A note on some recent work on Indian genetics

Recently the English scientific tabloid published an article on the genetic variation in Indians which has led to some excitement among the Hindus. The reactions of what appears to be the majority of internet-active Hindus were rather predictable and keeping in line with their rather visible symptoms of emotionalism and feeble-mindedness. The paper with 4 first authors lead by Reich does not present anything fundamentally new with respect to the central problem at hand — namely the genetic affinities of Hindus. However, it does reinforce what was previously known and expected. We shall consider two things here: the results and the spectrum of slow-witted Hindu reactions. The study covers 25 Indian populations with 2-9 individuals sampled per population. These include varNa populations such as kashmirian brAhmaNa-s, vaishya-s of northern and southern India, shUdra-s of southern India such as kamma-s and velama-s (could be fallen kShatriya-s), north Indian kAyastha-s, several avarNa-s of northern and southern India such as madiga, mala, lodi etc and niShAda-s and kirAta-s (tribals) such as che~nchus, bhilla-s, santhAl-s, Ao Naga, the Andamanese and even African settlers such as siddi-s. This is the weak part of the study – the sampled populations are very spotty, their number relatively small and the number of sampled individuals in population are small. The paper further makes errors in classifying the castes according to non-existent schemes that are alien to the Hindu concepts of jAti-s and varNa-s. The study however sampled 560,123 autosomal SNPs, which makes it larger than any other such study on Hindus, and is the main strong point of this work. The work presents a picture of Indian ancestry that largely confirms conclusions from various previous studies but provides the weight of a genome-wide survey of variation.

The first two eigenvectors of the PCA analysis. Only select populations are labeled and the estimated % of ancestral Western Eurasian ancestry (ANI as per the authors) is given for some populations.

When presented in a principle component analysis with Chinese and Europeans the Indians, the first and second eigenvectors separates the 3 populations. But most Indians show an interesting “^” distribution of relationships to the other two populations falling along two lines pointing towards Chinese and Europeans respectively. Along the line pointing towards the Europeans are distributed the all varNa, most avarNa and some niShAda populations. There is some correlation between caste rank and north Indian location and the closeness to the Europeans. Thus the kashmIrian brAhmaNa-s are closest to the Europeans in this sample, followed, northern vaishya-s, kAyastha-s and south Indian shUdra-s. Towards the other end of this line are south Indian avarNa-s, northern and southern tribals such a bhilla and che~nchu-s. Some exception features are seen in the halakki tribal farmers of the karnATa lands. About half the individuals are relatively close to Europeans (roughly to the extant of southern shUdra-s), while the other half are only as close as other tribals such as bhilla-s and che~nchu-s are to Europeans. Further, the southern vaishya is farther from the Europeans than southern shUdra-s such as kamma-s or velama-s. On the other line, very close to the Chinese are the Tibeto-Burman speaking Ao Naga and Nyshi tribes. Closer to the main Indian populations, but on the “Chinese line” are the Austro-Asiatic speaking santhAl and khAria. At the point of intersection of the two lines are the kuruMba tribes. However, there are others who are in the angle in between these two lines — these are the tribes such as the sahAriya and tharu and the satnAmI people. When the lATa sample from HapMap was added to the results of this work it was found that a subset of them was located on the line pointing to the Europeans, overlapping with north Indian vaishya and kashmIrian brAhmaNa-s. However, another subset of lATa-s showed a peculiar descent and could be the gurjara.

The former British spy Patterson and Price develop a method to analyze the populations as a combination of tree-like branching from a common ancestor and admixture. Based on this they model the evolution of Hindus as one of admixture of an “Ancestral South Indian” population that is closer to the Andamanese Onge and an “Ancestral North Indian” population that is closer to Western Eurasian. While this is base model their own data suggests that things were more complex. My interpretation of it is thus: The term Ancestral South Indian is an unfortunate one because it is clear they were all over India at one point, given that there is some admixture of them even in the kashmIrian brAmaNa-s. So they are better termed the proto-Indians. Their genetic contribution is particular strong in the kurumba, the che~nchu and bhilla tribes and several southern avarNa populations. They are more distantly related to the exclusion of all other groups to the Onge of the Andamans. So the proto-Indians appear to represent a very early wave of Homo sapiens emanating from Africa and moving into the sub-continent and all the way to Andamans where they go isolated for at least 25,000 years. It would be interesting in this context to investigate the vedda-s of shrI lankA. At some point early Austro-Asiatic speakers appeared to have moved into India from the East and admixed with the proto-Indians giving rise to tribes such as Kharia and Santhal. Much latter the eastern Tibeto-Burmans appear to have invaded in northeastern parts of the country probably in several distinct waves. These together constitute the line connecting the Indian populations with the Chinese. On the other side as we have discussed here before multiple times Western Eurasians started entering India through the northwest. There might have some early invasions of this population that mated with the proto-Indians contributing the Western Eurasian ancestry perhaps even in the Neolithic. Archaeology suggests that the IVC/SSVC and associated chalcolithic spread was one major contributor of Western Eurasian genes, while linguistics points to the spread of Indo-Aryan languages and culture as a major contributor. After the entry of the Western Eurasian peoples, there appears to have been further admixture between them and the already established Austro-Asiatic-proto-Indian tribal admixture (e.g. in North Indian groups like saharia, tharu and satnAmI).

However, interestingly, the relationship between the archaeological attested Western Eurasian intrusion (SSVC/IVC) and the linguistic one (Indo-Aryan) still remains somewhat unclear. Nevertheless, the case for the intrusion of western Eurasian genes is now rather strong based this new data, along the lines of the arguments we have earlier presented here (e.g. there is clearly no evidence for the proto-Indian population to have dispersed into Western/Central Eurasia which would be required for the “Out of India” theories). A study of Indo-Aryan tradition shows that they clearly originated in northern climes outside India. This, combined with the constantly streaming genetic data on Indians indicates that most parsimoniously the Indo-Aryan language and tradition that defines India (bhArata) was actually carried along with the “genes” by the invading western Eurasian contribution to India. This puts to death the Talagerian fantasies (shared by many confused Hindus) of out of India movements of Indo-European. It also largely crushes the language teacher model of certain indologists, like a notorious German from Harvard, wherein the Indo-Aryan language but not genes are contributed to the proto-Indians. The study of vedic argues against Dravidian being a substratum to Old Indo-Aryan. The genetic data argues against Austro-Asiatic having been a substratum. This incidentally kills another hypothesis of the same Harvard Hindu hater. This leaves us with little room with respect to the language of SSVC/IVC and associated chalcolithic cultures — it was either indeed the distinctive language X or Indo-Aryan. The Dravidians only much later entered the Indo-Aryan cultural complex in Southern India as the wave of Aryanization spread southwards.

Using their tree-admixture model simulations they obtain the following results:
80,000-60,000 yrs BP (4,000 gens) split between Sub-Saharan Africans and Eurasians
40,000-30,000 yrs BP (2,000 gens) split between Western and Eastern Eurasians
34,000-25,500 yrs BP (1,700 gens) proto-Indian-Andamanese Onge split.
8000-6000 yrs BP (400 gens) split of Europeans and Adygei (time frame for origination of IE?)
4000-3000 yrs BP (200 gens) beginning of admixture between proto-Indians and Western Eurasians — implies that the Aryan invasion happened sometime before that.

Now let us look at some political aspects in the form of the reactions to the paper. The most remarkable reaction was the set of interviews given by the Indian authors of the paper. One of them remarked: “There was no truth to the Aryan-Dravidian theory as they came hundreds or thousands of years after the ancestral north and south Indians had settled in India.”; “…genetics proves that castes grew directly out of tribe-like organizations during the formation of the Indian society”. Another remarked: “When you look at the origin of the Indian population, the Onges in the Andaman Islands are dated to about 65,000 years ago, and the European population is dated to 40,000 years ago. So the question of Europeans coming to India does not arise. The ancestral North Indians must have given rise to the European population.” Now one wonders how they are saying something exactly opposite to what they say in the paper. In the paper it is mentioned that the mlechCha Reich wrote the paper, but how is it that the deshI authors who gave him the samples kept quiet if they interpreted the result in a diametrically opposite way!

Next on some Indian internet fora that I visit I noticed that many had gone berserk. There were the usual brahmadviS-s who were hurling venom on the foreign and North Indian brAhmaNa-s forgetting all the while that the paper had suggested that even they might be up to half Western Eurasiatic in their origins. Yet other assorted Hindus well crying conspiracy and invoking assorted specters ranging from Talageri to the old dead Germans like mokShamUla to their modern counterparts haunting the rooms of Harvard and Columbia. They insisted that the Aryan invasion was dead and OIT was destined for a long life, not realizing that their much cherished OIT had just been blown to smithereens. Others posing as geneticists and statisticians claimed that they had already established AIT to be false that this new data was of no consequence — little did they realize that this new data was merely confirm what was already clear from other analysis. Finally, in the British tabloid a geneticist of Indian origin Aravinda Chakravarti was invited to write a commentary on the article. Putting on the pretensions of a historian he wrote: “The idea and shape of modern India was an invention of its twentieth-century political leaders, who crafted citizenship defined by civic and universalist, rather than ethnic or religious, criteria precisely because that citizenship is so diverse.” Little did he realize that it was hard to find a modicum of meaning in that sentence. The shape and the idea of India modern or ancient was not an invention of its leaders. They were merely lucky inheritors of a tradition forged upon a distinctive geography by Indo-Aryan culture, by the vehicle of Sanskrit and its vulgar prAkR^ita sisters. Then Chakarvarti goes on to quote Nehru who talks of “invisible threads” holding together the wildly diverse Indians. It is hardly surprising that to the progressive chAchA these threads were invisible or perhaps he was just too coy like his dynastic successors to state that this thread was the dharma. What the genetics has shown is that there is another such thread binding a large subset of the Hindus and this is one of shared genes. The Chakravarti informs us that: “… Austro-Asiatic speakers arrived in India about 60,000 years ago. They were dispersed and driven into smaller enclaves with the arrival of the Dravidian speakers around 3000 BCE. The latter people were themselves driven south with the arrival of the Indo-European speakers in about 1500BC.” One wonders what qualifies Chakravarti to write such nonsensical commentaries in the tabloid. As a geneticist he is certainly conversant of divergence rates. He probably realizes that this also applies to languages. How come Austro-Asiatic arriving at 60000 hardly shows the divergence commensurate with that age. He bothers not to inform himself about the linguistic substratum in old Indo-Aryan, the nature of Austro-Asiatic and Dravidian peoples and even archaeology but dishes out the above statements like facts.

In conclusion, all we can do is to just repeat what we said earlier. The Indian scientists, the Hindu thinkers and intellectuals appear to be clueless about their own past and how to handle the picture emerging from such studies. Denial and ignorance seem to be the only strategies they have offered such far. Is it any surprise if the mlechCha-s overrun the Hindus sheltered behind such defenses?

~ by mAnasa-taraMgiNI on October 5, 2009.

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