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theory of Indian caste origins

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    Posted: 14 Oct 2009 at 14:48
I've read on an article a theory about the origins of the Indian Caste system, as demonstrated by DNA testing.

The theory proposes that the modern Indian population is a product of the mixture between 2 distinct populations: northern and southern.
The northerners originally came from Central Asia and conquered the entire sub-continent, subjugating the population. During the first centuries of the conquest, the 2 popualtions intermixed; giving rise to varying degrees of mixture: from the upper aristocracy descended purely from the Central Asian conquerors, to those of pure southern descent; in the middle were those mixtures of varying degrees depending on the weight of the blood they carried.

Once the conqueror's regime was established, they tried to impose their superiority on the locals by creating "closed" caste system based on the degree of conqueror's blood; and modern Indian caste systems still reflects to a large extent this degree of admixture. The caste system became enforced so strictly that the initial tendency of intermarriage was seen as a taboo, and people were brainwashed from childhood to only marry and socialise of those of their own caste. Thousands of years later, this legacy is still very much alive.

Asking Indian members of the forum, or those well-schooled in Indian history; how reliable is this theory? Is this also the official version of Indian historians?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Oct 2009 at 15:02
Indian nationalists seem to be on the whole strongly opposed to the theory (though to me it makes much sense), and they have done here in the past. There is even an opposing theory not uncommonly held that the 'Aryan migration' actually went the other way, out of India to the north-west.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote calvo Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Oct 2009 at 16:52
There doesn't seem to be any historical records documenting such an invasion, and the social structure established afterwards; but DNA testing supports such a theory; but whether the admixtures gave rise to the caste system is another theory. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Oct 2009 at 17:22
I don't think that the Aryan invasion did in fact happen is doubted.
 
But, in this regard, I have a question why Southern Indian ethnicities like Tamils who don't have Aryan admixture also have caste system?
 
Also, historically, different "caste systems" existed in Indo-China and Indonesia in the local Indianized cultures without actual "ethnic/racial reasons" behind it, but rather like an imitation of the Indian cultural phenomenon.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15 Oct 2009 at 11:43
Originally posted by Sarmat Sarmat wrote:

I don't think that the Aryan invasion did in fact happen is doubted.
There are lots of doubters represented in the archive, though searching for theories involving aryans in any way is a tiresome task. 
 
 
[/QUOTE]
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sparten Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Oct 2009 at 07:18

Very difficult to explain the discrepancy between N and S Indians without it.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Omar al Hashim Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Oct 2009 at 07:22
Yes. If you haven't already realised that theory is called the Aryan invasion theory, and there are plenty of people who vehemently reject that theory.

The first thing that should be pointed out is that;
1) There is obvious significant differences between North & South India in both genetics and culture.

2) While we cannot prove there was a single ancient aryan invasion that created the hindu caste system. There have been numerous invasions by aryans (iranians/iranics) into north india. The last being the Durrani Empire, assuming you don't count the English as Aryan. I think this pretty well defeats any genetic evidence, the "Aryan" genes could just have easily entered into the upper castes from repeated known invasions over the last 2000 years rather than some mythical invasion thousands of years ago.

In subcontinent culture you only marry into groups (castes) of similar social standing. So the lowest castes/classes are a completely different people from the upper castes/classes. A new invader can very easily just be slotted into this system. For example, English are merchant caste.

3) As Sarmat has pointed out the caste system is not only in north india it exists or existed in cultures all over south east asia which while have had indian cultural influence have not had "aryan invasions"

This doesn't mean there wasn't an Aryan invasion in prehistory, but it blurs the issue somewhat. There is ground to argue that the mythical invasion never happened, but that doesn't mean the caste system wasn't originally due to (multiple) central asian invasions.


Edited by Omar al Hashim - 16 Oct 2009 at 07:26
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Oct 2009 at 10:55
The 'single invasion' theory is an extreme version of the theory in which aryan peoples migrated from the north-west into India, possibly quite peacefully, possibly in a series of waves. Call it the 'aryan migration' theory.
 
Personally what sells me more on that than the genetics involved is the dual nature of Hinduism, being part Indo-European (the Hindu trinity plus a hint of a conventional afterlife) superimposed on what is as far as I can see the indigenous concept of reincarnation.
 
What some Indian nationalists reject is the whole idea of such a migration, claiming instead that the dominant migratory pattern was to the north-west, out of India, not into it.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Oct 2009 at 15:07
Originally posted by Omar al Hashim Omar al Hashim wrote:

Yes. If you haven't already realised that theory is called the Aryan invasion theory, and there are plenty of people who vehemently reject that theory.

The first thing that should be pointed out is that;
1) There is obvious significant differences between North & South India in both genetics and culture.

2) While we cannot prove there was a single ancient aryan invasion that created the hindu caste system. There have been numerous invasions by aryans (iranians/iranics) into north india. The last being the Durrani Empire, assuming you don't count the English as Aryan. I think this pretty well defeats any genetic evidence, the "Aryan" genes could just have easily entered into the upper castes from repeated known invasions over the last 2000 years rather than some mythical invasion thousands of years ago.
 
Yes, but as far as I remember when the invasions from the north were documented there were already Indoeuropean kingdoms in the north of India. The easiest and the most logic way to explain that they were formed as a result "ancient Aryan invasion."

Originally posted by Omar al Hashim Omar al Hashim wrote:

In subcontinent culture you only marry into groups (castes) of similar social standing. So the lowest castes/classes are a completely different people from the upper castes/classes. A new invader can very easily just be slotted into this system. For example, English are merchant caste.

That would support the idea that new Aryan invaders would melt with the people whom they would consider ethnically more close i.e. 2 upper castes allegedly formed from Aryan invaders.
 
But, also, I think it's very likely that the caste division already were in the subcontinent before the Aryan invasion. May be Aryans just made a majority in the upper castes.
 
If it's an Aryan invasion that is the reason, why there were no castes in the other places they invaded like Iranian plato?
 
Castes system still seems to be a very "unique" genetically Indian phenomenon for me.


 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Oct 2009 at 15:16
Mahakula kulinarya sabhya sajjana sadhavah
 
And that definition, in its citation by N. S. Rajaram, does summarize the current explosion within Indian historiography and contemporary Hindi politics. It is interesting that the subtext is intricately linked with a reaction to the intellectual Racism of Europe (1880-1930) and a desire to link Arya within the universe of religious thought as "substantiated" by archaeology!
 
 
 


Edited by drgonzaga - 16 Oct 2009 at 17:20
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Oct 2009 at 15:23
Castes system still seems to be a very "unique" genetically Indian phenomenon for me.
 
Really, Sarmat?
 
Caste and class is a nearly universal historical phenomenon and guised in intricate varieties once early society moved from familial and kinship links. Think about it...


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Oct 2009 at 15:29
Rajaram's article is the sort of claptrap I was referring to, though here at least he doesn't go as far as saying that the migration/invasions happened the other way around.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Oct 2009 at 16:02
Well, gcle, you very well know that in terms of the impact of national or cultural "ideologies" one man's gospel is another's claptrap. Within historical analyses "reinterpretations" are the fodder of supposed professionalism. I can well understand your discomfort with Rajaram, after all, in essence he is spouting the old "blame it on the Brits and their Academic establishment" line.
 
For me, who has always taken the longer view of time and the ever persistent movement of peoples as the catalysts for cultural changes, the desire to impose stasis in any form is a bit too much to swallow. After all, is not the term "India" itself a relatively modern socio-political artifice?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Oct 2009 at 16:08
Originally posted by drgonzaga drgonzaga wrote:

Castes system still seems to be a very "unique" genetically Indian phenomenon for me.
 
Really, Sarmat?
 
Caste and class is a nearly universal historical phenomenon and guised in intricate varieties once early society moved from familial and kinship links. Think about it...
 
Class - yes. But not such a complex system of castes that evolved in India.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Oct 2009 at 17:19
What's in a name? A plumber still must attack those latrines and few would dare socialize with him after a heavy day in the septic tank!Wink
 
In terms of the "long view" on history one must accept the fact that "social mobility" is the exception rather than the rule and when "religion" assumes a dominant role in the social structure then all bets are off. A "trade" as a function of heredity is not that difficult to understand no matter how fancy the scholarly interpretation. Sacred cows exist in almost any culture, if you get my drift.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Oct 2009 at 17:46
Yet, other cultures don't have such a strong system as "castes" in India. And even now, when there are no real economic reasons for this phenomenon to live on, it still has an enormous cultural significance in the Subcontinent.
 
As for the other cultures it was quite simple. Nobility, Artisans and Merhcants, serfs and slaves, etc. not significant variations. And that system still had a very limited social mobility. A serf could become a merchant a merchant could be awarded nobility title under extraordinary circumstances; in some cultures like in Chinese that division wasn't important at all. But, now way, can a shudra became a brakhman in the Indian caste system.


Edited by Sarmat - 16 Oct 2009 at 17:47
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Oct 2009 at 18:00
No way can an israeli become a levi or cohen either. Fortunately, there is no longer a Temple to perpetuate this form of caste structure but the concept does maintain its vitality within Jewish intellectualism.
 
I am raising these points Sarmat not for the sake of nay-saying but simply to underscore that only "crises" will reorganize societies and weaken stability, absent these the "persistence of memory" will prevail. The "search for order" assumes many faces.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Al Jassas Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Oct 2009 at 18:59
Hello to you all
 
I agree with the Doc on the class-caste system. In India, and in the rest of Hindu-influenced SEA the caste system is nothing but an extreme manifistation of the class system or to be more specific, the class system actually evolved from the caste system not the other way around.
 
The origins of the caste system in my opinion lies within religions. In most primative religions only heredetary priests or shamans are allowed to perform rituals and it was they who were the first rulers since all old city states were built on or near sacred sites with a temple and the ruler was himself the high priest. As religions developed the stress of heredetary priesthood became lesser and lesser but another form of priesthood began, ethnic or regional priesthood. Semitic peoples ruled Mesopotamia but it was Sumerians who were the priests in the biginning at least. Hinduism was nothing strange. In fact Hinduism probably turned the class system that existed earlier into a caste system and then into a rigid one.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Oct 2009 at 19:24
Originally posted by drgonzaga drgonzaga wrote:

Well, gcle, you very well know that in terms of the impact of national or cultural "ideologies" one man's gospel is another's claptrap.
In a way that's my point. Rajaram's attitude is just as 'racist' as the attitudes he attacks. It isn't really worth exemplifying.
 
However, the long digression about the meaning of the word 'Aryan' in Sanskrit is in fact an example: there's no reason at all why 'Aryan' as used by say, Muller, should have any connection with the original meaning of the word.
Quote
After all, is not the term "India" itself a relatively modern socio-political artifice?
As a socio-political usage, yes. As a geographical expression for the land south of the Himalayas [1] it's the best we have: confusing the two is, well, confusing. Much the same is of course true of 'Europe' and 'Africa'.l
 
[1] Think 'Italy' only bigger.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Oct 2009 at 22:15
I agree that most likely the origins of the Indian castes are "socio-cultural" rather than ethnic. But it perhaps was indeed complicated by some ethnic issues in Northern India. And, in any case, the Indian Caste system is quite unique.
 
BTW the "ethnic origin" of classes theories isn't unique for India only. There was a theory about viewing French revolution as a pure ethnic rebellion of subdued Gauls commoners against the Frankish aristocratic oppressors.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Zagros Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Oct 2009 at 23:03
The caste system was mirrored in Zaroastrian Iran and the priest class was also called Brahman.  So it likely has its source from the proto Indo-Iranian religion from which both Vedic and Zaroastrian beliefs descend.

I think it was a class system and as such was nothing unique to India; those in the upper classes deem themselves of a more noble/superior breed and would look down on lower castes.  This was the case in Britain beyond the Victorian period.


Edited by Zagros - 16 Oct 2009 at 23:04
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Oct 2009 at 10:34
The English situation (as Sarmat suggested about the French) reflected the Norman/Saxon/Celt ethnic divisions well into the 20th century.
 
If your name was De La Mare you were much more likely to be an officer than an other rank.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Zagros Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Oct 2009 at 12:00
Originally posted by gcle2003 gcle2003 wrote:

The English situation (as Sarmat suggested about the French) reflected the Norman/Saxon/Celt ethnic divisions well into the 20th century.
 
If your name was De La Mare you were much more likely to be an officer than an other rank.



What you're actually saying is that your class level within society largely reflected your genealogy?   I might agree with this up to a certain point but not into the latter Tudor and Stuart eras on.


As an aside... It might be worthwhile actually studying this empirically from military records and writing a paper on it.  Very interesting.


Edited by Zagros - 17 Oct 2009 at 12:04
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Oct 2009 at 14:10
Originally posted by Zagros Zagros wrote:

Originally posted by gcle2003 gcle2003 wrote:

The English situation (as Sarmat suggested about the French) reflected the Norman/Saxon/Celt ethnic divisions well into the 20th century.
 
If your name was De La Mare you were much more likely to be an officer than an other rank.



What you're actually saying is that your class level within society largely reflected your genealogy?
As long as you don't mean economic class, yes. Of course over the centuries it got less marked.
Quote
I might agree with this up to a certain point but not into the latter Tudor and Stuart eras on.

As an aside... It might be worthwhile actually studying this empirically from military records and writing a paper on it.  Very interesting.
Yes it would be.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Zagros Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Oct 2009 at 16:39
I wonder if I could get away with requesting details from the MoD under FoI. 

MoD used to be MoW (Ministry of War) AFAIK.  I wonder how far back their personnel archives go.  I am thinking of a scope between 1851-1950.  Covering the army regiments only.


Edited by Zagros - 17 Oct 2009 at 16:40
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Oct 2009 at 17:21
Yes, stick with the army. The navy was much more open. You can't necessarily tell from surnames, but they're a good start.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Carcharodon Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Oct 2009 at 17:47
Originally posted by Al Jassas Al Jassas wrote:

Hello to you all
 

 
The origins of the caste system in my opinion lies within religions. In most primative religions only heredetary priests or shamans are allowed to perform rituals and it was they who were the first rulers since all old city states were built on or near sacred sites with a temple and the ruler was himself the high priest.


In many so called primitive religions, especially among hunter gatherers and also many tribal farm communities the role of the shaman is not hereditary. Instead the Shaman is singled out becuse he has special traits in his personality, as the ability to experience visions and to be able to alter his state of counciousness.

The way shamans, medicine men and priests are selected varies a lot between different cultures and it is not easy to impose a simple evolutionary model on it.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Oct 2009 at 23:38
AFAIK shaman is a hereditary position. There are some special and secret knowledge and skills that are transferred through the blood line. The ability to experience visions is one thing the ability to understand and explain the visions is a special skill that needs to be learned.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Omar al Hashim Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 Oct 2009 at 03:05
Originally posted by Sarmat Sarmat wrote:

Yes, but as far as I remember when the invasions from the north were documented there were already Indoeuropean kingdoms in the north of India. The easiest and the most logic way to explain that they were formed as a result "ancient Aryan invasion."

Yes, even Sanskrit is an indo-european language. But there is no reason to think that these kingdoms arose in a different manner to the documented kingdoms. As a result of successive invasions separated by hundreds of years over the course of thousands of years.
Quote But, also, I think it's very likely that the caste division already were in the subcontinent before the Aryan invasion. May be Aryans just made a majority in the upper castes.
 
If it's an Aryan invasion that is the reason, why there were no castes in the other places they invaded like Iranian plato?

I don't think that's a problem. All you have to read is what people like Babur and Timur thought of india when they got there and it really makes sense why a central asian invader would separate themselves.
The invaders typically think of indians as dirty and poor, and want very little to do with them. They want india for it's wealth, not its people.
In modern times when that initial attitude is combined with a huge population and an already existing caste system is becomes very easy for a people to form their own sub-culture, living in exactly the same place but completely separated from from the other sub-cultures all around you. In another country the migrants are forced to mix with the people already there. In the subcontinent you hardly have to mix at all.

To put it into an example, if the Jews of Europe had decided to go to Sindh instead of Palestine, there'd be a Hebrew speaking Jewish minority of several million in Pakistan that is living as its own nation but at the same time is completely 'Pakistani' because everyone else is simultaneously doing the same thing.

The formation of the caste system only requires a large population and a desire to separate - which I don't doubt ancient central asians would want as much as modern ones. When that gets religiously codified it becomes the caste system as we know it. Its a system whereby completely different people are living on top of each other.
Originally posted by Drgonzaga Drgonzaga wrote:

No way can an israeli become a levi or cohen either. Fortunately, there is no longer a Temple to perpetuate this form of caste structure but the concept does maintain its vitality within Jewish intellectualism.

Its not really like that. Its more like can a German from Berlin become French like one who grew up in Paris.
With the variation that Paris and Berlin are both co-located and no-one has ever heard of a Frenchman marrying a German.
Quote What's in a name? A plumber still must attack those latrines and few would dare socialize with him after a heavy day in the septic tank!

Yes, but does the plumber come from a long line of plumbers? And all his friends and family work in plumbing? Do people hear his name and say 'that guys a plumber from Agra'? Do the plumbers have different beliefs from the man who owns the toilet? Do they speak a different language or set of languages?
Originally posted by Carch Carch wrote:


In many so called primitive religions, especially among hunter gatherers and also many tribal farm communities the role of the shaman is not hereditary. Instead the Shaman is singled out becuse he has special traits in his personality, as the ability to experience visions and to be able to alter his state of counciousness.

In India, there are enough people for both to happen at the same time and completely separately.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 Oct 2009 at 03:36
The problem, Omar, with all your suppositions and juxtapositions actually stem from an innate desire to coflate events that transpired during several millenia and view it as an instant transformation.
 
This phrasing was quite surprising:
 
The formation of the caste system only requires a large population and a desire to separate - which I don't doubt ancient central asians would want as much as modern ones. When that gets religiously codified it becomes the caste system as we know it. Its a system whereby completely different people are living on top of each other.

A large population having a desire to "separate"...there's something very "inorganic" in that supposition. Then there is the strange notion of "Central Asians". Are you making a parallel between the peoples of the 2nd millennia and those of later periods, let us say the Moghuls? I am afraid there is a sharp lack of congruity in your effort to ascribe homogenous labels. Similarly, you are assuming that large populations characteristic of later India applied far back into the past. Such is a rather questionable supposition.

Then there is this rather elitist posit:
 
The invaders typically think of indians as dirty and poor, and want very little to do with them. They want india for it's wealth, not its people.

The wealth of any nation is its people and their productivity. Besides, it is rather presumptuos to ascribe a rather contemporary conclusion as the thought patterns of people in the distant past. Just how would you fit Buddhism into the equation? You must move outside your box in the present in order to unravel the intricacies of historical processes that shifted within each given moment just as the "borders of India" had a rather interesting fluidity.


 
Honi soit qui mal y pense
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