What AAP Should Know

Recently the Delhi law minister from the newly elected Aam Aadmi (Common People) Party led a mob to harass African women suspected of illegal activity. In the process he and his supporters uttered racist words. Video clips from a decade ago also show another leader of the Aam Aadmi Party, poet Kumar Vishwas, making racist remarks. Such racism is foolish and ignores the ancestry of Indians as of all non-Africans, explains Nayan Chanda, YaleGlobal’s editor, in an opinion essay for the Times of India. He describes his own DNA test via National Geographic and points out the marker M52 from the simple DNA test is associated with Indian heritage and ancestors who arrived from East Africa: “My ancestors, progenies of an African father, at one stage started walking out of the area they lived in, possibly in search of food and better living. That journey was carried out by successive generations ultimately leading them out of Africa and into other continents….” Indian fashion too often expresses preference for lighter skin. In poetry or politics, the finest messages emphasize the world’s connections rather than a false sense of superiority. – YaleGlobal

What AAP Should Know

Nationalism or racism in Indian politics, as displayed by old videos of AAP leader, is foolish and futile considering that human ancestors hail from Africa
Nayan Chanda
Monday, January 27, 2014

"We don't know if being black is a crime" was the poignant comment by a Ugandan woman recently subjected to Aam Aadmi Party-led mob harassment. But it is not ethnicity or nationality that is at the heart of the matter, it is the average Indian's age-old preference for lighter skin. If AAP's Kumar Vishwas famously called Kerala nurses "kaalipillee" even average Indians often refer to Africans as kalua or kaalu.

Implicit in that appellation is a sense of superiority at being fairer. Well, I have bad news for superior-feeling Indians. Under our brown skins we are all blacks. Nor just us Indians, but all of humanity. Genetic science has proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that all humans — to be precise homo sapiens — owe their origins to Africans.

A simple way of finding out who you really are under the skin or under your blond or auburn hair is to send a swab from your cheek to a lab for testing. I did it. I sent a sample of my DNA to the National Genographic Project, a collaboration between National Geographic Society and IBM to map the journey of human genome. The vial i sent did not have my name or any information other than the serial number that came with the vial in the mail.

A few weeks later i checked the results of the test on the web by typing in the serial number and was surprised by what it said. They said i was Indian because my DNA marker of M52 — was an unmistakably Indian marker. What is more amazing though is that by digging deep into my DNA they found that my ancestors came from East Africa some 40,000 years ago. The earliest DNA marker i carry is the Y-chromosome marker M168, which is the marker for the earliest common ancestor of every non-African male person living today.

My ancestors, progenies of an African father, at one stage started walking out of the area they lived in, possibly in search of food and better living. That journey was carried out by successive generations ultimately leading them out of Africa and into other continents. The route my ancestors took in their thousands of years journey to reach India is etched, incredible as it may sound, in my DNA.

My DNA shows the marker M89 associated with the population living in the Middle East, Jordan Valley. The other marker that follows M89 is the marker associated with today's Iran — M201. The ancestral journey which began in Africa ended in India. This DNA trail is similar to our passport with the visas of various places we have travelled to.

The inevitable question is, how come so many of the present-day non-Africans look so different? Like detectives, scientists have figured the reasons behind the amazing diversity among what can be called an African diaspora. Exposed as they were to a great variety of environments — from extremely hot to extremely cold, dry to humid over the millennia their body shapes, skin colours and everything that now identifies someone as African or Caucasian or Mongoloid was transformed.

Extra doses of melanin make the skin black and also protect it from the sun's ultraviolet radiation. As the skin also needs sunlight to make vitamin D people in northern Europe lost melanin to open the skin pores to sunlight (hence their fairer complexion). The African diaspora that ended up settling in India travelled through different routes undergoing various transformations under the impact of different environments. But that does not alter the fact that 99% of all our DNA is exactly the same as that of our common African parents.

As the Ugandan woman put it, we may be black or white but our blood is red. What she did not say is that the blood is all African.

The writer is a globalisation expert and editor of YaleGlobal Online.
Copyright © 2014 Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved.

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