Controversy: Caste and science
AIR AND COLD FUSION
of the Aryan invasion
In an article titled “Genetic Evidence on the Origins of Indian
Caste Populations,” eighteen authors, mainly from Utah in the U.S. and
Vishakapatnam in India, led by Michael Bamshad of the Department of Pediatrics
from the University of Utah make the claim that there were several waves of
immigration into India, the last of which (from Europe) was responsible for the
caste system. In their words:
“In the most recent of these waves [of immigration], Indo-European
speaking people from West Eurasia entered India from the Northwest and diffused
throughout the subcontinent. They purportedly admixed with or displaced
Dravidic-speaking populations. Subsequently, they may have established the Hindu
caste system and placed themselves in castes of higher rank.”
In his press statements, Bamshad has gone much further claiming “we are
able to demonstrate unequivocally that the upper castes are more similar to
Europeans than lower castes..." This finding, they claim to be based on
To a scientifically informed person knowledgeable about the field, it is apparent even at first glance that it is the Aryan invasion theory all over again, along with its associated Aryan-Dravidian conflicts. This is now presented as the product of ‘genetics research’, protected from scrutiny by opaque jargon-filled language. Genetics of course cannot tell if some people living thousands of years ago were Aryan speaking or ‘Dravidic-speakers’. What Bamshad & co are presenting is simply their presumption, which they are trying to pass off as ‘scientific findings’ using some samples — all from near Vishakapatnam — and some numerical measures, which they claim indicates the nearness of Indian population groups to the people of Europe. Their specific claim is that upper caste Hindus are genetically closer to Europeans whereas lower and middle castes are Asiatics.
All this of course is part of the Marxist claim— that ‘class’ became ‘caste’ in India, imposed by the Aryan invaders. And now all this is ‘proved’ by the magic of science! So at one stroke, this Utah pediatrician and his Dravidian colleagues, aided by samples from Vishakapatnam, have shown that both the colonial-imposed Aryan invasion — part of the ‘White Man’s Burden’ but now adopted by Indian Marxists — and the class-to-caste transition propounded Indian Marxists (and Dravidian politicians) are supported by genetics!
But the sheen was off the claim almost immediately after it was made. The
same week, Bryan Sykes, a professor of genetics at Oxford University, made
exactly the opposite claim: the British white population carries African and
Asian genes. (The same must hold for other European populations.) But unlike
the Utah researchers, he made no claims about their relationship to upper and
lower class Britishers and their ancestry.
So what does all this mean? It means that over tens of thousands of
years, human populations have moved over large areas, and it is impossible
reduce it to simplistic models favored by invasionists (successors to the
‘White Man’s Burden’) and Marxists. Further, it is misleading to use terms
like ‘European’ and ‘West Eurasian’ to people so long ago, when they may
not yet have moved into Europe or Eurasia from their original home in Africa—
or even possibly India as Indian records indicate. (So Europeans could be
carrying Indian traces rather than vice versa.)
There is also a fundamental scientific fallacy in the Utah study. Caste and language — like religion — is a man-made classification, not a law of nature. It is absurd to assign laws of nature to them, although Marxists believe that their classification is also a scientific law of history. Actually, Sir Julian Huxley warned against it long ago: “In 1848 the young German scholar Friedrich Max Müller (1823 – 1900) settled in Oxford. …About 1853, he introduced into English usage the unlucky term Aryan as applied to a large group of languages. …Moreover, Max Müller threw another apple of discord. He introduced a proposition that is demonstrably false. He spoke not only of a definite Aryan language and its descendants, but also of a corresponding ‘Aryan race’. The idea was rapidly taken up both in Germany and in England.”
thanks to Bamshad & co, this discredited notion as well as the Marxist
Class-to-Caste Law become scientific! If their theory (based on a sample from
Vishakapatnam) has any validity at al, then Brahmins and Kshatriyas all over
India must have some common physical features indicating their European
ancestry. But they do not. For example, Brahmins and Kshatriyas in Kerala look
like Keralites, those from Assam look like Assamese and those from Kashmir look
like Kashmiris. This diversity goes to show that the Indian population is
ancient, having lived in the same region long enough to have adapted to the
environment by natural selection. What they have in common are certain cultural
traits modified by regional factors like language, dress and food. These are
acquired characteristics that have nothing to do with genetics.
These Utah researchers should perhaps next apply their methodology to
Christians. They can then discover Catholic genes and Protestant genes. And
among Protestants they may further find Anglican genes, Lutheran genes,
Methodist genes, Baptist genes— all the way down to Mormon genes in the Mormon
capital of Salt Lake City, Utah. Their methodology is the kind of numerology
that can be used to prove anything anywhere. In plain English, their science is
just so much hot air.
prestige: image and reality
At the heart of this approach is a belief that academic prestige can
overcome unsound scholarship. The goal of some of these academics, especially in
the West, is not so much to make or present true scientific discoveries, but use
the prestige that goes with their position to bluff and bulldoze Indians, in the
hope no one will dare question them. This was also the thinking behind a recent
propaganda campaign launched by a couple of ‘Indologists’ that tried to
bluff their way with assertions like “No horse at Harappa, and any evidence to
the contrary must be faked.” To some extent, their faith in the servility of
the Indian intelligentsia is justified: Indian journalists in particular rarely
question any statement by a Western scholar. They believe that anything coming
from the West must be true, and it is not for any Indian to question it.
As a former U.S. academic I have the unhappy duty to point out that the University of Utah and many others in the U.S. are by no means distinguished for research excellence. Some may recall that more than ten years ago a couple of electrochemists from the University of Utah (Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischman) claimed that they had created ‘Cold Fusion’ in a bottle. This amounted to the claim that they could create and control an unlimited energy source like a hydrogen bomb in a bottle, which would eventually solve the world’s energy problems. It hasn’t turned out that way. Calfornia is having daily blackouts. The work reported by Michael Bamshad and his colleagues — also from the University of Utah of Cold Fusion fame — falls in the same category.
message of all this is that any claim should be subjected to critical scrutiny
and not accepted simply because it happens to come from a person and/or
institution that enjoys prestige. To take an example from the other extreme, the
mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujam was working as a clerk in the Madras Port
Trust when he made some of the greatest discoveries in modern mathematics. And
Albert Einstein was himself a ‘Clerk, Third Class’ at the Swiss Patent
Office in Bern when he discovered the Special Theory of Relativity. Yielding to
prestige is the response of an illiterate.
What is happening in academia that such extravagant claims that fail to stand scientific scrutiny should be becoming increasingly more frequent? One might almost say, the less substantial the research, the more extravagant the claim made for it. It is a complex issue, but may be summarized as deriving from polarization of academic life in the U.S. There is a severe shortage of technically qualified people. As a result, U.S. is forced to import scientists and engineers in large numbers. Soon, teachers will be in short supply. This shows that American universities, especially research universities, are just not graduating enough scientists and engineers— or even science teachers. The feeling is widespread in America — among the public as well as in official circles — that universities are neglecting the educational needs of the country in the name of research. This has reduced the flow of money into universities, forcing them increasingly to seek funding from outside for their research: all they have to sell is their ‘research’, not their usefulness to society or meeting its educational needs. The demand for such funds is always greater than the supply. As a result, these researchers have also to be salesmen.
has resulted in an explosion of journals and other publications, recently
supplemented by electronic journals (web sites). To be heard in this cacophony
of claims and demands, one is forced to make more and more extravagant claims.
Quality becomes secondary and quantity becomes all-important. This is called
‘publish or perish’; it is not entirely new, but now it has assumed
unmanageable proportions. In such an environment, survival takes precedence over
concern for quality or even truth. So almost anything is published as long as it
adds to the researcher’s biodata. This is what is behind publications like the
one authored by Bamshad & co.
At the same time, it is nobody’s argument that there have been no
migrations into India or that the Indian population has always been racially
pure. But the Marxist and Western Indological (colonial) claim is that the
Indian civilization is mainly of foreign origin. This simply has no support. It
does not matter even if all Indians are of foreign origin, sometime in the
remote past: but the claim that the Vedas and everything that the Hindu
civilization produced is a product of invasion— is massively contradicted by
evidence. We cannot ignore all this evidence — from archaeology, river
systems, literature and so forth — and accept some theories based on
preconceptions. The same people who insist that we must acknowledge the
contribution of Europe or Eurasia also insist that the Vedic and Harappan
civilizations must be kept separated— even though the two flourished in the
same geographic region and used similar symbolism. (For a description of this
In the final analysis, what we are witnessing is a struggle for survival by a disenfranchised academic priesthood that will resort to any means to ensure its survival. And this includes hot air and Cold Fusion.