Scientific and historical evidence is unlikely to persuade them to forsake Manu and accept the principle of Equality enshrined in the Constitution.

Genetic studies confirm historical evidence on caste enforcementA page from the manuscript Seventy-two Specimens of Castes in India. {Public Domain, Wikipedia}
Voices Opinion Sunday, February 07, 2016 - 18:09

Two recent genetic studies, one by an American team and the other by an Indian group, have extracted from DNA samples vital clues that reveal when and how the Vedic community put through the project which led to the rigid caste system which has bedevilled South Asian society for centuries.

Sketchy reports of the research findings have appeared in the Indian media but there has been no discussion on them even in academic circles. This is not surprising since followers of the Vedic tradition dominate the media and academic institutions.

In a report published in the American Journal of Human Genetics in 2013, a Harvard University team said people belonging to different genetic populations of India began mixing about 4,200 years ago.  Mingling stopped about 1,900 years ago and most groups started practising endogamy.

The report said there was a demographic transformation. A region in which major population mixture was common became one in which mixture even between closely related groups became rare.

In 2009, a Harvard team, headed by geneticist David Reich, had said in a study report published in Nature that most Indians had their roots in two strains, Ancestral North Indian (ANI) and Ancestral South Indian (ASI).

It found that ANI ancestry ranged from 39–71% in most Indian groups, and was higher in traditionally upper caste and Indo-European language speakers. Groups with only ASI ancestry may no longer exist in mainland India. However, the indigenous Andaman Islanders are unique in being ASI-related groups without ANI ancestry.

According to Priya Moorjani, who was associated with both the Harvard studies, today everyone in India has DNA from both the groups, but the proportion of ancestry varies across the country.

The Indian study was conducted by researchers of the National Institute of Bio-Medical Genomics (NIBMG) at Kalyani in West Bengal. They analyzed genotype data of 367 persons drawn from 20 ethnic groups. The samples ranged in caste, linguistic and geographic variations from “upper caste” – Gujarati, Manipuri, West Bengal Brahmins and Marathas – to Dravidian communities – Pallan and Irula, among others --- and to Central and Eastern Indian tribes – Ho, Santhal and Birhor. 

In the report published in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, NIBMG Director Partha P. Majumder and team mates Analabha Basu and Neeta Shankar Roy said that, apart from ANI and ASI, there was significant presence of Ancestral Tibeto-Burman (ATB) genes in the Northeast and of Ancestral Austro-Asiatic (AAA) genes among the eastern and central Indian tribes.

The Jarawa and Onge tribes of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands also figured in their study. Their ancestries were found to be closer to those of the Pacific Islanders than to those of the people of the Indian mainland.

Both the teams drew conclusions on when the caste system originated by combining the genetic information they gathered with material from literary and historical sources. According to the Harvard researchers, it began with the practice of endogamy around the 1st Century BC. The NIBMG researchers set the date about 1,500 years ago, during the Gupta period. 

The Harvard findings betray an ANI bias in its sample comprising 571 persons drawn from 20 groups, including two from Pakistan. The presence of persons belonging to the eastern and northeastern regions explains the ATB and AAA strains in the NIBMG sample.

While the iniquitous varna system conceived by the Vedic community recognizes only four classes of people -- Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Sudra, in descending order of social hierarchy -- each class consists of innumerable jatis (castes). Then there are groups with different belief systems which have been outside the varna system from the beginning. There are also religious groups of domestic and foreign origin which appeared subsequently. All this makes Indians the most complex and heterogeneous population on earth. But India remains under-represented in genome-wide surveys. More studies are needed to get the full genetic story of the people of India.

This is not to underestimate the importance of the Harvard and NIBMG studies. They have yielded enough data to construct a reliable account of the origin of the evil caste project.  Most importantly, their findings demolish the myth of 5,000 or more years of Vedic domination propagated by the followers of that tradition and tacitly accepted by sections of the victim communities.

The 700-year gap between the dates suggested by the two studies as the time when the caste project got under way may be the result of the ethnic and geographical bias of the samples. The project could not have been pushed through all over the vast subcontinent at once. It began in the north and was carried to the east and the south.

Two personalities figure prominently in the popular lore about the establishment of Hinduism. They are Manu and Sankaracharya.  The former is the putative author of Manava Dharma Shastra, popularly known as Manusmriti, which spelt out the caste laws. The latter is credited with having defeated Buddhist scholars in debates and established Hinduism as the dominant religion of the subcontinent.

Manu is variously described in religious texts as Swayambhu (self-created), the first human being and the son of Brahma the Creator.  K.P. Jayaswal (1881-1937), a lawyer, historian and Sanskrit scholar, unravelled the true identity of the author of Manusmriti in the Tagore Lecture series delivered at Calcutta University in 1919.  He said, “The author of the Naradasmriti, writing in or about the 4th century of the Christian era, states that one Sumati Bhargava composed the ‘Code of Manu’”.  The family name Bhargava was mentioned at the end of every chapter, as was the custom in those days, but it was later suppressed and the authorship attributed to the fictitious Manu to give the impression that the work had divine sanction.   

Attributing primordial origin to their religion and its texts was a tactic which the Vedic community employed to supersede the pre-existing belief systems of the subcontinent. They claimed that the Vedas originated with the universe and that the sages to whom the mantras are ascribed did not compose them but gleaned them from the air where they were floating around. Following that tradition, the faithful seek to explain away the absence of any mention of Hinduism in pre-British and pre-Muslim texts, saying the correct name of the religion is not Hinduism but Sanatana Dharma, meaning eternal religion. But, then, no early text mentions this name either.

Jayaswal said Manusmriti was written during the Sunga period. The first Sunga king was Pushyamitra, a Brahmin commander who killed Maurya emperor Brahadatta and seized power. The Brahmin was now the ‘lord of everything’ and the absurd claims that the Code made for Brahminism were aimed at eliminating Buddhist influence and establishing a new hierarchical social order.

The Sunga dynasty was established in 185 BCE. The date of origin of the caste system arrived at by the Harvard study thus corresponds roughly with that of Manusmriti. Sankara, according to the currently accepted version of his life and times, was born in 788 CE. In the time scale, Sumati and Sankara stand about 1,000 years apart.  Apparently the caste project launched during the Sunga-Sumati period was complered during or after Sankara’s time.

The Sungas were followed by the Kanvas. Citing Bhasa, who lived in the Kanva period, Jayaswal said Sumati’s Code was the ruling authority under them too. At that time, he added, “the Brahmin was a militant: he was always armed.”

Tamil literary works of the Sangam period (100 BCE to 300 CE) testifies to the presence of members of the Vedic community in the south at that time. They were one of many different groups which lived side by side. They did not perform priestly functions. Puja was a Dravidian practice, and it was conducted by members of communities like Panans who were later dispossessed.

Swami Vivekananda’s Collected Works contain a passage which says Sankaracharya personally led the attackers who destroyed the famous Buddhist centre at Nagarjunakonda. This need not be taken as literal truth as he probably picked up the information from one of the hagiographies which contain fanciful or highly exaggerated accounts of Sankara’s exploits. There is, however, no need to doubt that the caste project was accompanied by violence. 

The Vedic community had displayed a propensity to employ violence from its early days in the subcontinent. The Rigveda is replete with references to hostilities with more advanced and more affluent communities whom it encountered. The headless Budha images strewn across the land are telltale evidence of violence and vandalism.

The caste system put people at different levels. There was resistance to the project but finally each intermediate group appears to have settled down to maintaining its allotted position through the practice of endogamy.  

The system reduced large sections of people to slavery. Ordinarily no people will willingly submit to slavery. The earliest people to reach India are now living precariously on remote hills. Followers of the Vedic tradition are labelling them Vanavasis (forest dwellers) to obliterate their status as Adivasis (original inhabitants). Their forebears, like those of other ethnic groups, reached the subcontinent either by land or by sea. They ended up on the hills as they were forced out of their earlier homes or withdrew voluntarily to escape slavery. 

“Whatever exists in the world is the property of the Brahmin on account of the excellence of his origin,” Manusmriti proclaims. “The Brahmin is, indeed, entitled to all.” Little wonder, then, that powerful sections of the Vedic tradition keep harking back to Manu even today. Scientific and historical evidence is unlikely to persuade them to forsake Manu and accept the principle of Equality enshrined in the Constitution.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this articles are the personal opinions of the author. The News Minute is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability or validity of any information in this article.

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