The Rat People

Utterly tragic and cant-peel-my-eyes-away fascinating. A Breitbart story + video tells the tale of Pakistan’s “Rat People” born with a sad heriditary disorder, Microcephaly

Outside a Muslim shrine in this dusty Pakistani city, a “rat woman” with a tiny head sits on a filthy mattress and takes money from worshippers who cling to an ancient fertility rite.

Nadia, 25, is one of hundreds of young microcephalics — people born with small skulls and protruding noses and ears because of a genetic mutation — who can be found on the streets of Gujrat, in central Punjab province.

…According to local legend, infertile women who pray at Shah Daula’s shrine will be granted children, but at a terrible price. The first child will be born microcephalic and must be given to the shrine, or else any further children will have the same deformity.

…”The myth of the chuhas [rat people] has been exploited by beggar mafias and religious groups,” said Nasiruddaula, a former science professor in his 70s.

“They roam the villages and if the real chuha is born they give them some money and they take them,” he said.

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p designtimesp=”20498″>How did the cluster show up here? Well, consanguinity plays a huge role –

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The high incidence of microcephalics in Gujrat, an industrial city of around one million people, has long been a bone of contention.

The popular belief among many Pakistanis — that cruel beggar gangs clamp the children’s heads in infancy — is strongly denied by government and advocacy groups, who say there is no evidence to support this.

Recent medical studies say the most likely cause is that the normally rare recessive genes behind many microcephaly cases crop up with greater frequency because of the common custom of marrying cousins in Pakistan.

Due to unique historical circumstances, a small spurt of microcephaly landed in the UK as reported by the Telegraph

In 1967, Pakistan dammed the Jhelum River that forms the frontier between Punjab and Kashmir. The resulting reservoir displaced thousands of peasants who were farming the river’s flood plains. They emigrated: some went as far as Bradford and Leeds, where they formed the nucleus of one of Britain’s largest Asian communities.

And from that kernel, more rigorous scientific investigation and tests to screen for the abnormality enabled benefits to flow back to the homeland –

…In Pakistan, however, some 60 per cent of marriages are between first cousins; the frequency in Bradford and Leeds is thought to be comparable. The result is that clinical genetics units serving the British Pakistani community see a range and frequency of genetic disorders unknown elsewhere in the country.

…Microcephaly cannot be cured. But it can now be prevented. Now that some of the mutations have been found, parents from families with a history of the disorder can have their newly conceived embryos tested. If the embryo has two copies of the mutation, it can be aborted.

…In Lahore, I met a middle-class family with two microcephalic children. Their mother, a woman who loved her disabled children passionately, spoke of her joy when just such a genetic test – the first in Pakistan – enabled her to give birth to a healthy girl.

The Telegraph article also goes into the insights into human brain evolution that genetic “quirks” like microcephaly (tragically) provide a sliver of insight into. Fascinating stuff.

[previous SM coverage on cousin-marriage in the UK incl. Razib's prescient comment about microcephaly.]

41 thoughts on “The Rat People

  1. …In Pakistan, however, some 60 per cent of marriages are between first cousins; the frequency in Bradford and Leeds is thought to be comparable. The result is that clinical genetics units serving the British Pakistani community see a range and frequency of genetic disorders unknown elsewhere in the country.

    Do/did Hindu & Sikh Punjabis also have a high incidence of cousin marriage? BTW, “cross cousin” marriages used to be very popular in Tamil landowning communities up until recently…it’s dying out because of the “ick factor”. I’ve always wondered what kind of birth defects result from this in TN…it might be masked by the high incidence of amnios and abortion.

  2. Do/did Hindu & Sikh Punjabis also have a high incidence of cousin marriage?

    i think north indian hindu groups tend to be exogamous.

    I’ve always wondered what kind of birth defects result from this in TN

    uncle-niece marriages are worse; the coefficient of relatedness is 2 X as much as between first cousins. there’s some genetic data which suggests that abnormalities and defects have “purged” a higher proportion of recessive deleterious alleles in many tamil groups; the assumption is that inbreeding was the causal factor behind this.

  3. from an old post of mine on inbreeding: The equation for inbreeding coefficient is:

    FI = sum over all common ancestors[(1/2)i * (1 + FA)]2

    Here, you are summing over the paths to each common ancestor, FA, with i being the number of individuals in each path (obviously inbreeding via a common great-great-great grandparent is weighted far less than that via a grandparent). In the United States if you marry a cousin (outside of really rural areas) it is not likely that aside from those implied by the common grandparents you have many recent common ancestors. In other words, families that your parents do not share in common are not likely to be related. In the situation above with Arab clans, this may not be so, there could be a tight and interlinked network of common ancestries up all possible branches of the lineage.

  4. there’s some genetic data which suggests that abnormalities and defects have “purged” a higher proportion of recessive deleterious alleles in many tamil groups

    By “purge” are you saying that the Tamil birth defects may be so catastrophic that they don’t result in a live birth?

  5. By “purge” are you saying that the Tamil birth defects may be so catastrophic that they don’t result in a live birth?

    yeah. or, they don’t reproduce. it’s like selective breeding. you know that they do sibling breedings for thoroughbreds to get particular genetic combinations sometimes, right? same rationale; you purge all the crap by letting a lot of the offspring die. that’s fine if you are breeding animals, they’re animals….

    the issue with inbreeding is if you have two copies of a “bad” gene copy, right? so, say you have a bad gene copy which is at frequency 1% within the population. 99% of the gene copies are “good.” humans have two copies of every gene, so these are the ratios of the genetic combinations in the population:

    0.99^2 + 2 X (0.99) X (0.01) + 0.01^2 = 1, so 1% of the bad gene copies are in individuals where the “bad” stuff manifests. 99% are heterozygotes, one good copy, one bad, where not much is negative. so little selection.

    inbreeding can change this by selectively putting together all the bad copies so they can “exposed” and “purged” from the population. we all have lots of bad copies, but if you don’t “hit it” with your sister or brother chances are you’re mixing genes with someone with different bad copies so that “complementation” can occur and it’s all good. OTOH, if your cousin is looking good, or cousin marriage is part of your authentic cultural tradition, you’re gonna bring together a lot of bad copies. in israel there are some issues with the samaritans due to inbreeding, they’re so messed up that they’re looking outside the community, but traditionalists say that they shouldn’t do it and if they go extinct because of the monsters they birth then that’s god’s will….

  6. Do/did Hindu & Sikh Punjabis also have a high incidence of cousin marriage?

    No. It is considered to be akin to incest.

  7. I saw an IQ study in Aligarh among muslim families where kids of paternal first cousin marraiges had an IQ loss of 7 points

    Regarding the Tamil scheme of cross cousin marraiges and maternal uncle marraiges these form about 60% of all marraiges

    And IQ wise Tamils are much higher than the non-inbred north Indian hindus

    I offer an explanation A lot of genetic defects are carried by the X or Y chromosome So if parallel cousins marry, there is a higher risk of defect The other aspect is in cross cousin marraiges these X or Y linked defects are not passed on Same is true of maternal uncle marraiges

    Another angle to consider is that in the tamils the inbreeding has been going on for so long that many of the people who inherited deletrious genes simply died out and those genes also died out among the tamils and the surviving population no longer carries many of these deletrious genes

    Another angle is that evolution happens by budding off of a small group and in this angle at the instant of speciation, there is probably a lot of inbreeding and a lot of genes get fixed ( meaning 100% carry the gene )

  8. And IQ wise Tamils are much higher than the non-inbred north Indian hindus

    last i checked close inbreeding was less common about tam brams vs. other tamils (you can find the data on the consang.net site).

    A lot of genetic defects are carried by the X or Y chromosome

    well, the Y doesn’t have much remember, period. males are basically haploid for a lot of loci….

  9. And IQ wise Tamils are much higher than the non-inbred north Indian hindus

    WTF?

    last i checked close inbreeding was less common about tam brams vs. other tamils (you can find the data on the consang.net site).

    WTF squared? Razib, are you counter-trolling him?

  10. WTF squared? Razib, are you counter-trolling him?

    that’s just an empirical fact. the person i was responding too has made an literature survey from what i have heard and tried to make projections.

  11. Razib consider that Queen Victoria’s hemophilia gene was only passed on along her daughters

    Similarly many bad genes are passed on only through the sons

    In parallel cousin marraiges, these genes get a chance to be expresed and in cross-cousin marraiges these genes are suppressed

    In Tamil Nadu, among the non-brahmins, say 30 years ago it was 60% cross-cousin and 20% maternal uncle

    Among Tamil brahmins, 30 years ago it was 20% cross-cousin and 5% maternal uncle

    And per common knowledge, tamil brahmins are the top of the brahmin IQ and the non-brahmin tamils also seem to be smarter than north indians

    IQ compare the Singapore indian tamils vs Fiji and caribbean north indians

    I have personally seen several products of these close unions among tamil brahmins and IQ wise they seem to be doing just as well as the rest

  12. I forgot to add The zorastrians are also highly inbred mostly parallel cousins

    They have a lot of genetic diseases but are very high IQ

  13. In parallel cousin marraiges, these genes get a chance to be expresed and in cross-cousin marraiges these genes are suppressed

    cross-cousin = different sex sibling parallel cousin = same sex

    right?

  14. If the embryo has two copies of the mutation, it can be aborted.

    Because ending this life (or potential life, at least) is better than having a child with this physical/neurological variation? I’m sorry, but that’s appallingly able-ist.

  15. parallel cousin = fathers brothers daughter or mothers sisters daughter

    cross-cousin = fathers sisters daugther or mothers brothers daughter

  16. “And IQ wise Tamils are much higher than the non-inbred north Indian hindus”

    The same sort of bigoted views are shared by some sections of Sri Lankan Tamils (ie mostly Jaffna Tamils) who think that they are genetically “smarter” than not only the Singhalese and the the Moors, but other Tamils as well, such as Indian Tamils, Batticaloa Tamils and Colombo Tamils. Please do let us know how you can confidently claim tha t”IQ wise Tamils are much higher than the non-inbred north Indian hindus”

  17. I remember seeing on gene expression that 17% of the top 100 in the IIT JEE exams were Tamil Brahmins Also 26% of the IIT faculty was tamil brahmins Tamil brahmins are just a sub-set of south Indian brahmins

    The southern brahmin dominance in the higher IQ levels will be even more if the other sub-sets of southern brahmins are added

    Any empirical analysis will show dominance of south Indian brahmins in the highest IQ levels in India

    Next I turn to look at the singapore diaspora It is mainly a laboring class tamil diaspora and by comparing with chinese and malays in singapore this diaspora has a calculated IQ of 100

    Whereas, the north indian labor class diaspora shows 88 IQ in south Africa, and 85 IQ in Fiji

    The southern advantage in IQ exists empirically and there are many reasons for that

  18. And regarding the non-brahmin tamil elite of Jaffna I have met many of them and they are indeed much above the equivalent non-brahmin castes in tamil nadu

    Their diaspora is doing remarkably well in the west

    I also believe that they are genetically smarter than the sinhalese I have met many sinhalese and I am not impressed

    Sinhalese are buddhists and their literate class the monks are celibate and each generation they get less intelligent as the higher IQ segment is removed from the gene pool

  19. Enough with the troll-tastic statements. There are ways to have a discussion which don’t violate the comment policy.

    All brownz iz smart, kthxbai.

  20. And IQ wise Tamils are much higher than the non-inbred north Indian hindus

    Makes sense, civilization wise the Lemurians were much more advanced than Scythians.

    //inside joke.

  21. vinod, thanks for all the wonderful pictures of the “rat people”, i wont be able to sleep for days…i think my friend told me about them once and i didnt believe him

  22. From what I know of hinduism, people are put into gotras (based on the 7 rishis?) and people from the same gotra cannot marry each other. The gotra is determined at birth (the natal chart). This is ofcourse not a fool-proof way of preventing inbreeding, but it does try to keep things mixed, although the super-set is the same (and maybe considered as inbred).

  23. rec1man: “17% of the top 100 in the IIT JEE exams were Tamil Brahmins Also 26% of the IIT faculty was tamil brahmins” And since when did grades at IIT JEE start predicting one’s IQ? If that’s the case, then surely the poor people in Bihar must have the highest I.Q. (http://www.rediff.com/news/2008/may/30iit.htm) and Gujaratis, among the lowest numbers in the IITs must have the least I.Q. Most entrance exams have little to do with IQ, a lot more to do with the right kind of preparation.

  24. Anyway back to the Rat people. Maybe the reason they are left begging on the streets is because their government is spending all its money thinking of new ways to kill Indians.

  25. I was wondering if microcephaly only occured in the inbred pakistani/asian populations or in other inbred populations as well. What about the polygamous sect in texas (mormons) that recently appeared in the media? Would they have a few rat people in their compound too?

  26. I have not seen microcephaly in south india despite a high amount of inbreeding Perhaps the south indian population did not have the microcephaly defect to begin with and hence even inbreeding did not expose this gene

  27. From what I know of hinduism, people are put into gotras (based on the 7 rishis?) and people from the same gotra cannot marry each other. The gotra is determined at birth (the natal chart). This is ofcourse not a fool-proof way of preventing inbreeding, but it does try to keep things mixed, although the super-set is the same (and maybe considered as inbred).

    That’s just it though…..there are many “Hinduisms” so you will always find exceptions if the norm is defined as Brahminical Hinduism. Regarding Gotras, some Tamil/Kannada non-Brahmin castes have equivalents called kootams or kulams and membership is defined paternally. You can’t marry within the same gotra but cross cousins can marry. So the inbreeding still happens but just not on the paternal side of descent.

    As far as Tamil Brahmins go, I believe Iyers also allow cross cousin marriage (following the Tamil norm) but I believe Iyengars do not.

  28. In North India your cousins are considered your brothers and sisters.

    But aunty fetish is OK.

  29. What about the polygamous sect in texas (mormons) that recently appeared in the media?

    they have other serious rare diseases. inbreeding has the effect of reducing effective population size, which increases the stochastic aspect of change in gene frequencies, so you basically are cranking a population through a lot of genetic drift. so you have messed up stuff drifting up to fixation (or near). but what messed up stuff crops up is undetermined.

    p.s. i did a survey of IIT academics, tamils were overrepresented (i think like 30% or so). i didn’t check which were brahmins.

  30. p.s. i did a survey of IIT academics, tamils were overrepresented (i think like 30% or so). i didn’t check which were brahmins.

    I guess, it’s mostly Tamil Brahmins. But the scenario is changed over the last 10+ years or so. Telugus dominate the IIT, around half the people who qualify for the IITs are from Andhra Pradesh, I think.

    Still, cross cousin marriages (or atleast within close relatives) are the norm in rural Tamilnadu.

  31. 35 · Ponniyin Selvan said

    Telugus dominate the IIT, around half the people who qualify for the IITs are from Andhra Pradesh, I think.

    apparently, the advent of coaching classes means that the top jee ranks (and by this i mean less than 500) are dominated by people from the north. even in my time, there were a lot of telugu folks, but it was nowhere near half. probably about a third to a quarter, at most.

    razib said in 34: p.s. i did a survey of IIT academics, tamils were overrepresented (i think like 30% or so). i didn’t check which were brahmins.

    i am not sure what this (or the other iit stats in 21) proves. there are several social factors that lead to differing interest in iit among different communities. for example, tam brams in tamilnadu who want to get into engg know that state engg colleges are not really an option due to reservation. further, the desirability of an engg career is vastly different among different communities, so without normalizing or keeping other factors similar, i am not sure what these numbers prove. otherwise, it is just like bush’s statement about indian overconsumption of food.

  32. 34 · razib said

    p.s. i did a survey of IIT academics, tamils were overrepresented (i think like 30% or so).

    could you post the link to the publication? or data set?

  33. apparently, the advent of coaching classes means that the top jee ranks (and by this i mean less than 500) are dominated by people from the north. even in my time, there were a lot of telugu folks, but it was nowhere near half. probably about a third to a quarter, at most.

    I could have exaggerated a bit. Atleast in IIT Chennai they are more than half the crowd, I think. But AP is the number one state in sending students to IITs.

    http://www.hinduonnet.com/2007/05/31/stories/2007053104550600.htm

    HYDERABAD: Students from Andhra Pradesh have reaped a rich harvest in the Indian Institutes of Technology-Joint Entrance Examination (IIT-JEE) this year and more than 600 students are likely to get admission into various IITs.
  34. Atleast in IIT Chennai they are more than half the crowd, I think.

    In my time, they were around a fifth or a quarter, at most, I think. Probably one of the biggest groups on campus, but nowhere near half.

    . But AP is the number one state in sending students to IITs.

    Those are interesting stats, thanks for the link. Don’t know how the article defines “likely to get admission into various IITs”, but JEE ranks over 6000 people, and admits around 5000, so this comes to a number of around 11% of the total admitted stats – which may not necessarily make them the single largest state (and also discounts per capita). Still significant and impressive, though. Certainly far better than the intake from Tamilnadu (which used to be mostly Chennai in my time, in any case.)

  35. Mr. Tamil IITan, looks like you are totally out of touch with reality. This year, i.e. 2010, students from A.P. bagged 7 out of top 10 ranks in the open/general category. (Ranks: 1,2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9) and they constitute about 250 to 350 in top 500. The days of glory of tamilnadu, is long gone. After all how can they keep up the tradition, practically driving out all the Iyers and Iyengars from their state?