Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

March 13, 2021

Caste in America!?!?! Don’t believe the hype

Filed under: Caste — Razib Khan @ 10:00 am

Everyone is talking about this piece from Bloomberg, How Big Tech Is Importing India’s Caste Legacy to Silicon Valley Graduates from the Indian Institutes of Technology are highly sought after by employers. They can also bring problems from home. If you are not a Bloomberg subscriber using “incognito mode” in your browser should allow you to read it. Two comments:

– The piece is mostly about India. Not the USA or Silicon Valley. To me, this indicates there wasn’t much real material in Silicon Valley to report on

– It seems that the American press is recycling the same incidents and quoting the same experts. There’s no deep scholarly analysis, just anecdotes and assertions

Overall, I think there really isn’t much of an issue around “caste” in the USA. Part of it is the fact that Americans of Indian origin are not representative of the demographics of India. 25% are Brahmin, but for the other groups, there is no variation in income education and income (or not much). I’ve seen the data that consulting firms use that is not widely shared. The selective sieve is strong. There are very few self-identified Dalits. About 1%. It could be these Dalits are on the receiving end of prejudice, but there aren’t that many of them for this to be pervasive.

This is not to deny that there aren’t issues with the Indian American community, which is mostly immigrant and dates to after the year 2000. But it’s not a simple and easy morality story that the media and social justice activists want. So they are manufacturing this, and that really angers me, because I dislike lying and propaganda.

January 13, 2021

The material wages of caste

Filed under: Caste — Razib Khan @ 9:13 pm

When perusing Twitter I occasionally see arguments between the troll Araingang and contributors to this weblog on various topics. Many times I don’t really what the argument is about because I feel it’s deeply semantic.

So, for example, caste, varna, and jati. I know the dictionary definition of all this stuff and the various arguments. As an atheist, and someone who has “no caste” or varna or jati, I’m not very interested in theological arguments as to the origin of these concepts, their validity, and their application. Muslims for example can write 1,000-page books on Tawhid. I don’t care. What I care about is the application of Shariah law upon dhimmis and the heterodox. The rest is commentary.

In the 2000’s I read books such as Nicholas Dirks’ Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India. The argument and evidence marshaled suggest that the raw materials of the caste system predate the British, but their system of manipulation, organization, and rationalization was critical.

Then, in the period after 2010, I began reading and analyze the genetic data. I was shocked at how clear and distinct varna and jati differences were. My friend Surya Yalamanchili sent me his DNA last year, and I asked him if he was Kamma. He had no idea what that meant, but the genetic evidence seemed persuasive to me from other people he clustered within my private data. He asked his mother, and she said “yes.” He was shocked. I was not.

The conclusion I draw from this, along with patterns such as higher steppe ancestry in “higher varna,” is that there are deep roots and structures to the inequality we see across the Indian subcontinent. It is possible that in fact, the jatis were “separate but equal.” But I doubt that just as I doubt the “peace” Islam imposed upon dhimmis was welcomed on the whole (in some cases, yes). Dalits in particular have very small effective populations. That means their genes show evidence of high levels of inbreeding because of incredibly small marriage networks.

This post is less about what I believe, then trying to understand what you know and believe. The genetic data is something I am familiar with. I work with it. The historical evidence I do not know. Were there Dalit kings? Were there long periods where Brahmins were subordinate as menial servants to Sudra jatis?

I understand that Hindus of a more progressive bent are uncomfortable with the association between caste and their religion and identity. Religion is what man makes it, and so I do not see its connection to Hinduism as necessary, ineluctable, and eternal. But, the impact of caste is so strongly stamped on the genes of so many Indians I cannot brush it away as a detail of history.

September 30, 2020

The practice of untouchability by district

Filed under: Caste — Razib Khan @ 4:29 pm


I found the above map from Alice Evans. It’s from a paper, The Continuing Practice of Untouchability in India.

The regional patterns turn out to be the most striking. More than education, income, or caste status. You can even see the outline of states, which is indicative of the impact of regional governments on policy and culture.

August 3, 2020

Long long with caste be a bar? Perhaps more than three centuries!

Filed under: Caste — Razib Khan @ 4:32 pm

In the 2000s I read a fair number of books such as Nicholas Dirks’ Castes of Mind. The impression one gets from these books is that jati-varna status and stratification are protean. Much of it a recent function of jockeying during the colonial and liminal colonial era. The “uplift” of groups such as Patidars and Marathas, for example. Or the emergence of Kayasthas as literate non-Brahmin service castes for Muslim rulers.

The genetic data that emerged in the 2000s though shocked me with two facts:

– There is within region a rough correlation, imperfect, but existent, of what we now call “steppe ancestry” and caste status

– Jati groups in a given region were shockingly distinct, and many exhibited a lot of genetic drift.

Endogamy was deep, ancient, powerful, and, genetic differences of the deep past persisted, rather than mixing away.

These are not perfect generalizations. The correlation between steppe and and status breaks down in the northwest to a great extent (thought still not totally). There are groups, such as Bengali Kayasthas, who approximate Brahmin status (even still being lower), but are genetically similar to non-elite non-Brahmins. Within the data there are castes which seem composites (Khamboj in some recent data).

This is a preface to the fact that I’ve gotten into recent arguments inadvertently online about caste, and its role in the Indian future. So I decided to look at the data. Here is my short conclusion: jati-varana is way more robust than I would have thought. Outmarriage rates were 5% as of 2011, and they didn’t vary that much by social status. At current rates it could take 500 years for caste not to be a big deal in India.

July 30, 2020

Caste – bred to the bone!

Filed under: Caste — Razib Khan @ 10:15 am

Kushal Mehra and I had a discussion on the Brown Pundits podcast about caste. I will post for Patrons today and push it live tomorrow. I want to review a few things from my perspective on this issue related to what we talked about.

– The paper The promise of disease gene discovery in South Asia highlights a fact: jati has a very strong genetic reality. The stylized fact is that caste endogamy has been strong across southern Asia for 1,500 years. Genetically you can have two castes in the same village in Andhra Pradesh who are as distinct as people from Finland and Sicily.

Additionally, jati is not arbitrary. Brahmins across India may not be closely related, but they tend to have more “Ancestral North Indian” than their non-Brahmin neighbors, on average (true everywhere except for the Northwest of the subcontinent).

– Kushal asked if jati varna was an ESS. I have suggested that caste fragmentation made it harder for non-Indians to take over and assimilate Indian society. But, it is not the only ESS.

– The main contrast I give is to China. People who can read classical Chinese (which was the norm in the early 20th century) can still read oracle bones from the Shang dynasty 3,400 years ago. This is a civilization with continuity and integrity.

The Chinese are a population that has managed to absorb other groups and do it without caste endogamy. Rather, like Europeans, Chinese genetic variation is a function of geography, not class/caste. In fact, the Chinese never developed a blood nobility like Europe. The basis of Chinese civilization has unapologetically been the peasantry.

– In The WEIRDest People in the World Harvard’s Joe Henrich makes the argument that the Western Christian Church’s destruction of extended family networks led to the rise of the West. I won’t recapitulate the argument which I’ve outlined elsewhere. But the idea is rather persuasive.

It seems that the hostility and skepticism toward caste from some on the “Hindu Right” really has to do with Indian nationalism. Jati varna was a reasonable institution in a pre-modern context, but it doesn’t take a genius to understand that national cohesion is reduced when people view themselves as members of a “community” first and foremost, and not a nation-state.

From the traditionalist side, the idea that jati varna is a great functional system is really not the point. Let’s be frank: people are invested in their particular traditions and their purity. The rest is commentary.

July 15, 2020

Dalit in Silicon Valley

Filed under: Caste — Razib Khan @ 9:36 pm
Indian American food

Growing up in the 1980s and 1990s in the United States as brown was different than now. The Indian Americans I knew were a heterodox bunch who, like me, grew up around white people, and habituated themselves to American culture. Though most were Hindu, a fair number enjoyed beef hamburgers, just like other kids.

This is why the story of caste discrimination in Silicon Valley is so striking to me. Most of you know already about what is happening with Cisco, but The New York Times covers it well in The Specter of Caste in Silicon Valley. The author of Coming out Dalit, she is herself a Dalit Indian American, and so has a unique perspective.

There is one number which is reported in the piece and aligns with everything I’ve ever seen in the United States of America: 90% of Indian Americans are not lower caste. Of those who are lower caste, whatever that means, I doubt much more than 1% are Dalit. I know this partly because I have a sampling of 300 Indian American genotypes from one of the DTC firms (four parents born in India), and the genetic variation aligns pretty much with the above distribution.

Therefore, I am skeptical of the idea of pervasive caste discrimination because there are just not that many Dalits, period. The last data I have seen shows that 25% of Indian Americans are Brahmin.

That being said since the late 1990s a massive wave of immigrants from India have arrived to work in tech and recreated their home country in the US. When I was in graduate school I met a young woman who was a master’s student with a very mild Indian accent. I asked her when she had arrived from India, and she said that she was born in Cupertino! So it would not surprise me if some people did bring the habits and views of the old country, and without assimilation into diverse workplaces, things such as caste discrimination may occur (I have heard from people that networks of people from the same region and caste are a thing, though not pervasive).

But, I don’t think this will ever be huge in the United States for a simple reason: the number of Indian Americans of 1.5 and 2nd generation who marry within caste/jati is not that high. The last data from the 2010s indicate 35-40% of those born or raised here marry non-Indians. Of the remainder, many of them marry people from other backgrounds than that of their parents. In fact, the majority.

Caste is about pedigree. That is just not maintained in the USA.

July 5, 2020

American caste! (?)

Filed under: Caste — Razib Khan @ 11:53 pm

On August 4th a new book is coming out, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. The author is a journalist who has published a substantial extract of the book at The New York Times Magazine, America’s Enduring Caste System: Our founding ideals promise liberty and equality for all. Our reality is an enduring racial hierarchy that has persisted for centuries:

Throughout human history, three caste systems have stood out. The lingering, millenniums-long caste system of India. The tragically accelerated, chilling and officially vanquished caste system of Nazi Germany. And the shape-shifting, unspoken, race-based caste pyramid in the United States. Each version relied on stigmatizing those deemed inferior to justify the dehumanization necessary to keep the lowest-ranked people at the bottom and to rationalize the protocols of enforcement. A caste system endures because it is often justified as divine will, originating from sacred text or the presumed laws of nature, reinforced throughout the culture and passed down through the generations.

When shared on Twitter even Left-Indians, normally sympathetic to Left-American journalists and their Weltanschauung, recoiled. My main comment is simple: write what you know. From the extract, the author does not seem to know enough about the Indian social system and history to make informative and illuminating comparisons to the United States.

Also, though I personally am not positively disposed toward caste, comparing it to Nazi Germany seems needlessly inflammatory.

I will note a few things

– The latest surveys suggest intercase marriages in India are now at 10%

– In America, 20% of the marriage partners of black Americans are not black

In 300 years about 20% of the ancestry of black Americans is now of European origin. In contrast, there are villages in Andhra Pradesh where people of different castes (jati) are genetically more distinct than Scandinavians are from Italians. David Reich’s group has an estimated < 1% intermarriage rate between the groups, with a rough crystallization of caste boundaries 1,500 years ago.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents probably had its conclusion prewritten. The argument is something added on later.

September 19, 2019

Modernization leading toward confessionalization

Filed under: Caste,Hindu Nationalism — Razib Khan @ 9:10 am

From the comments:

I think what’s underappreciated is that hindu nationalism is partly caused by the collapse of the caste system. I know that may not intuitively make sense at first, but compared to when I was a boy the caste system has significantly weakened. People are finally starting to look at each other as hindus rather than by caste – and this has never been the case in the past. Obviously caste is still here and we all have a long way to go but it is substantially weakened and weaker than its ever been. I believe this is the major cause for the rise of hindu nationalism.

One of the strange things that surprises many people is that modernization often produces stronger and more robust confessional identities. In Eric Kaufmann’s Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century he talks about the fact that urbanization and increased access to educational opportunities for the rural middle-class in Muslim countries resulted in gains in power to Islamist movements. The reasons are manifold, but one issue is that local power blocs centered around customary and traditional relationships and patronage networks were disrupted by development. In a flatter and more deracinated landscape simple and universal Islamist messages were appealing.

You see the same process happening in Indonesia. Traditional Islam among the Javanese is syncretistic. But its power and strength are in the solidities of the rural cultural order which has deep local roots. Development and migration to urban areas result in a shift toward more world-normative (santri) Islam which is not contingent on local cultural and social frameworks.

In this model then the economic liberalization ushered in by the Congress Party in the early 1990s sowed the seeds for the emergence of a broad-based Hindu nationalism, as economic dynamism and urbanization begins to erode the older caste-based solidities.

July 15, 2019

Why I like to ask about caste

Filed under: Caste — Razib Khan @ 12:04 pm

Last week I was at a conference where a British academic asked an American academic “how much money do you make?” It was really strange to me because in American society you don’t ask this question. It’s not polite. And I immediately explained to the British academic that you just don’t ask this question.

But, it illustrates what really matters in America. “How much money do you make?” gets to the heart of the American ethos. We don’t talk about it in public, but on some level, it’s the ultimate thing that matters. Americans really really care about money.

What you can’t talk about, is what really matters. So when Zach invited a bunch of people to the Whatsapp group (which I don’t check that frequently), I decided to just ask someone’s caste. Of course, that is “not done.” But that’s because of the fact that most people on some level care. A lot. That’s how you could have a group where most people are on the same page about the problems and deficits of caste privilege, but everyone turns out to be not lower caste.

On Aziz Ansari’s new special there’s a thing about how white people are “woke” on Instagram. Similarly, you see the Chatterjee’s, Iyers, and Tripathis outdoing each other on how awful caste privilege is on Twitter.

June 6, 2018

Genetical observations on caste

Filed under: Caste,Genetics — Razib Khan @ 10:49 pm

One of the more interesting and definite aspects of David Reich’s Who We Are and How We Got Here is on caste. In short, it looks like most Indian jatis have been genetically endogamous for ~2,000 years, and, varna groups exhibit some consistent genetic differences.

This is relevant because it makes the social constructionist view rather untenable. The genetic distinctiveness of jati groups is very hard to deny, it jumps out of the data. The assertions about varna are fuzzier. But, on the whole Brahmins across South Asia have the most ancestry from ancient “steppe” groups, while Dalits across South Asia have the least. Kshatriya is closer to Brahmins. Vaisya has lower fractions of “steppe”. And so on. These varna generalizations aren’t as clear and distinct as jati endogamy. Sudras from Punjab may have as much or more “steppe” than South Indian Brahmins. But the coarse patterns are striking.

As a geneticist, and as an irreligious atheist, a lot of the conversations about “caste” are irrelevant to me. They’re semantical.

You can tell me that true Hinduism doesn’t have caste, that it was “invented” by Westerners. They may not have had caste, but the genetical data is clear that South Asians were endogamous for 2,000 years to an extreme degree. Additionally, the classical caste hierarchy seems to correlate with particular ancestry fractions.

Second, you can say Islam, Sikhism, Jainism, and Buddhism don’t have caste. That they picked it up from Hinduism. Or Indian culture. That’s true. But I think Islam, Sikhism, Jainism, and Buddhism are all made up, just like Hinduism. I don’t care if made up ideologies don’t have caste in their made up religious system. I am curious about the revealed patterns genetically.

I have a pretty big data set of South Asians. Some of them are from the 1000 Genomes. Here is where the 1000 Genomes South Asians were collected:

Gujarati Indians from Houston, Texas
Punjabi from Lahore, Pakistan
Bengali from Dhaka, Bangladesh
Sri Lankan Tamil from the UK
Indian Telugu from the UK

Some of the groups showed a lot of genetic variation, so I split them based on how much “Ancestral North Indian” (ANI) they had. So Gujurati_ANI_1 has more ANI than Gujurati_ANI_2 and so forth.

Here is a tree showing pairwise genetic distances between the groups:

The positioning of some groups near each other is an artifact. Dai from China is an outgroup, as are Iranians and Baloch. So all are pushed near each other.

Treemix with 3 migrations shows similar patterns:

Now let’s do a PCA:

Click the link above and you’ll see Bangladeshis are all shifted toward Dai. The Iranians are at the bottom, but nearest to them are the Baloch. Then the Pathan. Then Punjabi_ANI_1.

Let’s zoom in on the South Asian groups.

Do you notice something about the Bangladeshis? They don’t have much South Asian ancestry variation. Their variation is all due to East Asian ancestry, which seems to have a west to east gradient (I’m way on the right edge, and my family is from the eastern edge of eastern Bengali).

This is not the case for Punjabis.

As you can see, the Punjabis sampled in Lahore range form almost Pathan to almost South Indian. This totally shocked me. This is a huge range of variation.

Compare to Gujus:

I’m pretty sure there are only a few Gujurati_ANI_4 because the sampling occurred in Houston, TX (Indian gov. stingy about genetic testing/sampling, so usually done in Diaspora). Notice that Gujus, mostly Hindu, have the same genetic variation as Punjabis!

Now let’s compare Dalits to Brahmins.

To my surprise, Chamars from UP are quite like South Indian Dalits (there is some “steppe” admixture you can detect in Chamars, so they’re not identical). South Indian Brahmins have some local admixture.

What’s my point here?

In some of the comments, there was talk about how Bengali Muslims have their own form of caste. This seems plausible, though I wouldn’t know personally. I wasn’t raised in Bangladesh. But these data make it clear that there’s almost no caste-like structure in Bangladesh genetically. The variation is almost all due to the mixture with East Asian-like people, and that’s almost certainly due to geography (West Bengalis have this, but to a lesser portion, and people from eastern Bangladesh have more than people from western Bangladesh).

In contrast, when you look at the 1000 Genomes Telugu or Tamil sample structure jumps out. First, there are a small number of Brahmins. But there is also a large group which is clearly scheduled caste. Looking at Gujuratis, they are very diverse. The Patels probably anchor the Sudra/ middle-class component dominant in the region.

Punjab looks like the Indian groups, not Bangladesh. I have no idea about Pakistani caste or class dynamics, but the genetics makes it look like the social structure of Hindus. In contrast, Bangladesh looks like a non-South Asian population, with most of the variation being due to geography and proximity to a very different group (Tibeto-Burmans).

I don’t think Bengalis are more punctilious Muslims than Punjabis. I think the social landscape of Bengal emerged out of a frontier expansion which destablized the default Indian caste structures that undergired most societies. In Pakistan Islamicization didn’t perturb the underlying Indianness of Punjabis.

July 17, 2017

Castes are not just of mind

Filed under: Caste,Human Genetics,India — Razib Khan @ 8:31 pm

Castes are not just of mindBefore Nicholas Dirks was a controversial chancellor of UC Berkeley, he was a well regarded historian of South Asia. He wrote Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India. I read it, along with other books on the topic in the middle 2000s.

Here is Amazon 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. Nevertheless, this groundbreaking work of interpretation demands a careful scholarly reading and response.

The condensation is too reductive. Dirks does not assert that caste structures (and jati) date to the British period, but the thrust of the book clearly leaves the impression that this particular identity’s formative shape on the modern landscape derives from the colonial experience. The British did not invent caste, but the modern relevance seems to date to the British period.

Castes are not just of mindThis is in keeping with a mode of thought flourishing today under the rubric of postcolonialism, with roots back to Edward Said’s Orientalism. As a scholar of literature Said’s historical analysis suffered from the lack of deep knowledge. A cursory reading of Orientalism picks up all sorts of errors of fact. But compared to his heirs Said was actually a paragon of analytical rigor. I say this after reading some contemporary postcolonial works, and going back and re-reading Orientalism.

To not put too fine a point on it postcolonialism is more about a rhetorical posture which aims to destroy what it perceives as Western hegemonic culture. In the process it transforms the modern West into the causal root of almost all social and cultural phenomenon, especially those that are not egalitarian. Anyone with a casual grasp of world history can see this, which basically means very few can, since so few actually care about details of fact.

Castes of Mind is an interesting book, and a denser piece of scholarship than Orientalism. Its perspective is clear, and though it is not without qualification, many people read it to mean that caste was socially constructed by the British.

This seems false. It has become quite evident that even the classical varna categories seem to correlate with genome-wide patterns of relatedness. And the Indian jatis have been endogamous for on the order of two thousand. From The New York Times, In South Asian Social Castes, a Living Lab for Genetic Disease:

The Vysya may have other medical predispositions that have yet to be characterized — as may hundreds of other subpopulations across South Asia, according to a study published in Nature Genetics on Monday. The researchers suspect that many such medical conditions are related to how these groups have stayed genetically separate while living side by side for thousands of years.

This is not really a new finding. It was clear in 2009’s Reconstructing Indian Population History. It’s more clear now in The promise of disease gene discovery in South Asia.

Unfortunately though science is not well known in any depth in the general public. The ascendency of social constructionism is such that a garbled and debased view that “caste was invented by the British” will continue to be the “smart” and fashionable view among many elites.

July 25, 2012

A little food & medicine go a long way

Filed under: Caste,Lower Caste,Prejudice,race — Razib Khan @ 7:45 am

I clicked through on the links to Zack’s post below and was pretty shocked. I know this somewhat, but not having grown up around many Indians (or South Asians generally) I didn’t have a good sense. That being said, a few years ago I stumbled on a book at the local book store, Daughter of the Ganges: A Memoir. The author was an adopted woman of Indian heritage from Spain. Skimming through, her family seems to have been peasant cultivators in Maharashtra. Therefore, I was struck by her photo. She is rather attractive and not “worn down” by the life of extreme subsistence.

This is not to take anything away from Zack’s post, and she obviously does not look like the typical upper caste NRI even to my unsubtle eyes. But a great deal of the physical difference in terms of perception is environmental. Though I do think it is telling that a woman who looks like this could never be a leading lady in a Bollywood film.

A little food & medicine go a long way
Asha Miro

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July 2, 2012

What India can teach the world

Filed under: Caste — Razib Khan @ 10:07 pm

Years ago I read that M. K. Gandhi defended caste in the ideal against Western critiques by pointing out that it dampened some of the competitiveness one finds in Western society. I dismissed this defense at the time, but in some ways I am now willing to concede its validity. Over the past few years I have come to the conclusion that we are now entering into a new age of radical inequality. Globalization is a fait accompli, but so is the rise of a new elite. The uplift of the peasant masses will occur, but de facto endogamous ruling castes will also crystallize. India has shown that thousands of years of endogamy and inequality can maintain civilization. This example is India’s gift to the world.

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June 7, 2011

Caste is not ancestrally arbitrary

Filed under: Admixture,Caste — Razib Khan @ 5:10 pm

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.


Caste is not ancestrally arbitrary

Caste is not genetically arbitrary. To me this strongly falsifies any contention that the endogamous units which we know as castes (or jatis) derive predominantly from the past 200 to 300 years. Tamil Brahmins number in the millions, so it does not seem that they plausible that could have expanded so rapidly from a very small homogeneous founder group two to three centuries ago. Rather, their origins are almost certainly more ancient. Some of the results are also not that surprising. Northwest Indians have the genetic profile you’d expect in comparison to other groups. The Bengali Brahmins consistently have more of an “East Asian” trace than other Brahmin groups, while Tamil Brahmins seem elevated in the “SW Asian” fraction in relation to other Brahmins. Both of these trends I think illustrate the likelihood of some admixture with location populations.

Now let’s look within regions a bit. I’ll divide South Asia into four quadrants. The classification will be self evident from the bar plots.

Caste is not ancestrally arbitrary

I’m the third to last Bengali, while the last two are are my parents. My parents are not related, and from opposite ends of Comilla east of the Padma. My mother is the last bar plot, and from a family with attested Middle Eastern ancestry (non-South Asian focused ADMIXTURE runs tend to bring the small, but non-trivial, element out more clearly). I believe that that is what is elevating her “SW Asian” fraction. It is notable that the two other individuals from eastern India who show this balance between “SW Asian” and “European” are also of Muslim background. I doubt that that is coincidental. Though South Asian Muslims are overwhelmingly indigenous, they do seem to have some outside admixture since the arrival of Arabs, Persians, and Turks, to the subcontinent. The most obvious marker of this to me isn’t the elevation of “SW Asian,” but the common presence of African ancestry among Pakistani Muslims. This certainly is due to the arrival of Africans and people of part African origin in the retinues of Indo-Islamic rulers.

Aside from this it seems more clear to me now that like in South India the Brahmins of the east are also relatively new and intrusive. All show an elevation of “European,” though the trace of “East Asian” suggests admixture. That probably indicates their arrival after the absorption of the Mundari populations, and perhaps Tibeto-Burmans, into the substrate of eastern India.

Caste is not ancestrally arbitrary

I find nothing important to say here aside from the fact that we need a lot more samples for UP! The UP Kayastha indicates that there’s a fair amount of variation here which is not being sampled.

Caste is not ancestrally arbitrary

We are obviously rich in samples from South India. One interesting aspect is the bias toward “SW Asian” as opposed to “European” among non-Brahmins, especially what I think are termed “Forward Castes” (e.g., Reddy). The proportions are low, but consistent. This is the inverse of what we see among non-Brahmins in East India. I am liable to dismiss the the East Asian admixture among many South Indians, especially non-Brahmins, as noise, but it may be signatures of absorbed Mundari substrate. Who knows? The Kerala Christian samples have the most “SW Asian.” We need better references from other non-Brahmin non-tribal/Dalit castes in Kerala (a Nair is coming up), but I wonder if this validates the idea of some Semitic admixture of yore among Nasranis (or, perhaps just as likely long term trade and marriage connections over the centuries).

Now let’s just look at South Indian Brahmins.

Caste is not ancestrally arbitrary

Very similar, huh?

Finally, the last cluster in western India:

Caste is not ancestrally arbitrary

Not much to go on, though I’ve been told that several of the Gujaratis are Patels.

Overall I think we can reject a strong recent post-colonial social construction of caste as a plausible model going by genetics. What replaces it? There probably won’t be a neat model. But hopefully as HAP expands it can fill in some of the gaps. The 1000 Genomes Project will be releasing Assamese Ahom, Bengali Kayasthas, Marathas from Maharashtra, and Punjabis from Lahore, this year.

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Razib Khan