Tony Joseph

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Tony Joseph (born 12 March 1963) is an Indian journalist and former editor of Businessworld magazine. He is also the author of Early Indians: The Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From (2018).


  • No human community is of exceptional status relative to others. None are children of God, or chosen people, unless all are. And none of us live upon the centre of the earth more than we live on its periphery, since we live on the surface of a globe. Nations as we understand them today are no older than a few centuries, and we are all interconnected - genetically, culturally and historically - far more than we imagine. And even 'time immemorial', it turns out, can increasingly be pinned down, dated, analysed and grasped. And when we do that, we get a far better understanding of our society and culture, and what went into their making.
    • Early Indians: The Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From
  • So here is a question: if you were to identify a single person who embodies us Indians the best, who do you think it should be? Ideally, it should be a tribal woman because she is most likely to be carrying the deepest-rooted and widest-spread mtDNA lineage in India today, M2. In a genetic sense, she would represent all of our history, with very little left out. She shares the most with the largest number of Indians, no matter where in the social ladder they stand, what language they speak and which region they inhabit because we all migrants and we are all mixed. And she was here from the beginning. And she was most likely also at Mohenjo-daro as the 'dancing girl' (the image on the cover) about 4500 years ago, during the period that most shaped us as we are today.
    • Early Indians: The Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From
  • The residents of Mehrgarh who raised the first mud-brick homes of two or three rooms may not have realized it then, but they were laying the foundation for the first efflorescence of civilization in South Asia, called the Harappan Civilization, or the Indus Valley Civilization. It took about 4500 years or over 150 generations, for those humble mud-brick abodes to turn into the urban structures of a Harappa or a Mohenjo-daro or a Dholavira and there must have been many twists and turns along the way. But once agriculture took root, and modern humans started creating a surplus that they could save and invest, the wheels of history started spinning fast - which would, of course, lead to the invention of the wheel itself!
    • Early Indians: The Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From
  • The millennium or so that followed the dimming of the Harappan Civilization would have been the most tumultuous and turbulent period in the history of the modern human in south Asia. But we have very little record of this and hence very little understanding of it. Look at all that happened: a long-standing civilization, the largest of its kind at the time, fell apart due to the ravages of a long drought, and its most visible symbols of power and prestige slowly disappeared even as urbanism itself did; people migrated to the east and the south in search of a new life; a new set of migrants came in from the north-west, bringing new languages and a different culture that put emphasis on sacrificial rituals and prioritized pastoralism and cattle breeding over urban settlements; another set of migrants came in from the north-east, bringing new languages, new domesticated plants and perhaps wetland farming techniques and a new variety of rice... and thus the pot of Indian culture was put on the boil. Four thousand years later, it is still simmering, with new ingredients getting added once in a while, from the Jews to the Syrians to the Parsis.
    • Early Indians: The Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From
  • The best way we can define ourselves is as a multi-source civilization, not a single-source one, drawing its cultural impulses, its traditions and its practices from a variety of heredities and migration histories. The Out of Africa migrants, the fearless pioneering explorers who reached this land around sixty-five millennia ago and whose lineages still form the bedrock of our population; those who arrived from West Asia and contributed to the agricultural revolution and the building of the Harappan Civilization which then became the crucible for new practices, concepts and the Dravidian languages that enrich much of our culture today; those who came from east Asia, bringing with them new languages and plants and farming techniques; and those who migrated here from central Asia, carrying an early version of what would become a great language, Sanskrit, and all its associated beliefs and practices that have reshaped our society in fundamental ways; and those who came even later seeking refuge or for conquest or for trade, and then chose to stay - all have mingled and contributed to this civilization we call Indian. We are all Indians. And we are all migrants.
    • Early Indians: The Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From
  • The most exhaustive, multi-year geological study on the the possible reasons for the decline of the Harappan Civilization was published in a 2012 paper titled 'Fluvial Landscapes of the Harappan Civilization' which identified a clear cause: a prolonged drought that ultimately made monsoonal rivers go dry or become seasonal, affecting habitability along their courses. To quote: 'Hydroclimatic stress increased the vulnerability of agricultural production supporting Harappan urbanism, leading to settlement downsizing, diversification of crops and a drastic increase in settlements in the moister monsoon regions of the upper Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.'
    • Early Indians: The Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From
  • So in hindsight, it looks like the British archaeologist and director general of the Archaeological Survey of India between 1944 and 1948, Sir Robert Eric Mortimer Wheeler, blamed the wrong person for the disappearance of the Harappan Civilization when he wrote, ‘On circumstantial evidence, Indra stands accused!’ He was suggesting, of course, that ‘invading Aryans’ had destroyed the Harappan Civilization – something for which there is no archaeological evidence.
    • Early Indians: The Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From
  • Witzel quotes the surveys made by the Pakistani archaeologist Muhammad Rafiq Mughal which showed there were settlements on the Pakistani side of the Sarasvati even as late as 1500 BCE, suggesting that the river was still flowing then, well after the decline of the Harappan Civilization.
    • Early Indians: The Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From

Quotes about Tony Joseph[edit]

  • There has been a lot of controversy about the origins of various populations, and in India, much of this is driven by a quasi-religious ideology. It is therefore refreshing to see how recent advances in DNA sequencing from people of various ethnicities as well remains of ancient people is shedding light on the origins, migrations and intermixing of people throughout history. In this very readable account, Tony Joseph has distilled the results of recent research and his book should be of interest to anyone curious about the waves of migration and intermixing that resulted in the rich tapestry that makes up the people of today's India
    • Venki Ramakrishnan [[1]] Structural biologist and Nobel Laureate, in Early Indians: The Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From
  • Joseph deftly and brilliantly summarizes new findings of genetics that definitely solve old problems in South Asian history, and show we are all migrants, and ultimately, kin. A timely fascinating and courageous book
    • Sheldon Pollock [[2]], in Early Indians: The Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From
  • Tony Joseph’s Early Indians, published in December 2018, makes the point that there was large-scale migration of Indo-European-language speakers to south Asia in the second millennium BCE, and that “it is also true that all of today’s population groups in India draw their genes from several migrations to India: there is no such thing as a ‘pure’ group, race or caste that has existed since ‘time immemorial’.
    • Best Non-Fiction Books of the Decade, The Hindu [[3]]
  • Tony Joseph has given us a book that, with its racy style, is easy to read. By proposing puzzles, he makes dull evidence lively for the reader. He simultaneously maintains a level of academic accuracy that adds weight to his hypotheses and conclusions. This is a book which all who are interested in both history and historical method should read - and enjoy.
    • Irfan Habib [[4]] in 'Studies in People's History', June 2020
  • Tony Joseph's book provides a remarkably accessible overview of the early stages of Indian history, starting with the immigration from Africa of current humans to the age of the Vedas. He provides evidence from several fields of scientific enquiry, notably archaeology linguistics, ancient texts and the very recent study of ancient genes (aDNA). The latter is currently revolutionising ancient history not just of India but also of Europe, Africa and South America. Accordingly, T.Joseph lays to rest the question about the origins of the so-called (Indo-)Aryans and their settlement in ancient India - which has basically been politically motivated, especially for the past 40 years. As common in scholarship, not all individual scholars may agree on all questions and conclusions (such as the nature of the Indus civilization and its relation with the origin of the Dravidian speakers). However, finally, a firm basis for writing the history of ancient India is laid. The various sciences, in the end, lead us from darkness to the light of insight.
    • Michael Witzel [[5]] in Early Indias: The Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From
  • Joseph’s extensive of the first-person plural makes it clear whom he is writing for. That may be slightly annoying for the non-Indian reader, but doesn’t really detract from the book, and in some ways grounds it; furthermore, for Western non-Indians, it’s merely getting a taste of our own medicine. Joseph is however writing in, and explicitly pushing back against, a pernicious political environment. These findings discomfit those whose model is of a unique Indian culture and people dating back to the dawn of the Vedas and who therefore have trouble with the idea that Harappa, India’s entry in the ancient civilizations stakes, constitutes a separate tradition. (It is rather as if Remainers were to claim Stonehenge as an “English” legacy in their Brexit battles.) In this context, then, Joseph argues not just the science, but also—again, rather uncontroversially —th at Indian culture is itself, like the population, the result of diverse sources, Harappan among them.
    • Editor Peter Gordon in 'Asian Review of Books' [[6]]
  • Masterful and unbiased reconstruction of human presence in India using evidence from archaeology, ancient and modern history, linguistics, geography and genetics, with a tilt on genetic evidence.
    • Partha P. Majumder, Distinguished Professor and Founder, National Institute of Biomedical Genomics, in Early Indians: The Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From
  • That is why Joseph can assert that a genetic study has disproven a linguistic theory. Strictly speaking, that alone should stamp him incompetent for the Aryan debate... Joseph is neither a linguist nor a historian nor even a geneticist, and in my quarter-century in the thick of the Aryan debate, I have never encountered his name. That need not be an obstacle, for by their own effort, people can become self-taught experts in a specialism in which they have no degree, even after a career in a different field, including business journalism. But they still have to satisfy the same criteria as the certified scholars or scientists whose equal they aspire to be. This, then, is what is missing in this article. Joseph doesn’t have a grasp of some basic issues in this debate. ... At any rate, the paper ... is altogether more nuanced and temperate than the tall and abrasive claims by Joseph... Joseph is very good at making the most of what comes under his hand, and of shading over nuanced expert findings into his own blatantly partisan narrative. However, our interest is not in finding fault with Joseph; indeed we thank him for drawing our attention to this new scientific development. Our interest is in what genetics really has to say on the Aryan origins question.... This phrase, affirming the foreign origin of Sanskrit through the Aryan Invasion Theory, is the raison d’être for this whole paragraph. Tony Joseph may not be a geneticist, nor a historian or linguist, but having been editor of the Business Standard, he is a first-class journalist. The occupational hazard of this vocation is that you have to talk about any topic that may come under your hands, often very much outside your area of expertise; such is the case in this article about the genetic evidence for an Aryan invasion. But a strength of this professional group is their mastery of simple rhetorical devices. Case in point: writing a conciliatory final paragraph full of empty phrases amounting to an all-together-now chumminess, and yet, inside it, burying a dagger aimed at your usual target: “Aryans”, Brahmins, Hindus.... By now, Tony Joseph may wish he had never written this piece. He presents a blatantly partisan interpretation of a recent research paper in a field he visibly doesn’t master. At least he could have had it proofread by a legitimate geneticist. His bias pertains to the Aryan origins question, and that too he hasn’t thought through.
    • Elst, Koenraad (2018). Still no trace of an Aryan invasion: A collection on Indo-European origins.
  • I have dealt with and demolished every single claim and point made by Tony Joseph in his book. If the discerning reader of both the books can point out some notable point that I have failed to deal with, I will be grateful to have it brought to my notice.
  • All this exemplifies the level and objectivity of Tony Joseph’s scholarship, and exposes the biased and unscientific nature of his “answer” to one of the three questions which the cover of his book suggests he is answering in the book.
    • Genetics and the Aryan Debate: “Early Indians” Tony Joseph’s Latest Assault by Shrikant G. Talageri

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