Search For Human Origin Does Not Make You Racist

Knowledge can never be harmful; some of its applications can be, and those applications are a doing of politicians, not scientists; look at the scientific challenge to the out-of-Africa model in that light

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In Satyajit Ray’s film Hirak Rajar Deshe (In the Kingdom of Hirak), a minister of the king tried to brainwash children in a village school with a limerick, janar kono shesh nai/ janar cheshta britha tai (there’s no end to knowledge; hence, the pursuit of knowledge is worthless)!” A bunch of activists on social media is now taking this absurdity to further ridiculous levels. Of late, I am told I should stop digging the past to find out whether all human beings originated in Africa.

Why? Because if it is found that some of us didn’t come from that continent, it would lead to discrimination against the Blacks. Yesterday, when I argued in a debate that all Indian Hindus and Muslims might not have a common ancestry, I was snubbed. The opponents were worried I was affecting Hindu-Muslim unity.

First a politically correct debater wanted to know why I wanted to know (history/ in details)! Then the rest of the gang tried to shut me up or shoo me away with jokes.

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Even from a socio-political perspective, their concern is funny. Do we need a common ancestor to be good to one another? Does that mean I must befriend an Ansari, a weaver who must have been a Dalit Hindu before conversion, and keep away from a Khan?

Should governments order archaeologists, anthropologists, palaeontologists, etc to stop looking for artefacts and the dead under layers of soil in the Mediterranean region, Siberia, China, India and lest they should end up with the fossils of people in a civilisation older than ― or running parallel to ― the epoch of hominid Lucy, which was discovered in 1974? Mind you, the word “artefacts” is thoughtfully chosen. Hominids were nomads. They had no such thing as a civilisation. I am talking artefacts because I am looking for ancient Homo sapiens, not Homo erectus. What you find under the land of Ethiopia are at best bipedal lookalikes of modern human beings. In 2009 and 2013, hominids older than Lucy were traced. But even that does not help finding the origin of today’s human beings.

Finally, the search may lead us nowhere. Science may indeed conclude ― out of sheer exasperation ― that my doubt was misplaced. And those with romantic notions of science would say “absence of evidence is evidence of absence”! But how can you stop me from investigating further? How is your act of prohibiting my inquiry in the spirit of science? How will you convince me that lack of exposure to sunlight and its heat not only makes the complexion lighter but also changes the texture of hair, and thus an African transformed into a Chinese?

If the above sound jargon-laced, let’s concentrate on recent history, which will be intelligible to all. A Sayyad is one who accompanied Prophet Mohammed. How can a descendant of Sayyad claim his ancestors were Indian? Pathans hail from the Afghanistan-Pakistan belt. How can you desperately establish their Indian roots? And, I repeat, why should you ― even for a socio-political reason? If you believe that the disharmony between communities is solely because people believe their great-great-great-grandfathers were different, your theory is a poor joke. Study the provocative scriptures to get to the root cause (of course, that would be a different debate).

Thankfully, no matter how hard politicians try, scientists will never stop their work. Knowledge can never be harmful; some of its applications can be, and those applications are a doing of politicians, not scientists. Scientists merely gave the knowledge of radioactivity; politicians ordered the manufacturing of nuclear bombs out of it. You cannot stop gods because demons will abuse the power. Your propensity to turn destructive with the knowledge I shared with you is your problem. I will never stop trying to know more. Why? Because quest and knowledge give me a kick. It is the force of my life. Driven by that force, I will keep looking for the first human beings (not hominids) on earth or the first sequel of every/different human series.

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Surajit Dasgupta
Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sirf News Surajit Dasgupta has been a science correspondent in The Statesman, senior editor in The Pioneer, special correspondent in Money Life, the first national affairs editor of Swarajya, executive editor of Hindusthan Samachar and desk head of MyNation