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The Admixture that Is India

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Message Arshad M Khan

That India has had waves of newcomers is historical. And now the original inhabitants of the country comprise only five percent of the population.

Known as Adivasis, they inhabit mostly parts of Central India as well as the northeast to which they were taken by the British for agricultural work. They also, particularly the women, harvest tea carefully picking the suitable leaves until they have met their daily quotas. Powerless people are frequently abused as are they.

Owners of the tea gardens hire out the harvesting and pay little attention to the working conditions or wages of the tea pickers. Minimum wage laws are flouted so much so that the workers often resort to their hunter/gatherer origins, picking roots, mushrooms and wild-edible plants to supplement their diet and fill their bellies.

Among the very early waves of migration to India, steppe farmers left their mark. In waves they came to Iran then to India bringing herding and farming to the native peoples. They introduced wheat to the northwest, a particularly nourishing crop though not ideally suited to the rest of India. Known for their Indus Valley Civilization, they thrived for millennia from 3300 to 1300 BC. Over this extended period naturally there was mixing with the extant Indian populations.

Groups fanned out eastward and continued to mix with locals, the aborigine Indians, and formed eventually a homogenized population comprising 25 percent Iranian farmer and 75 percent aboriginal Indian. Thus the Dravidian people.

This mixture, called "Ancestral South Indian" by scientists, is now found predominantly in peninsular India.

Next to come were the Indo-Aryans, a Central Asian people who spread west to Europe and the Middle East, and also south towards India; first to Iran and Afghanistan and eventually through the Hindu Kush mountain passes to India.

They are responsible for what became known as the Vedic religion, the ancestor of Hinduism. They introduced the Indo-Aryan languages and also the division of society into four groups based on occupation, the forerunner of modern castes. DNA studies have validated their presence. Thus in the Swat valley, tests on remains prior to 1200 BC do not have steppe ancestry but later ones do -- confirming the mixing of the migrants with locals.

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Arshad M Khan is a former Professor. Educated at King's College London, Oklahoma State University and the University of Chicago, he has a multidisciplinary background that has frequently informed his research. He was elected a Fellow of the (more...)
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