Displacement cuts life expectancy among tribal people

Streess led to telameres shortening in the displaced tribals. Photo: A.M. Faruqui  

Displacement does more than efface identities and disrupt livelihoods, it can reduce life expectancy, finds a DNA study of a tribal community relocated from Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary.

Around 8,000 Sahariya tribal people were moved out of their ancestral homes in Kuno in 1998-2002 to make space for Asiatic lions brought in from Gujarat. The families suffered “acute stress” as they coped with their radically changed life in unfamiliar, semi-urbanized surroundings 10 km away, says a paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

To find a possible link between these tumultuous life changes and lifespan, scientists studied their subjects’ “telomeres” – the protective caps on either end of a chromosome – which are known to be associated with aging and disease. Premature telomere shortening has for long been used as an indicator of psychosocial stress and accelerated human aging.

Researchers studied physical stress (cortisol), psychosomatic stress (through self-assessments) and then conducted high resolution studies of telomere length among 24 individuals from the relocated Maziran village in the forest core.

They compared the results with identical tests on 22 individuals from Behruda village (in the sanctuary’s buffer) where no relocation took place (but the residents faced certain stressors such as “benign neglect from the Indian state”).

Those in the relocated Maziran, they found, “have statistically significantly shorter telomeres” compared with those in Behruda. “Consistent with expectations, we found significant associations between each of our stress measures… and telomere length,” they conclude. Telomere shortening has already been associated with several stress-inducing situations. But most studies in these scenarios have been conducted in “Western, educated, industrialized and rich” societies, say the authors adding that this could, therefore, possibly be the first study to link stress to telomere length in a developing country.

Telomere shortening among displaced tribal communities shows that these DNA stretches are clearly “a pan-cultural biomarker of compromised health and aging,” says the paper.

During interactions, parents among the displaced Sahariya families “expressed deep uncertainty about the future, particularly with respect to the welfare of their children, and wished to return to their predisplacement lives.”

Sahariyas are among the most marginalised communities, steeped in poverty, with high illiteracy rates and are geographically isolated.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2021 5:17:35 AM |

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