South Asia

Organized Panel Session

3 - DNA, Race, and the Andaman Islanders

Saturday, July 7
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: Willow, First Floor

This paper examines certain scientific studies, carried out on the indigenous populations of the Andaman Islands of India. Using DNA techniques the scientists were trying to answer questions regarding the evolutionary history of the peopling of India. Accordingly, the numerous tribes and castes constitute a bio-resource, maintained through endogamy, that Indian scientists leverage in order to participate in cutting edge genomic experiments.

I argue that these scientific studies invoke the discredited science of racial anthropometry in the context of the indigenous populations of the Jarawas, Onges and Andamanese who are classified as ‘Negritos’. Though anthropometry is an extinct ‘experimental system’ (Rheinberger, 1997) the experimental reasoning has survived in racial nomenclatures. In the process they forge a seamless ‘tradition’ of science, creating a tautological, and recursive feedback loop stitching together a dead experimental system of anthropometry (hair and skulls) with contemporary genomics (DNA).

Race/ caste as taxonomy are what the scientists subscribe to. The stratifying practice of racism/casteism informs the world of identity politics. This dichotomy is untenable, since it is racism that has produced these scientific nomenclatures. I conclude that a successful bioethics exercise would emerge through the acknowledgement of the coproduction of science and politics, in both its taxonomic and stratifying dimensions.

Subhadeepta Ray

Tezpur University, India


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3 - DNA, Race, and the Andaman Islanders

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