The original people of South Asia/ the Indian subcontinent are believed to have inhabited the area since the OOA (out of Africa) migration about 60-70,000 BC. (Other similar peoples moved to surrounding lands at about the same time*) They’re thought to have travelled along the coast line from southern Arabia before settling and setting up civilisations like the Indus Valley/ Harappan civilisation.
Note this was roughly around the same time the Aborigines moved to Australia. In fact, the Aborigines are believed to be an offshoot of them, who ‘island hopped’ from mainland Asia to Australia. Look at a world map and you’ll see why this isn’t that farfetched.
Just to be totally clear, the original people of South Asia looked much more like this…
|(except without the mobile)|
…and not like this, what I like to call the Bollywood type. You’ll work out why soon enough.
|Salman Khan, Bollywood actor|
|Shahid Kapoor, Bollywood actor|
|Aishwarya Rai, Bollywood actress|
|(not a Bollywood actor yet but he has the right look)|
The original Sasians are nowadays known collectively as Adivasis, or Scheduled Tribes as the Indian government calls them, and includes many different tribes. Another related term is Dravidians, but they’re not quite the same thing. Dravidians are native speakers of Dravidian languages (which hasn’t been definitively grouped into any language family as of yet). Admittedly Dravidian is a somewhat ambiguous term but it seems to greatly overlap with Adivasis as they are both typically seen as inferiors. I will consider the words synonymous until I find out more. Such people include Gonds, Tamils, Veddas, Khonds/ Khands, Rodis/ Rodiya, Telugus, Kannadigas, Malayalis, Bhils and many others.
The Bollywood types more resemble the Aryans, a group of ‘white’/ light-skinned people who came to India from Persia (now known as Iran) about 3000 years ago. There is disagreement as to whether they migrated peacefully or invaded by force, but the latter is much more likely considering the way Sasian societies were (and arguably still are) constructed according to the varna, or caste, system. In this system there are four castes, going from highest to lowest:
Brahmins – priests, scholars. Their name derives from Brahma, the Supreme God and thus this caste was historically tasked with attaining the greatest spiritual knowledge & self-discipline they could. They were also bound to uphold dharma (natural law & order), but now most brahmins have become landowners.
Kshatriyas – warriors, land owners, rulers. There once was a point, before the castes became set in stone, when this caste was higher than brahmins because of their material wealth & authority over people. However, the Vedas then declared them inferior to brahmins because they were becoming tyrannical and unruly.
Vaishyas – traders, skilled labourers, general commoners. These people are more important than one might first think; it’s mostly because of them that Hinduism spread to other parts of Asia. They even once formed their own dynasty when the rulers of the day (presumably kshatriyas) got too oppressive.
Shudras – unskilled labourers, farmers, peasants. Their job is to serve the other 3 castes, and that’s pretty much it.
(Each caste has various subdivisions based on different family lines. See Wikipedia for more details)
The Aryans also brought with them their languages, known to us as the Indo-Aryan family, which then evolved into Sanskrit (the language of the Vedas) then became many modern Sasian languages including Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali, Urdu, Hindustani & Romani. Yes, Romani. They didn’t replace the native Dravidian languages, just lived alongside them.
Nowadays most Sasians are mixed descendants of the original Adivasis & Aryans and are seen as more or less a unified nation, but the southern parts remained Aryan-free. Mostly. That’s why even to this day there is a general colour division in India, the Northerners tending to be lighter (and richer) and the Southerners tending to be darker (and poorer). At first the castes were just jobs/ social positions and people could rise (and presumably fall) in rank, and mixing between the castes was permissible. That was before the Vedic period, when the Vedas were composed and thus castes became hereditary and immutable. Despite the previous mixing, though, it was and still is the case that the higher castes were generally of lighter complexions and the lower castes darker. The word varna literally means colour, and it’s believed that the castes were created from different parts of the god Prajapati’s body. The brahmins are from his mouth (represented by white), the kshatriyas from his arms (represented by yellow), the vaishyas from his legs (represented by red), and the shudras from his feet (represented by black).
So even before the Raj (the period of British rule of India) Indians had been raised to see lighter skin as superior and darker skin as polluted. The Raj merely reinforced it. It’s been part of their and other Sasians’ cultures for thousands of years. That’s why to this day people who look like Aishwarya Rai or Amitabh Bachchan are the norm in Bollywood (despite being the exception in India), and why South Asians are among the biggest users of skin lightening creams. If ‘black’ Americans complain about self-hate among each other they’ve seen nothing yet!
|Fair & Lovely: because pale skin makes you happier, better looking & richer,and even the President of the USA needs all that!|
Note that not everyone accepted the caste system, and those who didn’t are classed as a 5th ‘caste’: the untouchables, also known as harijans/ dalits. They were considered so polluted they weren’t allowed to enter the same temples or get water from the same wells as the other castes, and they were only allowed to make their living by cleaning streets and toilets and the like.
(see the Youtube series India Untouched: The Darker Side of India parts 1-4)
However they are protesting about their lot, trying to be heard and seen as full humans. This is why Gandhi called them harijans (children of God) rather than untouchables, and also partly explains why Pan-Africanism is becoming popular in South Asia right now. There are also others out there who recognise the mental damage done over the millennia and encourage other Sasians to take pride in their swarthy skins.
If you’ll notice I’ve talked mostly about India & Indians. That’s because neighbouring countries like Bangladesh (aka. Bengal), Sri Lanka (aka. Lanka & Sinhala, formerly known as Serendib & Ceylon) & Pakistan were heavily influenced by its history and peoples, Adivasis & Aryans alike. Pakistan used to be part of India but became officially separate in 1947, because some of the Muslims decided living under Hindu rule was too oppressive. However, the Bengalis (people of Bangladesh, which also came into existence in 1947) suffered terribly at their hands, and to this day some Bengalis harbour a level of hatred against Pakistanis. The people of the Maldives are of mostly Indian ancestry with significant admixture with various African and Arab groups, and are almost all Muslims. The area historically known as Indochina (Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Laos, Myanmar & Cambodia) contains people who are genetically and culturally mixed between Indians and Chinese. Even in India there are some descendants of Chinese (with possible admixture but it doesn’t show in their looks) but regard themselves as Indians, ie. Manipuris from Manipur & Mizos from Mizoram.
|Mizos, aka Mizo hnam|
* There are people who populated the surrounding (Pacific) islands at around the same time. Such people are especially abundant in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, and are classed as a type of Negrito. They look indistinguishable from the “true Negro” but I assure you they are the most genetically unrelated humans to Africans on Earth…
|Jarawa women and child in centre(pink stars are my additions, to hide the women’s bosoms)|
They are not to be confused with the Siddis (also spelt Siddhis or Sheedis), who are actual Africans living in South Asia, especially India and Pakistan. They started migrating there since the early 7th century, and were followed up by other Africans over a period of centuries. They originally came as sailors, merchants, mercenaries or prisoners-of-war-turned-slaves from Mozambique, Madagascar, Ethiopia & Sudan. Nowadays they’re bundled together as if they were all one people. They are treated in similar ways to the Adivasis, and are accordingly classed as a Scheduled Tribe with them. Most Sasians have never heard of them, nor of anyone else in their countries who don’t look like themselves.
|Siddi children. Aaaaaaawwwww, ain’t they cute!|
|Siddis with homemade patchwork quilts|