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Krishna: There is no scientific definition. There are social definitions (1).

Caste: 1. one of the hereditary social classes in Hinduism that restrict the occupation of their members and their association with the members of other castes.

2 . a division of society based on differences of wealth, inherited rank or privilege, profession and occupation.

3. the position conferred by caste standing

4. a specialized form (such as the worker of an ant or bee) of a polymorphic social insect that carries out a particular function in the colony (this can be considered as a scientific explanation in animal kingdom, though).

However, after the castes came into existence, scientists observed some interesting points (2,3,4,5).

The caste system in South Asia — which rigidly separates people into high, middle and lower classes — may have been firmly entrenched by about 2,000 years ago, a new genetic analysis suggests.

Researchers found that people from different genetic populations in India began mixing about 4,200 years ago, but the mingling stopped around 1,900 years ago, according to the analysis published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Combining this new genetic information with ancient texts, the results suggest that class distinctions emerged 3,000 to 3,500 years ago, and caste divisions became strict roughly two millennia ago.

Though relationships between people of different social groups was once common, there was a "transformation where most groups now practice endogamy," or marry within their group

Research revealed that all people in India trace their heritage to two genetic groups: An ancestral North Indian group originally from the Near East and the Caucasus region, and another South Indian group that was more closely related to people on the Andaman Islands. Today, everyone in India has DNA from both groups. The researchers also found the mixing was thorough (2).

Early on, there were distinct classes of people — the priests, the nobility and the common people — but no mention of segregation or occupational restrictions. By about 3,000 years ago, the texts mention a fourth, lowest class: the Sudras. But it wasn't until about 100 B.C. that a holy text called the Manusmruti explicitly forbade intermarriage across castes.

The twisting strands of DNA tell tales, not just of the strengths and weaknesses that make us human, but of the consolidation of the caste system(3).

A study by researchers from the National Institute of BioMedical Genomics (NIBMG) in West Bengal has looked at the genes of various communities to answer questions that have often been suggested in history books: when did caste become the dominant norm for ethnic communities of the region.

For most upper-caste communities, endogamy (that is marrying within one’s caste) started nearly 70 generations ago, or around the time of the Hindu Gupta period around 1,500 years ago, says the study published in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America).

A lot of social transformation took place during the Gupta period. Notable among these was the enforcement of social strictures against marriage between castes, as enshrined in the Dharmasastra. This reveals that some social norms leave imprints on the DNA, which can be reconstructed by careful genetic studies

By looking at the block lengths of ancestral genes, the team could pinpoint the era when mixing of castes ended. In the case of West Bengal Brahmins, marriages with the northeastern communities continued until the arrival of the 8th century Pala dynasty which cut off these regions.

The study team could pinpoint the era when mixing of castes ended. For the Marathas, it was during Chalukyas and Rashtrakutas (nearly 1,100 years ago) when warriors (Kshatriyas) were drawn from the peasantry class and eventually, the mixing of the population with tribes and Dravidian communities halted.

Unsurprisingly, it was mixing between tribes of various ancestries that ended the last. However, the researchers have noted that “mixing” of genetic populations continued in an “asymmetric” trickle after this. Upper caste populations continued to give genetic inputs to lower caste and tribal populations — but not vice-versa.

This is “consistent with elite dominance and patriarchy” of the upper caste, notes the study. Male members of upper caste communities have had off-spring with other communities, but the reverse is not seen. This is possible by an elite group [sharing the similar genes] dominating non-elite groups.

Gotra and caste (4)

Without assistance from science, we can trace the ancestry of families upto a few generations only. Beyond that it is not possible to go back. But how can the families having the same gothra say that they have descended from one source of family since time immemorial?

What is more interesting is we can see the name of the same gothra in different castes. For example, the Bharadwaja gothra can be found in both Brahmins and Viswakarmas. Marriages between Brahmins and Viswakarmas were banned not on the basis of gothra, but on the basis of caste. Moreover, marriages within the same caste are banned not on the basis of gothra, but on the basis of cult. For example, Brahmins have 18 cults. Inter-cult marriages among Brahmins are banned on the basis of their cult. The Reddy community has innumerable kinds and marriages between different kinds are banned.

There are sub-castes in several castes too. Like we have Naidu/ Kapu subcastes: Naikkar, Telaga, Kamma, Toorupu kapu, Balija, Gawara, Ontario. Naidu's literal meaning is protector. Title of honour among Hindus in the Deccan. People usually don't consider other sub-castes for marriages.

It has become a practice to distort science in favour of traditional arguments, creating junk science in the process. Such is one about the genes in the clan. This pseudo-science practitioners say that as the genes descend from the same ancestor within a clan, marriages within the clan will trouble the offspring because of the conjugation of the same genes; that is why, the argument goes, our elders prohibited marriages within a clan. This theory is baseless because the people of a gothra descend from the families of different origin as we saw above. Moreover, the genes undergo change in course of time as the spouses come from different parents.

But science and scientists don’t endorse castes (5).

As people in South Asia tend to get married within their own castes, the region becomes a living lab for diseases! Caste groups have a high vulnerability for ‘population-specific’ diseases. A recessive disease is one that can be passed down through families.

Every person in the world not only in South Asia carriers several mutations that if they occurred in two copies would lead to serious recessive diseases. In South Asia ‘founder events’ (loss of genetic variation where small numbers of ancestors carrying mutations give rise to large number of descendants) combined with endogamy (marriage within groups) cause the mutations to often be carried in two copies. In South Asia as due to these two factors it lead to far higher rate of population specific diseases than elsewhere in the world.

So if you ask science and scientists about castes, they say these castes don’t have any scientific basis and following caste base system is not correct. It is better to erase the caste system and mixing of genes at all levels is good for a healthy society.

Footnotes:

  1. Definition of CASTE
  2. Genetic Study Reveals Origin of India's Caste System
  3. Caste system has left imprints on genes: study
  4. The facts behind sagothra marriages
  5. Scientists' strong Recommendation

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