Saturday, December 29, 2012

Absurdities of Caste Genetic Studies - Notes

It appears population genetics studies are a great platform for new age Manu-s to come up with their own classification of different castes. It's unclear whether these new classifications are the results of latent casteism of the researchers involved or some kind of political pressure or some kind of malicious game being played.

Check the following from a new study on South Indian castes (which is an exaggerated claim as the study included samples from Tamil Nadu only) [1].

Indian populations are broadly classified into two categories: ‘tribal’ and ‘non-tribal’ groups [3]. Tribal groups, constituting 8% of the Indian population, are characterized by traditional modes of subsistence such as hunting and gathering, foraging and seasonal agriculture of various kinds [2], [3]. In contrast, most other Indians fall into non-tribal categories, many of them classified as castes under the Hindu Varna (Color caste) system which groups caste populations, primarily on occupation, into Brahmin (priestly class), Kshatriya (warrior and artisan), Vyasa (merchant), Shudra (unskilled labor) and the most recently added fifth class, Panchama, the scheduled castes of India [2], [3].
First, I must appreciate that the description is far more academic than the one we found in the study of the Roma.

But what on earth is Kshatriya -> warrior and artisan? First of all, the four fold Varnashrama doesn't fit to the South Indian society (if at all it fits anywhere). But as of now, that's a first with the Kshatriya definition. Let's check the castes part of warriors and artisans.

Valayar -> Erstwhile Net weavers
Tamil Jains -> Jains (thus not a caste)
Ezhava -> This is a Malayali caste. Erstwhile agricultural labourers and toddy tappers
Mukkuvar -> Erstwhile fishermen

Theoretically, I suppose Valayar could be considered as artisans. However, from a general caste perspective typical artisans were smiths (goldsmith, carpenter, blacksmith etc...). They were not included in the study.

If being a soldier can be considered as a warrior/Kshatriya then, almost all castes in South India fit the bill. In certain regions few castes were exempted (not really because of their lower status, as Brahmins were also exempted) and most other castes had to send men when their feudal chieftain went for a battle. Most of the Dalit castes were also part of armies (true in Kannada/Tulu and Tamil regions as far as I know). However, the status of these castes were always low. Being a soldier had nothing to do with upward mobility or "assimilation".

How Tamil Jains became part of the list is still a mystery. 

Then there is a special category of "Dry Land Farmers" and it includes the following castes.
Yadhava -> herders
Vanniyar -> farmers
Nadar -> agricultural labourers, toddy tappers (equivalent to Malayali Ezhavas)
Piramal Kallar -> ?
Maravar -> ?

I wonder when Ezhava could be part of the warriors why not Kallar, Maravar and Nadar?

Also, I'm just disappointed to see the reliance on the oldest Tamil works to create an early Dravidian society. At least, in my opinion most of interpretations were nationalistic, highly biased and many of them not even peer reviewed (which I came to know was the case with the Brahmin apologist George L Hart's interpretation).

They make the following claim and I feel these (bolded) are strawman arguments.
It is therefore most likely that the Varna system was superimposed on the pre-existing and historically attested social system without significant population transfer or input, implementing a new social hierarchy and order during the Pallava/Chola period from the 6th through 12th centuries CE [15], [22]. However, the implementation of the Varna system may have not been uniform across preexisting non-tribal populations since many of the populations within DLF and tribes do not practice either Vedic rituals or have very definite patrilineal system and clan exogamy. Overall, our results suggest that the genetic impact of Brahmin migrations into TN has been minimal and had no major effect on the establishment of the genetic structure currently detected in the region

I suppose many Dravidian endogamous tribes became endogamous castes as society became sedentary. In fact, some of the endogamous castes had endogamous clans, likely showing different tribal origins but later consolidation under one identity because of the caste system. I suppose even now one can find endogamous tribes that speak the same language (eg. Pathans). My point is it's irrelevant if there were many endogamous communities before the enforcement of the caste system. It also masks the ritualized discrimination which was the caste system by equating the divisions to tribal endogamy.

Nevertheless, it requires a great stretch of imagination to call populations of that antiquity in South India (with a primitive agricultural setup) a structured society and also absolute naivety to believe the neat classification described in the texts (which clearly describe people with a complete idea of the caste system living in that society).

1. Population Differentiation of Southern Indian Male Lineages Correlates with Agricultural Expansions Predating the Caste System - Arun Kumar et al. (2012)

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