplogroup published last year showed that R1a lineages in India mostly belong to just three subclades of the R1a-Z93 and they are only about 4,000 to 4,500 years old.

3. The third argument was that there were two ancient groups in India, ANI and ASI, both of which settled here tens of thousands of years earlier, much before the supposed migration of Indo-European languages speakers to India. This argument was false to begin with because ANI — as the original paper that put forward this theoretical construct itself had warned — is a mixture of multiple migrations, including probably the migration of Indo-European language speakers.

Connecting the dots

Two additional things should be kept in mind while looking at all this evidence. The first is how multiple studies in different disciplines have arrived at one specific period as an important marker in the history of India: around 2000 B.C. According to the Priya Moorjani et al study, this is when population mixing began on a large scale, leaving few population groups anywhere in the subcontinent untouched. The Onge in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are the only ones we know to have been completely unaffected by what must have been a tumultuous period. And according to the David Poznik et al study of 2016 on the Y-chromosome, 2000 B.C. is around the time when the dominant R1a subclade in India, Z93, began splintering in a “most striking” manner, suggesting “rapid growth and expansion”. Lastly, from long-established archaeological studies, we also know that 2000 BC was around the time when the Indus Valley civilization began to decline. For anyone looking at all of these data objectively, it is difficult to avoid the feeling that the missing pieces of India’s historical puzzle are finally falling into place.

The second is that many studies mentioned in this piece are global in scale, both in terms of the questions they address and in terms of the sampling and research methodology. For example, the Poznik study that arrived at 4,000-4,500 years ago as the dating for the splintering of the R1a Z93 lineage, looked at major Y-DNA expansions not just in India, but in four other continental populations. In the Americas, the study proved the expansion of haplogrop Q1a-M3 around 15,000 years ago, which fits in with the generally accepted time for the initial colonisation of the continent. So the pieces that are falling in place are not merely in India, but all across the globe. The more the global migration picture gets filled in, the more difficult it will be to overturn the consensus that is forming on how the world got populated.

Nobody explains what is happening now better than Reich: “What’s happened very rapidly, dramatically, and powerfully in the last few years has been the explosion of genome-wide studies of human history based on modern and ancient DNA, and that’s been enabled by the technology of genomics and the technology of ancient DNA. Basically, it’s a gold rush right now; it’s a new technology and that technology is being applied to everything we can apply it to, and there are many low-hanging fruits, many gold nuggets strewn on the ground that are being picked up very rapidly.”

So far, we have only looked at the migrations of Indo-European language speakers because that has been the most debated and argued about historical event. But one must not lose the bigger picture: R1a lineages form only about 17.5 % of Indian male lineage, and an even smaller percentage of the female lineage. The vast majority of Indians owe their ancestry mostly to people from other migrations, starting with the original Out of Africa migrations of around 55,000 to 65,000 years ago, or the farming-related migrations from West Asia that probably occurred in multiple waves after 10,000 B.C., or the migrations of Austro-Asiatic speakers such as the Munda from East Asia the dating of which is yet to determined, and the migrations of Tibeto-Burman speakers such as the Garo again from east Asia, the dating of which is also yet to be determined.

What is abundantly clear is that we are a multi-source civilization, not a single-source one, drawing its cultural impulses, its tradition and practices from a variety of lineages and migration histories. The Out of Africa immigrants, the pioneering, fearless explorers who discovered this land originally and settled in it and whose lineages still form the bedrock of our population; those who arrived later with a package of farming techniques and built the Indus Valley civilization whose cultural ideas and practices perhaps enrich much of our traditions today; those who arrived from East Asia, probably bringing with them the practice of rice cultivation and all that goes with it; those who came later with a language called Sanskrit and its associated beliefs and practices and reshaped our society in fundamental ways; and those who came even later for trade or for conquest and chose to stay, all have mingled and contributed to this civilization we call Indian. We are all migrants.

Tony Joseph is a writer and former editor of BusinessWorld. Twitter: @tjoseph0010

Source: thehindu

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

In Defense of Cultural Appropriation

The Opinion Pages

 Kenan Malik

LONDON — It is just as well that I’m a writer, not an editor. Were I editing a newspaper or magazine, I might soon be out of a job. For this is an essay in defense of cultural appropriation.

In Canada last month, three editors lost their jobs after making such a defense.

The controversy began when Hal Niedzviecki, editor of Write, the magazine of the Canadian Writers’ Union, penned an editorial defending the right of white authors to create characters from minority or indigenous backgrounds. Within days, a social media backlash forced him to resign. The Writers’ Union issued an apology for an article that its Equity Task Force claimed “re-entrenches the deeply racist assumptions” held about art.

Another editor, Jonathan Kay, of The Walrus magazine, was also compelled to step down after tweeting his support for Mr. Niedzviecki. Meanwhile, the broadcaster CBC moved Steve Ladurantaye, managing editor of its flagship news program The National, to a different post, similarly for an “unacceptable tweet” about the controversy.

It’s not just editors who have to tread carefully. Last year, the novelist Lionel Shriver generated a worldwide storm after defending cultural appropriation in an address to the Brisbane Writers Festival. Earlier this year, controversy erupted when New York’s Whitney Museum picked for its Biennial Exhibition Dana Schutz’s painting of the mutilated corpse of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American murdered by two white men in Mississippi in 1955. Many objected to a white painter like Ms. Schutz depicting such a traumatic moment in black history. The British artist Hannah Black organized a petition to have the work destroyed.

Other works of art have been destroyed. The sculptor Sam Durant’s piece “Scaffold,” honoring 38 Native Americans executed in 1862 in Minneapolis, was recently being assembled in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. But after protests from indigenous activists that Mr. Durant was appropriating their history, the artist dismantled his own work, and made its wood available to be burned in a Dakota Sioux ceremony.

What is cultural appropriation, and why is it so controversial? Susan Scafidi, a law professor at Fordham University, defines it as “taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission.” This can include the “unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc.”

Appropriation suggests theft, and a process analogous to the seizure of land or artifacts. In the case of culture, however, what is called appropriation is not theft but messy interaction. Writers and artists necessarily engage with the experiences of others. Nobody owns a culture, but everyone inhabits one, and in inhabiting a culture, one finds the tools for reaching out to other cultures.

Critics of cultural appropriation insist that they are opposed not to cultural engagement, but to racism. They want to protect marginalized cultures and ensure that such cultures speak for themselves, not simply be seen through the eyes of more privileged groups.

Certainly, cultural engagement does not take place on a level playing field. Racism and inequality shape the ways in which people imagine others. Yet it is difficult to see how creating gated cultures helps promote social justice.

There are few figures more important to the development of rock ’n’ roll than Chuck Berry (who died in March). In the 1950s, white radio stations refused to play his songs, categorizing them as “race music.” Then came Elvis Presley. A white boy playing the same tunes was cool. Elvis was feted, Mr. Berry and other black pioneers largely ignored. Racism defined who became the cultural icon.

But imagine that Elvis had been prevented from appropriating so-called black music. Would that have challenged racism, or eradicated Jim Crow laws? Clearly not. It took a social struggle — the civil rights movement — to bring about change. That struggle was built not on cultural separation, but on the demand for equal rights and universal values.

Campaigns against cultural appropriation reveal the changing meaning of what it is to challenge racism. Once, it was a demand for equal treatment for all. Now it calls for cultures to be walled off and boundaries to be policed.

But who does the policing? Every society has its gatekeepers, whose role is to protect certain institutions, maintain the privileges of particular groups and cordon off some beliefs from challenge. Such gatekeepers protect not the marginalized but the powerful. Racism itself is a form of gatekeeping, a means of denying racialized groups equal rights, access and opportunities.

In minority communities, the gatekeepers are usually self-appointed guardians whose power rests on their ability to define what is acceptable and what is beyond the bounds. They appropriate for themselves the authority to license certain forms of cultural engagement, and in doing so, entrench their power.

The most potent form of gatekeeping is religion. When certain beliefs are deemed sacred, they are put beyond questioning. To challenge such beliefs is to commit blasphemy.

The accusation of cultural appropriation is a secular version of the charge of blasphemy. It’s the insistence that certain beliefs and images are so important to particular cultures that they may not appropriated by others. This is most clearly seen in the debate about Ms. Schutz’s painting “Open Casket.”

In 1955, Emmett Till’s mother urged the publication of photographs of her son’s mutilated body as it lay in its coffin. Till’s murder, and the photographs, played a major role in shaping the civil rights movement and have acquired an almost sacred quality. It was from those photos that Ms. Schutz began her painting.

To suggest that she, as a white painter, should not depict images of black suffering is as troubling as the demand by some Muslims that Salman Rushdie’s novel “The Satanic Verses” should be censored because of supposed blasphemies in its depiction of Islam. In fact, it’s more troubling because, as the critic Adam Shatz has observed, the campaign against Ms. Schutz’s work contains an “implicit disavowal that acts of radical sympathy, and imaginative identification, are possible across racial lines.”

Seventy years ago, racist radio stations refused to play “race music” for a white audience. Today, antiracist activists insist that white painters should not portray black subjects. To appropriate a phrase from a culture not my own: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Kenan Malik (@kenanmalik) is the author, most recently, of “The Quest for a Moral Compass: A Global History of Ethics” and a contributing opinion writer.

Source: nytimes


Monday, June 12, 2017

Does Gandhi have a caste?

He had the ability to be of all castes and no caste at all

Written by Ramachandra Guha | Published:June 13, 2017 12:47 am

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (Express Photo)

In March 1922, Gandhi was arrested on charges of sedition. When he was produced in court, the magistrate, after the law then prevalent, asked the prisoner to identify himself by caste or profession. Gandhi answered that he was “a farmer and weaver”. The magistrate was startled; so, he asked the question again, to get the same answer.

We have recently been reminded that Gandhi was born in a bania household. But, back in 1922, few, if any, banias were farmers or weavers; few, if any, are even today. Yet Gandhi’s self-description was accurate; for in the Sabarmati Ashram, Gandhi did not trade, but he did spin daily and experiment with crops and livestock rearing. That statement to an Ahmedabad court was a striking example of Gandhi’s lifelong commitment to making his caste origins irrelevant to his personal and public life.

This commitment was manifested early. In September 1888, Mohandas Gandhi, then just short of his 20th birthday, decided to sail to England to study law. This horrified his orthodox Modh Bania community, whose head warned Mohandas that he would be excommunicated if he travelled overseas. But the boy defied him and went anyway. In the days before his departure, recalled Gandhi in his autobiography, he was “hemmed in by all sides. I could not go out without being pointed and stared at by someone or other. At one time, while I was walking near the Town Hall, I was surrounded and hooted by them, and my poor brother had to look at the scene in silence”.

Banias were, and often still are, obsessed with social taboos. Yet, while in London, Gandhi made so bold as to share a home and break bread with a Christian named Josiah Oldfield. Later, in South Africa, he and his wife Kasturba shared a home and kitchen with Henry and Millie Polak, he a Jew, she a Christian, both white. Johannesburg was then the most racist city in the most racist country in the world. By their remarkable act, the Gandhis and the Polaks defied both the casteism of Indians and the racism of Europeans.

In the satyagrahas he led in South Africa, Gandhi’s closest associates were a Parsi named Rustomji, a Muslim named Kacchalia, and a Tamil named Naidoo. Watching him at work, transcending all social boundaries, was his Jewish friend and housemate Henry Polak. In a vivid (but sadly unpublished) account of the passive resistance movement in South Africa, Polak wrote of its leader that, while “a Vaishnava Bania by birth, he is by nature a Brahmin, the teacher of his fellow-men, not by the preaching of virtue, but by its practice; by impulse a Kshatriya, in his chivalrous defence of those who had placed their trust in him and look to him for protection; by choice a Sudra, servant of the humblest and most despised of his fellow-men. It is said of [the seer] Ramkrishna that he once swept out the foul hut of a pariah with his own hair, to prove his freedom from arrogance towards and contempt for the untouchable outcast. The twice-born Prime Minister’s son [Gandhi] has been seen with his own hands to purify the sanitary convenience of his own house and of the gaols in which he has been interned.”

Having spoken of Gandhi’s ability to be of all castes and of no caste at all, Polak then stressed his ecumenism of faith: “Religion implies, for him, a mighty and all-embracing tolerance. Hindu by birth, he regards all men — Mahomedans, Christians, Zoroastrians, Jews, Buddhists, Confucians — as spiritual brothers.

He makes no differences amongst them, recognising that all faiths lead to salvation, that all are ways of viewing God, and that, in their relation to each other, men are fellow-human beings first, and followers of creeds afterwards. Hence it is that men of all faiths and even of none, are his devoted friends, admirers, and helpers, and that, diverse in belief as is the community of which he has been the foremost figure, he is recognised as one who, in the last resort, may be looked to, to render impartial justice between man and man.” In South Africa, Gandhi was alerted to the horrors of untouchability by his Tamil friends.

On returning to India in 1915, he established a “Satyagraha Ashram” in Ahmedabad. Early on, the Ashram took in a family from the Dhed caste of “untouchables”, consisting of Dudhabhai, his wife Danibehn, and their baby daughter Lakshmi. When they arrived, there was much grumbling, not least from Gandhi’s own family members. Kasturba herself was not happy with this decision to defy the orthodox. The Dhed family was prevented from drawing water from the common well, until Gandhi said, in that case, he would not avail himself of the well either.

Through the three decades of his work in India, Gandhi steadily and persistently attacked the practice of untouchability. To be sure, he moved in stages. While, in his own ashram, all members ate and mingled together regardless of caste, he did not at first advocate inter-dining or inter-mingling to society at large. However, as he grew more popular, and more sure of his public influence, he urged every Hindu not just to abolish untouchability from their minds and hearts, but to disregard matters of caste in where they lived, whom they ate with or befriended, and whom they married. (This evolution in his thinking is documented in a classic early essay by the Gandhi scholar Denis Dalton; it is also the subject of a forthcoming book by Nishikant Kolge, significantly entitled Gandhi Against Caste. Gandhi had four biological sons, all, like him, technically banias by birth. But of his two adopted daughters, one was born in an untouchable home (the aforementioned Lakshmi), while the other was an Englishwoman (Madeleine Slade, known as Mirabehn). In India, as in South Africa, Gandhi comprehensively disregarded caste and religious distinctions in his personal and political life. His closest friend was a Christian priest, C.F. Andrews; and he lived, and died, for harmony between India’s two largest religious communities, Hindus and Muslims.

Like most Indian political parties, the BJP cannot and does not transcend caste or religion in its own practice. Dividing Dalits into Jatavs and non-Jatavs, dividing OBCs into Yadavs and non-Yadavs, dividing Indians into Hindus and Muslims, is how it seeks to win elections and remain in power. The reduction by the BJP president of Gandhi to his caste origins is therefore entirely understandable. It is another matter that Amit Shah’s comment displays the wide, indeed unbridgeable, gulf between his moral universe and that of the man we call the Father of the Nation.

The writer is a Bangalore-based historian. His second volume of the biography of Gandhi will be published next year

Source: indianexpress

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Saturday, June 10, 2017

The battle for values

The elevation of Yogi Adityanath as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh is an instance of this challenge.

Written by Arjun Dangle | Published:June 11, 2017 3:09 am


The concept of Hindu Rashtra is not only outdated but also impossible. Illustration by CR Sasikumar

Twenty-five years ago, I had edited an anthology of Dalit literature, Poisoned Bread: Translations from Modern Marathi Dalit Literature. In the introduction, I had stated: “In the coming age, India will see religion and politics go hand-in-hand. When that happens, the literati, intellectuals, and thinkers who believe in secular and democratic values will have to be ready to face the challenges that will arise.”

The elevation of Yogi Adityanath as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh is an instance of this challenge. This mixing of religion and politics results in feudalism. In India, it may not lead to race-based fascism but it can result in authoritarianism centred on religion. The first laboratory for the creation of such a Hindu Nation (Hindu Rashtra) was instituted in Gujarat under the leadership of Narendra Modi; the Sangh Parivar has now initiated the second such laboratory in Uttar Pradesh.

The concept of Hindu Rashtra is not only outdated but also impossible. The last Hindu kingdom, Nepal, has itself done away with the anxieties of the Hindu Rashtra and is now standing strong on the pillars of secularism and democracy.

Supporters of the idea fail to define what a Hindu Rashtra is. Will it have a different Constitution? Will it have a different national flag? Will the national anthem be different?

Well, if the Hindu religion and its followers are not honoured in a country, are unable to celebrate their festivals, or have had their temples demolished, then the idea of a Hindu Rashtra makes logical sense. However, the fact is in post-Independence India, all the elected governments, at the Centre and in the states, have been dominated by Hindus, irrespective of the party in office.

As the notion of a Hindu Rashtra cannot take a tangible form, the Sangh Parivar has been consistently running a hidden agenda, which has produced a strait-laced and dogmatic ideology. As a result, a Hindu Rashtra is being sought to be established by targeting Muslims, Dalits, Christians and other minorities and by demolishing the principle of one man, one vote, one value bestowed by the Constitution. The violent religious frenzy of the “gau rakshaks” is a realisation of the Hindu Rashtra agenda.

Hindu Rashtra and Hindutva, however, are not the same. Hindutva is related to Indian culture, whereas Hindu Rashtra is rooted in caste hegemony. There is no reason to oppose Hindutva because the Constitution provides each one the freedom to practice the religion of his/her choice and follow the lifestyle it entails. The majority of Hindus are not casteist or fanatical. But, knowingly or unknowingly, leftists, progressives, seculars, and Ambedkarites have committed the mistake of targeting the entire Hindu community, while intensely opposing Hindutva. The Sangh Parivar has found an opportunity here to polarise the Hindu community.

My observation may seem similar to the “soft Hindutva” of the Congress. There is a basic difference, however, in the organisational structure of the Congress and the Sangh Parivar. Every party worker in the Sangh Parivar, from the top to bottom, is orthodox and dogmatic. In the Congress and other secular organisations, top officials may be secular and the workers are either followers of Hinduism or Islam.

My concerns are about values. It is the responsibility of the government to protect and preserve values — one man, one value, tolerance, liberty, equality, fraternity, and national integration — upheld by the Constitution. But when one listens to historians, scientists, politicians, judges and saints close to the Sangh Parivar, one is transported to the 18th century. The country is going through a psychological and ideological dialectical phase.

Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee were not just elected prime ministers of India, they were accepted as leaders by Indian society. Why is Narendra Modi, who won a convincing mandate, not regarded as a leader by all Indians? The Sangh Parivar needs to introspect. Why does the Sangh leadership remain silent and provide moral support to the party workers, who make incongruous comments that provoke separatism? It scares me when tolerance, civility, and culture in the socio-political system seem to disappear.

It scares me that the BJP and Sangh Parivar never use the names of their idols, Hedgewar and Guru Golwalkar, in election campaigns.

Instead, they have appropriated those who have worked hard to preserve the values of liberty, unity, fraternity and national integration — like Shivaji Maharaj, Mahatma Gandhi, Babasaheb Ambedkar, and Sardar Patel.

The battle for values is inevitable regardless of the party in power. It is necessary to fight the tendency that endangers liberty, equality, fraternity, tolerance and national integration. It is the duty of writers, artists, intellectuals, and journalists to uproot such a tendency. As a writer-activist, who believes in democracy and who wishes to see the socialisation of democracy, I reiterate what Babasaheb Ambedkar said on November 25, 1949, while presenting the Constitution: “We are going to enter a life of contradictions. In politics, we will have equality and in social and economic life, we will have inequality. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment. Else, those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy.”

Dangle, one of the founder members of the Dalit Panthers, is an acclaimed writer. The article was translated from Marathi to English by Rushikesh Aravkar

Source: indianexpress

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Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Tough questions the media refuses to ask about Andhra politics

The government should stop slandering political opponents and focus on honouring pre-election commitments.

POLITICS | 5-minute read |   06-06-2017

When the creation of Telangana was announced in July 2013, I was in transit for the night in Hyderabad as I proceeded to Pune for some personal work. Not wanting to shell out a lot of money just for a few hours of rest and remain in proximity to the Begumpet station, I chose to stay at a nondescript "working men’s hostel" that provided a bed and food for cheap.

As the news broke I felt a sense of confusion, as I was a proponent of united Andhra. Nevertheless, I wasn’t too surprised because in the preceding election of 2009, the TRS and TDP were part of the grand alliance.

As I went to bed that night, I felt that common daily life would not be affected and there would be assurances for the residual state of Andhra Pradesh. Most parties had come to an apparent consensus over Telangana (both TDP and YSRCP had written letters supporting the creating of Telangana).

I completely misread the situation because almost immediately there were protests and a clear rift emerged within most political parties based in the region. I felt this too shall pass with time. However, there was sustained media coverage and emotions were whipped up.

I admit that I fell prey to the rhetoric, as my initial feeling of indifference soon morphed into rage and a sense of profound injustice. The media instead of posing questions to the political parties over the doublespeak, settled for sensationalism, which further stoked the cinders of hatred.

In the next one year, which led up to the general (and state) elections of 2014, there was acrimony across the residual state and regular life came to a halt. The continued reporting about disturbances and arson by miscreants only sustained an atmosphere of political psychosis, where people didn’t realise that the protesting parties had consented to bifurcation, implicitly and explicitly.

During campaign for the 2014 election, both BJP and TDP leaders, including Narendra Modi, Venkaiah Naidu and Chandrababu Naidu, promised to accord Andhra Pradesh special category status.

After the elections, the government claimed the state was not eligible for special category status and brazenly ruled out engaging with any dissenting voices. In this backdrop, when the Congress led the Pratyeka Hoda Bharosa Sabha, along with many likeminded parties, in solidarity with the people of Andhra Pradesh, I was motivated to listen to what the various leaders have to say.


When the TDP takes credit for creating Telangana, on what grounds do they "blame" the Congress for bifurcation? Photo: India Today

As I listened to the galaxy of leaders reiterate their resolve to continue fighting for the cause of Andhra Pradesh, I received a text from my friend asking how the meeting was progressing. When I informed him that the ground was brimming with people in rapt attention, he seemed perplexed because he had been informed by the TV channels that only a small trickle of people attended the event. Moreover, many channels showed the black flag protests led by TDP activists that demanded that Rahul Gandhi go back. The protesters alleged that he was responsible for the bifurcation of the state.

While the media should remain neutral and report objectively, they should also learn to pose questions to politicians. Not one channel questioned the double standards of the TDP with regard to Telangana, both at the time of bifurcation and during the black flag protests on June 4.

While Chandrababu Naidu claimed in Telangana that it was with his support that the new state became a reality, in Andhra Pradesh he projected the bifurcation onto the Congress. None in the media appeared courageous enough to pin down the TDP and seek answers for the acute political schizophrenia they appeared to suffer from.

As a common citizen, I seek answers for the following pertinent questions the media refuses to ask the government:

1) When the TDP was in alliance with the TRS in 2009, wasn’t it implicit that they supported the creation of Telangana, given that that was the raison d’etre of the TRS? When the TDP takes credit for creating Telangana, on what grounds do they "blame" the Congress for bifurcation?

2) Did the BJP and TDP not know before the election that Andhra Pradesh was not eligible for being accorded special category status? Are there any recent developments in the state so drastic that they had to change their stand on the issue? Both the BJP and TDP stated that the special category status is cardinal for the progress of the state. Hence, is it not their duty to ensure Andhra Pradesh is given its due? Why the stepmotherly treatment?

The recent developments make me recall a quote attributed to Malcolm X - If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing!

Unlike in 2014, I refuse to be carried away by the rhetoric of the media and seek answers from the government. The government should stop slandering their political opponents and focus on honouring their pre-election commitments.

In our obsession with facts, let’s not lose track of the truth - there is a concerted effort to stifle dissent and curb citizens from asking difficult questions!

Source: dailyo

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