Peopling Process of India: Technology and Occupational Change

India is a country remarkable for its diversity; biological and human. The biological diversity owes itself to the country’s position at the trijunction of the African, the northern Eurasian and the Oriental realm; its great variety of environmental regimes, and its relative stability of biological production. It is this biological wealth that has attracted to the subcontinent many streams of people at different times, from different directions; bringing together a great diversity of human genes and human cultures. Whereas in other lands the dominant human cultures have tended to absorb or eliminate others, in India the tendency has been to isolate and subjugate the subordinated cultures, thereby augmenting cultural diversity. This tendency to nurture diversity has been favoured by the diversity of the country’s ecological regimes [Gadgil and Guha, 1992].

New Picture

Racial Diversity of India

People migrate because of pulls from their destination and pushes in their homeland, often propelled along by some technological advantage. Thus in 16th century Europeans came to India in search of spices, pushed out by the little ice age that had gripped Europe, equipped with superior seagoing vessels and guns. That migration is well documented and understood; but it is the many earlier ones that have brought to India the bulk of human genes and cultural traits. It is our purpose in this paper to elucidate what we can of these many earlier migrations.

Role of Technology and Innovations

People have of course migrated out of India as well, but these out-migrations have been on a much smaller scale, and mostly over the last three centuries. This is related to the fact that India has never been the site of any significant technological innovations. A series of important innovations have, over the years taken place outside of India, innovations which have given an edge to people in control of these innovations, propelling major migrations [Habib, 1992].

In chronological order the most relevant of these include:

(i) Evolution of symbolic language, probably by the first modern Homo sapiens, in Africa, perhaps around 100 kybp (kybp = thousand years before present);
(ii) Husbanding of wheat, barley, cattle, pig in the mideast around 10 kybp;
(iii) husbanding of rice, buffalo in China and Southeast Asia around 8 kybp;
(iv) Domestication of horse in Central Asia around 6 kybp;
(v) Use of iron in Anatolia around 5 kybp;
(vi) Use of stirrup for horse riding in Central Asia around 2 kybp;
(vii) Use of gunpowder in China around 2 kybp;
(viii) Use of canons and guns in war in Arabia in 15 th century

Our theme then is that these manifold innovations to the west, east and north of the Indian subcontinent have propelled many waves of people onto our land, giving rise to what is genetically as well as culturally the most diverse society in the world. There are diverse lines of evidence for these migrations – genetic, linguistic archaeological, anthropological. We will endeavour to draw on all these disciplines to reconstruct the story of peopling of India.

The earliest migrants into India, perhaps 50 kybp may have been the Austric speaking Homo sapiens, with the advantage conferred by the mastery over a symbolic language. Their genetic footprints may be discerned in the trends evident in the 2nd P.C of the synthetic genetic map of Asia. The next major waves of migrations around 6 kybp may have been those of wheat cultivators from the middle east and the rice cultivators from China and south east Asia. The former are likely to have been Dravidian speakers and contributed to the trend evident in the 1st P.C. of the synthetic genetic map of Asia. the latter may have been Sino-Tibetan speakers who would have contributed further to the trend revealed by 2nd P.C. The latest major migration around 4 kybp may have included several waves of Indo-European speakers equipped with horses and iron technology.


What the Indian population is remarkable for is the segmentation of this large population into thousands of endogamous groups. The People of India data recognizes 4635 such ethnic communities. Many of these are however clusters of endogamous groups with similar traditional occupations and social status. The actual number of endogamous groups is decidedly much larger, of the order of 50 to 60 thousand (Joshi, Gadgil and Patil 1993; Gadgil and Malhotra 1983). This persistence of tribe like endogamous groups, characteristic of hunter-gatherer-shifting cultivation stage all over the world, in a complex agrarian, and now industrial society of India is a unique phenomenon. It seems to be a result of a peculiarly Indian tradition of subjugation and isolation, rather than the worldwide practice of elimination or assimilation of subordinated communities by the dominant groups.

Our mitochondrial DNA studies provide some notable insights into the structure of this social mosaic. For this purpose we chose two communities, Haviks and Mukris from the same district of Uttara Kannada. Haviks are a Brahmin group well known for their skills at growing multi-storeyed spice gardens of cardamom, pepper and betelnut. They also perform priestly functions, and are today prominent in many white collar occupations. Their current populations is around 100,000 individuals concentrated in an area of about 20,000 km2. The Mukri, on the contrary are members of a scheduled caste, earlier treated as untouchables. Their current population numbers around 9000 individuals concentrated in an area of 2000 km2. They continue to indulge in substantial amounts of hunting, gathering and fishing to this date and serve as unskilled labour on Havik and other farms.

These might have been the most massive migrations peopling India. Others have followed, largely from the west, through the Khyber pass on the northwestern frontiers of the subcontinent. These seem to have been propelled by superior weaponry, increasingly better control over horses and finally seagoing ships.

Such significant innovations may include some of the following. An important early development in weaponry was the composite angular bow which appeared in west Asia around 5 kybp. Bending through the length of the limb, releasing this bow string produced no kick leading to a smooth and accurate shot. The extremely long draw length of over 1 m led to a greatly enhanced cast. A crucial piece of equipment associated with control over horse is stirrup, which helps in balancing the rider and permits him to stand up to threw the lance. The earliest form of the stirrup was a string with two loops on either side for the rider’s foot. The first known instance of iron stirrups comes from China in sixth century A.D. reaching Iran by 7th century, and arriving in India with Turkish warriors in 11th century. Another significant invention was the iron horse shoe first known from Siberia in 9th Century A.D., reaching India with Turkish warriors in 13th Century A.D. The gunpowder was invented in China around 100 A.D. and slowly reached Iran, Arabia and finally Europe with Mongols around 1400 A.D. It reached India with the arrival of the first Mughal emperor Babur who used it in the first battle of Panipat in 1526 A.D..

Sources and Links:


Tribes In India




About Rashid Faridi

I am Rashid Aziz Faridi ,Writer, Teacher and a Voracious Reader.
This entry was posted in Class Notes, earth, India, Migration. Bookmark the permalink.

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