Aasia Bibi case comes full circle(part 1)

I have a special interest in Aasia Bibi’s case because it was the assassination of Salmaan Taseer that shook most of my worldview and lead me to a completely different path in life. It coincided with my political awakening. I was a 4th-year medical student at the time (January 2011) when the incident took place and I started my new journey. I grew up in a conservative, Salafi family in small town Punjab. I had always been a bookworm, interested in reading the news and reading all kinds of books (more in Urdu than English, mostly because books in Urdu were much more accessible to me). When my classmates in high school were busy memorizing textbooks for history, I was reading books in the school library that had not been read for ages (including both English and Urdu books). I was more interested in biographies and didn’t read (or had access to) books on politics and social sciences written in English. I was curious but didn’t have enough material to understand my own curiosity.

I was aware of the Aasia Bibi case and considered it a bigoted attempt by the village folk as a way to settle scores (not an uncommon occurrence in Punjab, my homeland). I was heartened to see Governor Taseer’s photos in the news when he visited Aasia. I had actually written a letter to Governor Taseer about some issue with our university exam (Governor of Punjab is the de facto Chancellor of all public universities in the province) a week before he was assassinated. From a political standpoint, I did not like him because he had been used by Zardari (President of Pakistan at the time and belonging to Pakistan Peoples Party-PPP) as a pawn to keep the PML(N) government in the bay. It was during this period that photos from some private events attended by the Taseer family were ‘leaked’ on social media. They showed the Taseer family in swimming pools and the ladies in swimsuits (which was considered too much skin). Those photos were circulated on Facebook and then on news channels by both PML(N) folks and later by the religious right which had started calling for Salmaan Taseer’s head after he visited Aasia in jail.

At the beginning of January 2011, I had taken part in an inter-collegiate competition taking place in Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and was still living in the slightly less-bigoted mindset that was present in LUMS. The assassination on January 4th, 2011 took place a day after I came back from LUMS. A few short years before that, Lawyers movement (2007-08) had swept urban parts of Pakistan in a frenzy and it felt like a new era for raising your voice, to demand greater freedoms. Some of my friends from high school had played an active role in the movement and LUMS had been a citadel of resistance during those days. The band, Laal (meaning Red) had sung some of Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s poems and made a wonderful video talking about protest. After 8 years of Musharraf’s ‘hung democracy’, the politico were back in action. (Side Note: for admission to 11th grade in a military-run boarding school, I had to write an essay on demoracy in pakistan (in 2004) and I used the words ‘hung democracy’ in my essay. I got admitted. Omar Ali of BP went to the same school.) There used to be a ‘study circle’ oraganised by some LUMS students (current and former), who had taken active part in the Lawyers movement, at a place on Jail Road, Lahore near my hostel which I had attended twice. During one of the sessions, Ashar Rehman (Taimoor Rehman-of Laal’s uncle and brother of Rashid Rehman, editor of Daily Times) talked about his days fighting alongside the Baloch against the Pakistan army and how he learned tactics of guerrila war from Che Guevara’s books. At the other session, a lady who used to be active in leftist circles in the 1940s (I believe it was Tahira Mazhar Ali, Tariq Ali’s mother) talked about the freedom she enjoyed in those times, roaming Lahore in her tonga.

It was around 4 pm on January 4, 2011 and I was taking a siesta (ah, good old days) when I heard someone in the hostel gallery laugh out loud. Those were exam days and many people were still enjoying the winter holidays so it felt unusual. I looked at my phone and saw a text message from a dear friend from high school (he had been very active on social media during the lawyers movement and took part in a few street protests as well). The text read: there is no hope for enlightened change in this country. I checked twitter and saw posts from someone confirming that Salmaan Taseer had been shot to death in Kohsar Market, Islamabad.

The laughter I had heard was from a classmate of mine who was laughing at the fact that ‘they killed Salmaan Taseer’. I am by no means a violent man but at that moment, something took over me. I started shouting at my classmate and said some bad things about him that I forgot within the next five minutes. A senior of ours came over to my room and consoled me. I was angry and I was crying. It was almost time for the evening prayers (Maghrib) and I was a regular at the nearby mosque (which was situated between our hostel and the hospital/medical school campus). I went and said the prayers and as soon as they ended, I stood up and said, I want to say something to you all. There were about 15-20 people at the mosque and usually people from the Tableeghi Jamaat (a proselytizing group) did announcements for their events after prayers. Initially, people thought I was with the Jamaat until I said my next few words. I had to weigh what I said but it was such a heavy burden on my conscience that I couldn’t just shut up. I said I hope you all know what happened today and I hope that you have the courage to condemn it. In those days, social media was not as popular as it is now and only about 4-5 people had any idea what I was saying. By the time I said it, the Imam asked me to sit down and let him say the final dua. I knew I had made my point so I shut up and finished the rest of prayers.

When I had finished my prayers and was exiting the mosque, two middle-aged men approached me and asked what had happened. They had not heard the news yet so I told them and they told me in no uncertain terms that Salmaan Taseer had it coming. I tried arguing with them for a few minutes, saying that he merely criticized the law which is made by humans and humans can make mistakes. They were not willing to concede that blasphemy law was a human-manufactured law and believed that blasphemy should result in a death penalty. After a few minutes, I got irritated and separated ways. I felt really uneasy in the hostel so I walked over to a friend’s house who lived nearby. I was talking to him when his mother entered the living room. She is a lawyer and I thought she would have a slightly better view on this issue than the lay perosn. Lo and behold, when she heard me talk about the Salmaan Taseer (ST) issue, she started parroting the same narrative that I had heard on the mosque’s steps from the two strangers. I tried arguing with her about the laws of evidence (Aasia bibi was ultimately freed because of weak chain of evidence, among other things) but she was insistent that I was wrong. I swallowed my anger and continued chatting with her son.

I went back to the hostel late at night and tried doing something that I had some rudimentary knowledge of. I made a video monatge using Windows Movie Maker. The background music was from Laal band’s work and the video included some audio that I had recorded on my phone of Salmaan Taseer’s interview to the BBC. I added some photos of Salmaan Taseer’s father M.D.Taseer and his appointment to the United Nations in late 1940s and the right-wing rallies that had banners and placards calling for ST’s death.  The video/montage can be seen here.

I posted the video on Facebook and twitter and sent it to few media people I knew. One of my facebook friends, a Pakistani journalist based in the US, shared that on her Facebook profile and on twitter. ST’s daughter, Shehrbano, saw the video and wrote to her that ‘no daughter deserves to see her father’s bullet-riddled body’ and wanted me to remove those particular photos, which I eventually did. My journalist friend started a secret group on Facebook and added some of the leading progressive voices (mostly journalists and activists) there (BP’s Omar Ali was also in that group). It was/still is a small circle and I’ve either met most people in real life or have known about their work/life through mutual friends and acquaintances. I realised in those days that the liberal/secular minority in Pakistan is very small in numbers (but has an outsized role in the media/academia obviously).

A few months prior to all this happening, Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert had organised ‘Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear’ in Washington D.C. On Facebook, in the aftermath of ST’s assassination, I saw an event of the same name to take place in Lahore. I was excited to attend the rally, slated to take place at Liberty Chowk, an important and busy roundabout in Lahore near Liberty market. It was on a sunday afternoon so I expected there to be about 50-70 people. When I arrived at the venue at the given time, I saw no more than 20 people standing at the roundabout holding placards. Having taken part in some protests in my student life, I was a bit disappointed by the turn out. Upon closer inspection, a majority of the people there were from the transgender community and they left soon after due to some ‘message problem’ with the organisers. Christian activists had also been invited to the protest but they had declined to come and after the transgender people left, there were hardly 8-10 ‘protestors’ which is less than the number of people waiting on a sunday afternoon at the liberty roundabout bus stop. The remaining protestors started marching towards what used to be Kalma Chowk and that is where I turned around and left. During the walk, I met an elderly gentleman who was in the advertising bussiness and had come all the way from Islamabad to be part of the march. He was visibly angry at the fake leftist uncles in Lahore who had preferred spending a lazy sunday afternoon in their cocoons instead of showing up for the greater cause (his words). He had been active in political activism since the days of PPP’s rise in the late 1960s. His name was Shoaib Mir and he passed away in May 2018. At the rally, I learned that the organisers were gathering two days later at a nearby place called ‘Institute of Peace and Secular Studies’ (IPSS).


Smash the Brahmanical Patriarchy

Above Ellen Pompeo talks about the burdens of being an Elder Race..

Thoughts on the biggest issue rocking Indian Twitter?

* Jack Dorsey and Lewis Hamilton must be slapped with lifetime bans to India.

* the Indian government must suspend all Twitter accounts and F1 racing (Mercedes should be banned).

* Any apology must show absolutely contrition and anyone demonstrating Coloniser Privilege should be publicly shamed.

I saw Jack D’s twitter page; his appropriation of Dharmic motifs is simply shameful. As if his ancestors did not cause enough havoc to our beloved lands with their divide and rule and other such nonsense.

In fact there is good argument that it was British who had a very keen interest in reviving caste. Admittedly caste goes back to the very early genesis of what it means to be Indian (much like the gods our tripartite heritage of Aryan, Dravidian & Aboriginal).

Of course I’m projecting an extraordinarily “Pakistani approach” but for Pakis we live and die by Izzat. Partition was also the loss of a mindset as well as everything else; the one where honor comes before all else..


Have we seen the face of Rama?

One of the problems with looking up pictures of the Kalash people of Pakistan is that photographers have a bias toward highlighting the most European-looking villagers. Let’s call this “Rudyard Kipling Lost White Races” syndrome. Therefore for your edification, I post the YouTube above which is probably more representative of what the Kalash look like.

The reason I post a link to what the Kalash look like is that it is germane to the answer to the question: what did the Indo-Aryans look like? The past tense is key since “Indo-Aryans” today means a lot of people in South Asia, in a literal sense.

In the post below Zach L. made a passing comment:

(1.) The AASI’s, which are sort of co-equivalent to the Negritos and Anadamese Islanders (one of the first coastal waves out of Africa that somehow also ended up in the Amazon). It’s interesting that they are substrate to every South Asian population (I think there are trace amounts in Central Asia, Afghanistan and even Iran).

(2.) the “Dravidian” farmers out of Iran. They are probably related to the J1/J2 types and might be an olive skinned population. Prominent in Sindh and Southern Pakistan through to South India (high % in Gujarat – must have been a locus of some sort).

(3.) our beloved Aryans who are especially prevalent among Brahmins, the Punjab and Haryana (though arguably the Haryanvis and East Punjab descend from Scythians to some extent). These look “European” but it’s a very different look to #2.

The Aryans are conventional European (light eyes, light hair, white skin) the ancient Dravidians would have (probably) looked like Middle Easterners (olive skin, dark hair dark eyes) and the AASI, ” looks like Papua New Guineans.

I can’t see any disagreement with point number two.

As for the AASI (“Ancient Ancestral South Indians”), we need to be careful here. They diverged from the ancestors of the people of Papua New Guinea ~40-50 thousand years ago. The divergence from the Andamanese, who probably migrated from mainland Southeast Asia, was not too much later. Aside from being very dark-skinned, the various extant “Australasian” people can be quite distinctive in appearance. The people of Papua, and native Australians, are quite robust. A substantial minority have blonde hair color due to a mutation common among Oceanians. The “Negrito” people of Southeast Asia and India all seem to be have adapted to a narrow relic niche, and may not be representative of their ancestors.

That being said, there is a particular non-West Eurasian look that many South Asians have which we can presume is the heritage of the AASI.

The comment about Aryans looking like Europeans raised my eyebrows a bit. This is a touchy subject, and to be honest my initial reaction was to be skeptical. But the more I read the primary literature to check up on Zach, the more reasonable this seemed to be. The dominant steppe signal into South Asia does resemble the people who were pushing into Central and Western Europe 1,000 years earlier than the Indo-Aryans, who were moving southward probably ~3,500 years ago. This is clear in rather simple statistical genetic analyses-populations such as the Kalash and Pathans for example show strong evidence of “European-like” gene flow.

Current work out of David Reich’s lab suggests that the Kalash are the best modern proxies we have for the “Ancestral North Indians,” the ANI. This population is modeled as:

– ~30% “steppe”, which is very similar to the ancestry which expaned westward into Europe between 3000 and 2500 BCE
– ~70% “Indus Periphery”, which seems the likely ancestral contribution of the people of the IVC, and is a heterogenous mix of Iranian-farmer and AASI

The mid-range estimate for the emergence of the Kalash mix is ~2,500 years before the present, but these usually have some downward bias, so it is reasonable that it would be greater than ~3,000 years. The samples from the Swat Valley dating to this period show gradual increase of “steppe” ancestry over time.

So one reason to be skeptical that the Indo-Aryans were “European-like” in appearance is that by the time they were flourishing in the lands previous inhabited by the IVC they may already have been more than 50% genetically like the people of the IVC. In which case, a minority would be very European-looking, but most would look vaguely West Asia, with some looking more stereotypically South Asian. If you look at the video above I think you do see the Kalash look this way.

One reason I’ve always been skeptical of the idea that the Indo-Aryans looked European, or, that their demographic impact was large, is that it seemed unlike both could be true. The expression of blue eyes among Indians was too low of a percentage.

Here is the frequency at a major SNP which predicts a lot of the blue vs. brown eye color.

Continue reading “Have we seen the face of Rama?”


Why it is important to insult Muhammad to defend freedom

There was no need to repeat the nasty things that Aasia Bibi supposedly said about Hazrat Khadija and Hazrat Ayesha. Your point could have been made without those remarks.

Kabir makes a very valid point; why did I repeat Aasia’s alleged statements on the podcast?

I am generally respectful towards all religions and philosophies. In fact I’ve been accused of being very partial towards Islam & a Paknationalist.

However what I think Pakistani Muslims do not understand is the rage they feel about their religion being insulted is the rage I feel about Aasia in prison for doing nothing.

For me Freedom is about the right to use holy texts as toilet paper. I wouldn’t indulge in such gratuitously and offensive gestures but if I feel my freedom and liberty is at threat I will.

What I increasingly feel post-Aasia is that the hijabi feminists and liberal Muslims in the West demanding “respect” and claiming Islamophobia (the values of the enlightenment and tolerance) are in fact promoting an age-old Muslim agenda; Muhammad must never be disrespected or abused and always have PBUH tacked on.

The rage over Gaza descends into a whimper over Aasia and that is simply unacceptable; Munafiqeen of the highest order..

In the West there are no real exceptions on freedom and I don’t see why we should make any exception for Islam after seeing the case of Aasia Bibi and the price of liberty..


Why has Imran Khan aged so badly-

In the top photo he’s with Sheikh Zayed of the UAE. This is them in the 70’s. Imran these days looks so haggard and old especially in comparison with his dashing younger self.

The Emir on the end pretty much looks the same; in fact looks even better since he’s more au fait.

Unfortunately for Imran; I think he became a born-again Muslim a little too late for his own good. There’s obviously been a lot of sharab in his wilder days and god knows what else.

It’s part of the reason as to why I have such a visceral dislike of substances; they can age you really quickly. Black don’t crack but brown also has pretty amazing staying power.

That’s why when I see Indians boast about how much they drink I tend to roll my eyes. Alcohol is no great panacea and instead for Brown people we must guard against weight gain. I wonder if there is salient Vedic wisdom on staying young as long as possible.

I do notice that as one ages sleep is increasingly an issue. Our 9-5 industrialised tempo with some leisure time thrown in after doesn’t make for long and conducive rest periods, which is necessary to our psyche and well-being.

It may sound controversial but I imagine the outbreak of depression and mental illness probably has some simple solutions. There was big news over the weekend that 17 children (most of them autistic or on the spectrum) have transitioned at a single school.

I may sound a bit old-school here but I suspect there’s a deep spiritual malaise in the West that’s almost consuming it. It’s why poorer nations aren’t necessarily unhappier ones; there’s much to be said for spiritual and social solidarity once basic fundamental needs & wants are met.


Why I love being Paki-

This cracked me up to no end.

On a serious note I tend to follow a fair bit of Twitterstan. It’s a lot more fun than Twitterdesh.

Twitterdesh is a bit scary since a lot of the Bollywood celebs have fled to Instagram and we’re left with a bunch of intellectuals constantly griping about Hinduism losing out to Islam.

Twitterstan happens to have a lot of Pakistan’s glamorous politicians; Bakhtawar Bhutto has a pretty fascinating account. What I haven’t fathomed yet is why haven’t the PPP & PML-N made a Grand Democratic Coalition to punch back against Imran & the Army.

I picked up this piece (via Razib’s twitter) on the New York Times on China’s unique rise.

I think Pakistan is a fairly advanced and democratic country compared to the rest of the Muslim world (which is a fairly low bar). However the strong pull of the Raj’s legacy & an Indian cultural orientation mitigate the harsher aspects of Islam.

I was quite vocal in the last podcast with Razib; I ranted a fair bit since I’ve been so angry about the Aasia Bibi situation.

I’m actually not so angry with Pakistanis back home but our Diaspora abroad who cower behind the veil of the Woke & Social Justice Warriors.

If we are all meant to constantly check our Privileges then what about the rights of the most under-privileged person there is, Aasia B.

This is why I find the Left at the moment to have betrayed the legacy of liberalism whatsoever. It’s fighting for what is expedient rather than what is right. It doesn’t mean the Right is any better but the apostolic mantle that the Left has shrouded itself in means that it must be held to the same standards as religious authority. The Death of Christianity as a pervasive moral code has left a huge moral vacuum in large sections of society.


Brown Pundits Podcast #2 – Asia Bibi and Colorism

The latest BP Podcast is up. You can listen on Libsyn, iTunes and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

The title makes it clear what we talked about this week. It as a long podcast at more than one and a half hours. Would appreciate it if some people reviewed the podcast positively on iTunes and Stitcher.


Biryani Night

I swear I’m not spamming but it so happened last night the Cambridge South Asian Forum hosted an event (biryani was the reward) about the Kashmiri docu-film Harud. This was after the Kashmir play last Saturday night.

It was a slow film done in the Persian style (the lead actor’s father was actually Persian but had flawless Urdu).

As an aside this is the second time I’ve seen an Iranian actor (the Nargis character in Sacred Games is actually an Iranian) and their command of the Urdu language is flawless. Contrast this to Katrina Kaif who still needs to be dubbed.

I’ll bullet point my observations:

(1.) the post-modern India literati is simply scathing. I cannot imagine Pakistanis academically discussing the secession of Baluchistan.

(2.) I made a very controversial comment last night at the round table (there were 25 of us; no Muslims all upper castes except me and I was the only Pakistani) saying India can’t understand her Muslim minority.

(3.) I also made points about the very high cultural affinity between Kashmiri Muslims and Pakistan (we are all part of the Indus Valley). Did not go down well; when I saw Srinagar it reminded me of one of our cities on the Indus..

(4.) Yesterday one of my friends made the spectacular suggestion that South Asia needs a Good Friday Agreement. We can all accept the current borders if they become (much) softer.

(5.) Europe spent 50 million lives and a century of war (hot & cold) and now the EU is interlocking the continent into one unit. Why can’t India do the same about SAARC ex Pakistan?

(5a.) Why doesn’t South Asia have free movement of capital, good and people beyond the troublesome northwestern bits.

(6.) Prosperity and cultural autonomy can go a very long way to alleviate tensions in the region; the Indo-Pak corner is simply one area. Why can’t rich Indians do lavish weddings in Sri Lanka or the Maldives instead of Thailand or Italy?