Covid-19 has no religion. But that doesn’t imply that Covid is secular either. Data suggests remarkably disproportionate rates of infection and deaths in the Islamic community. On the other hand, the Indian population, largely Hindu, seemingly withstood the deadly second wave of the Coronavirus with greater impunity. During the course of the deadly pandemic in the country, the country witnessed a death rate six times lesser than the predominantly Christian United States. Dr Shiv Narayan Nishad from CSIR-National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies, recently revealed that the death rate from Covid-19 is “very similar across countries, with India still among the lowest.”
So, what exactly is behind the reduced risk of fatality among the Hindu population of the country?
The answer lies with the Gotra system being profoundly practised across the Hindus worldwide. In Hindu culture, the term gotra is commonly considered to be equivalent to clan. It broadly refers to people who are descendants in an unbroken male line from a common male ancestor or patrilineal. Generally, the gotra forms an exogamous unit, with the marriage within the same gotra being prohibited by custom being regarded as incest. Thus, not marrying the same gotra became a rigid law in Hindu society thousands of years ago only.
So, would that be pragmatic to say that the Gotra system, developed during the Vedic civilization which restricts marriages, scientifically reduces the risks of inherited diseases, and thus makes Hindus more immune to the scores of widespread plagues? Well, a person with the knowledge of 10th grade biology can understand why it is so.
The Gotra system majorly prevents inbreeding in Hindus. Make no mistake, inbreeding is not directly responsible for genetic defects, it just increases the frequency of homozygosity. Homozygosity can be explained as the situation in which a person ends up with identical alleles of a gene. An allele is a version of a gene. We have 2 copies of 22 chromosomes and one pair of sex chromosomes, half of which comes from each parent. That means we get 2 alleles of each gene. Now, there are many deleterious recessive alleles which do not appear as a trait (just as a carrier), when paired with a different allele; but becomes a visible trait (like a disease) if present in both copies (identical alleles). Conclusively, if you end up crossing two identical alleles together, there would be a higher risk of recessive alleles having inherited the diseases.
If a carrier (of the disease) mates with a sibling then the probability of that individual also being a carrier is nearly 50% as they share the same parents. When that happens, the gene becomes a trait. If the gene was disease causing, the child has the disease. That simply implies that intra-Gotra marriages have discernible repercussions over the impunity of the Children.
The gotra system is largely exclusive to the Hindu community, thus making other religions vulnerable to the fallacy of inbreeding, followers of Islam in particular. Consanguineous marriages have a high prevalence among Muslim-majority countries, and the ratio is continuously increasing in the countries like Saudi Arabia. Nearly half of all the marriages in Saudi Arabia are marriages between cousins. Different types of consanguineous marriages exist, such as marriage between first cousins, which is the most common one; marriage between second cousins; and marriage between third cousins. The number is equally high in Islamic countries like Qatar and the UAE.
In the year 2017, the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology of Hyderabad reported that mortality and morbidity rates are generally increased due to consanguineous unions. Further, it has been reported that consanguinity is related to a number of diseases, such as heart disease, multiple sclerosis, depression, asthma, and PID. And now let’s bring in Coronavirus in the big picture.
In June this year, TFIGlobal reported how Muslims all over the world are losing more lives to Coronavirus than others. Reports from France, the United Kingdom and Israel hint that deaths amongst Muslim communities due to the COVID-19 pandemic in these countries have been much higher than the general COVID-19 death rate.
Reuters reported that French residents born in sub-Saharan Africa recorded 4.5 times higher deaths than French-born residents. In England, the data on COVID-19 deaths shows that the Muslims are, by far, the worst-affected community in the country. The death rate amongst UK-based Muslims is twice as high as that amongst Christians residing in the country. In Israel, meanwhile, a Health Ministry study published last month revealed that the death rate from the Coronavirus amongst Israeli Arabs has been three times higher than that recorded in the overall Israeli population.
As per a report published in cogprints.org, 13.56% of the total marriages in the Muslim community fall under the consanguineous category. The number stands at 5.04% in Hindus and 1.08% in Christians. However, in the countries like the USA and the UK, the concept of consanguineous marriage is socially more acceptable. Some reports suggest that the actual rate of consanguinity in Christians might be as high as 15% in some countries.
It is evidently clear that people not adhering to the gotra principle stand more chance of succumbing to the deadly pandemic than Hindus. While every death is indeed a misfortune to the country, the pandemic could have proven more devastating if the Gotra system had not been widely practised by Hindus.