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

February 7, 2011

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:

“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:

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).

Solutions:

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

Prelude

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 2, 2011

Rant: Let the HinJew reign in perpetuity.

Filed under: Culture,Identity,Pakistan,South Asia,South Asian,Zach — Zachary Latif @ 9:38 am

I’ve been thinking about it, its not the religion but the people. In my career I’ve never had any serious help from a Pakistani, Iranian or a Baha’i. All of my contacts (and very close friends for that matter) have either been Hindu, Jewish or good ole Westerners. I’ve only encountered hostility and “competition” from my people; this is irrespective of their depth or level of religiosity. Now it could be my own personal character but then how do I get on so well with the “Other”? 

Why can’t we help each other? The competitive complex is far too deeply ingrained and has absolutely nothing to do with the religion but our tribal nature. Until we learn to cooperate, form alliances, resolve our issues amicable (the level of jealously, viciousness and animosity is intense) I much prefer the commercial and pragmatism of the HinJew to the tumultuousness and turbulence (and high-minded & unrealistic idealism) of my so-called “people”.

My PIPA colleague Rubia concluded last week’s debate (jump over to the last two minutes) very presciently and movingly by saying Pakistanis never help each other; I’ve just realised how true this is (I always knew but never understood till now). I guess the road gets harder before it gets easier for our part of the world?

Also a final thought the “critiques” I find in my “people” are the very same characteristics I possess in abundance. I’m idealistic, quite ambitious and can be fairly aggressive when I want something perhaps it is because I possess these very traits that I find them intolerable otherwise; like cannot accept like.

Rant Over. Back to Regular Programming so what about those Egyptjains?

November 9, 2010

The importance of representativeness

Filed under: Bengali,Genetics,Genomics,South Asia — Razib Khan @ 6:56 am

A few weeks ago when I posted on the results of a high likelihood of a partially eastern origin for the Mundari people I received a message via Facebook that the article really wasn’t relevant to most South Asians, since only 1-2% spoke a Mundari language (along with pointers to old out of date articles). I immediately replied that it is likely that the Mundari were one of the base populations from which the Indo-Aryan speaking peoples of Bengal, Orissa and Assam arose. The Santals are present as a minority in all three of these states, and the likelihood is that Santal tribals were assimilated into the Hindu (and later Muslim) society, not the other way around. My interlocutor was a little too fixated on issues having to do with colonialism to see clearly what I was trying to get at. That’s fine, we all have our own experiences.

But in any case the bigger point of that post was to emphasize the importance of representativeness. This is something that really stands out with South Asians. There are around 1.3 billion of us, but the HGDP sample has only Pakistani groups. Some of these, such as the Kalash and Burusho are cultural isolates, whose sampling was justified on the grounds that these people were likely going to be assimilated in the near future. Of the HGDP South Asians only one, the Sindhi, are Indo-Aryan speakers, the language family which covers about ~80% of South Asians. More recent papers have moderately rectified that situation. Though as a Indian American Bengali friend of mine observed, “there are 200 million of us!” I believe, and hope, in three years that these sorts of worries and questions will seem like ancient history. Below the fold I’ve taken Dienekes ADMIXTURE estimates for HGDP and HapMap3 South Asian groups and appended myself to them.

razibme

I’m soon going to get my parents tested via 23andMe, and I’ll have a better sense of my elevated “East Asian” ancestry is due to recent admixture, or part of the normal range in eastern Bengal. If, as I suspect, most of the East Asian is from my father I’ll increase the probability of the former. If it’s more balanced I’ll increase the likelihood that I’m representative of many Bengalis. There are a few Bengalis on 23andMe and most of them have elevated “Asian” ancestry, though not as much as me.

October 20, 2010

Genetic watersheds on the Great Himalayas

Indian_subcontinent

One of the great geological landmarks on earth are the Himalayas. Not only are the Himalayas of importance in the domain of physical geography, but they are important in human geography as well. Just as South Asians and non-South Asians agree that the valley of the Indus and its tributaries bound the west of the Indian cultural world, so the Himalayas bound it on the north. Unlike many pre-modern constructions, such as the eastern boundary of Europe, the northern limit of South Asia is relatively clear and distinct. It is stark on a relief map; the flat Gangetic plain gives way to mountains. And it is stark a cultural map, the languages of northern India give way to those of the world of Tibet. The religion of northern India gives way to the Buddhism of Tibet. In terms of human geography I believe that one can argue that the Himalayan fringe around South Asia exhibits the greatest change of ancestrally informative gene frequencies over the smallest distance when you exclude those regions separated by water barriers. Unlike the Sahara the transect from the northern India to Chinese Tibet at any given point along the border is permanently inhabited, albeit sparsely at the heights.

ResearchBlogging.orgAnd yet despite the geographical barriers people and ideas did move across the Himalaya. The cultural influences upon Tibet from India are obvious. The script of Tibet is derived from India, while its form of Buddhism is the direct descendant of the last efflorescence of that religion in northern India. But while culture moved north, I do not see much evidence genetically that South Asians have been significant as an influence. This is somewhat shocking when you realize these two facts: the population of the Tibetan Autonomous Region is on the order of 5-6 million, while that of northern South Asia around ~1 billion (including Pakistan and Bangladesh). A 200-fold difference. And yet there is evidence of admixture between the two groups exactly where you’d expect: in Nepal. Below is a figure from a recent paper which shows how South and East Asian populations relate to each other. I’ve highlighted the Nepali groups, which span the two larger classes:


tibetsou1

tibetsouth2From the above figure it’s clear that there is considerable admixture among the Indo-European populations of Nepal with a Tibetan element. The Magar are a tribe which is representative of Tibet, with little South Asian genetic input presumably. The Newar are the Nepalese hybrids par excellence. To a great extent they can be viewed as the indigenous peoples of the Kathmandu region at the heart of modern Nepal. Their language is of Tibetan affinity, and yet it is heavily overlain with an Indo-Aryan aspect, and seems to have within it an ancient Austro-Asiatic substrate. Though predominantly Hindu today, the Newar have a substantial Buddhist minority whose roots may go back to the original Mahayana traditions which were once prominent in northern India. The Brahmin and Chetri groups are upper caste communities who claim provenance from the north Indian plain. Some of these upper caste groups in Nepal are of recent vintage, having fled the Islamic conquests of the Gangetic plain within the last 1,000 years. And yet even they have obvious Tibetan admixture. This should make one cautious about the excessive claims to genetic purity which South Asian caste groups make.

But admixture of a Tibetan or East Asian component in South Asia is not limited to Nepal. I have reedited a figure from a 2006 paper on Indian Americans which shows the inferred components of ancestry of various language-groups. It is clear that the northeastern groups, Bengalis, Assamese, and Oriya, have an affinity to East Asians. This is not just ancient east Eurasian ancestry, the “Ancestral South Indians” hypothesized in Reich et al.. The South Indian groups (which I have excised from the figure) do not exhibit the same level of elevation of the ancestral quantum dominant among the Han Chinese in the bar plot. In fact the Reich et al. paper also reported evidence of an eastern ancestral element in some of the Munda speaking groups of northeast India. This stands to reason as the Munda are a South Asian branch of the Austro-Asiatic family of Southeast Asia. But much of it may also be more recent, as groups such as the Ahom of Assam and the Chakma of Bangladesh seem to have arrived from Burma of late.

So we see that genes do flow around the margins of South Asia, and into it. And yet Tibet seems oddly insulated. Why? Because of adaptation. Like water, it seems in this case genes tend to flow downhill, not up, and the reason is likely the fitness differentials between lowland and highland populations along the slope of the Great Himalayas. A new paper in PNAS explores the issue by examining genetic variation among Indians, Tibetans, and worldwide populations, in relation to hypoxia implicated loci. EGLN1 involvement in high-altitude adaptation revealed through genetic analysis of extreme constitution types defined in Ayurveda:

It is being realized that identification of subgroups within normal controls corresponding to contrasting disease susceptibility is likely to lead to more effective predictive marker discovery. We have previously used the Ayurvedic concept of Prakriti, which relates to phenotypic differences in normal individuals, including response to external environment as well as susceptibility to diseases, to explore molecular differences between three contrasting Prakriti types: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. EGLN1 was one among 251 differentially expressed genes between the Prakriti types. In the present study, we report a link between high-altitude adaptation and common variations rs479200 (C/T) and rs480902 (T/C) in the EGLN1 gene. Furthermore, the TT genotype of rs479200, which was more frequent in Kapha types and correlated with higher expression of EGLN1, was associated with patients suffering from high-altitude pulmonary edema, whereas it was present at a significantly lower frequency in Pitta and nearly absent in natives of high altitude. Analysis of Human Genome Diversity Panel-Centre d’Etude du Polymorphisme Humain (HGDP-CEPH) and Indian Genome Variation Consortium panels showed that disparate genetic lineages at high altitudes share the same ancestral allele (T) of rs480902 that is overrepresented in Pitta and positively correlated with altitude globally (P< 0.001), including in India. Thus, EGLN1 polymorphisms are associated with high-altitude adaptation, and a genotype rare in highlanders but overrepresented in a subgroup of normal lowlanders discernable by Ayurveda may confer increased risk for high-altitude pulmonary edema.

The paper itself is a follow up to a previous work attempting to see if there was a sense to the classification of constitutions found within Ayurvedic medicine. Like Chinese medicine this is a non-Western tradition which has different philosophical roots and axioms (Galenic medicine might be analogous). But in theory all medical traditions emerged to battle illness, so their target was unitary, the ailments which plague the human body. Therefore one might suppose that in fact there would be some sense in any long-standing medical tradition which has any empirical grounding, because human biology is relatively invariant. It is the relative clause which is of interest for the purposes of this paper, because the authors show how the classifications of Ayurvedic medicine seem to comport with the recent genetic evidence of high altitude adaptation! Specifically they found that particular Ayurvedic classes of individuals who seem to have negative reactions to high altitude exposure in the form of hypoxia tend to be carriers of particular EGLN1 genotypes.

I will at this point observe that since I don’t know much about Ayurveda I won’t address or cover that issue in detail. The paper is Open Access so you can read it yourself. So let’s move to the genetics. EGLN1 should be familiar to you by now. It’s cropped up repeatedly over the past year in studies of high altitude adaptation. It is a locus which seems to be a target of selection in both the peoples of the Andes and Tibet. Additionally, it has a peculiar aspect where the ancestral variant, the one found most frequently within Africa, seems to be the target of selection for altitude adaptation outside of Africa.

The slideshow below is an overview of the primary figures within this paper.



What do we take away from this? Well, one aspect which I think is important to emphasize is that genetic background matters, and there’s much we don’t know. In the conclusion the authors note that the altitude adaptation papers which I alluded to above were not published when the manuscript was being written, so they were not privy to the rather repeated robust evidence that EGLN1 has been the target of natural selection, and that variation on the locus is correlated with variation in adaptation to higher altitudes. The widespread coverage of populations in this paper seems to almost obscure as much as highlight. What has African variation to do with this after all? Additionally one must always remember that one given marker on a gene which shows a correlation does not entail functional causation. We saw this with the markers which seemed to predict the odds of an individual of European ancestry having blue eyes; it turned out that the markers themselves were simply strongly associated with another SNP which was probably the real functional root behind the difference in phenotype.

Due to the replication of EGLN1 in both Andeans and Tibetans I am moderately confident that variation on this gene does have something to due with high altitude adaptation. What I am curious about is the fact that the ancestral alleles in many cases seem to be driven up on frequency. Is there an interaction between the genetic background of non-Africans and the SNPs in question which make it beneficial toward altitude adaptation? Was there an initial relaxation of function as human populations moved out of Africa, which was slammed back on at high altitudes? There does seem a correlation within South Asian populations between hypoxia and high altitudes and particular variants on EGLN1. Focusing just on this region we can draw some reasonable inferences, but taking a bigger picture view and encompassing the whole world we’re confronted with a rather more confused, and perhaps more interesting, picture.

Back to the specific issue of the lack of South Asian imprint on the genes of Tibetan peoples, I think one can chalk this up to the fact that humans are animals, and so we’re constrained by geography and biology. Tibetans can operate efficiently at lower altitudes, and so have mixed with South Asians in these regions. In contrast, South Asians can not operate at higher altitudes, and so the impact on Tibetans was purely cultural, and not genetic. More broadly this may also point to long term geopolitical implications: the Han Chinese demographic domination of Tibet is always going to be a matter of water flowing uphill. Unless of course we flesh out the genetic architecture of these traits well enough that the Chinese government knows exactly which individuals among the 1.2 billion Han population would be most biologically prepared to reside in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, and so can proactively recruit them to settle in Lhasa and other strategic locations.

Citation: Shilpi Aggarwal, Sapna Negi, Pankaj Jha, Prashant K. Singh, Tsering Stobdan, M. A. Qadar Pasha, Saurabh Ghosh, Anurag Agrawal, Indian Genome Variation Consortium, Bhavana Prasher, & Mitali Mukerji (2010). EGLN1 involvement in high-altitude adaptation revealed through genetic analysis of extreme constitution types defined in Ayurveda PNAS : 10.1073/pnas.1006108107

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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