Notes on South Asian genetics, 2018

A “pure” Tamil Brahmin, Chandrasekhar

In the post below Zach observes that the progressive author of a piece criticizing Ajit Pai has to note she too is a Gaud Saraswat Brahmin. Of course, she is progressive and opposes casteism no doubt. But to me “caste-dropping” that you are a Brahmin is like criticizing standardized testing, while observing that you also aced your standardized test. Not that that matters. Or that it proves anything.

But I’m posting this because there was a section on the genetic purity of Gaud Saraswat Brahmin’s of Karnataka. It caught my attention because I knew it was likely false. I’ve looked at South Indian Brahmins, and they generally look like they have gene flow from other South Indians. Also, if you use something called your eyes you can see that some South Indian Brahmins do not look like pure Indo-Aryan specimens at all.

Several years ago my friend Zack collected a bunch of data via his Harappa project. We’ve come further since then, but it’s still one of the best sources of information we have. Looking at the data there, and elsewhere, we can say a few things about South Asian genetics.

  • Jatts are different. I don’t know much about Jatts personally, aside from the fact that they are quite proud of being Jatt online. But in Zack’s data, and my own analysis in the SAGP, Jatts are highly inflated for “European-like” ancestry compared to populations around them. They have the highest proportions in their part of South Asia. Even higher than Pathans.

If you asked me to say why, at this I do think Jatts do have a more recent gene flow than other groups in South Asia. If you talk to Jatts online about their history, you will know what their hypothesis for this exotic element is.

  • Brahmins are different from other South Asians, and from each other. It will surprise no one that Brahmins are often somewhat different from non-Brahmins genetically. But, they also differ from each other.

Both South Indian and Bengali Brahmins mixed with the local population. Probably on the order of ~25% of the ancestry of these two Brahmin communities can be attributed to the local substrate. But, if you correct for East Asian admixture Bengali Brahmins are actually quite similar to the Brahmins of the Gangetic plains to the west. This comports with history.

A similar fraction seems reasonable for South Indian Brahmins, though perhaps more. The key issue that I have in this case is that the “European-like” proportion of South Indian Brahmins is about half of that of North Indian Brahmins. This would indicate half dilution. The admixture was probably from the higher end of the non-Brahmin caste hierarchy.

To get a sense of what I’m talking about, here are some percentages:

Ethnicity Dataset N SIndian Baloch Caucasian NEEuro NEEuro ratio
ap-brahmin xing 25 49% 36% 3% 6% 6%
iyengar-brahmin harappa 8 47% 37% 4% 6% 6%
iyer-brahmin harappa 11 47% 37% 5% 5% 5%
brahmin-tamil-nadu metspalu 2 47% 38% 6% 5% 5%
tn-brahmin xing 14 47% 38% 6% 4% 5%
karnataka-brahmin harappa 5 46% 35% 5% 6% 7%
oriya-brahmin harappa 2 45% 35% 2% 8% 9%
kerala-brahmin harappa 1 43% 39% 4% 6% 6%
brahmin-uttar-pradesh metspalu 8 42% 36% 5% 12% 12%
bengali-brahmin harappa 8 41% 33% 5% 10% 11%
up-brahmin harappa 4 39% 37% 7% 11% 12%
bihari-brahmin harappa 1 39% 38% 5% 11% 12%
rajasthani-brahmin harappa 2 34% 36% 8% 12% 13%
punjabi-brahmin harappa 3 34% 39% 10% 11% 11%
               
kashmiri harappa 3 30% 37% 14% 9% 10%
pashtun harappa 7 19% 34% 20% 11% 13%
maharashtrian harappa 6 46% 35% 5% 5% 6%
tamil-nadar harappa 5 57% 31% 2% 0% 0%
gujarati-patel harappa 2 55% 41% 0% 0% 0%
bengali harappa 11 47% 27% 2% 4% 5%
ap-reddy harappa 6 54% 36% 3% 0% 0%

Don’t take the percentages as literal populations.

  • Some groups that think they are special are not so special. Kashmiri Pandits, for example, fancy themselves as somewhat better than other South Asians, often because of their West Asian or even European physical appearance. But the genetic data indicates ancestrally they’re not surprising in any way in the context of their geographic locale.
  • Geography is not that predictive. Well, it sort of is. But you see that groups like Chamars in Uttar Pradesh are similar to South Indian populations.

Oh to be a Gaud Saraswat Brahmin

I picked this link on Ajit Pai from Razib’s blog.

But he also caught my attention because Ajit Pai is a Konkani Gaud Saraswat Brahmin—and I am, too. In late 2016, I retired an oral history project on Konkani-speaking Brahmins because I mostly recorded versions of the same fabulous origin story, more legend than history—that we were “pure” light-skinned Brahmins of the north, who traveled to southwestern India after the Saraswati River “went underground.”

I had a GSB friend but that’s beside the point. What I have noticed is that there is an almost compulsive need in Indians to name drop their caste, especially if it is a high one.

There was no need for this author to mention her K-GSB origins but then that wouldn’t allow her to flaunt it.

Aziz Ansari

Thoughts on the Aziz Ansari issue?

I have many but I’ve kept them to myself..

I’ll throw a rather controversial question out there; “has Aziz reinforced certain stereotypes about Brown & maybe Muslim men in the dating market?”

I’m just asking the questions (don’t shoot the messenger) and exploring the issue from a “Brown” “Pundit” angle.

Why do nonmulims mistreat muslims so much?

Can Islam still be Islam without misogyny & armed Jihad? – Discussion with Tarek Fatah

Perhaps the reason that nonmuslims mistreat muslims so much is because the vast majority of nonmuslims (and for that matter many muslims) don’t understand Islam or muslims. If carefully watching this video many times was a requirement for every nonmuslim in the world; and if nonmuslims were required to write articles on it to demonstrate their understanding; would this help nonmuslims treat muslims better? I think yes. What does everyone else think?

 

This video is funny like heck. Tarek Fatah should do stand up comedy. It is hard to watch this video without laughing hysterically for large chunks of it. One funny part is when Tarek Fatah said that Mohammed, may peace be upon him, was confused when he said muslims should not make friends with Jews and Christians because they are friends with each other. Didn’t Mohammed, may peace be upon him, know that Christians hated Jews?

 

Tarek Fatah would like for substantially reorganized Korans to be published. However he says that South Asian scholarship is not respected.

 

One important take away is how spot on similar older cultured educated Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are too each other.  Tarek Fatah could easily be a Deshi Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Sikh or Jain and talk the exact same way. When I was a young child, this was much more obvious than it is now. I hope that future generations don’t forget this.

 

Note, the post was heavily edited with feedback from Kabir. Thanks Kabir 🙂

Welcome Mr Netanyahu

Israeli PM Netanyahu has arrived in India today. A good occassion to discuss successive Indian governments’ knee-jerk policies against the state of Israel, which were meant more to curry favour with two-bit Arab states (repressive monarchies or dictatorships to a fault) than a result of genuine understanding of India’s long-term benefits and indeed values. Anand Ranganathan has a fantastic new thread in twitter that lists the litany of Indian diplomatic misjudgements regarding Israel. Worth a read!

Israel is a beacon of democracy in an atrophying West Asia. It is a Western state, based on Enlightenment values and institutions in place to correct error. The local culture is also very technology-focussed, as is expected of a population that wishes to survive (and thrive) in a region largely devoid of much mineral wealth, agricultural productivity and beset by neighbouring totalitarian states hell-bent on revanchism. In this Indians have a lot to learn from Israelis.

Israel too (as any human society) has its own serious social issues: how to be a culturally Jewish state and yet remain secular, how to control/mainstream an increasing ultra-Orthodox population (or the Arab minority) that are stuck in their rigid social mores, or how to rein in the Zionist extremists who believe in encroachment to fulfil vague Biblical promises etc. In that Israel is no different from any modern multi-ethnic democracy as the same shortcomings plague the US or, even more significantly, India.

My first interaction with Israelis was with some visiting academics at my college in India. I remember them as fantastic teachers – extremely interactive during class and very appreciative of questions during lectures – a quality Indian professors tend to lack. During my studies abroad, I interacted with many more, professors and students alike. I generally found them to be very hospitable, politically aware, forthright and yet non-intrusive. I now work with and even live amongst them in one of London’s oldest Jewish suburbs.

I hope Indo-Israeli interactions grow beyond the hackneyed group trips of military service weary Israelis to Indian Himalayas or Goa etc or joint defence deals and exercises. I think that because Indians can truly learn a lot from their culture. During my time in college in India, technical internships/education in Israel were often unheard of. Yet, the number of Indian students in Technion, Weizmann etc has grown manifold – now around a tenth of their foreign student population. And summer internships in Israel are becoming very popular among Indian STEM students. I expect this trend to strengthen further.

Some Indian commentators on Twitter e.g. Sudheendra Kulkarni have remarked that India’s close ties with Israel, when it cannot mend its relations with geographical neighbours, shows the failure of Indian diplomacy. While he may be right about Indian diplomacy being no great shakes, close ties between societies are not a function of geographical locus but shared values (which in turn inform interests). So, let me greet Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel on his first visit to India with this old chestnut from the Taittriya Upanishad:

sah naH avatu,
sah nauH bhunaktu,
sah vIryam karvAvahaiH,
tejasvi naH adhItam astu,
ma vidviSavahaiH,
om shAntiH shAntiH shAntiH.

May we both be protected together,
may we both be nourished together,
may we both work together with vigour,
may our knowledge be sharp and effective,
may we never dispute with each other,
peace peace peace (be to us).

Shithole countries

How wrong was Trump?

I’m half Pakistanis & half Iranian. While I have a patriotic love for my origins; it’s hard to deny how disorganised Pakistan & Iran are (to varying degrees).

Obviously what Trump said was offensive however the fact that usually when a country has a diaspora, it means there’s something very wrong with it.

This is of course just my thoughts on the matter; it is offensive but how wrong is it? Is it offensive to tell the truth?

Book Review: The RigVeda

How many fires are there, how many suns?

How many dawns? How many waters?

I ask this, O fathers, not to challenge.

O Sages, I ask it to know

(RigVeda Book 10, hymn 88)

Full Disclosure: I have not actually read the entire RigVeda; all I did was read multiple hymns in each of the 10 books of the RigVeda. The hymns are (as expected) very repetitive, but they do give you a picture of the culture of the Indo-Europeans who came to India around 1800 BC (or so we believe these days, this may be adjusted as ancient DNA from Indian sites yields its secrets). It is a window (and probably the most complete and most ancient window we have) into the Indo-European world that played such a huge role in the creation of the present cultures of much of Eurasia, from Western Europe to India (and beyond). The book is thus a window into our own “heroic age”, so to speak and should be of interest to all, above and beyond their obvious status as shruti (heard, i.e. revealed, as opposed to composed by latter day humans) holy books in Hinduism.

The translation I read is by Indologist Ralph Griffith, who lived most of his life in India (he was the pincipal of Benares college in the Hindu holy city of Benares) and is buried in South India (i.e. one of those Englishmen who came to India and fell in love, or like JBS Haldane, fell in love and came to India). A more recent and scholarly translation is now available but is very expensive. This one is free and available in its entirety at this site:  (http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/rigveda/index.htm)

In the original Sanskrit, the hymns are arranged in stanzas and follow particular rules of rhyme and meter (hear a sample at the end of this review). They are meant to be memorized (with extreme fidelity to the text and its correct pronunciation) and then sung/recited (as they still are), in religious ceremonies and sacrifices to the Gods.  In this sense, my use of them as a “window into the heroic age” has little to do with their use and status in Hinduism. But then, I am not a Hindu (unless we are following Savarkar’s definition, in which case I guess I am a little bit Hindu too). Anyhow, on with the review. Continue reading “Book Review: The RigVeda”

Juice: A Short Film about Patriarchy

My wife recommended that I see this short film (15mins) and I found it to be excellent.

India shows an emotional and social maturity light years ahead of its Muslim neighbours.

Also a very moving clip from Turkey:

Who are the protesters in Iran and what do they want?

I listened to this fantastic podcast on the recent (and on-going) Iranian mass protests. I found the economic angle discussed very enlightening. It is part of a recurring BBC Radio 4 programme called The Briefing Room anchored by David Aaronovitch (@DAaronovitch), whom I follow on Twitter. Aaronovitch (incidentally) happens to live in the same Jewish-heavy N London suburb where I dwell. [Sometimes I wonder whether I should have a Bar Mitzvah for my son…but I digress; that’s a topic for another day!]

The people sharing their views in the podcast are:

Roham Alvandi, Associate Professor of International History at the London School of Economics and Political Science,

Behrang Tajdin and Jiyar Gol, reporters for the BBC Persian Service,

Hassan Hakimian, Director of the Middle East Centre at SOAS, University of London,

and

Azedor Moaveni, Iranian writer.

 

Jewel in the Lotus

My last post for the weekend (I promise- there is a ton of work pending). I was reading about a Irishman’s observation of the opening ceremony of the Lotus Temple and stumbled on this Tennyson’s poem:

‘That stone by stone I rear’d a sacred fane,
A temple, neither Pagod, Mosque, nor Church,
But loftier, simpler, always open-door’d
To every breath from heaven, and Truth and Peace
And Love and Justice came and dwelt therein;

(and then despairingly)

I watch’d my son,
And those that follow’d, loosen, stone from stone,
All my fair work; and from the ruin arose
The shriek and curse of trampled millions, even
As in the time before; but while I groan’d,
From out the sunset pour’d an alien race,
Who fitted stone to stone again, and Truth,
Peace, Love and Justice came and dwelt therein…

Akbar’s Dream by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Of course I do take issue with the alien race from the sunset reconstructing lost stones but the poems and the excerpts struck me nonetheless.