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Historical definitions of races in India

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Historical definitions of races in India

See Demographics of India for information about population of India.

Various attempts have been made, under the British Raj and since, to classify the population of India according to a racial typology. After the independence, in pursuance of the Government's policy to discourage distinctions between communities based on race, the 1951 Census of India did away with racial classifications. The national Census of independent India does not recognize any racial groups in India.[1]

Some scholars of the colonial epoch attempted to find a method to classify the various groups of India according to the predominant racial theories popular at that time in Europe. This scheme of racial classification was used by the British census of India. It was often mixed with considerations about the caste system.

Great races

Scientific racism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries divided mankind into three "great races", Caucasoid (white), Mongoloid (yellow) and Negroid (black) in accordance with their own world-view.

The populations of the Indian subcontinent, however, were problematic to classify under this scheme. They were assumed to be a mixture of "Dravidian race", tentatively with an "Australoid" grouping, with an Aryan race, identified as a sub-race to the Caucasoid race, but some authors also assumed Mongolic admixture, so that India, for the purposes of scientific racism, presented a complicated mixture of all major types.

Edgar Thurston identified a "Homo Dravida" who had more in common with the Australian aboriginals than their Indo-Aryan. As evidence, he adduced the use of the boomerang by Kallar and Maravar warriors and the proficiency at tree-climbing among both the Kadirs of the Anamalai hills and the Dayaks of Borneo.[2]

The "Negroid" status of the Dravidians however remained disputed. In 1898, ethnographer Friedrich Ratzel remarked about the "Mongolian features" of "Dravidians", resulting in he described as his "hypothesis of their [Dravidians] close connection with the population of Tibet", whom he adds "Tibetans may be decidedly reckoned in the Mongol race".[3] In 1899, Science summarized Ratzel's findings over India with, "India is for the author [of the History of Mankind, Ratzel], a region where races have been broken up pulverized, kneaded by conquerors.[4] Doubtless a pre-Dravidian negroid type came first, of low stature and mean physique, though these same are, in India, the result of poor social and economic conditions.[4] Dravidians succeeded negroids, and there may have been Malay intrusions, but Australian affinities are denied.[4] Then succeeded Aryan and Mongol, forming the present pot porri through conquest and blending."[4]

In 1900, anthropologist Joseph Deniker said, "the Dravidian race is connected with both the Indonesian and Australian... the Dravidian race, which it would be better to call South Indian, is prevalent among the peoples of Southern India speaking the Dravidian tongues, and also among the Kols and other people of India... The Veddhas... come much nearer to the Dravidian type, which moreover also penetrates among the populations of India, even into the middle valley of the Ganges.".[5] Deniker groups "Dravidians" as a "subrace" under "Curly or Wavy Hair Dark Skin" in which he also includes the "Ethiopian" and "Australian".[5] Also, Deniker mentions that the "Indian race has its typical representatives among the Afghans, the Rajputs, the Brahmins and most of North India but it has undergone numerous alterations as a consequence with crosses with Assyriod, Dravidian, Mongol, Turkish, Arab and other elements."[5] His theories have been discarded by post-modern anthropologists.

Carleton S. Coon, in his book The Races of Europe (1939), classified the Dravidians as "Caucasoid" due to their "Caucasoid skull structure" and other physical traits such as noses, eyes and hair.[6]

Martial races theory

The Martial races theory was a British ideology based on the assumption that certain peoples were more martially inclined as opposed to the general populace or other peoples.[7] The British divided the entire spectrum of Indian ethnic groups into two categories: a "martial race" and a "non-martial race". The martial race was thought of as typically brave and well built for fighting.[8] The non-martial races were those whom the British believed to be unfit for battle because of their sedentary lifestyle.

The question of loyalty and disloyalty cannot be debated on the simple fact that many of the races mentioned as "loyal" actually did participate in the rebellion. The Indian rebellion of 1857 may have played a role in British reinforcement of the martial races theory. During this rebellion, some Indian troops, particularly in Bengal, mutinied, but the "loyal", Dogras, Gurkhas, Garhwalis, Devars, Sikhs, Jats and Pakhtuns (Pathans) did not join the mutiny and fought on the side of the British Army. Modern scholars have suggested that this theory was propagated to accelerate recruitment from among these races, while discouraging enlistment of "disloyal" Indians who had sided with the rebel army during the war. This may have been because of the fact that these rebellious forces were the one that helped the British in the annexation of Punjab in not too distant past. So these "loyal" forces sided with the British when the time came for getting even.[9]

The races of modern India

Most contemporary anthropologists classify Indians as belonging to one of four major ethno-racial groups, which often overlap with each other because of a continuous process of racial admixture: Caucasoids, Mongoloids and Negritos. Mongoloids are largely confined to the Northeastern region of the country and for the most part, speak Tibeto-Burman languages; and Negritos are found on the Andaman Islands located on the southeastern side of the country. These speak a group of languages known as Andamanese and Ongan languages, linguistic isolates not related to any known languages. And finally, Austro-Asiatic languages are spoken by only tribals or Adivasis, who can be of either Australoid or Mongoloid racial stock.[10]

According to a 2009 study published by Reich et al., the modern Indian population is composed of two genetically divergent and heterogeneous populations which mixed in ancient times (about 1,200-3,500 BC), known as Ancestral North Indians (ANI) and Ancestral South Indians (ASI).[11][12]

See also


  1. ^ Kumar, Jayant. Indian Census 2001. September 4, 2006.
  2. ^ C. Bates, 'Race, Caste and Tribes in Central India' in: The Concept of Race, ed. Robb, OUP (1995), p. 245, cited after Ajay Skaria, Shades of Wildness Tribe, Caste, and Gender in Western India, The Journal of Asian Studies (1997), p. 730.
  3. ^ Ratzel, Freidrich. The History of Mankind. Macmillan and Co.:New York, 1898. ISBN 978-81-7158-084-2 p.358
  4. ^ a b c d Mason, O.T. "Scientific Books." Science Volume 10 (1899) p.21
  5. ^ a b c Deniker, Joseph. The Races of Man: An Outline of Anthropology and Ethnography. Charles Scribner's and Sons: London, 1900. ISBN 0-8369-5932-9 p.498
  6. ^ Apart Type Screenplay - Everett C. Borders - Google Books. Retrieved 2013-06-25. 
  7. ^ Heather Streets. Martial Races: The military, race and masculinity in British Imperial Culture, 1857-1914
  8. ^ Rand,Gavin. Martial Races and Imperial Subjects: Violence and Governance in Colonial India 1857–1914. European Review of History.
  9. ^ Country Studies: Pakistan - Library of Congress
  10. ^
  11. ^ Nature. "Reconstructing Indian population history : Abstract". Nature. Retrieved 2013-06-25. 
  12. ^ "Abstract/Presentation". 2011-10-12. Retrieved 2013-06-25. 
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