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Mainstream, VOL LX No 25, New Delhi, June 11, 2022

Worrisome to talk of purity of races - Concerned Scholars’s Open Letter to the Ministry of Culture, Government of India

Saturday 11 June 2022

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF CULTURE, GOVERNMENT OF INDIA

10 June 2022

The Secretary
Ministry of Culture, Govt. of India
502-C Shastri Bhawan, New Delhi 110001

Sir,

Reports appeared recently in the media to the effect that the Ministry of Culture, Government of India, is funding a project to study genetic similarities and differences in the DNA (genetic) profiles of Indian population groups [1-4]. Professor Vasant Shinde, Adjunct Professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru, was identified as the leader of this project. Professor Shinde was quoted as saying that the aim of the project is to provide “… a clear-cut idea of the genetic history. You may even say that this will be an effort to trace the purity of races in India.” [2] The reports led to strong criticisms of the project. The Ministry of Culture has tweeted that the reports are “misleading, mischievous and contrary to facts” and that the proposal is in no way related to establishing genetic history and trace the purity of races in India [5]. Professor Shinde has tweeted "I strongly condemn the use of the term Racial Purity by the reporter … My statement is twisted and fabricated by the reporte[r]" [6]. While welcoming these responses, we think that all concerned should issue public disavowals of any present or future project related to race, especially one for studying racial purity. We say so because the notion of tracing the “purity of races”, whether in India or elsewhere, is extremely worrisome. A plan to do so would be both absurd and dangerous.

It is absurd because the concept of biological races was discarded long ago. The term “race” was invented as part of the effort to classify humans into distinct groups based on physical features such as bone structure and skin colour, and social characteristics such as faith and religion. It was assumed that the groups were somehow “natural”, or that they had a meaningful biological basis. However, in terms of the genes that make up individual biological inheritance, all human beings, irrespective of where they come from, share the same “gene pool”. As an epochal paper of 50 years ago pointed out, most gene-based distinctions occur within so-called races, not between races. To quote, “...human races and populations are remarkably similar to each other, with the largest part by far of human variation being accounted for by the differences between individuals” [7]. Subsequent studies have only reinforced the strength of that conclusion [8].

It is dangerous because the notion of “purity,” in addition to being meaningless, carries with it the sense of some groups being less pure or more pure 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. The same epochal paper also stated “Human racial classification is of no social value and is positively destructive of social and human relations”. Racial stereotyping of humans has been discarded, and there should be no attempt to revive the concept in India.

For several decades human population geneticists and anthropologists working in various Indian institutions, including the Anthropological Survey of India under the Ministry of Culture, have painstakingly undertaken detailed DNA analyses of individuals collected from various communities of India, including tribal communities, and have shown that nearly every community today is an admixed community of several ancestral communities whose identities can at best be guessed, but not with great certainty. 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.

With regards,

  • Vidyanand Nanjundiah, Centre for Human Genetics, Bangalore 560100
  • Partha P. Majumder, National Institute of Biomedical Genomics, Kalyani, and Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata
  • L.S. Shashidhara, Ashoka University, Sonipat, Haryana
  • Renee Borges, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru
  • Saman Habib, CSIR-Central Drug Research Institute, Lucknow
  • Sutirth Dey, Indian Institute of Science Education & Research, Pune
  • Amitabh Joshi, Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, Bengaluru
  • Samar Bagchi, Science Communicator & Populariser
  • Subha Ray, University of Calcutta, Kolkata
  • Saikat Chakraborty, Accenture, Kolkata
  • Sibaji Raha, Bose Institute, Kolkata
  • Gautam Basu, former Professor, Bose Institute, Kolkata
  • Leo Saldanha, Environmental Support Group, Bengaluru
  • Ramachandra Guha, Historian and Writer
  • Swapan Parui, former Professor, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata
  • Debal Deb, Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies, Barrackpore, West Bengal
  • Asokendu Sengupta, former Member, West Bengal Education Commission
  • Aruna Roy, Social Activist
  • Walter Fernendes, Director, North Eastern Social Research Centre, Guwahati
  • Indrani Bose, former Professor, Bose Institute, Kolkata
  • Indira Ghosh, former Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
  • Utpal Basu, Kalyani University, West Bengal
  • Ashoke Ranjan Thakur, ex-Vice Chancellor West Bengal State University
  • Swarnendu Sil, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru
  • Amit Apte, Indian Institute of Science Education & Research, Pune
  • NG Prasad Indian Institute of Science Education & Research, Mohali
  • Vijay Kumar Krishnamurthy, International Centre for Theoretical Sciences, Bangalore
  • Mallikarjun Shakarad, Delhi University
  • Deepa Agashe, National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore
  • Sudipta Tung, Ashoka University, Sonipat
  • Mewa Singh, Mysore Univesrity
  • Raghavendra Gadagkar. Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore
  • Chandan Dasgupta, International Centre for Theoretical Sciences, Bangalore
  • Aurnab Ghose, Indian Institute of Science Education & Research, Pune
  • Satyajit Rath, Indian Institute of Science Education & Research, Pune
  • Rama Govindarajan, International Centre for Theoretical Sciences, Bangalore
  • Hema Somanathan, Indian Institute of Science Education & Research, Trivandrum
  • Anindita Bhadra, Indian Institute of Science Education & Research, Pune
  • Geetanjali Mishra, Lucknow University
  • Srikant Sastry, Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, Bengaluru
  • Rajiva Raman, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi
  • Sukanta Chaudhuri, Jadavpur University, Kolkata
  • Partha Chatterjee, Columbia University, USA
  • Samantak Das, Jadavpur University, Kolkata
  • Partha Ghose, Tagore Centre for Natural Sciences and Philosophy, Kolkata
  • Niraja G. Jayal, former Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  • Achin Chakraborty, Institute of Development Studies Kolkata
  • Anupam Basu, National Institute of Biomedical Genomics, Kalyani
  • Sreenivasan Subramanian, Independent Researcher; former ICSSR National Fellow
  • Supriya Chaudhuri, Jadavpur University, Kolkata
  • Kailash C. Malhotra, Anthropologist, former Professor, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata
  • Anup Sinha, Former Professor, Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta
  • Rajiv Verma, University of Delhi
  • Amita Chatterjee, Jadavpur University, Kolkata
  • B.N. Singh, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi
  • Mercy J. Raman, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi
  • Asok Barman, Former General Secretary, All India Federation of University & College
  • Teachers’ Associations
  • Barun Mukhopadhyay, former Professor, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata
  • Sugata Hazra, Jadavpur University Kolkata
  • Mohan Rao, former Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
  • Udaya Kumar, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
  • Shiva Shankar, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay
  • Satyajit Mayor, National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru
  • Pradip Kumar Datta, former Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
  • Ayesha Kidwai, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
  • S.Krishnaswamy, former Senior Professor, Madurai Kamaraj University, Madurai
  • Sabyasachi Chatterjee, President, All India People’s Science Network
  • Indranil, Delhi Science Forum and OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat
  • Anil Kumar A, Surgeon, People’s surgical and maternity home, Bagepalli, Karnataka
  • Avinash Kumar, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
  • Ritajyoti Bandopadhyay, Indian Institute of Science Education & Research, Mohali
  • Guha Dharmarajan, KREA University, Chennai
  • Subhash Rajpurohit, Ahmedabad University, Ahmedabad
  • Himender Bharti, Punjabi University, Patiala
  • Kavita Isvaran, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore
  • Vineeta Bal, Indian Institute of Science Education & Research, Pune
  • OP Bhuraita, BGVS, Bhopal
  • C. Rammanohar Reddy, Editor, The India Forum
  • Udayon Misra
  • Narayani Gupta, former Professor, Jamia Millia Islamia University
  • Rahul Roy, Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi
  • Moinak Biswas, Jadavpur University, Kolkata
  • Parthanil Roy, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata
  • Mihir Chakraborty, former Professor, University of Calcutta, Kolkata
  • Ajit Kumar Ray, former Professor, University of North Bengal, West Bengal
  • R. Ramaswamy, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi
  • Irfan Engineer, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai
  • Analabha Basu, National Institute of Biomedical Genomics, Kalyani
  • Subhas Chandra Lakhotia, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi
  • Somdatta Sinha, Retired Scientist and Professor
  • Ira Bhaskar, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
  • T. Vijayendra, Ecologise Hyderabad
  • Sagar Dhara, Former Environmental engineering consultant, UNEP
  • Vikas Bajpai, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
  • Kunal Chakrabarti, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
  • G. N. Devy, Chair, People’s Linguistic survey of India
  • Harsh Mander, Ex- IAS
  • Apoorv Anand, Academic and writer, Delhi
  • Sarmila Chandra, Narayana Superspeciality Hospital and RN Tagore Hospital, Kolkata
  • Sanjeeb Mukherjee, Former Teacher, Calcutta University
  • D. P. Kasbekar, Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics, Hyderabad
  • Ramray Bhat, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru
  • Madan Rao, National Centre for Biological Sciences-TIFR, Bangalore
  • Amit Roy, Manipal Centre for Natural Sciences, Manipal
  • Ramasubbu, Sunder, Smolensky Bulvar, 15, Moscow, RF
  • Ar Vasavi, Brigade Courtyard, Bengaluru
  • P. P. Divakaran, Riviera Retreat, Kochi
  • Subramony Mahadevan, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru
  • Ganesan Srinivasan, Raman Research Institute (Retired)
  • Vinod Gaur, Fellow, Indian Academy of Sciences
  • Janaki Nair, Professor, (Retd) Centre for Historical Studies, JNU, New Delhi
  • Romila Thapar, Professor Emerita in History, JNU, New Delhi
  • Naresh Dadhich, IUCAA, Pune
  • Parthasarathi Majumdar, Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science Kolkata
  • Madabusi Raghunathan, DAE-UM Centre for Excellence in Basic Sciences, Mumbai
  • Binod Sreenivasan, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore
  • H. Sharat Chandra, Centre for Human Genetics, Bengaluru
  • Surendra Ghaskadbi, Prabhat Road, Pune
  • Priyambada Mohanty Hejmadi, Former Professor in Zoology, Utkal University
  • R. M. Pitchappan, Honorary Visiting Professor-Biology, Madurai Kamaraj University
  • R. Geeta, Retired Professor, University of Delhi
  • Jayaram S. Kadandale, Centre for Human Genetics, Bengaluru

References

[1] https://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2022/may/28/culture-ministry-to-study-racial-purity-of-indians-2458899.html
[2] http://www.reportwire.in/culture-ministry-to-study.../
[3] https://indusscrolls.com/india-procures-dna-kits-to-study...
[4] https://greatgameindia.com/racial-purity-indians/
[5] https://twitter.com/.../status/1531561797630558208/photo/1
[6] https://twitter.com/profvasant/status/1532295799446482945...
[7] R C Lewontin. 1972. The apportionment of human diversity. Evolutionary Biology 6, 381-398.
[8] M D Edge, S. Ramachandran and N A Rosenberg. 2022. Celebrating 50 years since Lewontin’s apportionment of human diversity. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B377: 20200405.
Culture ministry to study ‘racial purity’ of Indians

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