(Last Updated on : 28/08/2009)
A well-known and certainly more deep-rooted approach to the study of Indian people is the system of classifications in race system crystallized at the turn of the twentieth century. Essentially the concept of classification in race system in India is based on a study of human physical characters, comprising skeletal and surface features.
A number of features may be noted about the concept of race. First, various language elements have come to be mixed with this. Although many scholars theoretically disown such a linkage, in practice, when they write about race and racial classifications, the linguistic correlations generally creep in. Second, the racial classifications very often carry the tone of superior and inferior races. This element of racial hierarchy has been adduced virtually in every context since the second part of the eighteenth century when the idea of races was first systematically laid down. This has strong undertones in modern political and social situations. Third, the essential framework of grouping mankind into such categories as Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Ne-groid, etc. continued uninterrupted and unchallenged till recently. With its categorical hierarchy of superior or inferior races and their assumed roles in the march of civilization, such classifications offered an unmitigated racist approach to history. Fourth, although after the Holocaust of the Jews under the Nazi regime in Germany and the American Civil Rights movement, there is less preoccupation with race as a conceptual category of great his-torical significance among scholars, the idea has by no means lost its votaries in the academia.
According to some scholars, the Indian race had been classified in seven different categories in earlier age among which the Turko-Iranian, Indo-Aryan, Scytho-Dravidian type, Aryo-Dravidian type, Mongolo-Dravidian type, Mongoloid type and Dravidian type were in the list. The Turko-Iranian were said to be a mixture of Turki and Iranian elements, with the latter dominating, above average in stature with a fair complexion, dark, occasionally grey, eyes, plen-tiful facial hair, broad head, prominent and very long nose. The study defined that Rajputs, Khatris and Jat
, Rajputana and Kashmir belonged to the indo Aryan category. They were mostly tall in stature, with fair complexion, dark eyes, plentiful facial hair, long head, narrow and moderately prominent nose. They most closely resemble the traditional Aryan colonisted of India. Furthermore, the Brahmins in Maharashtra
, and the Kunbis and Coorgis of western India form the Scytho-Dravidian type. The Scythian element was preponderant in the higher social group and the Dravidian element in the lower. They were of medium stature, with fair complexion, comparatively scanty facial hair, moderately long and fine nose and broad head. The people of Aryo-Dravidian type were distributed in Uttar Pradesh
, parts of Rajasthan
and Sri Lanka. They were of lower stature, and had medium to broad nose, light brown to black complexion and medium head. They were a mixture of Indo-Aryan and Dravidian elements.
Apart from these, the study also divulged that the Brahmins and Kayasthas of West Bengal
, Muslims of eastern Bengal, and miscellaneous regional groups belonged to the Mongolo-Dravidian group. They had dark complexion, medium to broad nose, medium stature and plentiful facial hair. Another category of the classification of Indian race system includes the Mongoloid types who were distributed in the Himalayan belt, inclusive of the Bodos of the Brahmaputra valley. They had fine to broad nose, flat face, oblique eyes, small stature, yellowish complexion and a broad head. The Dravidian type were found distributed in the Peninsula with the Paniyans of south Indian hills and the Santals of east India. They had a broad nose depressed at the root, short stature, dark complexion, occasionally curly hair, dark eyes and long head. This classification was based as much on the perception of the Indian past and the history of the languages of India
as on anthropometric data.
Among his theoretical observations one may note the following two points. As per some scholars, the prevalence of the caste system in India with its emphasis on marriage within the caste was a major factor in the maintenance of racial purity. Moreover, easy correlations had been made not merely between race and language but also between race and occupation. The concept of racial superiority or inferiority was also very much there, the chief position in the hierarchy being given to the Indo-Aryans. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the concept of the Aryans gained major ground on the basis of comparative philological studies. The Rig Veda
being the earliest Aryan text, the upper castes of India had to fall into the Aryan (or, in this case, Indo-Aryan) fold, and through this affiliation they could also claim a cousinship with their Aryan English rulers.
It has been said by scholars that the earliest race was Negrito, about which nothing is said except that it came from outside. The second group which came from Palestine is the Proto-Australoids, associated with an agglutinative tongue from which the Austro-Asiatic language was derived. They were followed by an early branch of the Mediterranean which introduced a rudimentary form of agriculture and navigation. A later branch of the civilized Mediterranean followed, to be followed in their turn by the Armenoid branch of the Alpine race which developed the Indus civilization and spoke Dravidian. In the third millennium BC there was an Indo-European-speaking brachycephalic race, whose main course went along the west coast and a lesser course to the Ganga valley. In the extreme south other (undefined) movements went on, including those of southern Mongoloids. Finally, around 1500 BC the Indo-European migration took place to Punjab and led on to produce the philosophy, religion, art and letters that were the glory of ancient India.
There is also an elaborate scheme of language migrations to India, generally coinciding with the postulated racial migrations. As per the research studies conducted by different scholars, the different ancient languages including several dialects, were spoken by different races. These languages had their subdivisions and majority of the people used to speak various languages of the Indo-Aryan family; about 20 percent speak the Dravidian languages
; and a much lesser proportion speak languages of the Tibeto-Burman and Austric groups. The numbers of scripts in use in India were many, with most of the regional languages having their own scripts. At their roots was the dominant ancient script of the land, Brahmi script
. The historical development of this script in different regions led to the various modern scripts. There are about 11 major scripts, numerically the dominant one being Devanagari scripts which was used for Hindi.