The Brahui of the Bolan Pass, Balochistan
Traditionally there was one Pass that was used by most people coming into the Indian-subcontinent and that was the famous Khyber Pass. However the second most popular Pass to gain access into the sub-continent was a Pass located to the South of the Pass in present day Balochistan called the Bolan Pass.
In the Toba Kakkar Range of Mountains in Northern Balochistan lies the Bolan Pass. It was one of the two traditional Passages into the Indian sub-continent the other being the more famous and the more busier Khyber up to the North. The Toba Kakkar is a southern offshoot of the Hindu Kush as it sweeps down to the Arabian Sea through the Sulaiman Range and other associated Ranges. Though it stands only at around 1800m it still formed the Southern gateway to India.
The passage to the Pass winds along the Bolan River Valley and runs around 80 kms and the Road connects Quetta with Sibi. So important did the British consider this Pass that they didnt only build a Road over the Pass but laid a Railway line as well and Trains still run across the bolan Pass. The region around the Bolan Pass is inhabited by a people called the Bravhui or the Brahui. They would normally have been considered just another Baloch Tribe like the Bugti or the Marri or the Zardari but the fact is that they are different. The difference comes from their Language which is called the Brahui and it is not related to any of the languages spoken in the Region. It belongs to a different family Group altogether. The Brahui Language belongs to the Dravidian Family of Languages. Yes the same Dravidian Family of languages that Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam belong to. This is one of the only two instances of a Dravidian Family language used by the Natives outside of Southern India the other being the Dhangar dialect of the Kurukh language spoken in Nepal and Bhutan.
And its not like the Brahui are a small Tribe. As per estimates the number of speakers of Brahui number number well over 4 million mostly in Pakistan and a few among Pakistani origin people living abroad especially in the Middle East. So now they are well spread over all over Balochistan and neighbouring regions and not just centered around the Bolan Pass. So now we come to the their most amazing aspect, the fact that they speak a language of the Dravidian family up here in the Mountains of Balochistan. So how did this happen ?
Researchers do not really agree on this. According to some researchers the Brahui were the remnants of a population that once lived in this area but gradually shifted South. This could be due to certain Invasions from the North and while mostly migrated downwards a Group probably got isolated in the higher Mountains where the Invaders did not or could not reach.As per some researchers these people were a part of an invading Army from Southern India who decided to stay back in this area after the conquest of this area in the 3 rd Century BC. Others point out that this invasion could have only taken place after 1000 AD as the language still appears to be modern and doesnt have many Iranian / Avestan loan words which was the case in the languages of this area from the older times. Some say that they are also connected with the population which was responsible for the Great Civilization at Mehrgarh which pre-dates the Indus Valley Civilization.
According to a study An Ethnolinguistic and Genetic Perspective on the Origins of the Dravidian- Speaking Brahui in Pakistan by Luca Pagani and Vincenza Colonna “ The Brahui are the only Dravidian-speaking population in Pakistan, where they are surrounded by Indo-European speakers, and are well separated from all other extant Dravidian-speaking populations who currently reside in southern India and parts of Sri-Lanka. This Dravidian-speaking population resides in the Balochistan province in south western Pakistan, in the vicinity of Mehrgarh, the earliest example of sub-continental Neolithic culture. Y-chromosomal, mitochondrial DNA and more recent high-resolution surveys of DNA variation have shown them to be genetically similar to their neighbours in Pakistan, who show varying proportions of west and south asian ancestry that extends in a continuum along a north-east to south-west gradient”.
Modern Genetics show that they are genetically similar to their neighbours, the Baloch and the Pathans and exhibit similar Genetic Haplogroups. This points out to the fact that they intermixed with the local population to an extent that their own Genetic markers were diluted but due to some reason they held onto the language of their ancestors.
The study above also concludes “ In summary, we show that the Brahui, the only Dravidian-speaking population of Pakistan, do not show a higher genetic affinity with Dravidian Indians than any of their neighbouring Indo-European-speaking Pakistani populations. While this is still compatible with an ancient Dravidian genetic substrate (putatively, the yellow component in Figure 3C) shared by all the Pakistani populations, this does not highlight a preferential link between Brahui and the other Dravidian-speaking populations. Furthermore, a shared Dravidian substrate in all the Pakistani populations would not explain why most speak Indo-European languages, and only one a Dravidian language. Therefore, the most plausible scenario to explain the presence of Dravidian-speakers in Pakistan is a genetic or linguistic replacement. Formally, two models could be considered. In model 1, the ancestors of the Brahui people were a pre-existing Dravidian-speaking group in Pakistan, who were gradually assimilated by the Indo-European migrants, who arrived ~3,000 years ago, while their language was preserved. In model 2, the Brahui ancestors were Indo-European speakers, who later adopted a Dravidian language. No historical or linguistic data support model 2, so model 1 provides the best explanation for the unique characteristics of the Brahui. Interestingly, a similar phenomenon might have occurred in the Hazaras after their arrival in this region. They speak an Indo-European language and show genetic affiliation with other Pakistani populations, but retain considerable evidence of an East Asian genetic signature, consistent with their relatively recent Mongolian origin (Hellenthal et al., 2014).”
And yes the Brahui also has the distinction of being the only Dravidian language which is not written in a Brahmi script but in an Arabic script. There have been recent attempts to introduce Roman script for the language.
All said and done the Brahui, the only Dravidian language speakers inhabiting a sub-range of the Hindu Kush continue to thrive in their Homeland and though the Genetic link to South Indians might be weak but the Linguistic remains as strong as ever.