We can be proud of our identities and culture without insisting on its certainty

I always find it puzzling and a little sad how nativists cling to the wishful purity of their vision of the past. Why allow yourself to be humiliated by the likely fact of migration? If your sense of self is dependent on insisting that you are a purer and a truer Indian than others, then you have bigger problems than the inconvenient findings of genetic science.

Far & Near column in the Hindustan Times, 13 April, 2018

In February, researchers revealed a forensic reconstruction of the oldest known person to have lived in Britain. The 10,000 year-old “Cheddar Man” holds the secrets to the identity of the first Britons. So there was much surprise and even some consternation when it turned out that this most indigenous of indigenous Brits had curly hair and, of all things, dark to black skin.

This is a vexed moment in Britain, and Europe in general, regarding national identity and race. Right-wing forces across the continent are pushing back at what they see as the threat posed by immigrants and multiculturalism. Extremist groups like the English Defence League and Britain First have gained strength in the UK. Like nativists all over the world, they trade on a claim to authenticity, that their mostly white members are the true inhabitants of the land. The rights of whites to the life and direction of the country, they suggest, should be given more weight than those of others. Inevitably, their rhetoric seeps into the discourse of more polite conservative politicians and publications.

The past is a vivid and livid obsession of nativists. They see it as their terrain, the bedrock of who they are and what their country is supposed to be. A BBC programme on Roman-era Britain recently attracted their ire by depicting black characters. Critics claimed that it was ahistorical to include blacks in ancient Britain and that this insertion was proof of a politically correct plot to undermine white British identity. Historians pointed out correctly that there is plenty of evidence of Africans and Middle Easterners in Britain then, brought to the island by the Romans.

That the fossilised Cheddar Man – 8,000 years before the Romans – was black is not reason to claim that blacks (or any particular people) are truly indigenous to Britain. But the revelation does make a mockery of the feeble blood-and-soil appeal to indigenousness. The sands of history invariably shift too much to support the claims of nativists.

A new, large-scale study on the genetic formation of South Asia and Central Asia is bound to spark a furore of its own. The work of 92 scholars across several continents, the study’s findings further debunk the notion that Proto-Indo-Europeans (that is, the first speakers of the language family that would one day span northern India to Europe) came out of India. Hindutva irredentists insist that the culture of the Vedas had to originate in India, not come from elsewhere. Using genetic science, this new study confirms the outlandishness of that theory.

Read the rest of the piece at the Hindustan Times

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