Letter to the editor


I am delighted to discover your group, your journal and your Web homepage. I have just spent several hours visiting it, I want to read it all ! Even though the homepage offers free reading, I want to become a member anyway (I’m sending a check by mail), because I am so happy to meet people who are as sensitive as I am to the magical, unconsidered aspect of the handling of numbers (it’s mathematical, therefore it’s true, and there’s no need to try to understand). This also made me want to send you a paper as well.

Seen in Courrier International1, a scientific article dealing with a study of castes and genetics in India : “women marry outside of their caste more often than men”. Please note, this is not just an incidental phrase, it is the very crux of the entire scientific study summarized by the article, or at least such as one may deduce by reading said article. I know nothing about genetics, aside from Mendel’s pink and white flowering peas, and very little about the Indian caste system, but I should think... A woman marries outside her caste. With a man. Who therefore also marries outside his caste. If the initial assertion is to be true, one man would have to be married several times outside of his caste, so that for a single man we would have several women married outside of their caste. But this would mean that many men do not marry at all, and this would have a considerably greater genetic influence (a small percentage of men generating children) than the fact of marrying within or outside of one’s caste.

I have a better solution. Let us imagine a woman who marries a polygamous man outside her caste and later (or simultaneously) marries a monogamous man from her own caste. Here, in short, is how things might go. Two women, Cecilia and Tania, two men, Jules and Alfred. Cecilia, Tania and Jules belong to the same caste, Alfred belongs to a different caste. Alfred marries Cecilia and Tania (one after the other or both together), while Jules marries Cecilia. This makes 100 % of the women and 50 % of the men married outside their caste. The initial assertion is feasible, then. But what a scoop about the matrimonial system in India !

So long, 

Fabienne Vansteenkiste
April 1999 

1. C.I. n° 427, January 7, 1999 – article translated from “India today”, a New Delhi paper, “is your caste inscribed in your genes ?”.

Penumbra, 2001 June