Dinesh C Sharma
New Delhi: Parsis are among the smallest ethno-religious minority in India. Now a new genetic study has confirmed that members of this community indeed migrated to India from ancient Persia, which is present day Iran.
The study involved analysis of genetic data of Parsis in India and Pakistan as well as biological remains of members of the community excavated from Sanjan in Gujarat which had early settlements of Parsis in India.
The results have shown that Parsis are genetically closer to ancient Neolithic Iranians, followed by present day Middle Eastern populations (Iranian and Caucasian). This provides evidence of sex-specific admixture and prevailing female gene flow from South Asians to the Parsis, according to results of the study published in journal Genome Biology on Wednesday.
The international team of scientists was led by Dr Kumarasamy Thangaraj from Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad and scientists from India, Estonia, United Kingdom and Pakistan.
“We have done extensive analysis using mitochondrial, Y chromosomal and autosomal DNA markers to trace the origin of the Parsi population of the Indian subcontinent and found that they have genetically admixed with the Indian population about 1200 years ago, suggesting that the first Zoroastrian might have arrived India about the same time period,” explained Dr Kumarasamy Thangaraj.
The results are consistent with the suggested migration of the Parsi populations to South Asia 8 to 10 centuries ago and in agreement with their assimilation with the local South Asian population. It also shows that Parsis of both India and Pakistan come from the same original group who landed in Sanjan.
“This is the first successful ancient DNA study from India which has analysed maternal DNA composition of ancient remains excavated in Sanjan. Interestingly, 48% South Asian indigenous lineages among the ancient Parsi samples was observed, which is likely due to assimilation of local females during the initial settlement,” pointed out Dr. Gyaneshwer Chaubey, first author and a senior researcher at the Estonian Biocentre, Tartu, Estonia.
Historical evidence shows that Parsis – whose present population is just about 57,000 individuals – trace their origins to Persia. Their fertility and mortality rates have steadily declined over the past century, thus making them vulnerable to possible extinction.
Besides reconstructing population history of Parsis, the study also shows a major impact of population rearrangements in West Asia due to Islamic conquest, felt Dr. Veena Mushrif-Tripathy, one of the authors and a bio-anthropologist at Deccan College, Pune. (India Science Wire)