What do the Roma, the gypsy people of modern Europe, and the Dalits of north-western India have in common? You will be surprised to know, that they share a common ancestry.

The origin and migration of the Roma Gypsy as well as their lineage have been subjects of curiosity for anthropologists. There is no archaeological evidence of the early Romanis and historical documentation of these populations is scarce.

Genetic studies done by an international team of scientists led by Kumarasamy Thangaraj of the Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology has thrown some light on the subject. The study concluded that the aboriginal scheduled caste and scheduled tribe population of north-western India, traditionally referred to as Doma and also Dalits, are the most likely ancestral population of the modern European Roma.

The conclusion was made after screening of about 10,000 males around the world, including 7,000 from 205 ethnic population of India, to discern a precise ancestral source of the European Romani population. Based on the genetic signatures existing on the Y chromosome, every male could be assigned to a specific group (haplogroup), hence the paternal lineage can be traced, using these signatures.

In human populations, the Y chromosome is passed on from father to son. Therefore, all the males of a family or a population evolved from a single founder male will possess the same Y chromosome. The study, by matching the haplogroups of the Roma and the India tribes, found similarity and contiguity that led to the conclusion that the Domas or dalits are the ancestral population, explained Thangaraj.

Another significant conclusion was that the early Romanis migrated from India to Europe around 1,405 years ago.

The findings establish similarities between Roma and Doma ethnicities, and lay to rest the theory of inhabitants from Indo-Gangetic plain and Punjab being the ancestors of the Roma Gypsies, said George van Driem, a linguist from the University of Berne, Switzerland, in the study published in PLoS, a open source journal.

Ch. Mohan Rao, Director, CCMB, said the study provides DNA-based evidence that support the idea that north-western part of India might be the original place for Roma populations. Similar studies from the lab have provided information about the population structure of India, African origin of Siddi populations, etc.

somasekhar.m@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on November 30, 2012)
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