Brahmins European, Dalits Asian

DH News Service

New Delhi, July 3: A team of leading US and Indian genome scientists have stumbled upon a strain of genes common to Europeans and upper-caste Hindus of the Indian subcontinent. Published in a recent edition of the US-based Genome Research Journal, the path-breaking research paper concludes that higher caste Hindus are closer to Europeans, particularly East Europeans, while lower caste Hindus are more similar to Asians.

Titled "Genetic Evidence on the Origins of Indian Caste Populations", the study was conducted by a joint team of genome researchers and anthropologists from the University of Utah, and Andhra University. The team was headed by Professor Michael Bamshad of the University of Utah.

Five different kind of genetic methods were used by the Indian and American scientists, including DNA sequencing and Y-chromosome analysis. The research, conducted largely in Andhra Pradesh, involved collecting blood samples and five plucked scalp hair samples from 265 Telugu-speaking males of different castes. These samples were genetically compared in India and the US to samples taken from 400 Indians from the tribal and Hindi-speaking population and also to 350 Africans, Asians and Europeans.

The researchers said their study had simply reinforced abundant historical and archaeological evidence of the linkage between Europeans and Indians. "Collectively, all the five datasets show a trend toward upper castes being more similar to Europeans, whereas lower castes are more similar to Asians," said the final report of the joint study. After a detailed scientific analysis, the experts concluded that the "genetic distance" between Brahmins and Europeans was smaller as compared to the distance between Kshatriyas and Europeans.

On the other hand, the "genetic distance" between Europeans and Shudras was far greater. The team has moved swiftly to pre-empt any attempt to use their findings as a means of shoring up the caste system.

"These caste divisions were man made," said anthropologist Bhaskara B Rao, a member of the team. "We don't say that caste system is wrong or right. We have only concluded the genetic affinities between the Europeans and upper caste Indians."

The researchers said their study had simply reinforced abundant historical and archeological evidence of the linkage between Europeans and Indians. "It is possible that European migrants who reached India during or after the Indus Valley civilisation, mingled with the local people and eventually established their superiority over land and labour thus forming the higher castes," said B V Ravi Prasad, another team member. "They could have been warriors or traders," he added.

Another fact re-established after this research is that India could have been inhabited by two successive migrations in the late Pleistocene period about 100,000 years ago. It also adds to the growing evidence that the sub-continent of India has been a major corridor for the migration of people between Africa, Western Asia and Southeast Asia," the report said.

Prasad said the study would not only shed light on the origins of the caste system, but "also help us understand why some diseases are peculiar to Indians as well as Europeans." According to Bamshad, the next step will be to try and understand the origins of the populations that have migrated to and from India, "and to find what model of demographic history is most consistent with our results."

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Referred by: Mukandan CM
Published on: July 4, 2001
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