Politics behind the theory

For a dry thesis on human prehistory, the Indo-European theory of migration has caused enormous upheavals in the modern world. Because these initial Indo-European speakers had been able to get about and, in many cases, managed to spread their culture around, a certain Mr Hitler, who considered himself a descendant of these people—the Aryans—mangled the theory into one of racial supremacy.

Race as a concept is mostly nonsense but the damage that Hitler caused with it meant that academics stopped using the word “Aryan” lest anyone think they were talking of a blue-eyed, blonde-haired alpha people (although Indian text books are yet to get the memo). “Indo-European” is the correct term now.

While the Nazis had gone overboard in their acceptance of Aryan migration, at the other end of the spectrum, many of the very people who had coined the word “Aryan” have rejected it completely.

The Hindutva out-of-India myth

In India, driven by the 20th-century ideology of Hindutva, which made nationality a matter of historical association with the subcontinent, a few people vehemently dismissed this now-standard academic consensus of migrants from the north-west bringing into India key cultural markers such as the nascent Vedic religion and early forms of Sanskrit, the liturgical language of modern Hinduism.

Instead, hemmed in by doctrine, Hindutva ideologues such as Belgian Indologist Koenraad Elst try and explain the massive spread of Indo-European languages by postulating that the original home of these Aryans was India—a theory almost as ridiculous today as intelligent design or a flat earth hypothesis.

With the Hindutva ideology gaining popularity, you now have a huge number of people who consider this sort of dodgy stuff to be authentic. And as we can see from peeping across our western border, believing in a wonky, made-up history can have terrible consequences.

This post first appeared on Scroll.in. We welcome your comments at ideas.india@qz.com.

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