Indian government procures DNA kits to study ‘racial purity’ of population

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The Indian government’s bid to acquire DNA testing kits to trace the “purity of races” of its 1.4 billion population has met with a backlash.

India’s culture ministry has allocated a Rs 10 crore (£1m) budget for the project and is in the midst of acquiring DNA-profiling kits and equipment to establish genetic history, reported The New Indian Express newspaper.

The government claims it wants to study the genetic diversion of India’s population with the help of the project.

The acquisition process began after a meeting two months ago between ministry secretary Govind Mohan and archaeologist Vasant S Shinde along with other scholars in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad.

Mr Shinde is an adjunct professor of the National Institute of Advanced Studies at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore city.

He is known to support a Hindu-majoritarian narrative that rejects a theory stating the Aryan race migrated to India and displaced the country’s indigenous population.

The rejection of the Aryan migration theory is something endorsed by the currently ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The archaeologist said they wanted to see how the “mutation and mixing of genes in the Indian population has happened in the last 10,000 years”.

“Genetic mutation depends on the intensity of contact among populations and the time that this process takes. We will then have 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,” he told the Express daily.

Jairam Ramesh, the leader of the opposition Congress party and a member of the upper house of the parliament, took to Twitter to slam the federal government’s “sinister” move.

“Nothing can be more sinister than the decision of the union ministry of culture to acquire DNA profiling machines to establish the genetic history and ‘trace the purity of races in India’. Genetic history is one thing, but racial purity?” he wrote.

The Anthropological Survey of India (ANSI), headquartered in the eastern city of Kolkata, has reportedly shown a “disinclination” to continue with the project because of the issue being “politically loaded”.

The organisation was part of this project which was “initially conceived in 2019”.

It stated that the aim of the project is to “develop a resource of cell lines and DNA samples that can be used to study DNA sequence polymorphism in contemporary Indian population”.

The ANSI had earlier said it wanted to understand the genetic diversity of Indian populations among various ethnic groups across the country based on the re-sequencing of haploid genomes.

It also sought to “establish Indian role in the dispersal of modern humans out of Africa” because “modern humans could have taken the ‘southern route of dispersal’, utilising the coastlines to travel from Africa, through Arabia, across the Indian subcontinent and then into South-East Asia and finally into Australia”.

“Is Modi government treading Hitler’s trail... what does profiling of purity of race signify?” asked Congress leader Sadaf Jafar on Twitter.

Since prime minister Narendra Modi’s rise to power in 2014, India has witnessed a spate of violence against minority communities, including Muslims and tribals across the country, the US said in its 2021 Human Rights Report.

In recent months, Muslim homes have been demolished following communal violence in capital Delhi, while Muslim students were barred from wearing headscarves to educational institutions in the southern state of Karnataka.

A 65-year-old man with mental disabilities died after being physically assaulted on “suspicion of being Muslim” in the central Madhya Pradesh state earlier in May.

“The last time a country had a culture ministry studying ‘racial purity’, it didn’t end well. India wants job security & economic prosperity, not ‘racial purity’, prime minister,” wrote Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.

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