Jayakumar S. Ammangudi
Excerpted with permission from Malhotra, Rajiv and Aravindan Neelakandan, “Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines,” Amaryllis Publishers, Delhi, 2011
Chapter: 2. Overview of European Invention of Races
Printed Pages: 8-11
Chapter 2: Overview of European Invention of Races
Western Academic Constructions Lead to Violence
In the past five centuries, European nations colonized many regions of Asia, Africa, and the Americas. These Western powers variously imposed a Eurocentric worldview on the colonized cultures. The histories of the local cultures as well as a global historic narrative were constructed to justify colonization. Today, even though many of these biases have been exposed, they still wield power in the academic and socio-political discourses. In the next several chapters, we see the forces that led to these colonial constructs, and explore the reasons for their continued existence. With reference to fig. 2.1, a brief outline of each of its components is given next.
In the eighteenth century, when the traditional religious edifice of Europe was threatened by the Enlightenment, Europeans looked for a golden past. Many hoped they could find it in India, which had been the source of much of Europe’s imports for centuries. In this search for identity, they began to hypothesize and construct an idealized ‘Aryan race’ through a distorted reading of Indian scriptures. Fed by virulent German nationalism, anti-Semitism and Race Science, this manipulation led ultimately to the rise of Nazism and the holocaust.
In the late eighteenth century, the Indologist Max Müller proposed the Aryan category strictly as a linguistic group, but it got soon transformed into the Aryan race by colonial administrators who used Race Science to make a taxonomical division of traditional Indian communities. The castes designated as ‘non-Aryan’ were marginalized or excluded in depictions of Hindu society. In parallel, the Church evangelists working in South India constructed a Dravidian race identity. They de-linked Tamil culture from its pan-Indian cultural matrix and claimed that its spirituality was closer to Christianity than it was to the Aryan North Indian culture.
In Sri Lanka, the Buddhist revival spurred by the Theosophical Society also spread ideas of the Aryan race theory. Bishop Robert Caldwell and Max Müller categorized Tamils as Dravidians and Singhalese as Aryans. This division was encouraged by colonial administrators. Gradually, many South Indians who had assumed a Dravidian identity adopted this division and turned it into antagonism toward the so-called Aryans. The result has been the deadly ethnic civil war that continued in Sri Lanka for a few decades.
The Hamitic myth of the Bible in which the descendants of Noah’s son Ham were cursed, was used by slave traders and slave owners to justify slavery. Hamitic linguistic groups were identified and separated from the rest of Africans. African civilization’s contributions were explained as the work of an imaginary sub-race of Whites invading and civilizing Africa. Western classification of traditional African communities into races led to bitter rivalries, including genocide as in Rwanda.
The following six chapters will go into details of how the present Dravidian identity came about in a period of less than two centuries.