Govt is studying DNA of Tribal Populations: Culture Minister tells Lok Sabha

The Union Minister of Culture G Kishan Reddy has informed Lok Sabha that the Archeological Survey of India, under the patronage of the Ministry, conducted a national DNA study of 75 tribal communities in India called “Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) Polymorphism of Contemporary Indian Populations”.

The objective of the study was to understand the genomic variation of the Indian population and reconstruct the evolutionary history of a human using molecular evidence.

The tribes included Jarawa, Nicobarese, Andh, Kathodi, Madia, Malpaharia, Munda, Bhoi Khasi, Nihal, Toto, Dirang Monpa, Paitei, Lepcha, and a host of others, reported The New Indian Express.

The stated objective of the study was to look at the migratory history of tribals in India and create a DNA database of Indian tribal populations, TNIE reported.

It would also be used “To know the candidate gene association with various diseases,” Reddy noted.

In June 2022, over 100 leading biologists, historians, anthropologists and intellectuals wrote a joint letter to the Ministry of Culture protesting its purported plans to fund a project to study “genetic similarities and differences in the DNA (genetic) profiles of Indian population groups.” 

The plan, the report said, was to procure the latest DNA sequencing equipment to “establish the genetic history and trace the purity of races in India”.

The notion of “purity,” in addition to being meaningless, carries with it the sense of some groups being “less pure or purer” than others. Human history is replete with examples of horrible injustice – denial of benefits or even persecution – meted out to “less pure” groups by “more pure” groups.

Racial stereotyping of humans has been discarded, and there should be no attempt to revive the concept in India, they pointed out.

“What else is expected to result from the project under consideration of the Ministry of Culture, we do not know. But if it touches on questions of “racial purity,” one guaranteed outcome will be the exacerbation of disharmony among Indians.”

The culture ministry later released a statement refuting the claim that its intention was to study the “racial purity” of our population.

In their letter, the academics said that while it was “welcome” the government had disassociated itself from such a project it was necessary to have “public disavowals” of any current or future project related to race, especially involving studying racial purity.

In response to the move, some experts expressed concerns about what the findings could do. “Its outcome will not just deny the Adivasis their cultural space and deny science its legitimacy but also accord legitimacy to the social disharmony between the so-called ‘pure’ and ‘impure’ citizens,” G.N. Devy, the chair of The People’s Linguistic Survey of India, noted in The Telegraph.