At our podcast over the weekend I expressed some reservation about genetic testing of ancestry. I do find that there is a peculiarly Indian & Hindu interest in ancestry and genetics that is otherwise absent.
I was struggling to articulate my precise hesitation until I read this wonderful piece on Ambedkar (I imagine Arundhati Roy is a direct descendant of this powerful tradition of dissent against South Asian classism).
The clue to the worship of the cow is to be found in the struggle between Buddhism and Brahmanism and the means adopted by Brahmanism to establish its supremacy over Buddhism.
Earlier in the book, Ambedkar introduces the concept of Broken Men, whom he describes as follows:
In a tribal war it often happened that a tribe instead of being completely annihilated was defeated and routed. In many cases a defeated tribe became broken into bits. As a consequence of this there always existed in Primitive times a floating population consisting of groups of Broken tribesmen roaming in all directions.
He also makes the assumption that
“Untouchables are Broken Men belonging to a tribe different from the tribe comprising the village community.”
Ambedkar’s third assumption is that
“Broken Men were the followers of Buddhism and did not care to return to Brahmanism when it became triumphant over Buddhism”
Now the genetics data sort of tells us that caste (and untouchability) precedes Buddhism to the arrival of the Aryans. I do believe that any community needs myths, as well as its history, to overcome its present.
What we can infer from the genetic history of the Dalit/untouchable community is that rather they were the residual components of AASI/ASI that have persisted into the modern. Their role in Indian history hasn’t been one of agents or main actors, as far as I know there hasn’t been a history of Dalit Revolt (I am happy to be corrected) or the Dalit Spartacus.
Much as it’s wonderful to constantly bash Islam, Muslims and Pakistan (and I dislike the Colonial Critique of Brahmins & the Caste system since the Colonisers have so much to blame for the present woes of South Asia) there are some important points as to just how crushing and pervasive the caste system actually is.
That is why I always insist that Pakistans & Urdu-Speaking Muslims stay apart from these perennial discussions. Our mythologies in some ways have also helped Pakistan to not simply wither into the ashes. Pakistan has many many flaws but there is something about the Hindu caste system that makes it remarkable as to just how pathetic Indian Muslims have performed in comparison to their Pakistani counterparts. There is something about the spirit being broken that is difficult to put a finger on it.
Much as I find Pakistani bravado to be absurd at times (and sometimes downright dangerous as in the case of Hazrat Asia) we have our Quraysh ancestors to thank that we are not mired in the mediocrity of our Urdu-speaking kin across the border. Pakistan may one day go down in flames but she has made her mark on history and for that we should be grateful for.