History and science have had an uneasy relationship for a long time. Historians invariably dismiss scientific findings that challenge their version of the past, till the stage when the body of scientific evidence becomes too substantial to ignore. When it comes to ancient Indian history—a contentious ground where there is a lack of specifics about dates, events, society and its nature, and where consensus among historians is nothing more than a broad-stroke covering everyone’s thesis—scientific findings face even greater resistance.
A study—a joint effort between the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology and Harvard Medical School—published in the American Journal of Human Genetics offers new insight into our ancient society. Its primary argument, based on DNA analysis, is that the Indian subcontinent is a mix of two populations, Ancestral North Indians (related to Middle Easterners and Central Asians) and Ancestral South Indians (a group found only in the subcontinent).
The study says that there was frequent mixing between these two populations between 4,200 to 1,900 years ago, after which the mixing stopped because the populations became endogamous. Caste and other segregations were imposed on an already mixed population, writes Srinath Perur in our cover story (“The great mix”). Most historians appear defensive in not taking this seriously.
G. N. Devy, India’s foremost linguist, in an accompanying essay, writes about the Manu Samhita—the ancient code of Hindus that advocates caste—and traces the process through which such divisions became entrenched in the society.
The Indian media continues its ride through choppy waters, after the sackings of prominent editors. A complaint, in which he is accused of sexual assault has made Tehelka’s founder and editor Tarun Tejpal “recuse” himself in an email called “Atonement” (a delusional declaration of his sense of entitlement couched in Biblical bombast) from editorship for six months. The news has attracted enormous attention on Twitter, and the media has covered it prominently including editorials by all major newspapers. It is a welcome departure from the convention of the media’s usual reticent coverage of itself. A couple of points are worth underlining: Tehelka’s response and statements issued by Shoma Chaudhury, its managing editor, have been insensitive and unfair to the journalist who raised the complaint; and this incident does not in itself negate all of Tehelka’s journalism. There are other valid ethical criticisms of Tehelka’s work, unconnected and independent of this case.
Sexual harassment in the media rarely, if ever, makes the news. This has changed now. Other perpetrators who have got away so far have much to fear. A cleansing will do everyone good.
Saurav Kumar, Editor