The New Indian Express (TNIE) had recently published a report which claimed that the Central Cultural Ministry is going to study ‘Racial Purity of Indians’. It talked about the Ministry of Culture looking forward to acquiring state-of-the-art DNA profiling kits and machines to trace the genetic history and ‘trace the purity of races in India’.
The ‘Purity of Races’ angle in the article comes from the quote of Prof. Vasant Shinde, who serves as the adjunct professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies in Bengaluru. Shinde notes that his team wants to study the mutation and mixing of genes that has happened in the last 10,000 years. While genetic mutation talks about the interaction of Indians with other populations of the world, studying the same will give us a clear-cut idea of our genetic history.
In the TNIE article, the news of the investigation to trace the genetic history of the Indian population was conflated with researchers studying the ‘purity’ of races in India. While the concept of ‘race’ remains purely a social concept and has no biological basis, purity here meant tracing the origins of DNA haplogroups among the Indian population. The deliberate contestation of the two led quite a stir among readers who were perplexed at the unscientific claims of the article. Soon, The Ministry of culture categorically dismissed the article as ‘misleading’.
However, it was for Congress MLA Rahul Gandhi to quote the report that was already labelled ‘factually incorrect’ and to go on indirectly connect the dots with Hitler’s racist policies in Nazi Germany. While tracing genetic ancestry had nothing to do with ‘racial purity’, Rahul Gandhi saw an opportunity to tag the article and score a political goal. By tagging the misleading piece from TNIE – which could have sentimental repercussions and fan polarization in the society, Gandhi wrote on Twitter, “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.”
The last time a country had a culture ministry studying ‘racial purity’, it didn’t end well.— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) May 31, 2022
India wants job security & economic prosperity, not ‘racial purity’, Prime Minister. pic.twitter.com/6q9qBAA9l8
The Ministry of Culture has dismissed the misleading report by TNIE
The Culture Ministry took note of the article in Morning Standard edition of TNIE on 28th May and termed it as ‘misleading, mischievous and contrary to facts’. “The proposal is not related to establishing genetic history and “trace the purity of races in India” as alluded to in the article”, it said. The statement noted that while the proposal by the Anthropological Survey of India (AnSI) is being examined under merits, it only deals with upgrading the existing DNA lab in Kolkata to next-generation sequencing facilities for certain ongoing projects.
The Article – Culture Ministry to Study ‘Racial Purity’ of Indians, in Morning Standard on 28th May is misleading, mischievous and contrary to facts. The proposal is not related to establishing genetic history and “trace the purity of races in India” as alluded in article. pic.twitter.com/NMjtxCxia3— Ministry of Culture (@MinOfCultureGoI) May 31, 2022
Even after the Ministry of Culture dismissed the report for being factually incorrect, Rahul Gandhi went on to sensationalise the fake news to capitalise on the charged sentiment against the alleged research on ‘racial purity’. Central Minister for Culture, G Kishan Reddy lashed out at Gandhi in a tweet saying, “Prior to Shri Gandhi’s tweet (probably from somewhere abroad), the Ministry of Culture, GoI had already flagged this article as ‘misleading’. Is he oblivious to this or has he intentionally chosen to further propagate such fake news?”
Prior to Sh Gandhi’s tweet (probably from somewhere abroad), the @MinOfCultureGoI had already flagged this article as ‘misleading’.— G Kishan Reddy (@kishanreddybjp) May 31, 2022
Is he oblivious to this or has he intentionally chosen to further propagate such fake news? https://t.co/VXN2aeR1oT
What the Experts Say
Noted Genetic Scientist Neeraj Rai has lashed out at The New Indian Express for deliberatively publishing a misleading article. Describing the article as ‘mischievous’, he said he is upset about his research being described as studying “racial purity”. DNA research has great potential for improving our understanding of human health and history and should not be used to support discriminatory ideas, he added.
Extremely upset to hear this mischievous article by @NewIndianXpress where our research being described as studying “racial purity”. DNA research has great potential for improving our understanding of human health and history and should not be used to support discriminatory ideas pic.twitter.com/oj6cl3gEg9— Niraj Rai (@NirajRai3) June 1, 2022
Rai, who heads the ancient DNA Lab at the Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences, Govt. of India, criticised Rahul Gandhi for his blatant attempt at politicising a scientific investigation. He wrote tagging Rahul Gandhi, “Racial purity is not a thing and race is not a biologically supported context. It has been a tool for politicians to propagate racism and should not be conflated with genetic ancestry.”
Journalists and Politicians are at worst.— Niraj Rai (@NirajRai3) June 1, 2022
Mr. Gandhi- Racial purity is not a thing and race is not a biologically supported context. It has been a tool for politicians to propagating racism and should not be conflated with genetic ancestry. https://t.co/UNrGQt860W
Author and economist Sanjeev Sanyal, who has written several books on Indian history and geography, has noted that this is a classic case of deliberately misleading a scientific study. “Archaeo-genetics is a well-established field and attempts to trace the human journey. If anything it establishes that there is no such thing as “pure race”. Indeed, we are not even a “pure” species,” he wrote.
Classic example of a deliberately misleading article. Archaeo-genetics is a well established field and attempts trace the human journey. If anything it establishes that there is no such thing as “pure race”. Indeed, we are not even a “pure” species. pic.twitter.com/JhCmWoig1F— Sanjeev Sanyal (@sanjeevsanyal) June 1, 2022
Author and Scientist Anand Ranganathan, who teaches molecular biology at the Jawaharlal Nehru University asserted that Race is not a biological concept but a social one. “Race is not a scientific concept, purity even less so. Not only are 8 Billion Humans 99.97% genetically identical, but the modern Human genome is also but a mishmash of primate, plant, bacterial, parasite, and viral DNA.” he tweeted.
Race is NOT a scientific concept, purity even less so. Not only are 8 billion Humans 99.97% genetically identical, modern Human genome is but a mishmash of primate, plant, bacterial, parasite, and viral DNA.— Anand Ranganathan (@ARanganathan72) June 1, 2022
Only FOOLS conflate investigating genetic ancestry with racial purity.
While the claims of the article and its purposeful politicization by Rahul Gandhi were criticised left, right and centre, this is not the only instance where a scientific study related to genetics was politicised. The ‘Aryan Invasion Theory’, which was used by Dravidian Politicians and leftist historians for decades to claim that the ‘race’ of Aryans invaded/migrated to India between 2000 BCE and 1500 BCE, was debunked after new research proved that all claims of “invasion” by a ‘white-skinned Aryan race’ have been without any scientific basis. DNA studies have established that not only do all people in the Indian subcontinent share a common ancestry, there have been migrations ‘outwards’ from India, hinting at widespread trade and related migration.