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

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.

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” 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.

February 4, 2011

Thoughts on Egypt, India and good ole Muzzer solidarity

Filed under: Culture,Desi,India,Islam,Pakistan,Politics — Zachary Latif @ 8:41 am

I’m hitting my 3post a day quota so I wanted to tie up the remaining comment themes. I hope no one is offended by my use of the word Muzzer, its an urban English slang for Muslims.


On Egypt, when 82% of Egyptian think that stoning adulterers is an acceptable punishment I think its better that the process be more of a gradual reform than immediate revolution.

India and the Muslim World

On India and her “destiny” among the Muslim world. The Indian historic sphere of influence has always been complex and at heart I’m a Civilisationist (Samuel Huntington Clash of Civilisations remains a profound and core influence for better or for worse). I do believe that Indic and Islamic civilisations, while distinct have commingled extensively but then again Dar-ul-Islam has been the pulsating core of the Eurasian and African heartland.Clash of Civilisations

Prior to Western Imperialism (in my opinion this is a neutral term and should not denote either condemnation or support for it but a factual statement of history – too many conditions in posts) the Islamic heartland actively connected all the other great civilisations. Would I consider Orthodox, Protestant and Catholic Europe to be different Civilisations, I don’t think (Huntington treats Orthodoxy and Catholic/Protestant Europe as two different world orders) but even so I would treat Orthodoxy as a fissure event within the same civilisations.

Anyway my point being that there are certain cleft nations, Pakistan is a cleft nation between Islamic and Indic civilization. The question is what are Bangladesh and the Malayan Muslims, what civilization do they belong to? That’s a question for them to decide. As a cleft nation Pakistan has an insiders perspective to two different world orders, which is why we’re so confused about our identity, Steve Sailer’s 50-50 rule operates here. Also we tend to have the role of being the insider outsider, in Desi terms we are trying to move away from that consciously (high command is anyway or GHQ to quote Omar) and in Islamic terms we’re on the pale of the core ethnicities (Arab, Berber, Turk, Kurd, Persian).

Indic Influence

To its credit Pakistan has always been admired for its deft handling for foreign affairs, while its only in the past decade frankly India has asserted her weight to the fullest extend. Indic influence (probably Razib would be a better judge) tends to assimilationist, mercantile and cultural. I think Omar put it best when he spoke of the Punjab and I analogise it to India:

a variant of the above theory holds that Punjab is the historic buffer of India. All sorts of invaders come in, fight over the Punjab and capture it. Then the peasants get to work. We might even convert to whatever barbaric ideology they have brought, but in time the peasants outbreed and outflank the invaders. In the end, the invaders become Indian and help us outbreed and outlast the next invading horde. We win by “assimilation and attrition”. I am not sure if this is an optimistic theory or a pessimistic one. In India, the two are practically the same anyway.

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).

Feisty Pundits

Filed under: Culture,Desi,India,Islam,Pakistan,Religion — Zachary Latif @ 12:49 am

Good morning. Thanks to Opera Comments feed I can now catch up on all comments instead of clicking on Most Recent Comment. I’ve now got a good flavour at what’s been transpiring Trans-Atlantic while I’ve been snoozing. Welcome to our resident Scanjabi, Thorfinn. I had always thought him to be this ultra-Nordic chap of Gnxp who had a peculiar interest in South Asian land reform but instead he’s downright Desi through and through.

Inappropriate comments on Pak tv

Seems to be a feisty session all-around I wanted to post this Youtube video about this MTV style Pakistani talk show but it’d need a running translation for those who don’t speak Hindustani. Personally I’m also involved in this email chain, created from last week’s talk, which has now grown to expand on Shariah financing and its getting “Spicier” despite the dry topic (always happens when 30 Pakistanis are on an email chain, topics spiral out of control and so do egos, mine included).

Muzzer/HinJew solidarity vs EQ

On the Muzzer/HinJew solidarity issue I think its less to do with ethnic or religious communities (Yes Muzzers seem very unitied) but perhaps as my brother mentioned its a question of EQ, IQ & vision? Cerebral personalities, who are confident in their own abilities, are amenable to help one another out. Dull sorts, with no such outlet, tend to be vicious (is that even a word?). People with a vision and ambition are constructive, those who don’t are destructive. Frankly I think IQ is very much a feature of nurture (I know I’ll be proved wrong by countless studies but this constitutes one of my few superstitious beliefs) and life is a constant learning process, which people have to want to embark on irrespective of their professional and academic backgrounds.

I’m glad to see BrownPundits is taking  on a feistier tone; may we discover ever greater strands of the superstructure of culture (I think that phrase is going to stay with me for a long time). Its been a great journey so far and I’ve never felt more Brown & Proud.

December 31, 2010

The union of being brown

Filed under: Brown,Category,Desi,Identity,South Asian — Razib Khan @ 3:56 pm

Something which having this blog allows is to elaborate on theories/positions I’ve exposited for years on the Sepia Mutiny weblog. One of those ideas is an inclusive model of being brown (Desi). In set theory basically I’m suggesting that the set of those who are defined or self-define as brown/Desi can be reasonably modeled as the union of various other sets. In contrast, an exclusive model would posit that a brown person is an intersection of various other sets. Arguably some proponents of Hindutva explicitly adhere to this exclusive model, where only Hindu South Asians who are resident in South Asia are real browns. In contrast, in my model Bobby Jindal remains brown, despite him being American, and being a convert to an Abrahamic religion. Evangelical Protestant Gypsies in France are arguably brown; they may have some residual South Asian ancestry, and often retain many South Asian customs as well as Indo-Aryan language. People of European descent born and raised in India are also brown. They may not be typical in appearance, or even religion, but their upbringing in a South Asian milieu makes them at least as brown in my opinion, if not more so, than Diasporic browns. Adopted children who are of South Asian origin are also brown because of their indubitable ancestry through their appearance. It doesn’t matter if they have a Minnesota accent and are involved in the Lutheran youth group, and couldn’t tell Kolkota from Karachi from Kodaikanal.

But this inclusive model doesn’t deny that there are some brown people who are more prototypically brown. Hinduism is the South Asian religion par excellence. Islam is not, despite the largest numbers of Muslims in the world being resident in South Asia. All things equal being a Hindu gives one more of a brown stamp than being a Muslim. Similarly, being a Syrian Christian and not an evangelical Protestant in Kerala roots one in South Asia as opposed to a world wide Protestant community. There are white skinned pale brown people, but the reality is that the typical brown person is…brown-skinned.

This doesn’t mean that I’m the pope of brown people. You’re brown/Desi if you say you are in my book. But terms and categories need to have some utility. And this sort of way of classification and identification is I think instrumentally useful. It allows us to make comparisons. I would say, for example, that Zach is arguably more brown than I am despite his mixed ancestral heritage because of his manifestly clearer association with a South Asian nation, Pakistan, and his identification with many aspects of South Asian civilization. Myself, I admit frankly that I’m very alienated from South Asian high culture, and am drawn more to China and the West. But because of my ancestry it would be foolish for me to deny that I am South Asian.

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