A New Mandala reader has sent through the following interesting reflections on genetics, culture and nationality in mainland Southeast Asia:
I was just browsing the Democratic Voice of Burma's archive, and found this interesting yet disturbing story. It's about DNA testing in NW Thailand to identify ethnicity and nationality of migrant workers. It is disappointing to witness such a gap between social scientists and natural scientists. While the former are talking about social construction of ethnicity, the latter are trying to categorize people according to biology, which is (or may lead to??) a form of racism. I wonder how they will genetically define nationality, whereas it is even impossible to socially define what constitute "Burmese" or "Thai". Here is the text from the DVB (another report from the Chiang Mai Mail follows).
Jan 16, 2008 (DVB) – A group of World Health Organisation officials and professors from Chiang Mai University collected DNA samples from 300 Burmese migrants yesterday at Dr Cynthia Maung's Mae Tao clinic in Mae Sot, Thailand.
Group leader Dr Tor Pong, a professor from Chiang Mai University's faculty of medicine, said that blood samples would be used for DNA testing to identify and record people by nationality and ethnic group.
Saw Thar Win, a Mae Tao clinic official, said that the records could be used to help identify migrants in future.
"A lot of Burmese migrants were killed during the tsunami in 2004, but a lot of the bodies were left unidentified, even though we knew they belonged to Burmese migrants, because there was no proper evidence to confirm it," Saw Thar Win said.
"This is going to help the next generations to track their ancestors more easily as well."
DNA samples have also been collected from Thai, Laotian and Cambodian workers.
Here is another similar report from Chiang Mai Mail in 2004. I wonder how DNA will play out in citizenship issue in Northern Thailand.
Hilltribe nationality problems all "Thai'd" up
DNA testing not conclusive says Khunying Pornthip
The squabble that resulted from 1,243 hill tribe people being removed from the residential census in Mae Ai district, Chiang Mai province continues.
The aggrieved minority group appealed to the Ministry of Justice, calling for what they called 'justice' to be applied fairly to them. Finally in response to their claims, Somchai Wongsawas, the permanent secretary of state for the Ministry of Justice, accompanied by Khunying Dr Pornthip Rojananand, the director of the Central Forensic Science Institute visited the people in Mae Ai to investigate their problems.
The Ministry of Justice wanted show the villagers that they were not forgotten and suggested the Forensic Science Institute could help prove their race by DAN testing.
However, Khunying Pornthip said that although the DNA testing method would be used for confirmation of their nationality, it could not indicate their exact nationality, but it would tell something about their heredity.
She added, "In Mae Ai district, at present, it has been found that there are some groups of people that could not have their background identified with DNA testing for their parents and relatives.
"The next step is that the Local Administration Department must find the other persons to help in searching for their race, persons who could identify and certify their background before being granted Thai nationality," she said.