Charlatans, God Men, Nepal, Pseudoscience, Rationalism, Science, Skepticism

Nine days without oxygen or nine days without honesty?

Lately there has been quite a buzz around the the Nepali internet community regarding some Sidhha Baba Krishna das, who, along with his disciples and followers, has been claiming to have survived underground in a sealed compartment without food or oxygen for 9 days!

Now it surely is quite an astonishing achievement, defying human physiological limits, if what he’s claiming to have done is actually true.

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Krishna Das commencing his 9 day long oxygen less slumber. Image: Annapurna post

At first, when I read the news on some online portal, I thought about leaving it as it is without debunking it, owing to the negative reputation among the public regarding online portals. It’s always a tedious work to debunk something that sounds so obviously farcical. But when I noticed big shot national daily newspapers such as the Annapurna post and National television such as NTV News cover Krishna Das’s story, the conscious part of me noticed that something was not right and thus I was motivated to write a debunk-blog on this.

Without wasting more time, let us examine his claims straight away, systematically.

The Claims made

  1. Krishna Das claims supposedly on 25th Chaitra 2072 (7th April 2016) that he can survive without oxygen and food for 9 whole days.
  2. He and his disciples and followers stage a demonstration on the above mentioned date where he was to supposedly sleep inside a polythene-sealed supposedly air-tight wooden compartment for 9 days.
  3. Annapurna post goes on to report that the air-tight compartment was placed underground under observation of doctors and press (unclear about how many of them were present and whether or not they are affiliated to Krishna Das and his motives).
  4. The sealed compartment was to be buried under 1 foot of soil and sand on top of which holy grass (Jamara) is to be grown, probably just to show that the lid to his compartment was not tampered with.
  5. He claims he would be able to do so by the help of a certain unnamed yoga aasan and meditation, which allows him to stop his heart beat for 9 days!
  6. He projected to wake up on 3rd of Baisakh 2073 (15th April 2016) at exactly 9:35am whence he shall be unearthed from his transient burial.
  7. As promised he does wake up and is uncovered from the compartment at the said date and time.
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Krishna Das supposedly woke up from his claimed suspended animation. Image: Annapurna post

If we were to only look at his side of the story, and also as reported through various Nepali media outlets, then whoa! This seems to be nothing but a miracle! Chamatkar! But, as with every other Godman and charlatan, there always remain some loose ends and loop holes while they make some extraordinary claim out of the blue to garner public attention and media coverage. Because we should realize that 1) most televangelists, godmen and religious leaders seek mass media for publicity and 2) we live in a superstitious country where national daily newspapers have serious daily segments on astrology and Vaastu Shastra. So it is nothing new for even reputed news portals to come up with credulous stories on some mystical babas or gurus performing some random magical stuff.

What troubles me, and urges me most to write this blog is especially a statement made in the NTV 8:00pm news report today, at a time when a great many people nation-wide are hooked to their TV screens for this segment. The news reader said “Baba claims that his success has demonstrated that Scientific medicine still has not been able to prove anything of this sort and needs more investigation in this sector.

It’s a matter of concern in itself to see major media houses giving room to trivial news in place of the more important ones. It’s also very sad to see them portray some random charlatan as something worth considering, instead of trying to skeptically examine their activities as unbiased press is supposed to do. So I write….

Examining the claims in the same order

  1. [Krishna Das claims supposedly on 25th Chaitra 2072 (7th April 2016) that he can survive without oxygen and food for 9 whole days.] Krishna Das has surely claimed to be able to live for 9 days without oxygen and food, but he is not the first. There have been many claimants such as this one, some who have even claimed to have done so for 15 days let alone just 9! This still doesn’t validate his claim however, as it suggests more than ever of a likelihood of some slick trick up their sleeves. Another one is that of this guy, who claims to have been living for 70 years without food and water. One thing constant in such cases is that these Babas carry out their demonstrations only in the presence of their devotees or disciples and most of the time refuse to participate in controlled experiments to be carried out by neutral third parties, when invited.
  2. [He and his disciples and followers staged a demonstration on the mentioned date where he was to supposedly sleep inside a polythene-sealed supposedly air-tight wooden compartment for 9 days.] His samadhi takes place at his place of choice amidst his followers. It has been said that the whole thing was carried out in the presence of a few unnamed reporters and doctors. It’s not like in a country such as this that doctors and reporters cannot be bought. It’s also wrong to assume that a few doctors and press reporters could not even have been hoodwinked or deceived right there. Unless and until we are to be shown the details as to how the plastic was applied and how the compartment was designed, the whole demonstration loses its credibility.
  3. [The air-tight compartment was placed underground under observation of doctors and press] This is simply not enough. As I have said before, doctors and reporters are people as well and can be easily deceived owing to the overwhelming presence of devotees and disciples. A better way to observe would be to place cameras both on the inside as well as the outside, that are able to provide us with continuous non-interrupted recordings. What makes me doubt is the compartment being made out of wood and placed just a foot under porous soil and sand, which may not seal air completely. The method by which the plastic seal was applied is not very clear as well.
  4. [The sealed compartment was to be buried under 1 foot of soil and sand on top of which holy grass (Jamara) is to be grown, probably just to show that the lid to his compartment is not tampered with.] Nice try, but Jamara and sand are not enough in my opinion. One could easily cover pores with them and they too are not able to make the setup completely air-tight.
  5. [He claims he would be able to do so by the help of a certain unnamed yoga aasan and meditation, which allows him to stop his heart beat for 9 days!] A lot of sadhus and babas have claimed to have been able to do so, simply with the help of yoga and meditation. The most popular claim is them being able to stop their heartbeat completely. The same claim is made by Krishna Das as well. When invited to a fair, unbiased and controlled experiment, most of them refuse or do not attend for one or other reasons. In an experiment, when some claimants were observed under ECG while they meditated, their heart did not stop at all.
    • The average human body cannot survive without oxygen for 3 to 6 minutes.
    • The longest time breath held voluntarily recorded, is 24 min 3.45 secs and was achieved by Aleix Segura (Spain), in Barcelona, on 28 February 2016. This was done under a controlled setup by Guinness world records.
    • Yoga and meditation experts have been shown hold their breaths for longer than the average person who doesn’t do Yoga, but that is still not enough to hold it for a whopping 9 days as we are talking only in terms of minutes.
    • So it is impossible to be able to live even for more than a day with absolutely no oxygen, so 9 days is too extraordinary a claim!
  6. [He projected to wake up on 3rd of Baisakh 2073 (15th April 2016) at exactly 9:35am whence he shall be unearthed from his transient burial.] Well, this is not hard to understand. To be able to predict for exactly how long one can go without oxygen is very unlikely and dubious.
  7. [As promised he does wake up and is uncovered from the compartment at the said date and time.] But certainly if the entire setup is staged, then there would be no trouble in doing so. Anyone can do that. Not surprising.

Let’s come to the science part

Obviously a random blogger such as myself debunking Krishna Das’s claims logically is not enough to disprove him. But that still doesn’t give his demonstration any validity again. What is necessary is a controlled experiment to examine his claims. Because just as Carl Sagan has put it ‘Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’. The more profound a claim is, more rigorous should an experiment be in order to try and test the claim. If it passes after such unbiased observed scrutiny then the claim could be considered valid. If valid, such findings would possibly aid the human race with further research in order to be able to hold breath long enough for deep sea diving or maybe even outer-space explorations. If not, then it becomes just another claim without evidence in the market.

So I have designed an experiment for this purpose, which will be able to test Krishna Das’s claims accurately, that also will be immune to any foul play or trickery.

  • Hypothesis:
    • Survival without oxygen (0% Oxygen i.e zero partial pressure of Oxygen)
    • Duration of claimed survival: 9 days (216 hours)
    • Claims this can be done by meditating in a Yogic aasan, which temporarily stops heart beat, while being deprived of Oxygen for 9 days.
  • Set-up and materials required
    • A completely air-tight (or vacuum) chamber that fits an adult human, made up of
      • Preferably hard plastic with air-lock system
      • that is preferably transparent and has a vacuum outlet to remove all air from within the chamber and vacuum it.
      • if transparency is not desired, then a go-pro or any camera system fit on all corners of the chamber inside as well as outside, that records video on continuous shot for 9 straight days

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        Air-tight see-through hard plastic container large enough for an adult human to fit in, with air-lock and preferably a vacuum outlet connected should be used
    • a team of significant professionals (certified medical doctors, journalists and technicians) not known to have been affiliated to Krishna Das in any way whatsoever.
    • an ECG (or vitals) monitor placed within the transparent chamber or that which can transmit signals wireless from within the air-locked chamber.
    • A pulse oxi-meter that displays oxygen saturation in the subject, to check if the subject is well and alive just in case his ECG becomes flat as he has claimed his heart will stop in his yogic aasan.
    • A system to monitor oxygen levels within the chamber
    • Camera angles outside the box should be adjusted such as the entire surface of the box from all sides, top as well as bottom, should be visible.
    • A method for immediate termination of experiment should the subject be under serious health hazard.
    • No one apart from the experimenters should be allowed within 10-20 metres of proximity of the setup.
    • The entire experiment is to be televised on a continuous shot with the help of multiple cameras simultaneously able to do so for 9 days continuously.
  • Procedure
    • Setup is prepared accordingly.
    • Cameras roll in a continuous shot able to last for 216 hours straight.
    • Subject (Krishna Das) is allowed as much time needed to carry out the preliminaries (Puja, Yogic practices etc) required for him to prepare himself before commencing.
    • Subject not be allowed to take into the chamber with him any equipment or instrument that helps or aids breathing, his clothing and garments and body surfaces are to be thoroughly checked by the examiners.
    • When everything is ready, subject enters the air-tight chamber with ECG and Pulse oximeter monitors in-situ.
    • Cameras inside the chamber (if any required) is initiated into recording.
    • Air-lock is applied, chamber is vacuumed, subject’s vitals checked and oxygen level inside the chamber checked.
    • No one is allowed within 10-20 metres of the setup.
    • Unless the subject’s condition worsens to critical level or if the subject voluntarily signals for termination, the experiment will not be terminated until the 216th hour is over.
  • Safety considerations
    • Pulse oximeter in-situ.
    • First-aid setup with stretcher.
    • Well-equipped ambulance on the ready.
    • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation setup with the provision of cardiac defibrillator and trained personell.
    • Quick de-vacuumizing setup.
    • Oxygen mask, oxygen cylinder, ventilator setup (machine/bag-mask).
    • Abort:
      • if Oxygen saturation (SPO2) is less than 80% with flat or almost flat ECG.
      • if SPO2 is less than 70% without flat ECG.
      • if SPO2 is less than 60% with or without flat ECG.
      • if subject signals for abortion.

Conclusion

Anyone thorough with high school science can understand this experiment and anyone equipped with the necessary budget and time can carry this out flawlessly. It’s a simple experiment anyone can design and perform.

If Krishna Das agrees to take part in this experiment or a similar controlled one, then maybe his claims are worth considerations and worth the time and effort of all the professionals involved. If he refuses, just like other previous babas and sandhus, then he goes straight into the archive of charlatans, frauds and con-artists. Period.

Reference

  1. Annapurna post [Nepali] – Commencement of Krishna Das’s venture
  2. Annapurna post [Nepali] – Krishna Das wakes up from his samadhi
  3. Can yogis stop their heart? [English] 
  4. Experiments in India on “Voluntary” Control of the Heart and Pulse
  5. Bihar ‘godman’ out of sealed pit after 15 days without water; doctors say it’s impossible
  6. Longest time breath held voluntarily
  7. Man claims to have had no food or drink for 70 years

 

Equal rights, Nepal, Pseudoscience, Rationalism, Secular Humanism

Menstrual Taboo: Bleed out the nonsense

Let me begin by telling you all about a compelling process that happens all around the world, constantly. It’s an age-old story without which human and primate existence would not have been possible.

It begins when every month or so the uterus goes through changes in the endometrium, the cellular lining within its cavity, for it to prepare nurture a probable conceptus (fertilized ovum or zygote), which if the odds favor, may turn out to be a human baby one day. But the sad part in this story, with relation to the readily awaiting endometrium, is that the ovum is not always fertilized. So the poor endometrium which used up so much protein and nutrients for it to thicken up, under the influence of hormones, sheds itself and bleeds out through the vaginal orifice. The process repeats itself after almost a month. This, my friends, as you may have already guessed, is the process of menstrual bleeding. Completely natural and involuntary when it comes to the human female body and ends only when women reach old age.

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The Ovarian and Menstrual cycle biology simplified
But for many people around the world it’s more than just biology. To some, it’s a culturally inappropriate subject matter, a thing of shame; whereas to others it is just something natural they have to deal with every month or so. To some it is a foul and disgusting curse imposed upon women by some higher power, while to others it is a gift from the same. But all in all, whatever people’s perceptions may be about menstrual bleeding, it happens to women worldwide. A process that is of utmost importance for human reproduction, very natural in its entirety which necessarily should not have garnered any stigma had we seen it this way. However, most of us fail to realize this and the unsettling reality in some part of the world, including mine, is that menstrual stigma and taboo exist for real!

The Urban picture

To start from somewhere, let’s do so from the women that I happen to know. My mom happens to have a bachelor’s degree in economics and social science and my sister is in her first year of medical school. As I live in a privileged part of this country, I come across female relatives, family friends, colleagues, co-workers, nurses and friends in everyday life, all who have been educated beyond high school, many even holding scientific or healthcare degrees. These are well educated women. But if you go on to ask them whether they enter the puja kotha for worship or at minimum even touch the refrigerator during their menstrual bleeds, you’ll be surprised that most of them will admit that they don’t.

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A notice in front of a temple in India prohibiting the entry of menstruating women
It’s a frequent debate I have with my mom and my sister as to why educated women like them have to follow such dated and baseless traditions which exist simply out of cultural misogyny? The answers I usually tend to get in defense are ‘our ancestors devised it for hygienic reasons‘ or ‘it’s our period of rest assigned by god, you’re simply saying this because you’re too lazy to work on our behalf‘ and if I push it further ‘don’t you feel ashamed talking to women like this?‘ or ‘it’s my choice, I just don’t want to touch the fridge and don’t want to argue with you for god’s sake‘ or ‘there are offerings to god kept inside the fridge, so I will not dare touch it’ and so on…..

Most of the time, I go on to further explain, that hygiene practices as proposed by the ancients should be considered in light of the fact that they had very limited knowledge about proper hygiene and tampons weren’t even invented then. But why do we need such practices now, in the 21st century, when you can get tampons for prices as low as Rs. 10 (10¢) and women can be simply taught how to look after their hygiene? [Read about Muruganantham, a man who invented cheap tampons in India] I add, that if they need rest, they could very well take any day/time off just like that; why wait particularly for periods and what has rest got to do with an act as benign as simply touching the fridge? And regarding the fridge containing offerings to some deity, for a believer such as my mom, aren’t women considered creations of the same supernatural force in Hinduism? So why would a supposed ‘creator’ ever be angry with her for simply touching the offerings? Here, obviously I get confronted with answers full of ad-hominem; as well as those containing arguments from authority and not to forget, God!

Perhaps it’s due to my constant questioning and maybe even my mom and sister being tuned to urban life, we have over the years become much progressive compared to what we were in the past and also when compared to other average families in the city. This is because except for the fridge and the puja kotha, my mom and sister touch almost everything else for convenience. Different families have different levels of norms when it comes to menstrual taboo in urban Nepal. Especially joint families with elderly members tend to be the most conservative with stricter rules imposed such that the women are not even allowed in the kitchen let alone touching the refrigerator. Another big irony is that I also happen to know many aunts and relatives residing abroad who enforce such taboo onto their daughters who are not even born in Nepal!

One could wonder how and why these practices came into effect in the first place? To that I’d answer; it is partly influenced by religion and partly by a deeply etched culture of superstition and misogyny. This aptly describes the Nepali society, at least in stereotype. In short, women are being discriminated for something that happens to them naturally. To me, it’s as irrational as ostracizing people for defecation or urination, but unlike such semi-voluntary reflexes, menstrual bleeding is not a reflex and definitely not voluntary.

The Rural picture

The picture in rural areas, is quite drastic. The untouchability factor being constant, though greatly amplified. I am referring to practices, such as those in rural parts of western Nepal, as the Chhaupadi (Nepali: छाउपडी). Here, a menstruating woman is known as a Chhau or Chhui which means ‘untouchable’ and Padi refers to ‘cow-shed’. Judging by the name, it’s literally the practice which considers menstruating girls and women untouchables and sends them to live in the cow-shed.

In Chhaupadi, a girl has to sleep out in the cowshed, away from her family for the length of her bleeding. She cannot touch other people in her family as it is believed that doing so will make those people fall ill. She cannot consume milk as it is believed that doing so will result in the cattle or buffalo to cease lactating; she cannot consume legumes or bread as doing so is believed to mar the crops and invite famine. Same goes for fresh fruits and vegetables. So she has to survive only on plain rice, salt and dry fruits; all when during her bleeding she requires more nutrients than usual as she is losing blood from her body.

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A survey report [AWON, 2012] carried out by Action Works Nepal  across different VDCs in Jumla and Kalikot from mid-western Nepal, showed that among the 88 girls interviewed,

  • 77% were following Chhaupadi when they bled for the first time (menarche) and none of them were allowed to stay in the same room with rest of the family members (especially male members)
  • 70% were not allowed into the kitchen
  • 19% said they were restricted from the schools
  • 76% of them reported restriction in eating and drinking milk and other milk/dairy products.
  • 80% were not allowed inside temples
  • 77% were not allowed inside prayer rooms
  • 64% percent respondents reported restriction in eating holy foods
  • 51% respondents mentioned restriction in eating meat and meat products
  • 28% reported restriction in eating vegetables
  • About 20% respondents informed that they never attend school during the menstrual period, because of
    • restriction by parents (28%)
    • self-hesitation.
  • 76% said that Chhaupadi was mostly imposed on them by their parents, priests or traditional healers (76 %).
  • 77% women and girls said they felt insecure during their stay in cowshed
  • 65 % women and girls said they cried in each period, afraid from possibility of sexual abuse, rape, snake and animal bites.

Chhaupadi is a matter of grave concern in terms of social equity and women’s health in a sense that it firstly is deteriorating to women’s health as it deprives them of the necessary nutrients they need during their periods. Secondly because it puts young girls and women at risk of pelvic infections and sepsis due to bad menstrual hygiene practices (as they stay away from their mothers and school and have been known to use the same cloth multiple times out of embarrassment) and lastly because it violates their right to live a free and just life. It’s one cruel ritual, second only to the sati pratha.

Despite the practice being prohibited by the Supreme court of Nepal in 2005, it is still practiced by the majority in rural sections of western Nepal. Strong belief preservation in addition to poor infrastructure as in roads, lack of effective law enforcement, paucity of schooling and pathetic literacy rates (especially that of women) being responsible. Multitude of NGOs and INGOs however, have been actively involved in spreading awareness against such ill practices with an aim to abolish the Chhaupadi tradition, some with good progress and some even without any.

The Chhaupadi may be one of the many extreme forms of Hindu menstrual taboo, but one element stays common to both urban as well as rural forms: The concept of women being untouchable during their periods. So it can be fairly said that it is not sufficient to just educate women as we can witness a significant number educated urban women practicing menstrual taboo regardless of their academic qualifications. I believe it is equally important for us all and especially activist women to make an effort to simply debunk such practices and to question them on a constant basis, starting from the city itself. Then only will it be possible for us to simultaneously take effective nation-wide actions to abolish practices such as the Chhaupadi. This has to be in a similar way as to how our society abolished the Sati pratha altogether, i.e starting from the city and the intellectual elite, such that now it is considered immoral regardless of religious belief.

The Global picture and psychological appeal of humans to purity

It’s not just in Nepal and India where menstrual taboo exist. We can find them in one form or another, more or less trying to depict the same superstition or fears across many different cultures world-wide. Just have a look at the two pictures below.

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Menstrual taboo across various cultures
There seems to be a constancy of some sort when it comes to social perceptions about menstruation around the world. Malicious, superstitious or embarrassed perceptions regarding menstrual bleeding are not only limited to less well developed nations and socially backward societies. In developed nations the portrayal in tampon advertising of menstrual blood as blue instead of the actual red, is also an important field of concern to western feminist activists. They claim that such substitution is the result of social stigma associated with menstrual bleeding.

It could be said that menstrual taboo always arise out of misogyny and superstition embedded within the society potentiated by either an inherited culture or religion or both. It may be true to a great extent, but most of the time people tend to leave out one core aspect of human psychology which significantly contributes to preserving menstrual stigma around the world: the psychology of purity and cleanliness.

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Menstrual taboo in Nigeria is somewhat similar to what constitutes the Chhaupadi in Nepal
To understand the point I’m trying to make, you’ll have to read this excerpt from David McRaney’s book, You are not so smart, which briefly explains it with reference to a study in the journal Science.

 “A great example of how potent a force your unconscious can be was detailed by researchers Chen-Bo Zhong at the University of Toronto and Katie Liljenquist at Northwestern in a 2006 paper published in the journal Science.

They conducted a study in which people were asked to remember a terrible sin from their past, something they had done which was unethical. The researchers asked them to describe how the memory made them feel. They then offered half of the participants the opportunity to wash their hands. At the end of the study, they asked subjects if they would be willing to take part in later research for no pay as a favor to a desperate graduate student.

Those who did not wash their hands agreed to help 74 percent of the time, but those who did wash agreed only 41 percent of the time. According to the researchers, one group had unconsciously washed away their guilt and felt less of a need to pay penance. The subjects didn’t truly wash away their emotions, nor did they consciously feel as though they had.

Cleansing has meaning beyond just avoiding germs. According to Zhong and Liljenquist, most human cultures use the ideas of cleanliness and purity as opposed to filth and grime to describe both physical and moral states. Washing is part of many religious rituals and metaphorical phrases used in everyday language, and referring to dastardly deeds as being ‘dirty’ or to evil people as ‘scum’ is also common. You even make the same face when feeling disgusted about a person’s actions as you do when seeing something gross. Unconsciously, the people in the study connected their hand washing with all the interconnected ideas associated with the act, and then those associations influenced their behavior.”

Just like the point I made earlier in this blog on the ancients’ perception of hygiene, people in the past most likely related menstruation and the bleeding associated with it as being disgusting or unhealthy or abnormal. I suspect that it is this subconscious priming in par with people’s tendency towards superstitious thinking (i.e post-hoc reasoning; something happened after this so must be because of this) and misogyny prevalent within patriarchal cultures (majority of human cultures being patriarchal) which is responsible for the perseverance of menstrual taboo around the world and Nepal.

Knowing just this should have given us all the more reasons to cease condoning or conforming to such age-old practices. But at least in south asia, the context can be slightly different and most of the time taboo can be glorified or potentiated especially by educated people who look for profound explanations supporting menstrual taboo, assuming about their explanations being scientific.

Pseudoscience, postmodernism, and belief preservation.

No matter how educated people may be, many constantly find biased explanations and reasons to follow menstrual taboo. Most refer to scriptures and ancient literature such as the Vedas, Gita, Upanishads, Pali Teachings, Manusmriti, Quran and the Hadith in order to justify their beliefs or claims. They tend to think that there are many ways of knowing something other than mainstream science and rationality (which they call western or material). They tend to justify ancient practices which have no basis in reality by conjuring up simplified or complex words or doctrines to describe them. Such type of people are known as postmodernists and postmodernism is nothing but an emotional reaction to any kind modernity by romanticizing about the past.

One such blogger, who ironically happens to be a woman, tries to justify menstrual restrictions by referring to words of random sages and ancient practises such as Ayurveda, goes by the name Mythri. The striking fact is that this author and her organization is actively involved in promoting women’s health across many parts in India. Below are some selected excerpts from her blog, Unearthing menstrual wisdom – Why we don’t go to the temple, and other practices: 

“I realized that most practices arise from a common ground – Ancient Indian Science, which includes Ayurveda, Yoga, Meditation, Mantra and Astrology. The science of Mudras, a part of Yoga, is also important in this understanding.”

“Western allopathic medicine which is a few centuries old is based on external medication and intervention. Whereas Ayurveda which is at least 7000 years old, is a science of life and a natural healing system, with a deep understanding of the human body and its relation to nature. Ayurveda is based on the principles of three primary life-forces in the body, called the three doshasDoshas are the bio-energies that make up every individual, and help in performing different physiological functions in the body. The three types of Doshas are Vata, Pitta and Kapha, which correspond to the elements of air, fire and water respectively.”

“According to Ayurveda, menstruation is closely linked to the functions of the doshas. Menstruation is regarded in Ayurveda as a special opportunity enjoyed by women for monthly cleansing of excess doshas; it is this monthly cleansing that accounts for female longetivity.  There is a build up of energy in the days leading to menstruation as the body prepares for pregnancy. If pregnancy does not take place and menstruation starts, this built up energy gets dissipated from the body during menstruation. During menstruation,Vata is the predominant dosha. Apana vayu, one of the elemental air functions of the Vata Dosha, is responsible for the downward flow of menstruation. Therefore, any activity that interferes with this necessary downward flow of energy during menstruation should be avoided. During menstruation, women are more likely to absorb other energies in their environment. This forms the basis of most of the cultural practices around menstruation in India.”

“the energy during menstruation goes downwards into the earth, (at the puja table, offerings, altar), the energy is going upwards. This can bring discomfort in the body” 

She blatantly states that mainstream science is ‘western’ when empirical observations of nature do not have any cultural affiliations. It’s just because many empirical observations of nature were first noted by westerners that many people out here wrongly associate science with the west. She has given too much room for Ayurveda and ancient scriptures and practices being valid when, in fact, they clearly lack significant rational and scientific elements in their attempts at explaining nature.

Her argument is based from a preconceived bias that the logic behind Ayurveda and Vedas are sound and that they are a ‘different’ kind of Science than mainstream science. But to be intellectually honest, there is only one kind of science: the one that describes nature objectively. Because truth is universal, objective and bears no other alternative.

So I can fairly say that she is wrong.

Allopathic medicine, during the time of Hippocrates also had irrational practices of bloodletting and was based on the principles of ‘humors’, similar to doshas. Chinese medicine also evolved separately and included the concept of ‘energy’ centres similar to ‘chakras’. Contemporary understanding of science and empirical data were poor back then so all cultures had their own ways of interpreting nature, and not all of them were accurate. Allopathic medicine, proved to be the most successful of them lot due to its adoption of logical thinking skills and evidence-based practices. It can be fairly said that allopathic medicine smoothly entered the realm of science to progress when Ayurveda and chinese medicine never did.

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Figure summarizing the Ayurvedic beliefs
It is only now that we have been able to gather sufficient information about the human body. We know much about microscopic cells, microscopic pathogens, nano-scale protein receptors on cells, the DNA inside nuclei and actions of various drugs down to the molecular level for us to prove that the concept of doshas in Ayurveda is wrong. Similarly, as we now know that the main source of energy within a living cell comes from the ATP molecules in mitochondria (cells within cells), we are able to reject the ideas of the chakras or mystic energy. Likewise, it is also incorrect and dishonest to call scientific medicine as treating the patient from ‘outside’. Ayurveda, acupuncture and the like may have fallen into the category of ‘science’ at some point in the past, or to those who followed them, but at present they can be said to be obsolete. Justifying superstitious menstrual rituals and taboo by referring to such outdated practices is simply an intellectually dishonest act which misleads genuinely curious people and the concerned public.

As far as menstruation is concerned, it is a natural process best explained by modern mainstream medical science staying in touch with evidence. It’s nothing but the uterus shedding its cell lining in the absence of a fertilized ovum. There can be found no evidence for this ‘imbalance of doshas’ as proposed by ayurvedic practitioners.

She goes on to further explain about her interview with a certain Guruji (Religious leader). Here, according to her, the Guruji explains why women should not enter temples during menstruation.

“To further understand the aspect of not visiting temples during menstruation, our team travelled to Devipuram, in Andhra Pradesh. We found unique answers from Sri Amritananda Natha Saraswati (Guruji), founder of Devipuram, a temple in Andhra Pradesh which is dedicated to the Devi.
He said “What is pure, we don’t touch. And what we don’t touch, we call it a Taboo. She (a menstruating woman) was so pure, that she was worshipped as a Goddess. The reason for not having a woman go into a temple is precisely this. She is a living Goddess at that time. The energy of the God or Goddess which is there in the murthi (idol) will move over to her, and that (the idol) becomes lifeless, while this (the menstruating woman) is life. So that’s why they were prevented from entering the temple. So it is exactly the opposite of what we think”.

Seriously? How does he even know what this energy is? Can we even measure it? If not then why call it energy in the first place and how is it not different from any other unfalsifiable claim in the market? People such as this guru tend to conjure up esoteric and confounding words in order to create circular arguments to justify their means. Just have a look at this particular explanation she provides in the same blog as to why menstruating women should avoid cooking and eating with others during menstruation.

“As told to us by a pranic/energy healer, eating was considered as a spiritual activity. Many orthodox Brahmins even today chant as they cook to ensure that the food has higher and positive energy in it. During the process of eating food, the lower chakras (read explanation at the end of this paragraph) of our body are highly active. It is to change this, that Buddhist monasteries have a practise of reciting the scriptures during meal hours, so that the monks are focussed on higher chakras. So while eating, people expel negative energy all around. In the normal course of things, we would not feel it. But if a menstruating woman who is sensitive to absorb all types of energies around her is in the middle of a group that is eating, she can get affected by the lower energies (as opposed to higher or spiritual energies, which are beneficial). This is probably the reason why menstruating women were told to stay away from others and eat separately.
“As explained by spiritual and Ayurveda teacher Maya Tiwari, in her book Women’s Power to Heal: Through Inner Medicine:

“Asking women to avoid gardening or cooking during menstruation is not due to the irrational thinking that our menstrual blood is unclean, unhygienic or toxic. The cosmic memory of food – that which is derived only from plant life according to the Vedas – is imbued with prana, a rising energy flowing up from the earth towards the sun and the sky. Conversely, our menstrual blood is instilled with apana vayu, the downward flowing, bodily air pulled down from the body by the magnetic forces of the earth. These two powerful sadhanas do not go hand in hand. Plant-derived food is also kapha in nature, full of youth giving energy that nourishes the body; menstrual blood is dominated by Pitta and Vata, which fosters the cleansing of the spirit. It is most unwise to introduce the rising, energizing nature of our food into our blood, or to mix the downward flowing, cleansing energy of blood into our sustenance, either by preparing food during menstruation, or by slaughtering animals and eating them.”

I read her entire essay with the hope of finding at least something worth consideration, but since she has based it entirely on her bias that ancient knowledge (ayurveda, astrology etc) is scientific knowledge, the whole argument falls apart logically for us to even reach an empirical conclusion. She claims to have unearthed menstrual wisdom, but infact she has managed to cover up actual truth with truck load of dirt, is all I can say. I won’t even care to refute her claim of the downward and upward energy in detail because going by this logic, even urinating, sneezing, defecating, spitting, sweating, shedding of dead skin cells could be considered downwards energy and that even the people who sweat should be barred from sacred places and shunned from the society. It is very absurd and definitely irrational.

Such flawed reasonings used to justify menstrual taboo, that too from someone involved (in her words) in a ‘Trust working on various issues pertaining to women and children such as menstruation, sexual abuse and sexual violence against women’, is quite unsettling as well as troubling. It is mostly people like her who pose the danger of spreading misconception in the public and misleading them.

Menstrual taboo flourish along with other kind of superstition and dogma in a society full of misinformed and mislead people because irrationality often feeds on ignorance. Retrospective explanations from authority and tradition such as that given by people like Mythri could be one reason as to why menstrual taboo is prevalent even among the educated in urban areas. And if we cannot expect the educated to see through their preserved beliefs, how can we expect it from the less educated in rural communities?

What can we do to abolish menstrual taboo?

We need to talk more about menstruation and reproductive health. The talking needs to be done repeatedly unless and until our society as a whole starts to take menstruation as something that occurs naturally and is benign, say like sweating. Everywhere, from cities to towns to rural villages, it is important that we display in public (through public, government or commercial advertisements) that menstruation is something very natural when it comes to women.

To spread awareness might be the initial step, but in order to tackle the intellectually dishonest who try to create a benign perception of such taboo, we need to logically and scientifically examine every claim made by every proponent as far as possible.

401774-menstruation
Feminists and social activists in India launched a ‘Happy to bleed‘ campaign through social media to fight menstrual stigma. Their aim: to show that menstruation is natural and women need not be ashamed when they bleed.

We need to reach out to every girl and every woman. All of us, along with women who are concerned with other women’s rights being violated, should make it an effort to engage in debates and argument in all factions of our society just to answer the inquisitive minds and to break the stigma associated with menstruation. It is vital that we deliver the right kind of thinking skills and teach people (especially the children) both in urban as well as rural areas to search for unbiased information on any matter including menstruation so that they can think for themselves and become less likely to condone age-old practices.

Men also have a great role. People tend to think that menstruation is simply a woman’s problem and so it is best left for the women to fight against or to speak out against; and men need not speak out about it. But that is wrong, men do have to speak out against it more often than ever, and have to actively take part in discussions on menstrual stigma or taboo. This is because at this point in history, we need more rational voices than ever before as many complex forms of irrational voices are trying to silence the righteous.

Only then can we effectively abolish the stigma and taboo associated with menstruation. We definitely need to scrap this file and put it in the archives of history, never to open, alongside that of the Sati. 

So ladies, in the end, all you have to do is work towards shaping a society which accepts and allows you to bleed freely. Moreover, it would be best for future generations, if you could just as well bleed out the nonsense….  

Reference and further reading

  1. Menstrual Taboo: Hibernating but Hindering factor of Women’s Empowerment in Nepal: By Radha Paudel
  2. Chhaupadi, Jumla, Kalikot Action Works Nepal 2012 report
  3. AWON & 5-CP report on Chhaupadi in Kalikot 2012
  4. Blood speaks: Menstrual taboos in Nepal and Bangladesh put women’s health at risk

  5. SC questions practice banning entry of women at Sabarimala temple

  6. ‘We bleed. Accept it and deal with it’: breaking India’s taboo on menstruation – Monisha Rajesh

  7. Periods in Nepal, Turning girls into untouchables
  8. Menstrual Taboo: Huffpost Archive
  9. The ‘Tampon King’ who sparked a period of change for India’s women

  10. The ‘untouchables’: Tradition of Chhaupadi in Nepal; TIME magazine
  11. Culture clash, menstrual taboo and ODF in Nepal
  12. Menstrupedia.com

Fact to consider: [Menstrual cycle is seen specifically in Humans, some primates, some species of bats and shrews. In other mammals, uterine cycles are of varying periodicity and thus known by other terms.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caste, Nepal, Pseudoscience, Secular Humanism, Skepticism

Gotra: Science or Myth?

Let us start by introducing myself shall we?

I consider myself a secular humanist, but if we were to go by the rules of Hinduism, a culture-religion complex into which I was born, I am supposedly a Brahman guy from a Hindu Brahman family in a predominantly Hindu populated country known as Nepal. Going further in this ancient and socially-acceptable form of racial and ethnic prejudice, I am supposed to be of an ‘Aryan descent’.

My blood line in terms of paternal heritage as put forth by the archaic logic, is supposedly ‘unaltered’ from the time of a Hindu sage by the name of ‘Atri’ (One of the original 8 baby booming Brahman sages probably dating back to around 800 to 600 BCE) from whom it is believed that an even purer bloodline who call themselves ‘Atreya’ (meaning “from Atri”) were descended. That is where my ‘Gotra’ comes from. Involuntarily asserted and appointed to me giving me the cultural license to become a part of that ‘clan’, the Atreya Gotra. Summing up, I am first known as a ‘male’ child, then as the son of a Hindu man, then as part of an upper caste of Upadhyaya Brahmans belonging to the Atreya Gotra and then only I am to be known just as a person who I am as defined by my achievements and interests.

Such is the reality of our predominantly Hindu societal values. This feudal taxonomy is very well prevalent in many parts of Nepal and India. A child out here is ruthlessly labeled and tagged and indoctrinated by various denominations of this culturally justified ‘tribalism’ even before the child is aware of him/herself.

 

Richard Dawkins on childhood indoctrination by religion. I think we ought to expand it to include cultural indoctrination as well.

I can say that it’s a relief now that I have chosen to live my life in a rational, consequential, empirical and humanistic way and I do not have to be bound by senseless cultural norms and taboo whatsoever. Well some might say that I must be, but I am brave enough now to say ‘nope’. It took me almost 4 months to thoroughly investigate into this matter of Gotras and I have come to learn quite a lot about the whole mystery.The sole intent of this blog, however, is to systematically breakdown and debunk the myth and misunderstandings behind the Gotra (sub-caste) and especially the pseudo-scientific notions of marrying within the same Gotra being equivalent to incest and resulting in the birth of deformed and mentally unstable children from it.

 

Or rather the ‘pseudoscience’ of Kula gotra.

So what is Gotra after all?

The Gotra pratha is an ancient Hindu practice, still given continuity and stout validity by many modern day conservative Hindus especially by those who claim to belong to any of the 3 main upper castes such as Brahmans, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas. Ongoing casteism is pretty-well evident today. We can judge just by going through the myriad of matrimonial websites in the subcontinent which prioritize Caste and Gotra even above moral values and education). I will deal with Casteism later in my other blog posts but I will be focusing only on Gotras for now.

The Gotra of people actually refer to their obscure and indistinct lineages tracing back to any one of these original (but with dubious existence) eight Hindu sages: Angirasa, Atri(Atreya), Gautam, Kashyapa, Bhrighu, Vasistha, Kutsa, Bharadwaja. It is believed out here in India and Nepal that marrying within the same Gotra will result in the birth of deformed and mentally unsound children and consequently such an act is deemed impure or inappropriate. Thus the taboo.

A cartoon mocking the Khap panchayat

All existent Gotras that are present today have been thought to have originated from these eight sages. The total number of established Gotras at present range from an estimate of 49 to 52 depending on the region of inquiry. Though Gotras in North India and Nepal actually refer to the dominant view of paternal lineage, there are some matriarchal Kannada communities in southern India who follow Gotras that refer to a person’s maternal lineage. So by this we can come to realize that the concept of Gotra is not an established standard across different cultures.Societal taboo regarding marriage within the same Gotra remains very strong to this day and exists even within affluent and educated Hindu and Sikh societies in the sub-continent (surprisingly even those who have had some background in biology and genetics, such as medical doctors and nurses, have been known to condone the Gotra pratha and many of its proponent use such arguments from authority (many top doctors and scientists follow the Gotra, why not you? You think you are better than them?) and from masses (If Gotra was not scientific, why are most people still practicing it? How can a few people be right and many of us wrong?) to justify their claims. With rigorous scrutiny, we can come to realize their fallacies effectively as it is not necessary for the people in authority (i.e Doctors and Scientists who conform to Gotra) and the majority to be accurate most of the time. I’m saying we need to accept the fact that there is always a possibility that they can be wrong.

Honor Killings in the name of Gotra…..

The common belief here, I’ll mention once again, is that if two people belonging to the same Gotra were to marry each other then they surely would give birth to an inbred child (owing to the broader definition of Incest by the system) subject to mental or physical anomalies. In doing so, same-Gotra couples and their children are deemed ‘polluted’ and ostracized or ridiculed by most of their societies with greater degree of mandate in rural areas compared to urban ones. Some communities such as the Khap Panchayat and the Jat from northern India have also been known to have committed multiple ‘Honor-Homicides‘ of same-gotra couples. There are true and horrific stories of even fathers and brothers ruthlessly slaughtering their own for the sake of honor.

Following an Honor-killing trial in 2010, the Indian High court scrapped a proposal of Khap Panchayat (who wanted Gotra-pravara to be made mandatory), denied an appeal of innocence to the accused murderers and found them guilty of ‘homicide in the name of unfounded honour’ by firmly declaring that there have been “no Hindu scripture till date that bans marriage between same gotras and justifies honor killings”. Even though it was a favorable action against the fanatics, I still find it odd that an evidence-requiring government body such as the Indian high court even considered to take scriptures as the means to justify the Khap panchayat.

A newspaper clipping on Honor killing in Haryana

Death sentence was announced to the culprits (I myself do not approve of any kind of capital punishment but now that would be wholly off-topic if I discuss it here) as a way to deter the hostility towards same-gotra couples and also to declare the prejudice behind Gotras as being immoral and unethical. Despite the then efforts of the Indian jurisdiction (and activists and organizations who worked to abolish superstitious customs across India), proponents of the Gotra pratha continue to voice and lobby their heinous motives and opinions (including numerous Indian politicians and God-men). The concerning thing is that there are plenty of recent reports which suggest that such people are gathering momentum following the right-wing BJP and Modi’s historical cruise to the Indian Government. The major problem lies in one of their agenda: To justify Gotra by claiming it to be a legitimate science!

Is Gotra really scientific?

Gotra pratha is thought to have originated somewhere around the 1st millenial BCE, i.e post-Atharvavedic period approximately 600 BCE. The concept of “Gotra Pravara” is relatively new even in relation to the newest of the four vedas, the Atharvaveda. So naturally, none of the four Vedas seem to have ever endorsed prohibiting, denouncing or condemning marriage between people of the same Gotra nor do they even describe the Gotra pratha in anyway. This ensures that the concept is most likely post-vedic.
The book ‘Indian sociology through Ghurye’, by S. Devas Pillai mentions that the 8 sages of the Gotras, were not those of the Rigveda and thus Gotra was a relatively recent invention by them and their kins. This was most probably to prevent inbreeding and narrowing of the gene pool within their Brahmin caste considering their strict endogamous beliefs. This might be in order to forbid marriage outside of their caste, just to maintain the purity of their blood-lines in accordance with their primitive yet genuine attempt to understand human inheritance with the limited set of knowledge they used to have back then.
khap-5-638
Summary of what a Gotra is. It may be losing value in urban areas, but at least in the upper caste community, it still is prevalent to a significant extent.
Their logic looks quite sound from a lay perspective (if the caste system were to be justified in any rational way). Indeed, it’s completely natural of any big ancient civilization for wanting to prevent incapacitating and unwanted traits (such as diseases, disabilities and deformities) spreading. But that still does not give us any basis to take their observations for reality owing to the paucity of empirical observations back then, at least not in the urban part of the 21st century when well-resourced scholarly or scientific articles on inheritence, genetics and anthropology are just a mouse click away! Along with many other contemporary civilizations of that time such as the Hellenic, Babylonian and Persian civilizations (which shared a common linguistic and cultural roots originating from the Yamna/Bactria Magna cultural settlements east of the Ural mountains, central Asia, according to the “Kurgan hypothesis“), the Ancient Indian civilization also strictly prohibited incest and consanguineous marriages. Gotra pratha was just their primitive and unsuccessful attempt at trying to prevent what we now know as recessive phenotype resulting from recessive genes.

Proponents of gotra pratha constantly bring up the argument “Gotra pratha is very scientific because the ancients knew about the recessive gene and knew about genetics so developed the gotra pratha as an effective means to prevent recessive genes from entering any progeny” while defending their case. But they constantly fail to provide evidence to back their claims and moreso even fail to demonstrate the claimed science in scriptures such as the Vedas or upanishads. Throwing out assumptions upon assumptions, shutting themselves to contradictory information, being subject to heavy confirmation biases (looking up for only those information that they ‘want’ to be found and rejecting any contradictory side despite of the latter’s validity and credibility) and presenting with no solid evidence! This is how any conveyor of a pseudo-scientific principle would defend themselves; wholly being devoid of the critical aspect in their thinking and also while arguing or making their case.

But the ancient did realize the harmful effects of consanguinity didn’t they?

The most logical explanation of the ancients’ awareness about the negative effects of incestuous mating goes down to their generation-long practice of animal husbandry and breeding (sadly not Vedic mantras or bramhagyan). The ancient Indians were very much experienced about the fact (after countless observations) that mating two offspring from the same parents would result in the greater chance of birth of deformed, mentally unsound and physically weaker progeny than compared to the progeny resultant after non-consanguineous mating.
mendel
Not until after the life ofvGregor Johann Mendel were we able to completely understand inheritence.
They realized that more the consanguineous offspring were inbred, more weaklings would be born and if they were to raise healthier batches of livestock then they were not supposed to mate two siblings or progeny related up to at least the third degree (something like saying ‘third cousin’). The same principles, they must have observed in some rare cases of human consanguinity, and must have applied a similar logic towards incestuous relations in humans, which appears quite a sound practice. Possibly, the Gotras were formulated for fulfilling a similar motive of maintaining their understanding of a healthy trait-pool for long. But we need to grasp the fact that this was even before antiquity, when our understandings of genetics and genomics were far from being nascent, were primitive and insufficient owing to the paucity of organized observation methodology and technology at that time.

Not until Gregor Johan Mendel were we to understand the science behind inheritence and it was not before James Watson and Francis Crick that we were to understand the principles of molecular genetics. So there are plenty of reasons for us to not to conform to this feudal and non-progressive Hindu tradition.

If it was founded to prevent the spread of recessive traits via incest, which is good, why can’t we justify the Gotra then for precaution?  Why take chances by rejecting Gotra completely?

Genetically speaking, there is negligible health impact of marriage between two people if beyond one degree of separation (i.e between two 2nd cousins) but passage of recessive alleles is likely nonetheless. Another concept in genetics we need to be familiar about is that even congress between two siblings does not necessarily always result in the birth of abnormal recessive offspring. We are in terms of chances here and in that sense the chances of recessive alleles passing on are high but still not absolute. Increase the degree of separation up by one (i.e 3rd cousins), the chance is drastically reduced. Increase it by a further one degree (i.e 4th cousins), the chance of recessive genes being transfered into the progeny will be reduced further. (Here’s a pdf providing more information on this and a comprehensive explanation by a Stanford geneticist on the subject matter).
So broad is the definition of consanguinity in Gotra and so diluted and diverse has the gene pool of even the people belonging to the one particular Gotra has become that the effects of consanguinity becomes as good as negligible! Talk about thousands of years of intermingling of races and castes and ethnicity! Talk about hundreds of degrees or generations of separation of cousins! Isn’t it obvious?
Furthermore, according to geneticists, as mentioned in Wikipedia (having the reliability of the references checked):

“The percentage of consanguinity between any two individuals decreases fourfold as the most recent common ancestor recedes one generation. Consanguinity, as commonly defined, does not depend on the amount of shared DNA within two people’s genome. It rather counts the number of meioses separating two individuals. Because of the effects of pedigree collapse, this does not directly translate into the amount of shared genetic substance.

It is common to distinguish first-degree cousins, second-degree cousins, and often also third-degree cousins. Since comparatively few people can trace their full family tree for more than four generations, the identity of fourth-degree cousins often cannot be established. Also, at a genetic level, half-fourth cousins typically do not exhibit greater genetic similarity with one another than with any other individual from the same population.”

Despite of the scientific information presented above, many people (with the exception of few cultures) would not want to knowingly marry their cousins. That now is a whole new discussion topic as the perception and definition of incest varies across different cultures. Musims, Jews and many ethnicity in Nepal (i.e Gurungs) and India are known for allowing marriage within their family (cousins). My concern with consanguinity in this blog was just to explain the passage of recessive alleles/genes in reality.
Evidence from animal breeding and studies on human inheritance of traits however still point out that the closer the marriage is to 1st degree relatives, the more likely it is for the recessive genes to pass on to your children and thus the increased likelihood of genetic or chromosomal defects. So consanguinity while remaining a matter of choice might still do you more harm and on that scientists do to some extent agree with Gotra proponents.
“It is has been known that the risk for birth defects in the offspring of first cousin matings has been ‘increased’ by 5-8% compared to the increase of only 2-3% in non-consanguineous marriages” as one research paper says (see here). Consanguinity of any degree is known to be rather deleterious when compared to non-consanguinity. So yes, it is wiser to stay away from your cousins, though distant, as much as possible, when it comes to marriage. What scientists do not agree upon is the definition and extent of consanguinity put forth by the Gotra pratha as well as the archaic scriptural mandate it tries to enforce on people. The latter of which is against the very principles of human rights.
Mendelian Inheritence

But the claim that the Gotra pratha is able to prevent consanguinity effectively is very questionable. Thanks to the multiple logical fallacies within the system (see below), and the support of numerous anthropological, genomic, genetic and historical datas; we can safely conclude today that the Gotra system bears no validity whatsoever and is not justified by anything other than superstition, ignorance and ethnic prejudice.

Can we debunk Gotra-pratha effectively?

Yes we can!
There are indeed plenty of resources available online for us to be able to do so. Some of the most convincing reasoning and logical examinations have been presented and explained below (click on respective hyperlinks for more information).

Case 1: The gotra of a male child is supposed to remain permanent whereas that of a female child is temporary. After the girl’s marriage, following certain complicated ceremonies, her Gotra is permanently changed into that of her husband and were she to become a widow and to be married again (supposing the now banned ritual of ‘Sati‘ did not come into effect back then, or say this marriage took place in a less harsher yet gotra-following society), she could not marry someone belonging to her husband’s gotra but could yet marry another man bearing the gotra of her Father. Logic has been clearly destroyed here!

Case 2: There have been many historical accounts of masses upon masses of Kshatriyas (a caste respectable but considered lower than Bramans who are considered the highest amongst all caste) converting into Brahmans through rituals of fire sacrifices known as ‘yagya‘ or ‘yagna’, which allowed them to acquire any one of the original 8 gotras depending on their star signs and were required by norm to give continuity to this system from then on. The gene pool has already widened here after the assimilation of numerous Kshatriyas and thus the validity of the ‘pure’ genetic continuum of gotras has been as good as void. Gotra severely contradicts the Mendelian and non-Mendelian laws of inheritance.

Case 3: There have been plenty of stories, historical accounts or accounts from puranas where impotent kings or noblemen had their wives impregnated, having their consent, by other noble sages or a priest. (e.g. Sarandayani from Mahabharata, Mayadanti the wife of Sudasha Kalmashpadh (Ram’s anscetor), King Pandu allowed his wife to be impregnated by supposed Devatas, The Pandavas (five sons of Pandu) had one wife as Draupadi and many more other such tales). The genetic distinction of the ‘purity’ of the lineage of the Gotras was already obscured during the dark ages within 10 to 20 generations or so (evident from multiple paternal lineage contributing to any one Gotra) and it is common sense to say that the Genetic authenticity claimed by all of the 49 or 52 Gotras as of today and their ignorant proponents are meaningless and non-existent. The concept of Gotra is clearly not logical, let alone scientific. The concept collapses on its own logic!

Observational Evidence: There have been many linguistic, anthropological, Genomic and Gene-mapping researches into the origins and migrations of the various ethnic groups of the sub-continent. If the purity of lineage as claimed by the Gotra-proponents were to be true, all individuals belonging to a particular gotra would have to display a certain set of genomic characteristics unique to that group when compared to other groups. But a study (click for abstract) conducted by geneticists at Harvard, which is a near-concluding research into the genetic origins of people living in India, suggested that none of the caste or sub-caste had any genomic characters unique to the group and showed that there were considerable degrees of intermingling between indigenous Dravidian races and Migrating races from central Asia and Bactria Magna cultural groups (supposed ‘Aryans’), such that every individual belonging to any caste system as of today has Genomic characteristics from both the two major racial groups.

Migration routes of animal rearing nomadic populations (wrongly called Aryans) from the BMAC cultural complex in central Asia

In short, the sub-continent hosts a population which is indeed a ‘buffer’ or a ‘mixture’ between the ancient major races and none of us here are ‘pure’ Aryans or Dravidians. It clearly suggests that there is no biological distinction between the multiple castes and sub-castes and not at all regarding the Gotras because both system appear to have originated rather later in history, even in relation to the very sacred Vedas and their origins. Neither Gotra nor Caste bear any genetic relevance whatsoever at present. (Click here for a simpler explanation of the study.)

What can we conclude then?

  • We can conclude confidently that one need never consider Gotra or caste while choosing partners.
  • It should be noted that unless two people are cousins related by blood, they need not have to worry about marrying each other.
  • If there are concerns about inherited or genetic diseases running within families, or of Rh blood group differences in between, then a couple should opt for genetic counselling and screening if feasible.
  • The chances of same-Gotra couples giving birth to a child with chromosomal and genetic defect is no different from the chances of different-gotra couples giving birth to a child with genetic defect, as suggested by evidence.
  • There are many complicated factors that come into effect while considering birth defects and anomalies, but Gotra is just not one of them!
In this digital age of communication, where information is so readily available, one should always research thoroughly before coming to any conclusion. To adopt an unbiased view about any matter of interest, it is of utmost importance that one should give equal weight to both sides of the argument and only justify the position that is rational, ethical, logical and of course, supported strongly by evidence! There are countless hoaxes and scam articles all over the web, and not all indexed research papers are appropriately peer-reviewed, so it is vital that we should learn to identify credible and authentic sources for unbiased information. Because no matter what any ignorant culture says in any part of the world, science and rationalism are always there with the slogan “Eppur Si Muove!”
So enjoy your lives with the ones that you love and always keep in mind that love is unconditional and Gotras and Caste are justified by nothing but discriminatory, racial and ethnic prejudice. No human reserves the right to obstruct another human’s right and happiness, not maybe even your parents! And any individual, good or bad, has the right to live. Period!
Live long and prosper!
Protester Protesting against the Honor killings in Haryana

Other Material:-

The following notes are suggestions for further reading from blogger SUIRAQUA as it is in his/her blog that tries to debunk the Gotra-pratha.

(1) For a recent scientific study of the genome of Indians that effectively dispels the traditional notions of caste and subcaste, look at this scientific article (Nature, 2009 September 24; 461(7263):489-94), and its corresponding Commentary in Nature by Aravinda Chakravarti, of Center for Complex Disease Genomics, McKusick–Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

(2) Study of the allelic and haplotypic structure at a specific dopamine receptor gene (DRD2) locus among five North Indian “upper-caste” populations has indicated a major genetic contribution from Eurasia to North Indian upper castes, apart from the common genetic unity of Indian populations (Am J Phys Anthropol, 2010 Apr; 141(4):651-7), further evidence that the alleged ‘purity’ of the gotra is a myth and cultural construct.

(3) A review by PP Majumdar of the Human Genetics Unit of the Indian Statistical Institute concludes that “… south Asia has also been a major contributor to the gene pool of southeast Asia. With the availability of new genotyping technologies, diversity studies encompassing a large number of populations, both tribal and caste, need to be undertaken at the genome-wide level to validate the inferences of previous studies, and to understand patterns of micro-evolution of populations of this region.” (Curr Biol. 2010 Feb 23; 20(4):R184-7) Genomic studies indicate that Southern and Northern India had differential inputs of genes from central and west Asia, as well as Africa – likely leading to differential impacts on the genetic structures of castes of different ranks. This admixture makes it almost impossible “to tag a population or a set of populations as being descendants of the earliest settlers of south Asia, especially because none of the more ancient lineages can be definitively associated with any specific group of populations, such as populations belonging to a linguistic group.”

Reference materials and links:

Astrology, Nepal, Pseudoscience, Skepticism

Let’s question Astrology

Astrologers (ज्योतिषी) universally claim that there exist some wave-energy (विद्युतीत तरंग) relations between planets of the solar system and individual Human beings (some like ‘Dr’ Sunil go even further to state the same for plate tectonics and earthquakes) which they say is what makes their ancient disciplines work.

You can get into their nerves when you go on to politely inquire into their reasonings with arrays of rational questions such as:-

– “What is the average or usual frequency of this wave?”
– “What is the nature of this wave?”
– “Can you measure this wave you are talking about?”
– “If you can’t measure or detect it, how do you know it exists?”
– “Which part of the body acts as the receptor of such waves?”
– “What are the respective frequencies of waves from the different planets?”
– “Why are Neptune, Uranus, Pluto, Ceres along with millions of asteroids in the asteroid belts not taken into account? Do they not affect Human lives if such relations exist?”
– “How is your prediction better at it than the event happening due to chance?”
– “How do you take into consideration the periodic axial tilt of the Earth which changes the viewing angles of the constellations?”
– “What is the basis in your discipline to take planet Earth as the centre of the universe when evidence clearly shows that it is not even at the centre of the galaxy?”
– “Would you like to contribute to genuine scientific knowledge by agreeing to take part in a controlled experiment to test the prediction power of your discipline?”

They’ll either be offended or defensive straight away, not accepting any sort of intellectual critique. They’ll refuse to answer your questions. All because they very well cannot, staying within the boundaries of reason.

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
– Carl Sagan
“What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence”
– Christopher Hitchens

So I can justly and rationally say that Astrology doesn’t work and is not significant in reality. Unless of course you are deeply passionate about remaining gullible!

(Refer to the image below. It’s an article on ‘Vastu Shastra’, branch of Hindu astrology dealing with superstitious architecture, from a national newspaper. The author claims in Nepali that ‘keeping broken televisions or electronics inside our homes will increasingly make the women angrier and will adversely affect health’ without any basis. Why women in particular?)

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