Tag Archives: Caste

Caste is not ancestrally arbitrary

First, thanks to Zack for the opportunity to blog here. More importantly, thanks to Zack for the Harappa Ancestry Project! I've learned a lot from him in terms of the optimal way to go about "genome blogging," and have been able to benefit from his experiences in my own African Ancestry Project. It's really great that in 2011 we don't have to wait for academic researchers to explore the topics which interest us at the intersection of genetics and history.

Prior to being interested in South Asian genetics on such a fine-grained level I had read works such as Nicholas B. Dirks' Castes of Mind. To give you a sense of Dirks' argument, here's the summary from Library Journal:

Is India's caste system the remnant of ancient India's social practices or the result of the historical relationship between India and British colonial rule? Dirks (history and anthropology, Columbia Univ.) elects to support the latter view. Adhering to the school of Orientalist thought promulgated by Edward Said and Bernard Cohn, Dirks argues that British colonial control of India for 200 years pivoted on its manipulation of the caste system. He hypothesizes that caste was used to organize India's diverse social groups for the benefit of British control. His thesis embraces substantial and powerfully argued evidence. It suffers, however, from its restricted focus to mainly southern India and its near polemic and obsessive assertions. Authors with differing views on India's ethnology suffer near-peremptory dismissal....

One of the inferences which people draw from this model, perhaps unfairly, is that the endogamy and biological separation of caste groups is relatively new, and that genetic variation is likely to be arbitrarily distributed across caste groups. The most extreme interpretations almost seem to turn the British into the culture-creators of all that is Indian. In any case, genetics can obviously test the power of this thesis in relation to ancestry.

First up, below I have taken all the HAP samples where N >= 2. I've done some semantic shifting, so that "Tamil Iyer" becomes "Tamil Brahmin." I know that some of you have more information about the samples than is listed in Zack's spreadsheet, but I've been conservative. I will also use the word "community" sometimes instead of "caste" in future posts, because I don't know what the proper word for Syrian Christians or Bihari Muslims would be. But really same difference to me. I want to focus on groups with caste/religious labels intersected with a specific region here. The bar plot below is not going to be a surprise, and you see the clusters in Zack's dendograms, but I thought it would still be useful.

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