Genetic, ethnographic, and historical evidence suggests that the Hindu castes have been highly endogamous for several thousand years and that, when movement between castes does occur, it typically consists of females joining castes of higher social status. However, little is known about migration rates in these populations or the extent to which migration occurs between caste groups of low, middle, and high social status. To investigate these aspects of migration, we analyzed the largest collection of genetic markers collected to date in Hindu caste populations. These data included 45 newly typed autosomal short tandem repeat polymorphisms (STRPs), 411 bp of mitochondrial DNA sequence, and 43 Y-chromosomal single-nucleotide polymorphisms that were assayed in more than 200 individuals of known caste status sampled in Andrah Pradesh, in South India. Application of recently developed likelihood-based analyses to this dataset enabled us to obtain genetically derived estimates of intercaste migration rates. STRPs indicated migration rates of 1-2% per generation between high-, middle-, and low-status caste groups. We also found support for the hypothesis that rates of gene flow differ between maternally and paternally inherited genes. Migration rates were substantially higher in maternally than in paternally inherited markers. In addition, while prevailing patterns of migration involved movement between castes of similar rank, paternally inherited markers in the low-status castes were most likely to move into high-status castes. Our findings support earlier evidence that the caste system has been a significant, long-term source of population structuring in South Indian Hindu populations, and that patterns of migration differ between males and females.
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