Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

April 16, 2018

South Asians and “communalism”

Filed under: Culture,Identity — Razib Khan @ 3:35 pm

In Who We Are and How We Got Here one of the things that David Reich states is that while China consists to a great extent of one large ethnic-genetic group, India (South Asia) is a collection of many ethnic-genetic groups. To some extent, this is not entirely surprising. People from the far south of the subcontinent look very different from people from Kashmir or Punjab.

But that’s really not what Reich is talking about. People in Hebei look quite different from people in Guandong. Perhaps less different than a Tamil from a Kashmiri, but still quite different. But these regional differences grade into each other along a cline.

South Asia is different because strong genetic structure persists within regions. Both Tamil and Bengali Brahmins share some distinctive genes with local populations, but genetically they’re still a bit closer on the whole to Brahmins from Uttar Pradesh (I say this because I’ve looked at a fair number of genotypes of these groups). Similarly, Chamars from Uttar Pradesh and Dalits from Tamil Nadu share more with each other than either do with Brahmins from their own regions (though again, Chamars share more with Brahmins from Uttar Pradesh than Dalits from Tamil Nadu, in part because of gene flow from Indo-Aryan steppe pastoralists into almost all non-Munda people in the Indo-Gangetic plain).

When I read Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India in the middle 2000s it seemed a persuasive enough argument to me. I had read other things about caste during that period, by both Indians and non-Indians. The authors were historians and anthropologists and emphasized the cultural and social preconditions variables shaping the emergence of caste..

The genetic material at that time did not have the power to detect fine-grained differences (classical autosomal markers) or were only at a single locus (Y, or, more often mtDNA). By the middle to late 2000s there was already suggestion from Y/mtDNA that there was some serious population structure in South Asia, but there wasn’t anything definitive.

A full reading of works such as Castes of Mind leaves the impression that though some aspect of caste (broad varnas) are ancient, much of the elaboration and detail is recent, and probably due to British rationalization. The full title speaks to that reality.

This is one reason I was surprised by the results from genome-wide analyses of Indian populations when they first came out. On the whole, populations at the top of the caste hierarchy were genetically distant from those at the bottom, and the broad pattern of the differences was mostly consistent across all of South Asia.

To give a concrete example, there are “lower caste” groups in Punjab which may have more steppe pastoralist ancestry than South Indian Brahmins. But within Punjab “highest caste” groups still have more ancestry than “lower caste” groups.

But this wasn’t the most shocking aspect. That was the fact that many castes are genetically quite distant, and anciently so. In a recent paper, The promise of disease gene discovery in South Asia:

We identify 81 unique groups, of which 14 have estimated census sizes of more than a million, that descend from founder events more extreme than those in Ashkenazi Jews and Finns, both of which have high rates of recessive disease due to founder events.

Some of this is due to consanguinity among Muslims and some South Indian groups, but much of it is not. Rather, it’s because genetically it looks like many Indian communities stopped intermarrying ~1,500 years ago. This reduces the effective number of ancestors even in a large population due to increased drift. At a recent conference, an Indian geneticist suggested that this might have something to do with the crystallization of caste Hinduism during the Gupta period. I can’t speak to that, but anyone who has looked at the data sees this pattern.

To illustrate what I’m talking about, assume ~1% introgression of genes from the surrounding population in a small group. Within 1,500 years 50% of the genes of the target population will have been “replaced.” The genetic patterns you see in many South Asian groups indicates far less than 1% genetic exchange per generation for over 1,000 years in these small groups.

But this post isn’t really about genetics. Rather, I began with the genetics because as an outsider in some sense I’ve never really grokked South Asian communalism on a deep level. Yet the genetics tells us that South Asians are extremely endogamous. It is unlikely that this would hold unless the groups were able to suppress individuality to a great extent. Though people tend to marry/mate with those “like them”, usually the frequency is not 99.99% per generation.

In the United States, things are different. Interracial marriage rates were ~1% in 1960.* This was still during the tail end of Jim Crow in much of the south. Since then the fraction of couples who are in ethno-racial mixed marriages keeps increasing and is almost 20% today. There is still a lot of assortative mating, and ingroup preference. But fractions in the 10-20% range are worrisome for anyone who is concerned about genetic cohesion over a few generations.

Though some level of group solidarity exists, explicitly among minorities, and implicitly for non-minorities, individual choice is in the catbird seat today. This was not always so. By the time I was growing up in the 1980s social norms had relaxed, but a black-white couple still warranted some attention and notice. In earlier periods interracial couples had to suffer through much more ostracism from their families and broader society.

In some South Asian contexts, this seems to be true to this day. But unlike the United States the situation is much more complex, with numerous ethno-religious-linguistic subgroups operating in a fractured landscape of power and identity.

I have wondered in part whether the South Asian fixation on sensitivity and feeling when it came to offense and insult is a function of the strong communal/collective aspect to honor, identity, and decision-making. Muslims outside of South Asia are similar to this, and in the Islamic context the rationale is quite explicit: non-Muslims and heretics are tolerated so long as they don’t challenge the public ethno-cultural supremacy of Islam. For example, atheism is punished less because of deviation from religious orthodoxy and more because it destabilizes public order and is seen as a crime against the state.

The conflicts between Hindus and Muslims in relation to religious parades have their clear analogs to strife between the dominant Catholics and the new Protestant communities in Latin America. But among Hindus the same tendencies crop up in inter-caste conflicts. The sexual brutalization that is sometimes reported of lower caste women by upper castes in parts of the Gangetic plain is a trivial consequence of the power that land-holding upper castes have over all the levers of power over low castes in certain localities. Lower caste men are powerless to defend their women against violation, just as in the American South enslaved black men couldn’t shield their womenfolk from the sexual advances of white men.

Will any of this change? I suspect that economic development and urbanization is the acid that will start to break down these old tendencies and relations in South Asia. It also seems clear that all South Asian communities which are transplanted to the more individualistic West have issues with the fact that collective and communal power is not given any public role, and in a de facto sense has to face the reality that individual choices in mates and cultural orientation are much more viable in the West.

This is particularly important to keep in mind on a blog like this, where many people are reading from South Asia (mostly India) and many are reading in the USA and UK. The conflict of values and signifiers occasionally plays out in these comments! For example, a Hindu nationalist commenter once referred to me as “Secular.” As an atheist, materialist, and someone who is irreligious in terms of identity and affiliation, secular describes me perfectly…in the West. But I was aware of the connotations of the term in India in particular, I told him that in fact, I wasn’t “Secular” in the way he was suggested. The reality is that unlike Indian Americans I don’t take a strong interest in what India does so long as it’s a reasonably stable regime, and so don’t signal my affiliation with Hindu nationalism or anti-Hindu nationalism.

* Latinos were not counted as part of this in 1960, so the rate looking at those numbers is 0.4%. I assume this is an underestimate because of Latinos.

September 30, 2017

To be brown is to be a civilization

Filed under: ancient india,Culture,Desi,Identity — Razib Khan @ 1:01 pm

Though I often disagree with him, I do enjoy Zach’s perspective on things because they are different from mine, though we exhibit similarities (e.g., both of us generally align with the center-Right in Anglophone societies). Zach may be one of the first cosmopolitan desis in his pedigree; he, himself of part-Persian heritage, marrying a South Indian Sindhi, probably to raise a family in England. In contrast, I may be the last brown person in my pedigree for a while, fading into legend and myth (or infamy!).

But one of the things I think is important to emphasize is South Asia is a civilizational entity straight-jacketed for historical reasons into a few nation-states. Though India and China are often compared together, they are totally incomparable insofar as the Han majority of China exhibit a racial and linguistic unity which South Asians do not (even though southeast Chinese dialects are unintelligible with Mandarin, the written language is the same).

By and large, I am predisposed to agree that someone like Zach is more prototypically South Asian than I am. Despite his religious heterodoxy his cultural rootedness in the Northwest quadrant of the subcontinent does put him at the “center of the action,” so to speak. In contrast, my own family’s recent origins are on the far eastern fringe of recognizably desi territory…. That is, my family is from the eastern portion of eastern Bengal (my grandmother was almost killed by the crazy elephant of the maharani of Tripura!). It’s interesting that 3,000 years after the emergence of Iron Age South Asian cultures the fulcrum of South Asian identity is where it began all those millennia ago (there was a period between the Mauryas and the Guptas when Bihar was the center).

Talking about what is more prototypically desi is like talking about what is more prototypically “European.” Being French or German is more prototypically European than being Albanian or Russian. We could argue why, but in your heart you know it’s true. There are definitions of Europeans which exclude Albanians and Russians (even though I’d disagree with those personally), but no plausible ones which exclude French and Germans.

Finally, I do think it indicates the limits and flexibility around race and brown identity. As Zach has said repeatedly he is very light-skinned (and part Iranian to boot). Myself, I don’t think anyone would describe me as either light-skinned or dark-skinned; I’m pretty much the average South Asian in complexion. Brown. Not light brown. Or dark brown. Literally just brown. But that doesn’t really weight much in terms of who is “more desi” or not. I have never watched a Bollywood film all the way through. That matters more.

November 18, 2013

Some of us don’t care if people look like us

Filed under: Identity — Razib Khan @ 1:56 am
Alone in a Room Full of Science Writers: You can never overestimate how empowering it is to see someone who looks like you—only older and more successful. That, much more than well-meaning advice and encouragement, tells you that you can … Continue reading

February 11, 2013

Before Jeremy Lin

Filed under: Identity — Razib Khan @ 3:22 pm

Anyone who followed college basketball in the mid-90s is familiar with Rex Walters. Less well known is that he is half-Japanese. Some of the issues he presents are probably generalizable. Brown Americans (as in born-in-the-USA or raised-in-the-USA) have a high outmarriage rate. After a year of hearing from people that my daughter “doesn’t look Indian at all,” I’m a little more conscious of the inferences people make about you based on your physical appearance. I don’t think it’s a major issue, and will become less so as more and more mixed children grow up and habituate people to non-pigeonholeable diversity.


August 16, 2011

What does a critical race theorist call a black man with a Ph.D.?

Filed under: Identity,Nikki Haley — Razib Khan @ 10:07 am

Malcolm X asked two generations ago: ““What does the white man call a black man with a PhD?” His response? “A nigger with a PhD.” In this frame Malcolm X was repeating objectively the state of affairs in American society at the time. Visible black ancestry marked someone as black, and other social variables were irrelevant (as opposed to the case in Latin America, where people with visible black ancestry could still self-identify with the majority non-black culture, such as Vicente Guerrero). This was important for Malcolm X because his mother was half-white. Despite his white ancestry he was a black nationalist, an eminently coherent position in America at the time.

But this framework continues down to the present day for race hustlers, high-brow and low-brow. Amardeep Singh has a relatively balanced follow up post on Nikki Haley’s issues with identity. In it he quotes Samhita Mukhopadhyay of Feministing. Here’s a section where her manichean race popery gets the better of her:

But, at the end of the day, it is not about what we say we are–race is a structural experience, as much as it is an interpersonal one, if not more so. Having access to white culture and more money doesn’t make you white, as many sociologists have found. Haley can self-identify as white, but she has had the lived experience of a person who is not white and as a result, will never be recognized as white or have access to “whiteness,” in the political sense of the word, even if some people once in a while mistake her for white on the street.

Who is this “we” that Ms. Mukhopadhyay speaks of? I think it’s pretty clear that she speaks with the Voice, the Voice of Right Thinking People who are Grounded in Reality. Their reality. But the key point is that unlike the rate of acceleration of an object on the surface of the planet this isn’t a clear and distinct inference which plops out of empirical results in a common sense fashion. There’s a whole broader framework where words like “privilege” get thrown about in a very coherent and intelligible manner to “insiders” to this “discourse.” The purveyors of this discourse are often rhetorically highly subjectivist in their epistemology, but in practice they are quite often hegemonic and privilege their own model of the world as if it easily and cleanly maps onto the objective world. Samhita Mukhopadhyay doesn’t known Nikki Haley personally, but she doesn’t need to know Nikki Haley, she knows how Nikki Haley experienced the world, and she knows how it will impact Nikki Haley’s psychology. Her Theory tells her so.

But of course she doesn’t know squat. Even ostensibly scientific psychologists operating within a positivist understanding of the world would be cautious about inferring from a model of the mind onto one individual. The reality of the matter is that Samhita Mukhopadhyay and her fellow travelers have an internally consistent theory of the world, and like the Marxists of yore are quite impervious to falsification. Nikki Haley’s own report of her own mental states would do nothing to perturb them, she would simply be assumed to have false consciousness. And like the armchair philosophers of the past they aren’t going to perform their own rigorous quantitative experiments or observations. They will select anecdata and scientific studies which support their theory, but the latter is clearer prior in precedence to the former.

July 8, 2011

The destruction of ‘authentic’ culture

Filed under: Authenticity,Culture,Identity — Razib Khan @ 9:29 pm

My Summer at an Indian Call Center:

Next is “culture training,” in which trainees memorize colloquialisms and state capitals, study clips of Seinfeld and photos of Walmarts, and eat in cafeterias serving paneer burgers and pizza topped with lamb pepperoni. Trainers aim to impart something they call “international culture”—which is, of course, no culture at all, but a garbled hybrid of Indian and Western signifiers designed to be recognizable to everyone and familiar to no one. The result is a comically botched translation—a multibillion dollar game of telephone. “The most marketable skill in India today,” the Guardian wrote in 2003, “is the ability to abandon your identity and slip into someone else’s.”

The writer’s background is interesting:

“You’ve completed a four-year university?” the recruiter asked, pen poised above my résumé.

“Yes,” I said.

“And your stream?”


She sighed. “What did you study?”

“Religion,” I said. “Well—liberal arts.”

She made a face, scribbling something.

“What does your father do?” she asked.

“He’s a doctor.”

“And your mother is a housewife?”

“No, a doctor also.”

“A doctor also! Why didn’t you go in for that line?”

“I…I didn’t want to,” I said.

“You didn’t want to?” She could no longer hide her exasperation.

“These things are different in America,” I said feebly.

There’s an implicit subtext here that a modern global economy and affluence come at the cost of Indian culture and familial closeness. And yet I wonder if this child of two doctors laments his parents’ professional prestige and his no doubt comfortable childhood lacking in want?

June 16, 2011

Where are you from, etc.

Filed under: Culture,Identity — Razib Khan @ 9:49 pm

I have no idea how old Jordan is. But I’m 34. Here is my experience in a graph, where the Y axis represents frequency:

I look as brown as I used to, and I never dressed “ethnically.” So my own hunch is that the social environment has changed greatly since the early 1980s. When I was a little kid at my parents’ dinner parties there was a little mimeographed booklet titled “Bangladeshi people in the United States.” It was a directory of Bangladesh people who you could get in touch with all across the country. There were a few thousand. By 1990 this was probably outmoded, as there were ~12,000 Bangladeshis in the United States.

Bengali Muslims are new (?)

Filed under: Bengali,Identity,Rohingya — Razib Khan @ 10:33 am

A quick follow up to Zack’s post on Rohingya. On the demographics, if you believe the claims of Muslims and Christians in Burma, they are the majority of the population, not the Theravada Buddhists. This means ethnic Burmans are a minority, as are the combination of Burmans, Mons, and Shans, three ethnic groups that are overwhelmingly Buddhist (the majority of Karens are also Buddhist, but these Buddhist Karens tend to assimilate to Burman identity, while the large and politically mobilized Christian Karen minority remains distinct). I wouldn’t put too much stock in the demographic exaggerations, though because of Burma’s lack of a good census it seems plausible that there’s an undercount of minority groups. Until democracy comes, the government and minority activists can keep making up whatever numbers they want.

More interestingly, the Rohingya’s have an ambiguous ethnic identity. As a matter of fact they are clearly derived from the southeastern Bengali people. Their language has affinities to the dialect of Chittagong. And they have the standard look of South Asians (ergo, the Burmese accuse them of being ugly black trolls!), with the tinge of Southeast Asian which is very common amongst eastern Bengali. But from the reading, and some interaction with a few Bangladeshi Rohingyas I’ve met personally (these are the descendants of recent refugees), they have an ambivalent attitude toward identification with the Bengali nation. Some of this is political, as the Rakhine of Arakan amongst whom they reside of accuse them of being arriviste interlopers. This has some truth, the Rohingya demographic heft probably is a function of the last few centuries. But then, so is the white American demographic heft! I tend to think that if a people have a rootedness of centuries in a locale they are local…but then I’m American, so I would think that!

But some of the ambivalence is I think a function of the reality that the Rohingya were not part of the creation of the Bengali Muslim identity in the 19th and 20th centuries. This is clear when you notice that they don’t utilize the Bengali script! The Rohingya are folk Bengalis. There are many of these in Bangladesh and West Bengal. They speak a Bengali dialect, but are not participants in high Bengali culture, and wouldn’t know literary Bengali because they’re not literate. But there’s a vertical integration between the peasantry and an elite culture which is nationally self-conscious. In West Bengal this is led by the intelligentsia of Calcutta. But in Bangladeshi it’s focused on Dhaka.

To do a quick summary from the history that I’ve read, there’s a two act aspect to the self-consciousness of Bengali Muslims. The first act preceded the Mughals, when Afghans and other Islamic groups patronized literary Bengali as a counterweight to the Sanskrit favored by local Hindu elites (though these groups also patronized Persian naturally). With the rise of Mughal power though the Muslim elite of Bengal shifted toward an Urdu orientation. A large proportion of the Muslim peasantry were Bengali speaking in dialect, but in the 19th century they didn’t have a natural leadership class which identified with them in both religion and language. The Bengal Renaissance was a Hindu affair, because the elite Muslims of Bengal were participants in the high culture of Urdu speaking North Indian Islam.

Economic and social development in the 19th and especially 20th century led to the reemergence of a Bengali Muslim elite. This class did not assimilate to Urdu literary norms, and though it gave due deference to the cultural attainments of Hindu Bengalis, it also asserted its own religious distinctiveness, as is made clear by the strength of the Muslim League in eastern Bengal. Middle class Muslim Bengalis who came to maturity in the time before Pakistan resented the Hindu elite of Calcutta a great deal because of its cultural and political hegemony. They felt their religious difference keenly, not their ethnic one. I know this personally because my grandfather, who was often the only Muslim doctor in a given town where he practiced, expressed this attitude (he began practicing medicine in the 1920s). This is in contrast to my parents’ generation, who were more resentful of the racism and discrimination which they experienced from Biharis and West Pakistanis, and had a somewhat rose-tinted view of the beauty and elegance of Hindu Bengali culture in Calcutta. They felt their ethnic difference more keenly, and have no social discomfort around Bengali Hindus, because they have never have the memory of Bengali Hindu hegemony.

Shifting back toward the Rohingyas: their ambivalence to Bengali identity is due to the fact that they “missed out” on these centuries of interplay between Muslim and Bengali self-identification, at least at the elite level. The Rohingya nationalists don’t want to make aliyah “back” to Bengal. They don’t consider themselves from Bengal, they’re from Arakan, they’re from Burma. Their identity is as nationals of Burma, if not ethnic Burmans. Like many South Asian Muslims they are wont to construct a false identity of descent from Arabs, but at least they often used the Arabic script, unlike Bengali Muslims in Bangladesh and India! The Rohingya are assertive in their Islam, and they certainly wouldn’t part with that. But I suspect that it wouldn’t be a major issue for them if their descendants no longer spoke the Rohingya dialect. The Burmese Rohingya I’ve met exhibit little of the fixation with the Bengali language which Bengali Muslims steeped in Tagore express as a matter of course. I know my parents will be sad when the last Bengali speaking generation passes. The term “mother tongue” has more than clinical descriptive connotation for them (part of this is obviously due to the Language Movement, but part of it is probably the reality that Bengali Muslims accept some of the metaphorical aspects of linguistic unity which Bengali Hindus also espouse).

June 2, 2011

Brown in Roma

Filed under: Identity,Italy — Razib Khan @ 10:43 pm

Bowlers and Batsmen Signal a Demographic Shift in an Eternal Cit:

The Catholic aid organization Caritas said there were 74,000 Bangladeshis legally residing in Italy, 75,000 Sri Lankans and about 65,000 Pakistanis. But experts estimate there are about 65,000 to 70,000 South Asians living here illegally. Many men work as waiters or run shops.

Just a note, I went to Italy last spring. South Asians were a pretty striking presence all around. There are Sri Lankans and Bangladeshis all around the Colosseum selling things. Bangladeshis were thick on the ground in Bologna too. Not so much in Genoa though. There it was Africans. A positive aspect highlighted in the article is that the non-Italians who come to Italy come to work. The Italians are frankly rather rude and racist compared to Fenno-Scandinavians, but the stereotype of a person of “immigrant background” isn’t a shiftless parasite as it is in parts of northern Europe.

Addendum: The main exceptions are the Gypsies, who tend to avoid conventional labor force activities. So they run what are obviously professional begging troupes in Florence.

Congrats Sukanya Roy!

Filed under: Identity,Scripps National Spelling Bee — Razib Khan @ 10:32 pm

Pa. girl aces ‘cymotrichous’ to win Spelling Bee:

Sukanya’s winning word was “cymotrichous,” which relates to wavy hair. She likes hiking, rock climbing and ice skating, wants to travel and perhaps pursue a career in international relations. She is the fourth consecutive Indian-American to win the bee and the ninth in the last 13 years, a run that began when Nupur Lala captured the crown in 1999 and was later featured in the documentary “Spellbound

For what it’s worth there were two Bengalis (including the winner) amongst the finalists. I know people rag on these bee winners for being memorization-nerds. First, these aren’t narrow kids (some of them are math-nerds and geography-nerds too!). Second, you wish your kids would turn out this way.

May 31, 2011

A lighter shade of brown

Filed under: Culture,Identity — Razib Khan @ 12:23 pm

Kalki Koechlin:

Kalki was born to French parents in a small village in Pondicherry. Her parents had come to India 38 years ago and settled there after they fell in love with the country. Her parents are devotees of Sri Aurobindo.

As an American I really get aggravated at some of the exclusionary “race popery” which occasionally crops up in the comments of Sepia Mutiny. For example: “Sujay Tale looks part East Asian.” Obviously there’s a normative expectation for what a brown person looks like, but hard & fast rules, even implicitly, are not something that I’d ever get behind.

She speaks English with an “Indian”* accent and Hindi with a Tamil accent:

* No idea if it sounds like a Tamil Indian accent.

May 11, 2011

Brown man + white woman

Filed under: data,Identity,Interracial,marriage,United States — Razib Khan @ 3:19 pm

The title was for search engine optimization! :-) There’s a new blog, Inverted Trope, which is about “the cultural portrayal of relationships between brown men and white women.” People in such relationships naturally do notice these sorts of things. It’s human nature. But there’s one thing I do want to enter into the record: clearing up issues of sex differences in marriage between Asians and whites. The website Asian Nation has posted 2000 census data. Below I’ve reproduced the Asian – white pairings by sex, and, for all marriages, as well as those between only those born or raised in the USA.

So the chart below you see that 6 percent of all Asian Indian men were married to white women, while restricting the marriages to only those individuals born or raised in the USA you obtain that 31 percent of Asian Indian men were married to white women. The respective numbers for women are 4 and 36 percent.

All marriages between pairs Both individuals US-born or raised

White W
White M
White W
White M
Asian Indian M 6 Asian Indian W 4 Asian Indian M 31 Asian Indian W 36
Chinese M 5 Chinese W 14 Chinese M 30 Chinese W 40
Filipino M 9 Filipino W 27 Filipino M 36 Filipino W 46
Japanese M 20 Japanese W 27 Japanese M 38 Japanese W 32
Korean M 6 Korean W 24 Korean M 40 Korean W 61

Two things that jump out of these data:

1) The sex difference difference between all marriages and native/raised only marriages is probably pointing to the reality of a lot of foreign Asian women who marry white American men.

2) The proportion of native born for each Asian group differs a lot. The vast majority of Indian Americans today and in 2000 were born and raised abroad, especially those of marriage age. So to a good approximation the total intermarriage rate is reflecting that of an immigrant community. In contrast the majority of Japanese Americans are not immigrants, but the descendants of early 20th century migrations. So the “all” pool is very different from the US-born and raised pool.

April 30, 2011

Pride in self, and what self is

Filed under: Caste,Culture,Identity — Razib Khan @ 10:48 pm

In the post below I was clearly poking fun at people who I believe are unseemly in their espousal of group identity and pride in that identity. I did not though imply that all such pride and affinity is unseemly. There are two issues. One is endogenous, and one is exogenous. The endogenous one is of values. People exhibit a range of natural or learned disposition in terms of their individualism. I for example have minimal interest in group affinity in a deep and fundamental sense, as I think so little of the human race as a whole. I’d rather focus on improving myself than spending a great deal of time exploring and reflecting my “heritage” because it is my heritage. For me my grandparents were an accident of birth. Other people can take a different perspective because they are different.

The second issue is exogenous, and that is one of context. This is more intelligible in terms of religion. Below Zack expressed the wish that a co-religionist should not appeal to God in making an argument. This is a matter of public reason. I don’t believe in God, so not only does an appeal to a non-existent primitive superstition not move me, but it might distract me. It is also unseemly that an individual interpose their primitive superstition into a serious argument. On the other hand if the argument is aimed at those whom you can be assured are theists then it seems eminently reasonable to use language which nods to one’s theistic presuppositions. More narrowly, if your audience consists of Christians, speak of Jesus. If they consist of Muslims, speak of Muhammad and Allah. One of the main issues I have with Islam is that Muslims are not always trained in the West that the religious chauvinism that they take for granted in their barbaric cultures of origin are not acceptable in the public forum. The only religionists who speak about their faith in specific and effusive terms in the United States as Muslims are evangelical Christians, and their mode of interposing religion into the public discussion has been a major source of political and social conflict.

I think the lesson when it comes to ethnic or community pride is the same. Within the ethnos or community pride can be healthy and taken in stride. But in a more mixed gathering it often is seen to be farcical posturing. Additionally many individualists like myself often stereotype the sorts who prattle on about their group identity as losers who have no individual excellence to appeal to. No offense, but my experience is that the Jews who talk constantly about the accomplishments of their nation in domains such as Nobel Prize awards are the Jews who are the least likely of all to ever attain the level of achievement worthy of any recognition.

True excellence is understated.

February 7, 2011

Christians in the Punjab, Scheduled Castes & Ambedkar all together

Filed under: History,Identity,India,Islam,Minorities,Pakistan,Politics,Religion — Zachary Latif @ 8:58 am

punjab population; please look at the attached excel sheet (if it doesn’t work you can click on the link just below).

The figures are sourced from Ambedkar’s 1945 work “PAKISTAN OR THE PARTITION OF INDIA”

Graph Explained below:

The graph is from the appendices sections and contains figures just on the eve of Partition. There are some extremely interesting things I want to look at from a Partition perspective, some novel twists but its an ongoing process. I was doing that some 5 years ago but I sort of dropped it but now Brown Pundits give me an incentive to sort of relook them.

Christians + Schedule Caste % of Punjab Population in 1945

Anyway we’ve been discussing “Caste in Pakistan” and I decided to do some research on it. The far right column is what I’ve sorted the data by, it is the joint Christians + Scheduled Caste % of total Punjab population. This % shows a rapid drop off from an East to West gradient and North to South. The East to West is from Haryana and East Punjab to the West Punjab and Seraikistan. Furthermore we notice the highest % to be in the Himachal/Haryana region, which surprises me because Himachal Pradesh tends to be fairly high caste (also the TFR in Himachal Pradesh is lower than replacement).

As a side note it would be interesting to correlate a populations % of High Caste Hindus and total replacement fertility, we’d probably have to add a few more variables, but in states characterized by low communalism, high education and a high Hindu population fertility rates tend to drop. I’d particularly be interested in comparisons between Kerala and West Bengal just because of their communist associations.

Christian % of Joint Christian & Schedule Caste population in 1945

This is extremely interesting as the % of the joint Christian & Schedule Caste as per the total Punjab population begins to drop (basically phase into Western and Southern “Muslim” Punjab) the proportion of the Christians as part of the joint Christian & Schedule Caste population begins to dramatically rise to the extent that it reaches 89% in Gujranwalla.

I’m assuming that the huge bulk of Christian converts are from the Schedule Castes if that is the case we can treat them as two interchangeable population, from a socio-economical and historical identity. Where they differ however is their nominal religious affiliation. Essentially what the data *seems* to be telling us that in predominantly Muslim districts (slightly West to the heart of the Punjab, the Majha zone) the Scheduled Castes seemed much more amenable to conversion to a related but distinct Abrahamic faith. This could also do with the lack of a strong Hindu presence conversions were more acceptable.

What does Scheduled Caste mean only Hindu or Sikh too?

I don’t know if at the time Scheduled Castes were only considered to be Hindu, or if the Scheduled Caste figure included Sikhs (we can safely assume that they didn’t include Muslims because to this day Dalit Muslims are not treated as such).

I want to next tackle the precise dynamics of Partition in the Punjab but which parts exactly?

Personal Note:

Over the past few years my interests vis a vis South Asia has always been the Punjab and more generically Urdu-speaking UP. These two regions are at the heart of modern-day Pakistan (no disrespect to the other constituent provinces) and incidentally reflects my heritage fairly well, grandfather was from East Punjab and grandmother was from the United Provinces (sounds much nicer than Uttar Pradesh frankly).

In the course of my ongoing research found out some interesting things. I had always realised that the Qaqazais were Sikh converts since they were found predominantly in the Hoshiarpur region. It turns out that Afghan-Pathans were specifically settled in that region to pacify it and hence the population. While this was interesting from a personal level (as the origins of the Muslim population of Hindustan always is).

Excellent Punjab links:

This is as much for me as it is for the reader since its good reference material I can look up at a later date for more posts such as this. I always wanted to do an “Industan trilogy” but never got round to it. This time hopefully the Punjab Trilogy (what is it with me and trilogies?) will pan out. Also different interpretations, biases, opinion and knowledge sources are always welcome of course, such things should never be a solitary effort I find.


Punjab map (topographic)


Glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and North West Frontier Province

Imran Ali. The Punjab under Imperialism 1885-1947.

The Indian army and the making of Punjab

A study of the economic effects of the Punjab canal colonies

The Punjab under Colonialism

Stop relabelling the brand – Settlement & renaming of Faisalabad

Filed under: Culture,Desi,Identity,Pakistan,South Asia,South Asian — Zachary Latif @ 7:27 am

I’ve been doing some research on the Punjabi Christians and Dalit Muslims and stumbled across this story in Wikipedia. I enjoyed it very much and found it pertinent since we’ve discussed land tenure before.

What actually brought this story to my attention was that the city of Faisalabad was founded in 1880 and was eventually named as Lyallpur after an English officer. In 1977 it was renamed to Faisalabad, after the late Saudi King Faisal. I’m curious how well the name-change has been received and whether it took root successfull? I’m suspecting it has but would like confirmation. Frankly I’m always wary of name-changes, like for instance Iran -> Persia.

Personally I think the relabeling of  Bombay, Calcutta, Madras and Bangalore have been disastrous and about as economically productive as Quebecois separatism. I’ve made mixed feelings of Lyallpur and Faisalabad (according to Wikipedia Lyallpur remains the name of a section of the city) and I know there’s still a few district with English names (Abbotabad immediately comes to mind). I’ve had my little rant so here’s the very short passage:

The First Colonisation officer Raja Aurangzeb Khan made sure that no individual in this district owned more than 25 squares (625 acres) of land. The merit or method of allotting the land was to check each individual’s hand who was applying for some land, and if the hands showed that individual had worked hard in the past, only then was land given to him, which has led to a district where there aren’t any big land owners, as the land has been equally distributed amongst hard working men and it is their hard work that has led to Faisalabad becoming the third richest district in Pakistan.

Dalit Muslims

“The present day Muslim society is divided into four major groups (i) the ashrafs, who trace their origins to foreign lands, (ii) the upper caste Hindus who converted to Islam, (iii) the middle caste converts whose occupations are ritually clean, (iv) the converts from the erstwhile Untouchable castes – Bhangi (scavengers), Mehtar (sweeper), Chamar (tanner), Halalkhor (Dom) and so on”. (p. 192)

On the level of backwardness, the Sachar Committee finds that ‘out of every 100 workers about 11 are Hindu OBCs, three are Muslim-general and only one is Muslim OBC (p. 209)’, whereas the population of OBC Muslims is as much as 75% of the total Muslims’ population.

Most of them continued with their traditional professions as artisans, peasants and labourers, except those which were considered impure or unacceptable in Shariah. Nevertheless, of late, some of these Muslim caste groups got Islamised. They also became organized and given themselves Muslim nomenclatures. They identified and associated themselves with Islamic personalities. For example, the butchers designated themselves as Qureshi; the weavers as Ansari; the tailors as Idrisi; the Bhishtis as Abbasi; the vegetable vendors as Raeen; the barbers as Salmani; the carpenters and blacksmiths as Saifi etc. By joining the fold of Islam they did not get such a boost to their talents and abilities that they could face equal competition with all others.

Source: Reservation For Dalit Muslims

Indian Muslims and the Sarchar Committee Report are two good reads on the State of Indian Muslim affairs.

February 5, 2011

Answer to the Hindu-Urdu question; Gandhi’s Hindustani?

Hitting my 3-a-day quote but I’ve been meaning to ruminate on Hindi-Urdu for a while, a couple of weeks actually, but can do so now that the Blasphemy Panel has wrapped up, successfully to boot (trying to effect dialogue, let alone change, in a decreipt community generates an incredible amount of ill-will).

I want to refocus on my “socio-cultural” perspective and less of those on a contemporary nature, which the Governorial assassination consumed. Its very addictive to be constantly involved in the “scene”, to be a living witness of history rather than a student, but that is a false reality. One must have a very firm understanding of the historical and cultural causes of our present situation before effecting any sort of remedy to it.

Are Hindi and Urdu the same language?Yes and no, they are one and the same but there’s been a conscious effort to wedge them apart. Incidentally one of the prevailing narrative is that Hindi/Hindustani was used by “Muslims”, who turned Urdu (with the help of the “Imperialist & conniving” British) as a badge of separate identity in a way to disassociate from their “Indic origins”.

Colonial Hangover:

A quick history lesson is in order and a clarification of semantics, which in South Asia can be very misleading. The British grasped the intricacies of Greater India supremely well and also understood the art of labelling things correctly. Furthermore there is the conception that the British were “forced” to leave India when in fact they “gave up” on it. Britain didn’t have to relinquish her empire, she did so because the British people never had much interest (the Empire anyway had a disproportionate Celtic presence with the Scots & the Irish); I feel Britain and the Roman Empire shared some similarity as being societies inordinately concerned with domestic affairs but acquired Empires almost as an afterthought (will leave it to our American readers to decide whether this too applies to the States as well). The faraway exotic East paled in British eyes in comparison to nearby Ireland, which split the Liberal party and drove it to its eventual oblivion (until its ressurection in a bastardised form in today’s coaliation; the Orange Liberals are frankly libertarian IMHO).

I provide this perspective on Britain because as much as we’re Brown, our experience and referential identity has been deeply impact by modern European history. There’s too much fawning and blaming the “Goras” (slang for white in Hindustani) when in fact a dispassionate perspective shows that they were fundamentally different to all previous conquest in that they midwifed our region into a painful and bloody modernity.


“Hindi” is a language family, which is divided into several different zones and therein lies the phrase “Hindi cow-belt”. Aryavarta spoke widely related range of dialects, which could be classified as a “Hindi language zone”. Most impressively it spanned from the deserts of dry Sindh to the borders of lush Bengal. For some reason the pictures I upload aren’t coming through but there’s a very good map on Wikipedia that illustrates the Hindi belt.

File:Hindi belt.png

Anyway back to topic India is the Greek adaptation of the Persian word Hind, which derives from the Sanskrit Sind.


Urdu is a Turkish word (same meaning as horde in the English language), the original name was Zaban-e Urdu Muallah (language of the army camps). Urdu was pioneered by Hindus (since the Mughals used Persian as the court language) and for a while hibernated (as Dahkini) in the South, taken there by Indo-Muslim Shi’ite kingdoms which fled the Mughal expansion.

Funnily enough until very recently (two centuries ago, or just on the eve of the British conquest and waning of Mughal-Muslim influence in South Asia) Muslim poets and writers used to refer to Urdu as Hindi or Hindavi. However Urdu should not be taken as some Muslimification or reactionary element of Muslims against “India” or the Brits; its liturgical tradition is in fact longer (by a century at least) than contemporary Hindi (which can be traced to mid 19th century Fort Williams as having been regularised and standardised).


Gandhi proposed we all use Hindustani, with two separate scripts, as a means of ensuring unity. However I believe that all of South Asia (I’ll be liberal and throw in Afghanistan/Burma too, I’m curious about the identity of the Indian-population islands in Africa, Oceania & Latam, what is their geo-cultural attachment to South Asia?) must switch to English immediately and comprehensively. We have a huge advantages, as Brownzters, that we are so fluent and have such a rich literary tradition in English. The Turks, Chinese, Persians and other peoples do not share this linguistic advantage (which they are making up for).

I personally believe there should be three official languages for South Asia, English, Sanskrit and Urdu. It pays tribute to our composite culture and provides for cross-religious understanding while respecting each aspect of South Asian historical context (ancient Hindu, medieval Muslim and modern European). You heard it hear first what did I say about never being controversial again? I don’t know how Dravidian speakers and Bengalis (the two big groups) would feel about this but the inclusion of Sanksrit & particularly English should hopefully allay any such fears of cultural domination, obviously all communities, castes and regions would be encouraged to keep and promote their own languages these three would be the lingua franca (Muslims would have to learn the Sanskrit script and Hindus would have to learn Nasta’liq).

Further Notes:

When I was writing up Pakistani atheists and this post I came across some websites that I thought were fairly interesting.

Now one and-a-half-century since the first Hindi prose book Prem Sagar (1805) published by Daisy Rockwell & Co. for Fort William College, appeared in order to promote Devanagari or “Hindi” script, it has succeeded in opening a Pandora’s box of controversies, hatred and divide amongst the masses. In this consciously or unconsciously created divide amongst Hindu and Muslims of the Indian Subcontinent I see a ray of hope of peace emanating from this controversy because this language is the strongest, closest and most unbreakable bond amongst the people of the subcontinent.

As Pakistanis we constantly struggle with the contradictions of religion and culture. Culturally we share much in common with Indians, religiously we feel bound to Afghanistan. Too many ironies lurk in our daily lives. We read Arabic without understanding it; we speak Hindi without being able to read or write it.

It is interesting to note that much before Mahatma Gandhi’s proposal of Hindustani as a language of composite Indian culture, Raja Shiva Prasad in his book of grammar, in the year 1875, reiterated that Hindi and Urdu have no difference on the level of the vernacular. He wrote : “The absurdity began with the Maulvis and Pundits of Dr. Gilchrist’s time, who being commissioned to make a grammar of the common speech of Upper India made two grammars… The evil consequence is that instead of having a school grammar of the vernacular as such… we have two diverse and discrepant class books, one for the Mohammedan and Kayastha boys and the other for the Brahmins and Banias.” (cf. Srivastava p.3O).

DAKHNI The Language in which the Composite Culture of India was Born

There are some lacunae in the standard account of the origin of Dakhni. For example, if the language was born with the Muslim invasion in the 14th century, how did such sophisticated poetry as that of Bande Nawaz emerge in so short a period? And why has Dakhni remained so popular? Deccan, as we said above, is an area that can be defined as lying between the Narmada and the Tungabhadra rivers. The area south of the Deccan is called Dravid. The Deccan has been a meeting point of southern and northern cultures. This has given its culture a special quality. It does not keep its independent existence but spreads and accepts influences from north and south. It is a home for Kannada, Telugu and Marathi, and also has contributed to Hindi and Urdu. So the contact with the north is far older than the Muslim invasion. Both Buddhists and Jain religions that were born in Bihar had significant presence in the South. The Jains even today have an important presence. After the decline of the Buddhists, it was the Shaivaite and Nathpanthis who inherited the Buddhist tradition. There was a lot of movement of Nathpanthis, Nirgunias, Sikhs and Sufis from Punjab to Gulbarga, through Gujarat and Maharashtra. In Maharashtra, Gyaneshwar and his elder brother Nivrutinath are in direct tradition of Gorakhnath. Hence we find Namdev (1270-1351), a saint from Maharashtra and a tailor by caste, writing in Dakhni. His son Gonda also composed in Dakhni. Some 50 of Namdev’s poems are included in the Granth Sahib. Eknath and Tukaram are the two other Marathi saints who wrote extensively in Dakhni. However the bulk of Dakhni literature is in the Sufi tradition. Sufis too travelled from the North to the South, as did Nanak. Nanak reached up to Nanded and Bidar. Sufis spread all over the Deccan and every district has at least one important Sufi dargah. One should remember that all Muslims poets were not Sufis nor all Sufis were Muslim. For example Nizam Bidri’s Masanavi Kadam Rao va Padam Rao is a Jain Charit Kavya. Countless number of Hindus goes to the Sufi dargahs and many sing Sufi songs.

British, Brown & Diverse but accepting (The story of the Lioness and her Prey inside)

My 18mth old nephew and mother have caught a virus, which means I’m staying in tonight. Luckily (or perhaps not) for Brown Punditry that means I’ll be manning my station, while occasionally checking up on my family (my sister-inlaw has entered her delivery period so Feb is going to be an interesting month isA). I come through as quite gossipy and personal and that’s also a reason why I am never controversial (apart from the occasional flirtation with Pakistaniat but even that’s fairly mild and comical). I’m no good at anonymity (nor is my family come to think of it; to my advantage and detriment I integrate all aspects of my life wherever possible) so like many mystic Shi’ites I have many opinions (several layers of opinions in fact) and ocassionally practise Ta’aqiyah (dissimulation) when it suits. Just because I avoid controversy doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions, its just that they are going to be very subtle and balanced to avoid offending anyone.

Britain and Diversity

Prime Minster Cameron today said that Multi-culturalism has failed in Britain. Britain is an amazing country, extremely humanitarian and very open-minded, but unfortunately society here is dealing with its own issues of assimilation & ghettoisation. The EDL (English Defence League) marched in Luton today and my opinion is that we definitely need a new national narrative to accommodate an increasingly diverse Britain (its irreversible now; white Brits may still be the majority going forward but the country has a huge ethnic population). After the surname map (the website is down from overloading) we need to realize Britain’s assets are her diversity and cosmpolitanism. I like my “hybridity” idea, let’s the best of our host culture here and mix it with the best of our native culture. Its the middle way (and Britain loves the middle way) between multi-culturalism and assimilationism. Also I think all sides need to adopt a measure of flexibility and fluidity; change is the only constant in this increasingly one world.

Brown Punditry and Diversity

My personal thoughts on “superstition” is the following, anything not empirical proved is a belief and all beliefs are acts of faith/superstitions. I respect all to be practised so long as its not imposed on my life in any way (I’m a libertarian dammit) and I try to remain curious/skeptical/openminded about them as long as they seem positive and uplifting.

As for the Astrology issue (Saggitarian, year of the rat if anyone’s curious!) heating up here, I think that’s a good thing that we’re discussing it but it should be done from a perspective on how it impacts Brown Culture. This blog is all about discussing Brownz and understanding the issues but not endlessly and circularly debating them (going indepth in Astrology is going to head to head on whether Partition was right or wrong; that’s not what this blog is about). All beliefs at BrownPundits are subject to scrutiny and investigation however comments that dispute evidential facts become redundant arguments.

I may have my sacred cows, Pakistaniyat, Baha’ism, banking (grasping for more please feel free to add to the list) but when I discuss and submit them here I have to accept that they will reviewed, scrutinized and examined in ways I’m not used to as for instance Omar does from time to time (7yrs ago it used to be the Kolkata Libertarian how times have changed). Its a good things because that’s precisely why we flock to these virtual portals to experience different ideas, mindsets and perspectives that we wouldn’t ordinarily be exposed to.

I wrote a little comical email narrative (fictional) yesterday to our Blasphemy Panel email list and it sort of sums up the prevailing divide in British Asian Muslim (Muzzer) culture. Some of it is obviously an exaggeration (some of it drawn in real life you might recognise me toward the end) but it has some true elements (the British civil service hires many Muslims, even those avowedly not loyal to Britain)

The lioness and her prey.
A short story courtesy of edl/bnp

He is a sorely misunderstood and mild-mannered civil servant whose alter ego is a budding abu hamza, whom he channels for panel discussions and emails rants against secularism. She is a self-confessed liberal extremist who by her own admission can be a feisty witch.

At work he positively intrigues his superiors with his active and growing hobby in designing baggy overalls, refining basic chemicals and collecting high resolution population maps of all major British towns and cities. On their nightly escape to the shires his bosses sigh that if only native Britons were as single minded and disciplined as him they could probably have all the immigrants off work and back on welfare.

After winning a landmark case enshrining the right to hate infidels and foment terror in the EU constitution the prey has been moved to the building’s unmanned cctv control. He passes tea breaks issuing fatwas against various female colleagues who allow the silhouette of their cleavage to cross his peripheral vision. If he’s up to it he might loudly condemn the busty online gals whose websites he stumbles on for a few good hours. He will be sure to give precise descriptions, with no detail spared, of these virtual temptresses to his saturday co-pamphleting ‘bruvas’.

One day in April he shall attend sq & zls upcoming performance ‘Call Me Kafir’. He is so moved by the lead actor, surprisingly zl, that he auditions for ludoo/pipas next performance instead of having a blast with the cast and crew as he had originally intended.

He wins a starring role in their next production and works hard all summer. He realises the prey has become the hero when after a standing ovation as the drunken Devdas he notices in the far corner of the room the lioness with a glint of a tear in her eyes.

Mourning her lost prey she silently moves on to her next kill, a young social spammer who constant blogs about losing friends, ham acting and debate moderation.

This time she will not fail since her slow-moving target is lagging all his new years resolutions spinning out nonsense at all hours of the night to people he’s never met before..

The minorities adapt well to India – or should we say Hindustan?

Filed under: Culture,History,Identity,India,Islam,Minorities,Pakistan,South Asia,South Asian — Zachary Latif @ 12:21 pm

Masked Muslim girls scootering about in Urban India


Before I start I know my title and pic are cheeky but a quick observation in Pakistan Muslim girls don’t scooter by themselves (at least not as I can remember) so its interesting to see that even in this aspect these “Masked” girls are still a leap forward from Pakistan. For an Indian Muslim choosing between India and Islam is choosing between a father and a mother. For a Pakistani choosing between Pakistan and Islam, well that’s an absurd question that’d just be schizophrenic!  As Omar notes I may be more attached to “Pakistaniat” than to Baha’ism but we were Baha’i before being Pakistani and the reason I’m so positive on the Islamic world is because we (Baha’is) practise a very liberal and assimilationist variant of Islam. Of course no Baha’i accepts this (unlike the Ahmedis we are very clear on being distinct from the parent religion in every way as Christianity is from Judaism) but even so I’ve seen what the future of Islam could be and while the Baha’i community ain’t perfect (I was ranting about it a couple of posts ago) it does have noble aspirations, which I definitely admire.

The Problem with Indian Muslims

Omar’s just noted a good point “Persian, Indian, Sindhi who happened to carry a Pakistani passport for a while and still roots for the Pakistani cricket team. That’s the goal of this therapy session”. Of course I readily admit that I have a Pak studies hangover (never took it though) and, like all two-nation Paks (particularly pre-00′s and pre-71) feel a proprietary interest in India’s Muslims. Its interesting though in Pakistan Bangladesh is never mentioned, the psychological effect of dealing with that second partition would destroy any remnants of Pakistaniat so it is best forgotten and repressed (I encounter lots of opposition when I try to organise events around that; apparently Bangladesh is not “relevant” to Pakistan’s woes whereas I see it central to our existential crisis). Anyway back to Indian Muslims (by that I mean our North Indian Urdu speaking kin) and they have many issues as a community. First off they control the underworld and Bollywood’s casting couch culture seems to be dominated by Muslim ganglords. Dharavi (Asia’s largest slum in Bombay) seems to have a much higher proportion of Muslim, Orangitown in Karachi has a high proportion of Pathans and Bangladeshis (among my many controversial ideas is giving all Bangladeshis free entry and automatic residence to Pakistan as the Irish had with the United Kingdom though what that would for Karachi’s explosive ethnic politics is anyone’s guess) but anyway back to India’s Muslims.

Last year it was explained to me (though I had guessed) it that India’s Muslim community is deeply polarised (there is another level of polarisation I’ve mentioned below too) in the adherence spectrum. There are the liberal Muslims (Rushdiesque) who make a big hue and cry about how they are “Indian” as opposed to “Muslim. There is then the other side that burrows deep and is deeply normative in Islamic practice and identity. Pakistan, for all its many sins, has a huge middle ground and though there is a growing polarization Pakistan’s have a pretty good sixth sense (another national secret) what constitutes Pakistaniyat and what is too alien (either Indian/Islamic). Despite the immense pleasure we take in discussing our tormented identity and country we have a rough idea of what it is (liberal desi & Islamic rather than Muslim) we just have a hard time explaining and vocalizing it.

Astrology & India

In my absence, rehearsals have restarted for our spring production “Call Me Kafir” (again all-Muslim crew), I noticed Razib’s & Barani’s exchange on astrology.

Plenty of Indian muslims and Christians visit astrologers. I know of several muslim politicians who patronise Hindu astrologers

muslim and christian intellectuals have long had a huge fascination with astrology. despite its pagan associations astrology was a major reason for astronomical research in the early muslim civilization, and was part of the “ancient wisdom” which christians brought back from the levant and from spain. so the attitude of christians and muslims toward astrology is mixed. i think some of it has to do with the association between neo-platonic paganism and astrology in late antiquity, and in south asia astrology’s association with indus.

Razib makes a good point there was this fundamentalist English preacher complaining that the symbol of the “Hand” (the astrologer sign) is in every other mohallah (neighbourhood) in Pakistan and is almost as prevalent (perhaps even more?) as the neighbour mosque. However there is something deeper about the Indian nature of the the “Abrahamic minorities”. I was reading in the Tully’s book “No Full Stops in India” when Doordashan started broadcasting the Hindu epics the most avid viewers were the Christian and Muslim minorities!

Minorities are very “Indian” even the Muzzers

Though I’m not Indian I have extensive familial ties to the Baha’i, Muslim and Zoroastrian communities (and now Hindu ones through extensive intermarriage) and also through London you get a whiff of what’s happening there in India (and yes Pakistanis do have a fascination about it since Bollywood is all-pervasive all the time). The Muslim community of India is divided by the Turanian north (Hindi belt) and the Arab-influence south (Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, bits of Maharshtra and of course Kerala). However when we think Indian Muslim (or when Hindutva do anyway), we are thinking of the prototypical Urdu-speaking UPite, whose recent ancestry probably include some mixture foreign (mleecha?) blood. However the vast & overwhelming majority of Indian Muslims are rural (they are more urban than Hindu India however) and are more likely than not converts from the rural areas (though in India every community has a different lineage and heritage, many Brahmin clans claims Kashmiri lineage) and remain very syncretic in their beliefs.

Islamicization is a class phenomenon

As Vali Nasr noted the truly “Islamic” populations are the lower-middle class urbanites, who want to understand their religion (read Arabian interpretation) at a deeper level. The rural folks and the haute elite remain far more liberal in their approach; Muslim elites are incredibly liberal (I was overhearing the other day, and it is common knowledge, that many of the Iranian Mullah’s kids live in Kensington, London and are pretty out there in their clubbing). Omar sums it well in his erm “Indophilic” comment. As a side I think ethnic nationalists (Sindhi, Punjabi) embrace Indophilia as an antidote the Islamophilia of our state govt, however since India has a dual Hindu/Muslim matrix in pretty much every state (Muslims are in every major state at reasonable %s) regionalism perhaps might be less pronounced than in Pakistan. This is where communalism, in a very weird sort of way, strengthens Indian nationhood whereas our religious homogeneity (yes Pakistan is pretty much homogeneous since the Shi’ite component is variously treated as a different school rather than sect unless they’re being targeted during Moharram and random assassinations of Shi’ite Doctors in Karachi) undermines Pakistan because then other divisions (ethnic, regional, class, caste) come into play. Anyway back to Omar’s comment.

another local point: in Punjab we have pretty much domesticated Islam by the 19th century. In a variant called Chujjo, Krishna was even made an official Islamic prophet. Better communications with Saudi Arabia ruined that plot in the 20th century, but its a spiral, we will be back.. I think its worth keeping in mind that centuries ago, most of the world was not in any state close to what is the norm today. While legal codes and state institutions were fairly well developed in, say, Rome or Tang China, even there a good chunk of the population must have been minimally affected by such inventions. For most of our ancestors, religion was polytheistic in practice and law was local and informal. This applied to nominal Muslims as well as nominal Hindus (if they even called themselves that). The cult of one folk, one law, one leader became more widespread with progress… another local point: in Punjab we have pretty much domesticated Islam by the 19th century. In a variant called Chujjo, Krishna was even made an official Islamic prophet. Better communications with Saudi Arabia ruined that plot in the 20th century, but its a spiral, we will be back..

Is there such a thing as Hindu and Hindu Unity

There are schools of thought that treat “Hinduism” as anything non-Abrahamic in the Subcontinent. Two interesting comments here, which may indicate that the Desistanis (Muslim origin Desis?) of this weblog may be seeing grass as greener. Top from Gomps (our resident astrologer?)and bottom comment from Vick.

Mr. Zachary Latif, This is a load of wishful thinking to be honest, no society has the kind of solidarity that you seek. Nor should it, it is better to develop a sense of fair play and meritocracy. First of all no one identifies as Hindu, unlike maybe Jewish. If at all we identify as Punjabis, Gujuratis. And a Tamil Hindu would rather help out a Mallu Muslim before some North Indian. I am greatly surprised that Muslims of all people would lament a lack of solidarity, I’ve always felt you lot were the ones who stuck together the most. I am also a bit slighted by how you excluded India from anything to do with the “Muslim” world. If anything support for the Palestinians, Iranians and the Iraqis has been consistent from India unlike Pakistan.

I think it is laughable to say that Indians have “gotten their act together”. Have you even been to India? Pakistan looks far cleaner and better organized; and pakis look far better fed, clothed and housed than indians. Yes India has dozens of billionaires and pockets of prosperity but the vast mass of hindus live in some of the worst conditions known to man, and no one gives a damn. So much for your claim that hindus help each other…..

February 4, 2011

I am not irreligious

Filed under: Culture,Desi,Identity,India,Islam,Pakistan,Religion,Zach — Zachary Latif @ 1:11 am

From my HinJew thread I’m nominating Omar as my online shrink and Zaynab as his deputy. The nature of their queries this session is why do I obfuscate  by saying “I’m not irreligious”. In the world of  BrownPundits Jaldhar and myself seem to be among the devout.

Personal Beliefs

Anyway I like to be clear, when I can. I’m proud to be a Baha’i (3rd gen as a Latif 5th gen through another line), on a communal and spiritual level, however my family, stemming from generations, values open-mindedness, individual conscience and humanism above all else (my father and his brother’s facebook statuses is proof of that they actually get a bit of flack for it). Therefore we tend to transcend labels where we can and avoid division. Therefore when Razib correctly mentions that my parents are “Baha’i” I would actually say we’re bourgeoisie, with a dash of boheme (still sticking to our B’s).Also Razib (my middle brother has actually put the name on a shortlist for his second son due next week, the letters Rs zs & bs recur in our family names so its a good combo) mentions:

and to be clear, in parts of europe the roman catholic church has reduced the level of new age belief among its flock on specific issues, such as charms, astrology, etc. but once the church loses institutional support these beliefs seem to pop right back up again out of the universal retard cognitive furniture.

Familial & Esoteric Beliefs

I fear my beliefs (and that of my extended family too) may be a bit of a throwback to “universal retard cognitive furniture” so while we can all accept and very readily internalize atheism (my grandmother’s thoughts on religion is pretty out there; she’s atheisque but still does the Baha’i namaz thrice daily) we respect and syncretise with various & all forms of belief (conciliators rather than confronters; exemplified by the comment I am not irreligious). Ultimately (and EconMichelle may especially remember this post) I believe in the God of ethics, which is either a factual or fictional personification of pure logic and reason. So I’m a mish-mash of Baha’i theology (super duper idealistic about human nature), bits of Zoroastrianism dualism (good vs. evil & all that) and bits of new-age French Revolutionary thought (Supreme Being & Goddess of Reason).

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