Genetics throws light on genesis of caste system

Religious diktat enforced more than a millennium ago can have repercussions in genetic make-up of modern-day Indians.TH27_DNA_BW_eps_TH_2712213e

  • This is the result of a study of numerous communities undertaken by researchers from the National Institute of BioMedical Genomics in West Bengal. Researchers analyse genotype data of 367 individuals drawn from 20 ethnic populations
  • The study was published in the latest issue of the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America).The study looked at the genes of various communities to answer questions that have often been suggested in history books: when did caste become the dominant norm for ethnic communities of the region.
  • The team has found, through genetic analysis, that the country’s billion inhabitants have a far more complex origin than previously imagined. However, in the complexities of genes lie the secret of one of the country’s most persistent practices: the caste system.
  • For most upper-caste communities, endogamy (that is marrying within one’s caste) started nearly 70 generations ago, or around the time of the Hindu Gupta period around 1,500 years ago
  • A lot of social transformation took place during the Gupta period. Notable among these was the enforcement of social strictures against marriage between castes, as enshrined in the Dharmasastra
  • By looking at “ancient” genes within modern genomes, the scientists have been able to figure out when the “mixing” of genes ended — that is, when the caste system closed its grasp.
  • The results point to the Gupta period, nearly 1,500 years ago, when many historians believe prohibition of marriage between castes was enshrined in the Dharmasastra. Similarly, other communities can trace their caste consolidation to kingdoms such as Rashtrakutas or the Pala dynasty, shows the study.
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