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Science Of Multiculturalism

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The world's largest ever gene mapping exercise has found that the "genetic landscape of the Indian population captures the genetic diversity of the world."

The Indian Genome Variation Consortium (IGVC) study by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) mapped nearly 1,871 human genomes from 55 Indian endogamous population groups (in which members marry within the group). The good news, according to CSIR director general Sameer Brahmachari, who headed the study: "The Indian population forms a continuum of genetic spectrum bridging the two distinct HapMap populations, the Caucasians and the Oriental Asians."

The study concluded: "In fact the term 'Indian,' is a misnomer in population genetic studies, as it indicates the population to be homogeneous. This is evidently now untrue."

Unveiling the findings, Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal said, "India is a microcosm of the world and the current findings only enforce that India is a genetically secular country."

 
The real objective of the mapping is to gauge susceptibility to and plan medical treatments for diseases. The study found that the Indian population is at higher risk of HIV/AIDS, because even though there is considerable diversity across the length and breadth of the country, many pockets of individual communities are not genetically diverse. Genetically diverse populations are at lower risk of many diseases.

The medical and scientific value of these findings is crucial for our survival and well being. Earlier anthropological research ratifies what this study discloses, which is, that the various people from all over the world who settled in India founded a wondrously diverse country. It is this diversity that contributes to our genetic security.

The project has cultural implications as well. Diversity in a community is to be valued not simply because it makes life more interesting; it also protects us in the race for survival on this endangered planet. The mutual benefit of living together no matter our origins, is therefore not just a feel-good cultural exercise, it is medically and scientifically desirable as well. The greater our diversity, the more we are open to accommodation and flexibility, the fewer fortresses we construct to shield ourselves from the outside, the higher our chances for battling new and old diseases.

Now science cannot ensure diversity. Only our social, political and cultural institutions can do that. As migrants from a culturally and genetically diverse land, it rests on us to advocate the virtues of diversity in this country.

India's genetic study ought to be a lesson for paranoid and xenophobic Americans, demonstrating that far from damaging them, cultural diversity is good for the country. Insular Americans have to abandon the facile idea of holding tight to their "pure" Judeo-Christian civilization. The widespread apprehension some of them have about the country's changing ethnic composition over the next 50 years stems from sheer ignorance. Cultural diversity is not just virtuous public policy. There is now scientific evidence that our very survival may well depend upon it.  

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Politics | Magazine | May 2008

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