January 10, 2009 (Washington, D.C.)-- Historian Michael Wood's visually stunning documentary on India's history, "The Story of India," currently appearing on public television, is reigniting a bitter debate over the origins of Indian civilization. The Hindu American Foundation, a prominent Hindu advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., recorded a deluge of phone calls criticizing Wood's presentation of the Aryan Migration Theory (AMT).
The AMT theorizes that in 1500 BCE, pastoral tribes that came to be known as Aryans, migrated from Central Europe to Northwest India eventually dispersing indigenous peoples and imposing their own culture. This theory, that is not supported by archaeological evidence, was first posited by European indologists and British colonialists, eventually finding support from a section of India's politically motivated linguists and historians such as Romila Thapar, and famously, controversial Harvard linguist, Michael Witzel.
In his documentary, Wood holds that the early Hindu practice of worshipping devas, or demigods representing elements, somehow implies that these practices were imported from Central Asia. And while referencing obliquely that the Aryan Migration Theory is controversial, Wood fails to present contrary evidence that many scientists believe refutes the claim that the progenitors of Hindu civilization came from west of the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan.
"There is no debate that India was always the cradle of Hindu civilization, and the Vedas, the Hindu's holiest scriptures, are the recorded history of our ancestors," said Suhag Shukla, HAF's Managing Director. "We strongly oppose the insulting theory--advanced by agenda-driven activist historians--that our rishis, the great sages who composed the Vedas, were foreign to India, and Wood does viewers a disservice in not presenting both sides of the coin of the debate, in an otherwise admirable and beautiful work."
The AMT is reviled by many Hindus due to its implicit proposition that a tribe of "Aryans" migrated into the Indian subcontinent, subjugated an indigenous people dispersing them to South India and established a caste system where the highest castes are comprised of "Aryans" and lower castes were indigenous peoples--an ethno-religious apartheid system.
This explosive theory that narrates that Aryans were only the first colonizers--followed by Greeks, Mongols, Turks, Persians--was used by European historians to justify the last foreign claim on India, the British Raj.
However, it is the latest genetic evidence, based on chromosomal and DNA analysis, that scientists believe definitively discredits the AMT. Studies published in 2006, in the highly reputed Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and American Journal of Human Genetics, demonstrate that Y-chromosomal data collected from dozens of Indian sub-populations and tribal areas confirmed a common ancestry between all caste groups and tribals. The scientists in both studies concluded that there was no genetic basis to a claim that any migration occurred from west of India, and in fact, theorized that a northward migration may have occurred from India, out to Central Asia.
"Michael Wood clearly admires India and its people, and this shows through in his passionate depiction of India," said Sheetal Shah, HAF's Director of Development and Outreach . "We are not seeking to discredit the "Story of India" in its entirety, but viewers should be aware that a major error was made in the documentary that fails scrutiny and should be corrected."
The Hindu American Foundation is a 501(c)(3), non-profit, non-partisan organization promoting the Hindu and American ideals of understanding, tolerance and pluralism. Contact HAF at 1-301-770-7835 or on the web at www.HAFsite.org.