Lost in the hall of mirrors
The linguistics of Aryan as a knowledge domain in colonial and postcolonial India
The category Aryan and the paradigm of ideas associated with it remains highly controversial in contemporary India, and the history, status, and impact of this concept are contested at many levels. This paper starts with the assumption that the genesis of this concept lies in Western linguistic theorizing, and analyzes in outline the reception and impact of Aryan Invasion Theory and the postulation of an Aryan-Dravidian divide. Radical Hindu nationalists reject all aspects of the colonial scholarship of India; other Indian scholars see Western scholarship as authoritative to the extent that it falls within the framework of secular modernity. The argument made here is that the entire Aryan paradigm rests on a faulty set of academic presumptions and that its impact has been more long lasting and destructive than even the application of race theory to the understanding of India. In this sense the paper accepts the criticisms made by radical Hindu nationalists of colonial linguistics, and this raises further complex issues about knowledge production and application, scholarly expertise and authority.
Keywords: Aryan, Aryan Invasion Theory, Dravidian, colonial and postcolonial linguistics, Hindutva, Dalits
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