The Aryan Bias in the Consideration of the Question
I am very much interested in a somewhat academic controversy on the basis of Indian civilization that apperars in the columns of the Indian Social Reformer. The subject, viz., the basis of Indian civilization is in the first place highly archaic and secondly too complicated, both from the racial as well as the cultural point of view. The organic process of Indian civilization is one of the longest known historically. Yet its beginnings are even now so shrouded in the midst of prehistoric occurrences that it is no wonder that some of the sceptically minded western scholars are still slow to grant it the high primordial pedigree for which it is now fairly bidding especially in the light of recent research in Sind and elsewhere in India.
The point, however, most pertinent to my present purpose is that even those scholars, foreign as well as Indian, who are most open-minded have objective as well as subjective difficulties to surmount before they can ever hope to reach and then demonstrate the bed-rock of Indian civilization. The objective difficulty consists mainly in the lack of deta, viz., of documentary evidence and of some fixed chronology as a guide to ascertain the sequence of that huge mass of tradition which is still available, recorded or otherwise. But the subjective difficulty which is my most relevant point at present consists of the bias which Herbert Spencer calls in his study of sociology by the name of “Educational bias” which first takes possession of the mind of the scholars or groups of scholars and through them of the men in the street. One of such timehonoured Idols of the Cave is the “Aryan bias” which is as ancient as the so-called “Aryan Invasion” of India.
The so-called “Aryan Superemacy” whatever its worth in the then politial world had long survived under the name of the “Aryan Superiority” or sanctity among the vast and picturesque tracts and populations extending to the East and South-West of the great river Sindhu, which gives its name to these both as India, even after its great levellers Jainism, Shaivism, Buddhism and Mahomedanism had effected their respective influence. Though now no scholar worth the name claims this Aryan superiority in the racial estimates of the Indian populations, it is also true that there have been very few if any scholars who have challenged with success the power of this Idol of the Cave in the cultural estimates that are now and then floated over this contented country.
Whatever sanctities, supposed or real, were attached to Aryanism in the world orthodox ethnology are also yet attached to Sanskritism in the world of Indian culture. Though Aryanism may cease as a power in the Indian ethnology it does actually resurrect under the guise of Snskritism and claims to be the basis and fountain-head of the cultural flow in this mid-Asian continent. The renaissance of Sanskrit initiated by William Jones in the 18th century and completed by Max Muller and his disciples by the end of the 19th century is still the last prop upholding this Aryan bias. I believe it was Max Muller who was more responsible than others for extending this Aryan bias from the world of Philology to that of Ethnology. Though eminent Indian Census Reporters such as Risley, Gait and Grierson have partially succeeded in withstanding this bias in their Ethnological estimates of India they have not as yet, it is to be feared, attained the same success in their estimates of the basis of Indian relegions and languages. Dr. G. A. Grierson in his opening para of chapter VII on language of the Indian Census Report for 1901 (page 247) refers to the results of the linguistic survey inaugurated by the Government of India in the last decade of the 19th century as follows :
“ The results have been surprising even to those who are aware of the former limits of our knowledge. The facts which have come to light have upset several theories hitherto accepted by all the scholars as certainly correct and have, even in the short space of time during which they have been available, suggested new theories, which as, as more facts appeared, have in their turn proved equally unfounded. Speculation regarding Indian languages must wail till the survey is concluded, and all the facts are presented in a convenient form. Till then even the classification adopted in the following pages must be taken as provisional.”
Writing the chapter on language of the Indian Census Report of 1911
Mr. E. A. Gait observes on page 322 : “ For the purpose of the census, languages have been classified in accordance with the scheme kindly drawn up by Sir George Grierson. It follows very closely the scheme (also drawn up by him) which was adopted in 1901, but several modifications have been made in consequence of fresh facts discovered in the course of the linguistic survey.”
These aforesaid modifications are, however, made only with regard to minor and technical details of the classification confessed by Dr. Sir George Grierson to be only provisional in 1901. Whereas not only the principle of admitting the 22 vernacular languages of North India, North Deccan under the Indo-Aryan group is still kept intact, ten more vernaculars are added to this group in the year 1911.
If one compares the Ethnological map of Sir H. H. Risley in his “Peoples of India.” with the linguistic map of Sir G. Grierson facing page 289 and the religious map of Mr. Gait facing page 349 of the Indian Census Report of 1901, one can readily see that whereas Risley can claim only a very small portion of India, viz., a part of the Rajputana and of the western Gangetic valley known in ancient times as the Madhyadesh, the cradle of the Aryan race in India, as Ethnologically Aryan, Grierson would claim a very considerably larger portion, viz., practically the whole of India except the Madras Presidency as linguistically Aryan; while Mr. Gait goes still further and claims the whole of non-Mahomedan and non-Christian India as religioulsy Aryan to all intents and purposes, not excluding even the depressed classes. They are merely as numerous as the Mahomedans and Christians put together. But just because they are still so much under the crushing thumb of Hinduism they are so readily looked upon as religiously Aryan slaves if not Aryan freemen. Thus Indian estimates, be they recial or cultural, depend upon the mercy of the census reporters. In ancient times, the hey-day of Aryanism, compilers of the several Smrities or Dharma Shastras enjoyed the monopoly of estimating the blood, good breeding and even the social as well as spiritual salvation of the people of India, en masse. The census reporter of the present day, practically, if not in orthodox theory which is still reserved for the old Smrities, holds that monopoly. For such is veritably the power of the Aryan bias. The scholars and savants of very high repute do not find it worth while to quarrel with this Idol of the Cave; how can one expect. “Mr. educationist” who does not care even to give out his identity, to go further and board the lion of Aryanism in its own den !
The basis of the Indian civilization is, I admit, a topic all too big for an article. I should myself therefore consider more than once before I would join issue on that topic, though it is now rapidly gathering round itself a halo of interest in these days of the non-Brahmin challenge and the political developments ensuing from it. All that I want to do in this present note is to point first to the abiding bias in favour of the Aryan race about whose real identity and organic achievements in history the true Ethnologist alone knows the besetting difficulties and to the prejudices against the vast non-Aryan masses and secondly to the obsession with the spirit of the Sanskrit literature beginning from the Vedas down to the latest Puranas to which the average scholar of Indian history and chronology is likely to be open even though without his knowing the same. Even so far as literature is concerned there is a considerable amount of old Tamil, Kanarese, Pali and Prakrit literature to counterbalance the aforesaid spirit of Sanskritism if only it could be studied free from the above bias. But my point is that any existing literature howsoever old in itself, is all too inadequate a means to ascertain and estimate such an archaic and heterogenous subject as the basis of Indian civilization. The proper field for an unbiassed student of this subject is the ample reservoir of folk lore and tradition still available among the higher classes, of items of their domestic details, the customs and manners, observed during the marriage and burial ceremonies, in choosing sites for houses and hamlets and building the superstructures, and of rights and perquisites which still obtain among these village communities which can be traced to non-Aryan origins or which at any rate are still fostered under the distnctly non-Aryan influences such as in Malabar, the Central Provinces, and Chhota Nagpur. In fact, paradoxical though it may appear to many orthodox eyes, the basis of our civilization if at all it is to be discovered at this late stage, has to be searched for, more in the customs and manners of the new depressed classes and even the wild tribes of India who are certainly nearer to pristine conditions of Indian civilization than either in the too ideal or often too vitiated pictures that are drawn in the Sanskrit literature.
It has been said that in India, to disown Aryanism and Brahminism, is to disown civilization itself. It is a pity that not only Aryanism but even Brahminism is so readily taken to be conterminous with civilisation in India. I am hardly left with any breath in me when I read this sweeping claim. All signs of civilization among Dravidians seem to be counterbalanced as assets of civilization by serpent worship and black magic is fathered so fatuitously and wholly on Dravidians only, forgetting comfortably that there were other people, not only Aryans but other non-Aryans than Dravidians who can claim a decent share of Indian black magic and serpent worship equally if not more than that of the Dravidians. I am inclined to cite here some of the evidence if not only customs and manners but also of more unmistakable memorials such as fortresses, temples and priestcraft, showing that the Holyas of South Canara and Pulayas of Travancore among other untouchables were once a ruling people, holding their sway over considerable territories. But if mightier vestiges of such Dravidians as Ravan and Bali of old, and or Mudaliars, Pillais and Nairs of the present day are not high enough in the eyes of our eminent educationists owing to their educational bias, just because these vestiges are tainted by a supposed serpent worship and black magic, I think I should keep all my humble evidences to myself till a more propitious time.
--- V. R. Shinde
परिशिष्ट दुसरे-Indian Civilization
The Aryan Bias in the Consideration of the Question