Clash Of Civilisations – Samuel Huntington

After Ukraine, China asserting itself, Turkey – Rise of Erdogan, Myanmar (Burma) crisis, Even India with rise of Modi . I think this book deserves a revisit. Perhaps all his works deserves a visit.

collection of his quotes .

“This changing international environment brought to the fore the fundamental cultural differences between Asian and American civilizations. At the broadest level the Confucian ethos pervading many Asian societies stressed the values of authority, hierarchy, the subordination of individual rights and interests, the importance of consensus, the avoidance of confrontation, “saving face,” and, in general, the supremacy of the state over society and of society over the individual. In addition, Asians tended to think of the evolution of their societies in terms of centuries and millennia and to give priority to maximizing long-term gains. These attitudes contrasted with the primacy in American beliefs of liberty, equality, democracy, and individualism, and the American propensity to distrust government, oppose authority, promote checks and balances, encourage competition, sanctify human rights, and to forget the past, ignore the future, and focus on maximizing immediate gains. The sources of conflict are in fundamental differences in society and culture.”

“In the post-Cold War world flags count and so do other symbols of cultural identity, including crosses, crescents, and even head coverings, because culture counts, and cultural identity is what is most meaningful to most people.”

“ability of Asian regimes to resist Western human rights pressures was reinforced by several factors. American and European businesses were desperately anxious to expand their trade with and their investment in these rapidly”

“The dangerous clashes of the future are likely to arise from the interaction of Western arrogance, Islamic intolerance, and Sinic assertiveness.”

“The philosophical assumptions, underlying values, social relations, customs, and overall outlooks on life differ significantly among civilizations. The revitalization of religion throughout much of the world is reinforcing these cultural differences. Cultures can change, and the nature of their impact on politics and economics can vary from one period to another. Yet the major differences in political and economic development among civilizations are clearly rooted in their different cultures. East Asian economic success has its source in East Asian culture, as do the difficulties East Asian societies have had in achieving stable democratic political systems. Islamic culture explains in large part the failure of democracy to emerge in much of the Muslim world.”

“The prevalence of anti-patriotic attitudes among liberal intellectuals led some of them to warn their fellow liberals of the consequences of such attitudes for the future not of America but of American liberalism. Most Americans, as the American public philosopher Richard Rorty has written, take pride in their country, but ‘many of the exceptions to this rule are found in colleges and universities, in the academic departments that have become sanctuaries for left-wing political views.’ These leftists have done ‘a great deal of good for . . . women, African-Americans, gay men and lesbians. . . . But there is a problem with this Left: it is unpatriotic. It repudiates the idea of a national identity and the emotion of national pride.’ If the Left is to retain influence, it must recognize that a ‘sense of shared national identity . . . is an absolutely essential component of citizenship.’ Without patriotism, the Left will be unable to achieve its goals for America. Liberals, in short, must use patriotism as a means to achieve liberal goals”

“What, however, makes culture and ideology attractive? They become attractive when they are seen as rooted in material success and influence. Soft power is power only when it rests on a foundation of hard power. Increases in hard economic and military power produce enhanced self-confidence, arrogance, and belief in the superiority of one’s own culture or soft power compared to those of other peoples and greatly increase its attractiveness to other peoples. Decreases in economic and military power lead to self-doubt, crises of identity, and efforts to find in other cultures the keys to economic, military, and political success.”

“The argument now that the spread of pop culture and consumer goods around the world represents the triumph of Western civilization trivializes Western culture. The essence of Western civilization is the Magna Carta, not the Magna Mac. The fact that non-Westerners may bite into the latter has no implications for their accepting the former.”

“There can be no true friends without true enemies. Unless we hate what we are not, we cannot love what we are.”

“reaffirming their Western identity and Westerners accepting their civilization as unique not universal and uniting to renew and preserve it against challenges from non-Western societies.”

“These transnationalists have little need for national loyalty, view national boundaries as obstacles that thankfully are vanishing, and see national governments as residues from the past whose only useful function is to facilitate the elite’s global operations”

“the situation between Ukraine and Russia is ripe for the outbreak of security competition between them. Great powers that share a long and unprotected common border, like that between Russia and Ukraine, often lapse into competition driven by security fears. Russia and Ukraine might overcome this dynamic and learn to live together in harmony, but it would be unusual if they do.”

“One grim Weltanschauung for this new era was well expressed by the Venetian nationalist demagogue in Michael Dibdin’s novel, Dead Lagoon: “There can be no true friends without true enemies. Unless we hate what we are not, we cannot love what we are. These are the old truths we are painfully rediscovering after a century and more of sentimental cant. Those who deny them deny their family, their heritage, their culture, their birthright, their very selves! They will not lightly be forgiven.”

“God and Caesar, church and state, spiritual authority and temporal authority, have been a prevailing dualism in Western culture. Only in Hindu civilization were religion and politics also so distinctly separated. In Islam, God is Caesar; in China and Japan, Caesar is God; in Orthodoxy, God is Caesar’s junior partner.”

“Collective will supplants individual whim”

“People define themselves in terms of ancestry, religion, language, history, values, customs, and institutions. They identify with cultural groups: tribes, ethnic groups, religious communities, nations, and, at the broadest level, civilizations. People use politics not just to advance their interests but also to define their identity. We know who we are only when we know who we are not and often only when we know whom we are against.”

“Hypocrisy, double standards, and “but nots” are the price of universalist pretensions. Democracy is promoted, but not if it brings Islamic fundamentalists to power; nonproliferation is preached for Iran and Iraq, but not for Israel; free trade is the elixir of economic growth, but not for agriculture; human rights are an issue for China, but not with Saudi Arabia; aggression against oil-owning Kuwaitis is massively repulsed, but not against non-oil-owning Bosnians. Double standards in practice are the unavoidable price of universal standards of principle.”

“It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation-states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.”

“Becoming a modern society is about industrialization, urbanization, and rising levels of literacy, education, and wealth. The qualities that make a society Western, in contrast, are special: the classical legacy, Christianity, the separation of church and state, the rule of law, civil society.”

“Every civilization sees itself as the center of the world and writes its history as the central drama of human history.”

“In the emerging world of ethnic conflict and civilizational clash, Western belief in the universality of Western culture suffers three problems: it is false; it is immoral; and it is dangerous.”

“Islam’s borders are bloody and so are its innards. The fundamental problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilisation whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power.”

“The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion (to which few members of other civilizations were converted) but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners never do.”

“Democracy is premised, in some measure, on majority rule, and democracy is difficult in a situation of concentrated inequalities in which a large, impoverished majority confronts a small, wealthy oligarchy.”
The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (1991)

“Cultural America is under siege. And as the Soviet experience illustrates, ideology is a weak glue to hold together people otherwise lacking racial, ethnic, and cultural sources of community.”
Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity (2004), p. 12

“Many more people in the world are concerned with sports than with human rights.”

“In the emerging era, clashes of civilization are the greatest threat to world peace, and an international order based on civilizations is the surest safeguard against world war.”

“In Eurasia the great historic fault lines between civilizations are once more aflame. This is particularly true along the boundaries of the crescent-shaped Islamic bloc of nations, from the bulge of Africa to central Asia. Violence also occurs between Muslims, on the one hand, and Orthodox Serbs in the Balkans, Jews in Israel, Hindus in India, Buddhists in Burma and Catholics in the Philippines. Islam has bloody borders.”

“Religiosity distinguishes America from most other Western societies. Americans are also overwhelmingly Christian, which distinguishes them from many non-Western peoples. Their religiosity leads Americans to see the world in terms of good and evil to a much greater extent than most other peoples.”
“Dead Souls: The Denationalization of the American Elite,” The National Interest, November, 2002, p. 16

“It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation-states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.”

“The balance of power among civilizations is shifting: the West is declining in relative influence; Asian civilizations are expanding their economic,military, and political strength; Islam is exploding demographically with destabilizing consequences for Muslim countries and their neighbors; and non-Western civilizations generally are reaffirming the value of their own cultures.”

“Some Westerners, including President Bill Clinton, have argued that the West does not have problems with Islam but only with violent Islamist extremists.Fourteen hundred years of history demonstrate otherwise. The relations between Islam and Christianity, both Orthodox and Western, have often been stormy. Each has been the other’s Other. Th e twentieth-century conflict between liberal democracy and Marxist-Leninism is only a fleeting and superficial historical phenomenon compared to the continuing and deeply conflictual relation between Islam and Christianity. At times, peaceful coexistence has prevailed; more often the relation has been one of intense rivalry and of varying degrees of hot war. Their “historical dynamics,” John Esposito comments, “. . . often found the two communities in competition, and locked at times in deadly combat, for power, land, and souls.” Across the centuries the fortunes of the two religions have risen and fallen in a sequence o f momentous surges, pauses, and countersurges. ”

“Some Westerners […] have argued that the West does not have problems with Islam but only with violent Islamist extremists. Fourteen hundred years of history demonstrate otherwise.”
Clash of civilizations

Inter Services Public Relations; ISPR (Pakistan)

From Dr Hamid Hussain

Some questions came my way about ISPR and following was the response. Every officer posted to ISPR should read Brig. R Siddiqi’s book. It is out of print but I’ll be happy to lend them my own copy.


Battle of Narrative – Public Relations of Pakistan Army
Hamid Hussain


“The expansion of its image gradually cuts the military establishment adrift from its professionalism, and it succumbs to a kind of narcissism, loving its media-contrived image too well to brook any rival image”. Brigadier ® A. R. Siddiqi; Former Director General of Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR).

Army is the dominant and most powerful institution of Pakistan. Every conflict between army and civilian institutions results in a competing narrative from each party. Armed forces manage its narrative through Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR). There are few officers from air force and navy but ISPR is mainly manned by army officers. During direct military rule, army chief is also President and information ministry is used for communication. ISPR is the main channel for communication when army is not directly controlling the levers of power. Public opinion in Pakistan is very positive about armed forces and any criticism on professional grounds is usually very limited. Unfortunately, any criticism is viewed by armed forces as challenging its authority and equated with anti-state activity.

ISPR has evolved over seventy years into a huge media machine with a large bureaucracy. It was a small entity headed by a Lieutenant Colonel rank officer and today headed by a Major General rank officer. Previous Director General (DG) ISPR was a Lieutenant General rank officer. It was backwater for officers not destined for further promotion. This changed in the last two decades. The importance of a stint as DGISPR can be gauged from the fact that DGISPRs have been posted to important combat formations. One DGISPR became Chief of General Staff. In the past, a brief statement was given to DGISPR to pass it on to the press. Now, DGISPR sits in important high level meetings and travels with army chief on foreign travels. The horizon has also expanded from brief press statements to frequent press conferences and extensive use of print, electronic, digital and social media as well as big budget productions. Continue reading “Inter Services Public Relations; ISPR (Pakistan)”

Review: The Hajj, by FE Peters

Francis Edward Peters (F.E. Peters) is Professor Emeritus of History, Religion and Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University (NYU) and he has written a great review of the Haj through the ages, from its pre-Islamic beginnings to the way it was in 1926. He ends the book in 1926, so the current hugely enlarged, incredibly safer, more convenient, and in may ways, totally transformed Haj is not covered in this book.
The most intetesting part of the book for me was the first; the discussion of what pre-Islamic Haj looked like and how its rituals were modified (and combined with another pre-Islamic pilgrimage, the Umrah) to creat the current Islamic Haj. This is also the most frustrating section of the book, but that is not FE Peter’s fault. We just do not have a lot information about what happened before Islam. Pagan Arabia was completely converted to Islam within one generation, and the attitude of the new religion towards the past was generally negative and dismissive. A mostly illiterate culture, it has left us with almost nothing except a few poems (preserved, ironically, because the later interpreters of the Quran felt that their language could help unlock the meaning of words and phrases in the Quran that these later generations had difficulty understanding) and whatever (generally negative and dismissive) references survive in Islamist historiography. Of course, we can learn some things from the Quran itself, but these frequently tend to be in the form of “answers without a question”, which must have been completely transparent to the first generation, but whose meaning required some explanation and interpretation by later generations. Most of this is supplied by the exegetical and historical works written in the next 2-400 years, but it can be impossible to separate fact from posthoc mythmaking. Anyway, this is what we have, and FE Peters makes a heroic effort to sift through it to find what can still be found. Continue reading “Review: The Hajj, by FE Peters”

Indian kids are getting dumber at maths!

OK, that headline is a bit of a clickbait! They probably aren’t getting dumber, if anything it could be the opposite if the Flynn effect is really true. However, I specifically had the declining performance of Indian kids at the world’s foremost mathematics competition in mind, better known as the International Mathematics Olympiad or IMO, when I wrote that headline.

A bit of personal also-ran history is involved here as I did compete to join the Indian team at the turn of the millennium, but the competition was so fierce that I could not manage to get into the national-level top six that represent each country at the IMO. And that was just as well, as all the guys were clearly brighter and I did not deserve to be in that peer group. Nonetheless that teenage experience of competitive problem-solving (and failing to make the cut) informs my desire to keep a close watch on the Indian team’s performance at the IMO. I also occasionally try to solve IMO problems on boring London tube commutes, i.e. when I manage to get a damned seat, and share them with colleagues at work. Those interested can try them here.

The 2017 IMO recently concluded in late July, and the Indian team showed its worst performance this year since 1990 – the year it first started competing in this annual mathematical jousting event. Since this is brownpundits I tried to put the declining performance of Indians into context by comparing it, over the years, with our brown South Asian neighbours, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Throwing in Iran and United Kingdom as controls to add a bit of perspective. All the country-wise data can be accessed here.

Annual IMO Rank per country

The graphs are telling! India was up there with Iran and UK as its peers all through the 90s decade to the early 2000s. Indians were slightly worse-off than Iran, but by the turn of the millennium we were doing better. My own school-leaving cohort (and a couple of years around that) soundly beat both the Iranians and Brits. Yet 2005 marks a regime shift for the worse in average Indian performance at IMO and the data seem statistically significant.

I am at loss to explain this clearly worsening trend of performance by India’s brightest millennials. Did Indian parents really start begetting a dumber brood from the 90s onwards? I hope not! Good feeder schools and rigorous mathematical training play a big part in preparing high-school kids for such competitions and it is possible that some silly policy change (that I am unaware of) by the Indian government may have been a causal factor.

But there’s some hope in the same data for our Eastern cousins. Bangladeshi kids (and their mathematics training programme) seems to have shown phenomenal improvement(!) over the same period and now easily better India. India’s coincident decline does not help matters either. Bangladesh started competing at the IMO in the same year as Pakistan with similar laggardly results, but the subsequent improving trend in performance is clear as day. As for Pakistan, well, let’s just say that their national priorities leave a lot to be desired…

The Migration

This is second in the series of posts on Kashmir (on its language, people, politics and culture). This one is my perspective on the specific targetting and ethnic cleansing of autochthonous Hindus (Kashmiri Pandits) from the Valley, euphemistically referred to as the Migration within the community. I realize that the politics of Kashmir as a topic can be controversial, even incendiary sometimes. Any political take on the topic is bound to ruffle someone’s feathers, and I imagine this post may ruffle a few. But then, as the rhetorical Kashmiri proverb goes pazar daryi, apzis kaeThyh katyi? [truth will stand, (but) where are lie’s knees?]

Kashmiri society became increasingly politically Islamized in the late 80s. This was partly a result of the Afghan Jihad and the copious resources that the Americans (and Saudis) pumped into Pakistan, which was under (surprise, surprise!) military control at the time led by Zia al-Haq. A sizable fraction of the money was funnelled by Pakistani military junta to support Pakistan’s proxies in Kashmir. For more on Pakistani military junta’s dalliances with the US and Arabs see this and this.

Besides the Cold War, the larger geo-political situation in the 80s (in India and its near abroad) was nothing to write home about. An Islamic theocracy had recently taken control in Iran, ethno-religious (Sikh) insurgency was going strong in Indian Punjab (many Hindus were killed in Punjab, followed by mass rioting and killing of Sikhs and general lawlessness in the capital and across North India after Indira Gandhi’s assassination), while the statist-socialist License Raj economics bled India dry. To make matters worse in the latter half of the 80s, the Indian Army was also sucked into a pointless counter-insurgency offensive in Sri Lanka against the dreaded LTTE, whom ironically the Indians had trained only a few years earlier. Social fissures exposed by the politics of caste and reservations (cf. Mandal commission) were festering too. In short, in the run up to the 90s the Indian state was beset by deep crises: politically unstable, economically near-bankrupt and socially volatile.

This was the time when many of the training camps in Northern Punjab and so-called “Azad Kashmir” (in reality neither Azad nor Kashmir  – more on that in the next instalment) were being set-up and run by veterans of the Afghan Jihad against the Soviets. In that respect, the Pakistani Army was trying to do what it had always done – use the people (primarily tribals) of its peripheral hinterlands as cheap cannon-fodder to engage a larger enemy. The porous mountainous borders of the Line-of-Control made infiltration rather easy. Nor was cash a problem (fake Indian currency came later), as the entire Jihadist economy of Kashmir in the early 90s ran on the greenback. I have personally seen wads of US dollar bills (and an AK47 concealed under the phyeran) with a student of my dad’s, who (I now suspect) couldn’t help showing it off to me as I was just a kid.

The infiltration into the Valley and strengthening of the hardline Islamist extremist fringe (backed by Pakistan) within the Valley’s Muslims put the, small but influential, Kashmiri Pandit minority in an alarmingly difficult position. A short note on who Kashmiri Pandits are is probably necessary at this point.

vedaiH śaDaMgaiH pAdakramayutair vedAntasiddhAntakais
tarkavyAkaraNaiH purANapaThanair mantraiH AgamaiH ||
paurANaśrutitarkaśAstranicayaiH kim cAgnihotrAkitair
viprair dhyAnatapojapAdinirataiH snAnArcanAdyutsukaiH … kaśmIrabhūr uttamaH ||

[With the Vedas, the six appendices, with the Pada and Krama (texts), with Vedanta and Siddhanta, logic and grammar, Purana recitation, with Mantras and the traditional sects. With its masses of Puranic, Vedic (śruti) and logic disciplines (tarkaśAstra), and, moreover, marked by Agnihotrins (fire priests), with Brahmins (vipra) devoted to meditation, asceticism, recitation and so on, and zealously engaged with ablutions, worship, and the like ... the land of Kashmir is the best - Dvitiya Rajatarangini of Jonaraja composed during the reign of Zayn al-Abidin]

Kashmiri Pandits are the Brahmins of the Kashmir Valley, who largely survived numerous changes in the volatile political climate of Kashmir Valley until the present day as a single, cohesive community. However, Muslim rule in the Kashmir Valley since the 14th century, forced a sub-division within the Pandits into karkun and goaru/zutish classes, the former taking up employment of the state (as scribes, historians, administrators, tax collectors, civil servants etc) and the latter as the sub-priestly class exclusively performing the rites & ceremonies. This function continued as Kashmir passed from the hands of local Chak (cf. Skt. chakra) Sultans to the Moghals to Afghans to Sikhs to Dogras (under the British) and finally to the Indian Republic. Similar to other states and regions of India, the Pandits/Brahmins of Kashmir constituted 4-5% of the population of the Valley. However, owing to their traditional access to education, and other cultural attributes (honed over centuries of living under, what essentially was, foreign occupation), representation of Pandits in the cultural, educational and technical spheres, legal services and bureaucracy was an order-of-magnitude higher than their fraction in the general population. Under the Moghals, Sikhs and then the British, Kashmiri Pandit communities thrived in pre-Partition Lahore and Peshawar, and also in Delhi and Lucknow. Notable members include the Nehrus, descended from a scholar of Persian, Raj Kaul, a Moghal courtier under Farrokhsiyar. Dinanath Razdan was the Divan of the Sikh Empire in Lahore. Mohammed Iqbal Lahori descended from the Sapru family (one of whom, son of the Divan of Barakzai Pashtuns in Kashmir, married a Muslim lady and was excommunicated from the Kashmiri Pandit fold). Generations of Dhars, Kauls, Razdans, Saprus, Katjus, Duranis, Nehrus etc have provided numerous Indian civil servants, diplomats, scientists, professors, lawyers and judges, politicians and military chiefs since Independence.

The predicament Kashmiri Pandits found themselves in the early 90s was rather grave. Hit lists by the early Jihadi tanzeems featuring Kashmiri Pandit names were commonplace. I recall some names from my childhood as JKLF, Allah Tigers, Harkat al-Mujahideen whose hit-lists (i.e. lists of names pinned to electricity poles overnight in neighbourhoods across Srinagar) I have seen personally. Some of the Pandit names on these lists were related to Police or Defence Forces, but many were Judges, Doctors, Professors, Surgeons, Civil Servants etc (including few of my family’s acquaintances and relatives). Common Muslims, esp. in the rural hinterland, of the Valley did not bear grudges against the Pandits, and there are many stories of how close ties were between Pandit and Muslim families. However, a systemic anti-Pandit bias did exist amongst some elements of the more urban Muslim bourgeoisie: begrudging the economic and social status of Pandits coupled with the typical Islam-is-superior spiel. While such views can be common in a jostle of cultures and usually not dangerous, they are kept in check by a natural equilibrium (cross-cultural tolerance) that a settled society achieves after centuries of co-evolution. But this social equilibrium can be easily damaged if violent extremist voices are left unchecked, which is essentially what happened in Kashmir 80s onwards.

The type of people who joined the tanzeems in Kashmir in the late 80s and early 90s were the local thugs and ruffians, many engaged in petty crime (or with some sort of criminal record), largely unemployed and easy to sway into some grandiose-sounding religio-political rhetoric. Many of them found complete sanction of their narrow-minded views from the cash-rich Islamist ideologues (many backed by Pakistan). Funding of local Kashmiri mosques, which by the way look more like Buddhist pagodas or Hindu temples, by Saudi and Emirati governments also rose a lot in this period. In addition to the above, there were some genuine, hard-working middle class boys too, who joined the fray thinking of it as some sort of revolutionary duty. There were some I knew personally as they were my Dad’s students at Kashmir University. They were lovely guys who treated me like their own younger kid brother, taught me to ski and play cricket. The guy who showed me what US Dollars looked like was one of them. As I later got to know from my dad, he had joined the JKLF in spite of my dad’s cautious dissuasion, crossed the Line-of-Control to train in Pakistan, joined the Jihadist ranks as an area commander and died within weeks as the grenade he was to throw (presumably at a Central Reserve Police Force convoy) got entangled in his phyeran. Clearly, the Pakistani training had failed to take into account Kashmiri sartorial preferences. Horrible deaths (or torture of captured militants) at the hands of the J&K and Central Police forces were commonplace.

The society was so polarized that even my school-mates, 7 year old kids at my school, were affected by the propaganda. Obviously the kids didn’t quite realize what they were saying – nor did I grasp the full import of what was being said – but looking back I shudder at the rhetoric even little kids weren’t spared from at home, which they were inexorably parroting in the school. I was called an Indian dog in my school bus and asked to “go away, leave Kashmir”. My friends told me songs of the mujahideen who were going to come to Kashmir and sweep away the Indian Army. I was too little to know who the mujahideen were, but it clearly left an impression that something wasn’t right. Many kids played make-believe games, where they pretended to keep rifle magazines in their pockets. Older kids started threatening teachers to declare Friday (in addition to Saturday & Sunday) as a school holiday in accordance with Islamic laws. Muslim kids used to ask other Muslims not to clap when a non-Muslim got the school prize or stood first in class and mocked Hindu religious practice.

Many mosques became rallying points for local radicals and all kinds of political sloganeering from the loud-speakers was rife. The common refrain meant for the Pandit minority in those days was simply:

raelyiv, tsaelyiv ya gaelyiv

(convert, flee or die). 

And which ethnic-cleansing exercise worth its salt can be complete without references to rape of women?

assyi gatshi panu’nui Paekistan, batav rostuy, batnyav saan

(we’d like our own Pure-land, without the Pandit males but with the females).

The hindu temple in our locality and a school right next to it were torched by a crowd in front of my eyes. Pitched battles of stone-pelters with the Police was a common sight – the stone pelters didn’t even spare my school bus many times. We woke up every morning with tears running down our eyes as the air was so heavy with police tear gas shells used to disperse crowds the night before. Local youth would come knocking late at night asking for my Dad’s snow boots, warm sweaters etc with an implicit threaten of violence if he failed to comply – these were obviously needed to cross the LoC to Pakistani training camps. Killings and assassinations of Kashmiri Pandits, especially prominent ones, was rife. A university professor, a high court judge, an All India Radio employee and a surgeon were shot dead in quick succession in my neighbourhood alone – as the azadi activists ticked names off the hit lists. It was open season on Pandits and many killings had nothing to do with any Jihadi narrative either – Pandits with killed due to long-standing feuds, property deals, alleged RSS memberships and sometimes for the pure wanton pleasure of it, cf. Wandhom massacre, Nadimarg massacre etc.

It was in the early 1990 that things became so serious that some of my Dad’s students/acquaintances strongly advised him to leave – perhaps because his name was doing the rounds for the next hit hist. The growing incidents of violence against Kashmiri Pandit families coupled with the realization that this could happen to us at any time made the penny drop for him. My parents (and grandparents) decided to leave Kashmir almost overnight, with very little planning, and barely any foreknowledge of how permanent this was going to be.

The day I left Kashmir remains forever etched in my memory. It was the 4th of February, 1990. I saw a bomb blast right in front of my eyes – an entire bus was blown to smithereens near Lal Chowk – the centre of Srinagar city. Many Pandit families (including mine) were gathered there, all about to leave their homeland for similar reasons. Thankfully the bus, which was empty, took most of the impact of the blast and except an old Pandit woman (who died instantly) there were no further casualties. I do not know if the blast was meant to kill us (or merely scare us away), what I do know is that I could easily have been a blast victim that morning.


Around 150,000 Kashmiri Pandits were ethnically cleansed from the Valley. They all (including myself) remain card-carrying Internally Displaced People. Terms like genocide or holocaust are clearly exaggerated claims, yet the reality remains that the majority of the Kashmiri Muslim society remained mute spectators when the minorities were hounded out. There was no backlash by the Muslim civil society of Kashmir, no so-called Kashmiriyat on display as the debate became completely hijacked by the right-wing Islamist elements.

Conspiracy theories on what precipitated the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits abound in the Valley. Some may tell you that Kashmiri Pandits had it coming, that they were living cozy lives at the expense of poor Muslims of the Valley and like any (Brahminical) upper class were legitimately thrown out by the revolution for Azadi that continues to this day. Some others might spin it as a conspiracy by the Indian Government who delibrately wheel Hindu refugees out to delegitimize the rightful struggle for Azadi. Any policy mooted by the Indian Government for re-settlement and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley triggers a smorgasbord of reactions from plain reluctance to open hostility amongst the Muslim majority of Kashmir. Needless to add, this experience has caused deep resentment, anger and vindictiveness in a large section of Kashmiri Pandits, which are not going to go away any time soon.


Names have their own stories

It is unsurprising that the two main ideologues of Pakistan, Muhammad Iqbal Lahori and Muhammad Ali Jinnah were both from recently converted Hindu families. Iqbal’s grand father Rattan Lal Sapru was a Kashmiri Pandit who went rogue (i.e. married a Punjabi Muslim and converted), whereas Jinnah’s grand father Meghji Thakkar a Gujarati Lohana (Khatri/trader class of Saurashtra) converted, as far as we know, of his own volition.

I am told (by fellow blogger Omar Ali) that there seems to be some confusion around Jinnah’s name. I was not aware of this. However, hopefully this post would clarify any confusions that may exist and raise other interesting questions.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah was born “Mahomed-ali Jinnahbhai” to one “Jinnahbhai Poonja”. Apparently the name change (dropping the -bhai) was deliberately done by Jinnah himself:

From BR Nanda’s “Road to Pakistan”, biography of Jinnah

Note that it is customary in the Indian regions of Gujarat and Maharashtra to use one’s father’s name as the middle name followed by a caste/occupation denoting surname. So, say, the Indian PM Narendra Modi’s full name is Narendra Damodardas Modi, where the middle name takes after his father’s first name: Damodardas Modi. The surname Modi is the Gujarati caste of shopkeepers/traders (common amongst Parsis too).

Furthermore, Gujarati language uses the suffix -bhai as an honorific. Its use in polite discourse is similar to Sindhi -saeeN or Japanese -san. So, Narendra Modi would be formally referred to as Narendra-bhai Modi in formal speech, say, when addressing the person on a letter. Even within close family, people can be referred to as “bhai” (or “behen”) when the addressee is not actually a brother (or sister) – leading to hilarious results in some situations.

Frequent formal usage of “bhai” (especially as a part of one’s registered name) is rather antiquated in urban areas and I’d be hard-pressed to find many such examples in city-dwelling Gujaratis of my generation. As is the norm for most social conventions in the Subcontinent, however, things take longer to change in the rural hinterland. My own anecdotal understanding is that the practice survives in mofussil towns and villages of Gujarat and nearby areas. The use of “bhai” in the Mumbai underworld (and now in the vernacular and popular culture) to refer to local crime lords also takes after the same custom due to the preponderance of Gujaratis in Mumbai.

So, it is rather obvious that the suffix -bhai in Jinnahbhai is a common Gujarati honorific. The same suffix can also be found in its Anglicized form -bhoy within Gujaratis (cf. Rai > Roy is an equivalent Anglicization in Bengali surnames). But what of the root morpheme “Jinnah”? The Gujarati context clarifies this too, as Jinna (pronounced jiNa, with a retroflex N) simply means “small” or “little” in Gujarati and is often used as a diminutive. So, the name “Jinnabhai” would really imply “little Sir” or “little mister” and is a well-attested name amongst Gujaratis. E.g. see this (excerpt below):

Jinabhai as a Gujarati first name

Finally, as far as I am aware, there is no native IA etymology of Gujarati jiNa. The apparent lack of a phonetic correlate in Sanskrit makes me conjecture that the word is actually a Dravidian lexical borrowing (maybe part of the Dravidian substrate). Sure enough Tamil (and sister Dravidian languages Telugu & Kannada) has the word chinna with an equivalent meaning and similar usage in nomenclature (e.g. chinnappa lit. “little father” or “little lord”, being a common South Indian name / surname). The word-initial /ch/ <> /j/ phonetic shift between affricatives is entirely plausible. However, we would need more examples to see if this is a systematic effect in Dravidian loanwords to IA (or vice versa).

Will the last Parsi to die please blow out the sacred fire?

Our ancestors, Persia’s first-born, preserved their ancient faith in the underground warrens of Yazd. Zarthushti houses had to be on a lower level to Muslim homes so that if it rained the water of infidels couldn’t contaminate that of the believers. It is only fair that for the sake of those ancestors who have sacrificed so much that at least some of their descendants should go on to light the sacred fire for the generations to come. 

Twitter is in a huff about Jiyo Parsis’s last-gasp campaign to raise the anemic Parsi birthrate through blunt ads. The liberal opposition are featuring an angsty article denouncing JP as racists:

Imagine a khap panchayat in rural Haryana – a kangaroo court of village elders – launching a slick ad campaign encouraging members of their caste to marry (each other) and rapidly multiply to increase their dwindling numbers.

(Disclaimer: I had my Navjot when I was nine, despite having a Hindu father.) 

Anahita Mukherji is a US-based journalist who has a quarter-Parsi son with a full-Parsi name.

The author’s father is a Bengali Brahmin and she herself married out of the Parsi caste. Anahita’s only sop to her mother’s identity is to give her son a Parsi name.

Now she’s the designated American voice of the (liberal) pushback against those Indian Parsis who understandably want to preserve Zoroaster’s bloodline for posterity. If the Parsi community were to follow Anahita’s personal example; they’d be extinct in a generation.

She has every right to lead her life as she sees fit but it is unacceptable to hector others to follow her PC non-solutions. When it comes to the Parsi community there are simply no lemmings left to fall of the cliff.

Good luck Jiyo Parsi!

Why Democracy?

The idea to write this blog post on Democracy arose out of the need to describe what it is in context of Brexit. For more on the Brexit referendum itself see this. In this post I am trying to distill my own understanding of Democracy and have included the results of a numerical experiment I ran to quantify some ideas around the concept.

Democracy is essentially an algorithm to correct political error. In that respect Democracy belongs to a special class of algorithms, with Darwinian evolution, scientific peer review or machine learning being other notable members of the same class. The kinship between these disparate and very fundamental processes is not coincidental. It is explained by Popperian epistemology, which makes the existence and mitigation of error central to the idea of any knowledge generation.

Any discussion of the process of knowledge creation may seem like a digression at this point. However, please persevere for the next three paragraphs as setting this context is important for the central thesis on Democracy. According to Popper, knowledge itself can be understood as explanations, i.e. guesses or conjectures with two major criteria for goodness: falsifiability and parsimony. Any knowledge creator (sentient or otherwise) must therefore create knowledge in exactly this manner: creatively produce guesses or conjectures (including even, what look like, wild ones) and criticise them to remove those that are erroneous. Two immediate corollaries of this theory arise: a) existence of error is a permanent feature of any form of knowledge. Claims of knowledge that are perfect (e.g. a manual revealed by so-called prophets) are therefore, for want of a better word, baloney. And b) boundless knowledge-generation must require the ability or enabling culture to air seemingly wild guesses and criticise even ostensibly unimpeachable maxims. Continue reading “Why Democracy?”

Indian History Wars..

Razib has an excellent post about the genetic history of China up on gnxp.nofe. Worth a read.

Of course, unlike India, China is dominated by one ethnic group with clear genetic and cultural identity and has a long history of political unity (even though interspersed with recurrent civil wars and invasions), so there is relatively little fear of population genetics and its findings.. let the chips fall where they may, we know who is boss.. (I admit that I may not be aware of lower level Chinese debates about ancestry, where some people may indeed get hot and bothered about genetic results, but the point is that it is still not a hot-potato in the way population genetics is in India).

For background on the Indian debates, see Razib’s article here and my own (less genetics, more politics) article here.

By the way, the comments and answers on Razib’s article are very sane and add value. Please do read.

Continue reading “Indian History Wars..”