The basis of AIT has been tested by several genetic diversity studies. DNA samples taken from thousands of Indians have been compared with population groups from other parts of the world, particularly Europe and Central Asia.
The latest one is from Kerala, which is my home state on India’s south-western coast. According to the study, two entirely different castes – Ezhava, also known as Thiyya in northern Kerala, and Jat Sikh of Punjab – show remarkable genetic similarity.
In fact, Ezhavas showed more genotypic resemblance to the Jat Sikh population of Punjab, Turks and Germans than to East Asians, says the study by the Department of Biotechnology & Biochemical Engineering at the Sree Budha College of Engineering in Pattoor, Kerala. It was conducted by department head Dr Seema Nair, Aswathy Geetha and Chippy Jagannath under the aegis of Dr K. Sasikumar, the chairman of the institute. It has also been published in the Croatian Medical Journal.
Before we jump into the study, here’s a little note about genetics. For various reasons, DNA material undergoes slight alterations or mutations in the course of time. The mutations then become characteristic of the line of descendants. These mutations, or genetic markers, are organised into categories called haplotypes. Basically, your haplotype is your genetic fingerprint.
The Sree Budha study examined DNA from the Y chromosome, which is also known as the male chromosome because it is found only in males. More specifically, it examined Y Short Tandem Repeat (Y STR) DNA present in the Y chromosome. As these DNA sequences are passed from father to son, it is also useful in forensics and paternity testing.
The Ezhava population was compared with other Indian populations and with selected world populations in order to investigate the pattern of paternal contributions. Nair’s team examined 104 haplotypes among the Ezhavas. Ten were found identical to the Jat Sikhs, which is the highest number among Indian populations, and four to the Turkish population, which is the highest among European populations.
“The comparison suggests a genetic link between the populations,” says Nair. Ezhavas, she argues, are genetically more similar to Europeans (60 percent) than to East Asians (40 percent).
My interaction with Nair, who comes across as witty and erudite, was primarily fuelled by my search for my own roots. I belong to the same Ezhava community, which is at the centre of this research.
The Ezhavas have an intriguing history. The most persistent belief is that they are the original people of Kerala – the soldiers of the Villavar (archer) community which founded the Chera kingdom. It is a measure of their martial traditions that among the Ezhavas are the Chekavar – the only kamikaze group of fighters known in Indian history.
What is intriguing about the study is that the Ezhavas, a Dravidian group, are now being described as closer to Jat Sikhs, Europeans and Central Asians.
In terms of physical appearance, the Ezhavas are brown Caucasians. However, typical of many Indian communities, there are plenty of very dark and very fair people among them.
On the other hand, the Jat Sikhs who live 3000 km up north are a lot fairer. Plus, Jat Sikh surnames such Mann, Bader, Brar, Dhillon and Virk have an uncanny Germanic resonance.
Indeed, it is worth mentioning the during the early part of the 20th century Sikh immigrants to the US convinced the Immigration & Naturalization Service to grant them white status. Those days only white Europeans were allowed to enter the United States as immigrants. However, later the INS wised up to the fact that the Sikhs “weren’t that white” and again categorised them as Asian.
So there you have it. One group of Indians, the Ezhavas, and another group, the Jat Sikhs. The only thing they have in common is a martial tradition. And yet you have this study asserting that the two communities – that have never mixed and live thousands of miles away – are closer genetically than to communities that live close by.