The Peaceful Indus People

In chapter 1 of the companion book of the PBS series The Story of India, which talked about bird songs and mantras, Michael Wood writes about Indus Valley. Excavations in the Indus Valley have, so far, not answered this question: how was the city administered? For 700 years, who managed trade or planned the cities? Who established the script, the standard weights and pottery.? We don’t know.

Besides these usual items, Wood brings up something which is rarely given prominence: Unlike Egypt or Mesopotamia, there is no evidence of war in the Indus.

But, the Indus cities had fortified walls. Archaeologists have found arrowheads, and spearheads, besides a small number of daggers and axes. Sir Mortimer Wheeler believed that the tools could have been used for hunting and not warfare. The walls, it is believed, were built to protect the city against flood or to impress. There is no evidence of swords or body armor or military equipment like swords or catapults. Even the Indus art does not depict warfare or killing. Probably the residents were concerned with defense and had no experience in warfare.

All this caused Mark Kenoyer to say it is possible that the Indus civilization, which evolved over a period of 4000 years from the local cultures of Mehrgarh, managed to resolve conflict without warfare. If so, this would be a unique example of living among the bronze age civilizations – an early example of ahimsa.

Why didn’t the Indus cities fight among themselves? One explanation is that they did a good job in the distribution of resources. The distribution was uneven, but most households had more than adequate supply of food hence mitigating the need to become a communist.

Still this claim of “peaceful” Indus is a bit over the top. Kenoyer himself is skeptic suggesting that battles could have been recorded on perishable material, like painted cloth or clay.


3 thoughts on “The Peaceful Indus People

  1. JK:
    It is easy to accept that local cities of Indus lived peacefully with one another. But its a completely different thing to assume that no other civilisation west of Indus would have attacked this civilisation in all of its supposed 3000 or so years of existence.
    This is really strange.

  2. While ancient indian scriptures do not support the idea of a birth based caste system(Ramayana, written by a reformed robber, Mahabharata by the son of a fisherwoman, even Vedas compiled by the same son of fisherwoman, who are considered are Brahmins) , it is interesting to find out how and when the activity and temperament based varna system of the ancient indian scriptures turned into birth based caste system in english text books.
    The Christian Churches and Genocide in Rwandaarticle here and book The Creation of Tribalism in Southern Africa edited by Leroy Vail on what happened in Africa gives a clue to what may have happened in India.
    Extract from the introduction of the book-
    missionaries were instrumental in creating cultural identities through their specification of ‘custom’ and ‘tradition’ and by writing ‘tribal’ histories, a process discussed in the chapters by Ranger, Vail and White, and Jewsiewicki. Once these elements of culture were in place and available to be used as the cultural base of a distinct new, ascriptive ethnic identity, it could replace older organizing principles that depended upon voluntary clientage and loyalty and which, as such, showed great plasticity. Thus firm, non-porous and relatively inelastic ethnic boundaries, many of which were highly arbitrary, came to be constructed and were then strengthened by the growth of stereotypes of ‘the other’(stress added), as the essays by Siegel and Papstein show…
    …European missionaries, assuming that Africans properly belonged to ‘tribes’, incorporated into the curricula of their mission schools the lesson that the pupils had clear ethnic identities…

    In the indian context, caste was used to replace tribes and the missionaries worked with british colonialists.
    missionaries educated local Africans (who)then themselves served as the most important force in shaping the new ethnic ideologies. These people—usually men—were keenly aware of the forces that were pulling apart their societies and, with the examples of nationalism in Europe derived from their own mission education before them, they sought to craft similar local movements as a means of countering these problems. Despite their own western-style education, they realized that such a construct would best be understood and accepted if it were put in a cultural idiom easily accessible to the people. Thus, in formulating their new ideologies, they looked to the local area’s past for possible raw material for their new intellectual bricolage. Like their European predecessors during the initial stages of nineteenth century nationalism, they ‘rediscovered’ the ‘true values’ of their people and so defined the ‘ethnic soul’. Their cultural strongbox was the ‘customs’ and ‘traditions’ of the people, identification with which they saw as giving an automatic, ascriptive cultural unity to ‘their’ people as they confronted the challenge of colonialism and the impact of industrialization. Virtually every study in this volume demonstrates the role of educated people as key actors in the creation of such ideology…
    Creation of Arya Samaj, Brahmo Samaj, Congress party etc., in India appears to follow this line of thought .
    ..In those societies where missionaries did not work, or where they did work but did not introduce education along western lines, or where African intellectuals emerged only at a late period or not at all, the development of ethnic ideologies was either stalled or never occurred.”
    “…Ethnic identity, thus, came to be specified not only by the written histories, grammars, and accounts of ‘traditional customs’ produced by local culture brokers, but also—and in many respects, far more importantly—by the actual operation of the administrative mechanisms of indirect rule…

    Seems very relatable to the pre-independance india.
    educated local Africans then themselves served as the most important force in shaping the new ethnic ideologies. Combined with the policies of colonial administrators and the popular acceptance of ethnic ideas as a means of coping with the disruptions of modernity, the actions of missionaries helped to create the deep social divisions that are at the root of ethnic conflict in many African countries.
    Again, has a parallel to pre-independence India.
    Extract from the article-
    The role of missionaries in the construction of ethnicity in Rwanda offers an excellent example of the process that Vail describes. In Rwanda, missionaries played a primary role in creating ethnic myths and interpreting Rwandan social organization — not only for colonial administrators, but ultimately for the Rwandan population itself. The concepts of ethnicity developed by the missionaries served as a basis for the German and Belgian colonial policies of indirect rule which helped to transform relatively flexible pre-colonial social categories into clearly defined ethnic groups. Following independence, leaders who were trained in church schools relied extensively on ethnic ideologies to gain support, thus helping to intensify and solidify ethnic divisions.
    Apparently the imperial powers whether british or german or belgian practiced same tactics, most likely in collusion with each other. Max Mueller the german therefore worked for the british in India.
    Antics of the british educated elite after independence in continuing with the british education system and creating divisions in society is comparable to what is narrated in the article.
    Seems like the politicians of India today are following the footsteps of imperial powers by dividing the populace.
    What we are seeing today with the parties warring with each other over vote banks is similar to the tiffs between colonial powers which ultimately resulted in WWII and the end of colonial rule.
    Will a similar thing happen in Indian political scene which will result in vote-bank playing parties weakening and nationalistic ideas gaining ground ?
    When colonial administrators and Catholic missionaries arrived in Rwanda, they were enchanted by the Tutsi rulers they encountered. To the missionaries, the Tutsi seemed tall and elegant, with refined features and light skin, in some ways closer in appearance to Europeans than to their short, stocky, dark Hutu compatriots. As elsewhere in Africa, in order to convert the population in Rwanda, the missionaries considered it important to understand the indigenous culture and social structures, and the interpretations that came from their study of the culture greatly influenced both the colonial administration and, subsequently, Rwandan self-perceptions. Influenced by contemporary European notions of race which held that the world could be divided into clearly defined and hierarchically ranked racial and national groups, the missionaries, ignoring important divisions within each of the groups, viewed Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa as three distinct peoples representing three separate waves of immigration. They viewed the Twa as the autochthonous population, the original inhabitants of the region, who many centuries earlier were subdued by Bantu migrants from the west who became the Hutu. According to the missionary account, the Tutsi arrived from the northeast sometime later, around 1600, and because of their clear superiority, conquered the Hutu, whom they had ruled ever since. Doubting that Africans could have designed so complex and efficient a political system, the missionaries hypothesized that the Tutsi were not really African but a Hamitic or Semitic group from the Middle East, perhaps a lost tribe of Israel(emphasis added) .
    How similar this sounds to the Aryan Invasion Theory and the division created between so-called Aryans and Dravidians.
    “The Tutsi, not surprisingly, failed to challenge the missionaries’ assertions of their superiority and instead participated in the development of a mythico-history that portrayed them as natural rulers, with superior intelligence and morals. “
    Again, parallels to how Brahmins and upper castes were patronised by british in india and their silence, which is natural when facing a gun.
    When the Catholic Church began to recruit native Rwandan clergy early in the century (the first native-born priest was ordained in 1917), they selected exclusively Tutsi, and these priests, nuns, and brothers played an important role in interpreting Rwandan history and culture. A group of Tutsi intellectuals emerged within the church — most importantly historian Alexis Kagame and Bishop Aloys Bigirumwami — whose anthropological and historical texts, based largely on oral histories, reinforced many of the ideas of strict ethnic separation and Tutsi political dominance. As Alison DesForges writes, “In a great and unsung collaborative enterprise over a period of decades, Europeans and Rwandan intellectuals created a history of Rwanda that fit European assumptions and accorded with Tutsi interests.” This history became widely accepted by Rwandans of all ethnicities, and following the transfer of power from Tutsi to Hutu after the 1959 revolution, Hutu leaders used the historical account of centuries of ethnically based exploitation to inspire support among the Hutu masses.
    And how similar this sounds to the Brahmin/ Dalit divide in India.
    And the Church inspired Maoists killing of Swami and others whose activities fostering indian culture undermines the nefarious activities of Church.
    When the genocide finally occurred, church personnel and institutions were, not surprisingly, intimately involved“.
    This about Rwanda. But also true about Orissa recently.
    In conclusion the article says-
    The complicity of the churches in the genocide is not merely a failing of Christianity in Rwanda, but of world Christianity as it has established itself in Africa, and it should lead people of faith throughout the world to question the nature of religious institutions and the ways in which they exercise their power.”
    The ideas brought out by the article and the book sheds light on how social engineering was carried out by the british in India during the time they ruled this country. It shows a pointer to how the colonials destroyed the indigenous education system and installed in its place something that deprived the indigenous people of their self-esteem and simultaneously created divisions in society which are now being exploited by power hungry politicians.
    To conclude, an extract from the book-
    ..Nationalism—and tribalism—have thus appeared uncertain and ambiguous to many observers.
    Yet when one looks closely at the situation in southern Africa, one comes to realize that the ethnic message’s backward-looking aspects and its forward-looking concerns have been in no way contradictory. The emphases on past values, ‘rediscovered’ traditions, and chiefly authority were truly conservative—that is, they were calculated to conserve a way of life that was in the process of being rapidly undermined by the forces of capitalism and colonialism.

    Is it any wonder that in India nationalistic organisations such as RSS are opposed by the Church and the products of the british education system as being backward looking conservatives…
    The ideas presented in the book and the article also give a warning of sorts to Indians on what could happen in future if the divisiveness in society created by the british and their successor politicians are allowed to go unchecked.
    Indians needs to learn lessons from the mass killings of Rwanda as a result of reprisal acts committed by different ethinc groups.
    In the Indian context, clashes between Maoists and Ranvir Sena are examples.
    What is happening in Tamil Nadu are ominous.
    So are the Church engineered murder of nationalistic Indians in Orissa.
    Efforts by interested parties(read missionaries) in propagating ideas of Dalitistan and Dravidistan are also significant in the light of this information.
    “When the Missionaries arrived, the Africans had the Land and the Missionaries had the Bible. They taught how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible.”- Jomo Kenyattathe first Prime Minister and later President of independent Kenya said.
    Hope the following quote will not come to pass for India-
    “They came with ideas of secularism and classless society and Indian thought them good and shut his eyes. When he opened his eyes, they had his land and he had nothing”

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