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The Politics of Race


Meena Bhargava


By Thomas R. Trautmann
Yoda Press, Delhi, 2004, pp. xxxiv 260, Rs. 225.00

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 8 August 2005

Aryans and British India is the first interna- tional paperback edition brought out by Yoda Press in a series called New Perspectives On India’s Pasts edited by Saurabh Dube. First published in 1997, the book studies the historical relations between languages and peoples or more appropriately languages and nations concept in British India and the politics of race that emerged out of it. The added value of the book lies in its critique and rejection of the racial hypothesis in history.   Examining the idea of “Aryan” in British India, the book does not engage with the recent controversial Aryan debate i.e. the relation of the Aryans, Sanskrit and the Veda to Indus Civilization. Chronologically the book ends in 1924 prior to the interpretation of Sir John Marshall and the discovery of the Indus Civilization. Not directly connected with the Aryan debate, the book is an exploration of the intellectual pre-history of the debate. Nonetheless, the author indicates his support to the standard view on the Aryans and chides the proponents of the alternate view to provide a convincing argument before seeking to replace the long-held, well-tested scholarly standard view which argues that both Sanskrit and Aryans were alien to India. They came from outside India after the Indus Civilization and therefore differed in both language and culture from the people of the Indus Civilization. The alternate view, on the contrary, suggests that the Aryans were indigenous to India; they spoke Sanskrit and it were they who created the Indus Civilization.   The focus of the book is the Aryan or the Indo-European concept. This concept has formal properties of its own, which have remained substantially stable since its inception. But when viewed from different perspectives, it reveals different aspects. The author studies both the formalist and the perspectival approach to the concept. Arguing thus, Trautmann traces the varied usage of Arya or Aryan. Friedrich Max Muller used the Sanskrit term Arya or Aryan to describe the family of Indo-European languages and the people who spoke them. In 1786, Sir William Jones defined the concept of the family of Indo-European languages as a group of related languages comprising Sanskrit, Latin, Greek, Gothic, Celtic and Old Persian. The term acquired a broad meaning. It stood not only for the Sanskrit speaking but also those, who for instance, spoke Old Persian. However, in the twentieth century, the term Aryan acquired a completely different and a ...


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