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Farming is Indian, not Iranian

A research paper he co-authored—published in the September 2019 issue of Cell—had courted controversy by concluding that agriculture had developed indigenously in India, not through migrations from Iran's fertile crescent. While politicians have used the findings to support their beliefs on ancient India, Niraj Rai, 37, is clear that he will neither be influenced nor be intimidated by politics. Excerpts from an interview with the group head of Ancient DNA Lab at Birbal Sahni Institute of Paleosciences, Lucknow

Q/ How did you conclude that agriculture developed indigenously in India?

A/ The DNA we sequenced [from the remains of the woman found in Rakhigarhi] showed that it had separated more than 12,000 years ago from an ancestor common to Harappans and Iranians. Since farming in the fertile crescent of Iran developed only after that, Iranians could not have contributed to farming in India. This finding corroborates with other evidence of agriculture in the Indus Valley Civilisation, like fossils of charred grains discovered in the pre-Harappan settlement of Kunal, in Haryana, and Mehrgarh, a Neolithic site in Pakistan.

Q/ The findings have been controversial.

A/ Controversies are fun. Let people talk. Our findings are based on science. Cell accepted our paper within seven days of its submission, which is rare. Normally, it takes months, even years, to review and re-review a paper. I have noticed that western scholars are usually more open [to new findings]; in India there are political overtones. Here, the left wing is more accepting of new ideas, while the right wing is in a rush to prove its established ideas.

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