Dance like a monkey American politicians!

I have no real comment, aside from the fact that when this video started and I realized what it was about, I began to laugh really loudly and without any self-control. Am I the only one?

By coincidence I saw this video right after noting that Parag Khanna has a new book out, The Future Is Asian. Here is the summary from Amazon: “In the 19th century, the world was Europeanized. In the 20th century, it was Americanized. Now, in the 21st century, the world is being Asianized.” It should be re-Asianized (we’re friends on LinkedIn).


Aasia Bibi case comes full circle (part 3)

Shahab Ahmed began the first chapter of his book ‘What is Islam?’ with these words,
” I am seeking to say the word “Islam” in a manner that expresses the historical and human phenomenon that is Islam in its plenitude and complexity of meaning. In conceptualizing Islam as a human and historical phenomenon, I am precisely not seeking to tell the reader what Islam is as a matter of Divine Command, and thus am not seeking to prescribe how Islam should be followed as the means to existential salvation. Rather, I seek to tell the reader what Islam has actually been as a matter of human fact in history, and thus am suggesting how Islam should be conceptualized as a means to a more meaningful understanding both of Islam in the human experience, and thus of the human experience at large.”

The difference between ‘literal’ Islam (something I had been taught all my life-till that point) and ‘human experience’ of Islam (as theorized by Shahab Ahmed in the lines above) became acutely aware to me in the days and months following ST’s assassination. Where did the theory end and practice start? Does believing in something and doing things contrary to those beliefs hypocrisy or just the way things work? Are the five ‘essentials’ (Tauhid, Namaz, Roza, Hajj, Zakat) of Islam necessary to be performed if you just gain brownie points with God by killing infidels/blasphemers? I was also growing up in an environment of Islamist terror. Militants who professed to be better Muslims than us mere mortals (who performed the aforementioned ‘essentials’) were killing innocent people in Lahore, in Karachi, in Swat, in KP. How does a practicing Muslim reconcile his faith with the Islam professed by the militants? How does an ordinary Pakistani Muslim view the history of Islam? (a pol sci-major friend of mine recently said something very interesting on this topic. According to him, “actual” history doesn’t really matter to people. History in the public imagination is whatever the elites/mil-establishment want it to be )

Following my basic introductions to political theory and rudimentary economics(at IPSS and beyond), I began to think about the intersection of religion and politics. I probed some fundamental concepts regarding political Islam and how accurate they were, like the concept of Muslim Ummah and the statement that ‘Islam is a complete code of life’. While I was pondering over these questions, I was still living in the same social milieu that had existed around me.

I remember debating some 9/11 ‘truthers’ among my medical school classmates. They refused to entertain the notion that it could have been an Al-Qaeda operation, done by fellow Muslims. One day, I got into an argument with a burly, 6 ft 4 in guy in m class about the ‘complete code of life’ theory. I had probably mentioned it on my Facebook wall or in some Facebook group that I didn’t believe in the veracity of this claim because it was a newer (19th/20th century) addition to Islamic teachings. That tall, muscular guy approached me in the lecture hall the next day and said that he didn’t like my comment and that he was offended by it. I tried to reason with him but he got agitated and asked me to shut it because I was questioning religion which made him angry. I switched gears and changed the topic to save my skinny ass. A few days later, I was talking to a classmate who was among the very few friends I had and she said, Please do not get killed for your ideals.

For me, the public reaction to ST’s assassination was an eye-opening experience. There was a notion of a ‘silent majority’ in Pakistan, people who didn’t like mixing religion and politics (this theory was bogus and had no basis in fact). Fasi Zaka, a very intelligent commentator and writer on Pakistani society wrote, “After Salmaan Taseer’s death, Pakistan’s ‘silent majority’ finally spoke up. They liked it.”I heard someone in the ‘liberal’ (secular liberal or group B) circle say that ST’s death closed the door on critical discussion of blasphemy laws in the near future. It was a battle that we (secular-liberals) lost. We were grossly outnumbered and there was a very remote chance that we could incrementally chip at the edifice of blasphemy laws, for example by changing/improving the law of evidence or publicizing the historical consensus among Sunni Ulema that blasphemy is not punishable by death.

Instead, we have Khadim Rizvi and Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP), a ragtag group that can publicly mock the most powerful people in Pakistan and get away with it. ST’s death and Qadri’s hanging opened an avenue for these peddlers of hate to come out of their cubbyholes and wreak havoc on the “silent majority”(pun intended). Mohammad Hanif wrote about the aftermath of ST’s murder for The Guardian (full piece here), an excerpt of which is relevant to what I’m saying.

“So who are these people who lionize the cold-blooded murderer? Your regular kids, really. Some Pakistani bloggers have tried to get these fan pages banned for inciting hate. But as soon as one shuts down, another five crop up. Those who have trawled the profiles of these supporters have said that they have MBA degrees, they follow Premier League football, they love the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Miley Cyrus figures on lots of these pages.”

Qadri’s name became a brand (see here and here) that became synonymous with love for the prophet and the whole blasphemy debate. One could argue that in a country that was premised on the idea of a separate homeland for a particular religion, that religion would become the yardstick by which you proved your nationalism and patriotism.  As for me, I moved out. It became apparent a few years after the ST murder that things weren’t getting any better in my homeland. I could either suck it up and keep living or leave and start afresh. It was very hard to choose one of the routes but I chose the way out.

What about the few liberal spaces left in Pakistan? They are constantly shrinking. IPSS blew out of steam (and funding), NGO-funded youth groups and ‘Countering Violent Extremism’ (CVE) forums ran out of money after the US decided to decrease its footprint in Af-Pak. I was on an exchange visit (a misnomer, really, since no one ever visited Pakistan in return) to the US in 2012 and everyone at the policy level was talking about a post-2014 withdrawal scenario. There are still some valiant people working on secular ideas in Pakistan. Social media has helped but only a little bit. It has gotten the proverbial 72 seculars in Pakistan together on Facebook but it has also fueled the rise of a neo-Islamist political class that takes part in TLP protests and roadblocks. There are also certain bubbles in which you can dare criticize the state narrative such as LitFests and English newspaper op-eds. I remember talking to a pharmacy student whom I knew from a former workplace at Lahore Literary Festival and asking him what he was doing there since most of the conversation on stage there is in English (by decree or by choice). He replied that he was there just as a spectator to see how the ‘1%’ live in Pakistan and had not understood anything that was being discussed. The most important pockets of secular space consist of indigenous movements and organizations that work with people in their own language. I worked with two such organizations that communicated with people in their languages (Punjabi, Urdu, Sindhi etc).

Social media also helped tremendously in the information warfare raged by Milestablishment, turning former Musharraf-lovers into Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) followers. There is a lot of talk about a ‘youth bulge’ in Pakistan but policymakers and commentators rarely talk about the dangers of having a majority of poorly-educated young people who are taught actively and passively that they are victims of some unknown ‘agenda’ and that if they were given the right set of circumstances, they would conquer the world. I used to teach at private medical schools in two different cities of Punjab and I saw the moral and mental confusion that young people had about their lives and their futures. Youth and Naivete go hand in hand, however constant ideological propaganda about Islam’s greatness and Pakistan’s underdog status is a terrible fertilizer for young minds.

ST was not the first victim of this madness. Sabeen Mehmood was killed in cold blood on the streets of Karachi, Raza Rumi was attacked and his driver was killed, Mashal Khan was lynched to death. Each of these individuals tried to talk about secular values in society. What would become of the society? I don’t know. I don’t make predictions. Omar Ali asked me in November 2015 (in Lahore) about my thoughts on Pakistan’s future and I told him that things were doing downhill every passing day. I standby my pessimism.



Post Modernism (c)

Camille Paglia says (as Jordan Peterson nods along) that Post Modernism is a rejection of:

  • 1960s radicalism (few radicals have gone to graduate school)
  • India, Hinduism, consciousness, psychedelics
  • genuine multiculturalism
  • the body and sensory experience

What are everyone’s thoughts on the psychological basis of Post Modernism?

Post Modernism (b)

Post Modernism (a)

Intellectual Dark Web (a)

Intellectual Dark Web


Aasia Bibi case comes full circle (part 2)

I showed up at the Institute of Peace and Secular Studies (IPSS) a few days after the rally. The person who had called the meeting was running late so I just loitered around. It was a two-room apartment that had been modified into a makeshift office space with some spare area for sitting, with floor cushions etc. There was a book rack full of books in one corner. The lady who managed the place was present there and said Hello. A few minutes after I had arrived, two boys a few years younger than me showed up as well. We started chit-chatting and it turned out that one of them was a student at LUMS and the other went to another private school. We were talking about democracy when they revealed that they were not in favor of democracy at all and then spent the next hour arguing why they thought so. They were under the influence of Hizb-ut-Tehrir, an Islamist organization that wanted to establish a caliphate. I tried to argue with them using rationality and logic but they were not willing to listen to a counter-argument and eventually stormed off. I discovered that IPSS was offering a short course in Political Economy and History and all I had to pay for was a copy of their syllabus.

Salmaan Taseer (ST) was a larger than life person. He grew up in a literary family, with his father passing away at an early age but the familial ties and his family’s social standing in the Lahori society gave him a footing in the tightly-knit hierarchy of Lahore’s elite circles. He was an active member of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) during its heyday, starting in 1968 and through Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s rule (1972-77). After Mr. Bhutto was hanged (1979) and PPP was under threat by Dictator Zia’s government, ST wrote a biography of Mr. Bhutto. I attended a talk by one of the fact checkers on ST’s book (at the cafe, Books n Beans, a small liberal enclave for such events) and she remembered how hard she had to work to meet ST’s standards. ST was instrumental in arranging for Benazir Bhutto’s arrival in Lahore in 1986 and the grand reception that ensued. He was elected in the PPP wave that swept most of Pakistan during the 1988 elections. He didn’t win another election in during the rest of his political life. However, he was considered PPP’s man in Lahore, someone who could take on the Sharif’s of PML(N). ST started an English daily in the early 2000s, called Daily Times (DT) which started with much fanfare and even had an Urdu counterpart. Continue reading “Aasia Bibi case comes full circle (part 2)”


RIP Fahmida Riaz

The poet and scholar Fahmida Riaz passed away today. She was known for her fearlessness and her willingness to call a spade a spade and she suffered for it (including an Indian exile during the Zia regime).

Here is Hasan Mujtaba’s poetic tribute to her:

سربکف سارے ستارے مشعلیں
اس کی آنکھوں میں جلوسوں کی طرح چل رہے تھے
جل رہے تھے جام سورج کی طرح سارے اسکے نام پر
اجرکوں کے رنگ سارے اسکی آنکھوں سے چراکر
تتلیاں لیکر اڑیں
دیس دیس دور دور
بچے اپنے ہاتھ مائوں سے چھپاتے پھر رہے تھے
رتجگوں میں بھکشوئوں کی ریت تھی
جیت تھی اسکے ماتھے پر لکھی
تاریخ کی خونی گلی میں
رات وہ مجھ کو ملی۔


Severed head in hand

All the stars were like lamps marching in procession in her eyes

In her name, the wine-cups were circulating like the sun

Taking all the colors of the (Sindhi) Ajrak from her eyes

The butterflies took wing

From land to land and country to country

Children are hiding their hands from their mothers

All-nighters and the rites of bhikshus

Victory was written on her forehead

as in the blood soaked alleys of history

She met me..

Her poem Aqlima was translated by Ruchira Paul

jo Habil aur Kabil ki maa jaani hai
maa jaani,
magar muqtalif
muqtalif beech raano ke
aur pistanon ki ubhaar mein
aur apne pait ke andar
aur kokh mein
is sab ki kismet kyun hai
ek farba bher ke bachche ki qurbani
woh apne badan ki qaidi
taptee hui dhoop mein jalte
teele par khadi hui hai
patthar par naksh banee hai
us naksh ko ghaur se dekho
lambee raano se upar
ubharte pistanon se upar
paicheeda kokh se upar
Aklima ka sar bhi hai
Allah kabhi Aklima se qalam karain
aur kuchh puchhain.

Born of the same mother as Abel and Cain
Born of the same mother but different
Different between her thighs
Different in the swell of her breasts
Different inside her stomach
And her womb too
Why is the fate of her body
Like that of a well fed sacrificial lamb
She, a prisoner of that body
See her standing in the scorching sun on a smoldering hill
Casting a shadow that burns itself into the stones
Look at that shadow closely
Above the long thighs
Above the swelling breasts
Above the coils in her womb
Aklima also has a head
Let Allah have a conversation with Aklima
And ask her a few questions.
(Aklima was the lesser known offspring of Adam and Eve, the sister or Cain and Abel)




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. Continue reading “Aasia Bibi case comes full circle(part 1)”


Maududi and Iqbal: A Brief History

A few days ago, on the occasion of Allama Iqbal’s proposed birthday (November 9th was chosen by a committee created in the 1970s), Mr. Rafi, a Pakistani commentator on twiter tweeted that

“Iqbal chose Maududi to head Dar-ul-Islam in Pathankot to reconstruct Islam in a new light and eventually Maududi founded Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) so Iqbal is indirectly a founder of JI as well” (my translation, the original tweet was in Urdu).

Having written extensively on Jamaat-e-Islami and Maududi in the past and with a moderate knowledge of Iqbal’s poetry and prose, I was not thrilled by this simplistic association. In my opinion, it was a tenuous argument and required a bit more nuance and detail. To set the record straight, I went back to some of my source materials and re-read about the relation between Iqbal and Maududi. I wrote a brief blogpost about this issue in April 2012 for Pak Tea House blogzine (May it rest in Peace), which you can access here.  Following is a detailed look at interactions between the two gents. (For more, see Vali Nasr’s Mawdudi and the making of Islamic revivalism)

The first time Maududi and Iqbal crossed paths was in the 1927 when Maududi wrote a series of articles on the issue of the concept of Jihad in Islam titled”Islam ka qanun-i Jang” (Islam’s law of war), in twenty-two issues of his magazine Al-Jam’iat beginning in February and ending in May 1927. The articles were well received in Muslim intellectual and political
circles. Mawdudi was lauded for his service to Islam by Muhammad Iqbal;Muhammad Ali; Mawlana Ahmad Sa’id of the Jamiat-i Ulama-i Hind, who wrote a complimentary note about the first installment; and the eminent alim, Sayyid
Sulaiman Nadwi, who saw to the publication in 1930 of the articles in book form under the title Al-Jihad fil-lslam (published by Darul-Musannifin in Azamgarh). The first time Iqbal met Maududi was in 1929 in Hyderabad where he had gone to deliver a lecture.

In 1937, Iqbal wanted to establish a model ‘darul-ulum’ (house of knowledge) in Punjab to lay the foundation for a new Islamic worldview, which would in turn facilitate the creation of a Muslim national homeland. His friend Niyaz Ali, a retired civil servant, wanted to establish a waqf (endowment) using a piece of land he owned in Pathankot, a small town in Punjab.

Iqbal’s aim was evident in his letter to the rector of al-Azhar in Cairo, Shaikh Mustafa al-Maraghi, requesting a director for the intended darul-ulum; Iqbal asked the Egyptian alim for a man who was not only well versed in the religious sciences, but also in English, the natural sciences, economics, and politics. Al-Maraghi answered that he had no suitable candidate. Iqbal was disappointed and handed the task of selecting a suitable overseer to Niyaz Ali, but he remained firm about establishing the darul-ulum.

Niyaz Ali, meanwhile, searched for a suitable administrator for his waqf. He turned first to the famous Deobandi alim, Ashraf Ali Thanwi, but Thanwi rejected the offer. Niyaz Ali then tried to encourage Mawdudi to move to Punjab (Maududi at the time was in the state of Hyderabad working ), though he made him no firm offer and the two disagreed about the aim of the project. Niyaz Ali insisted Mawdudi consult with Thanwi, with whom Mawdudi was at loggerheads, along with the rest of the the Deobandi Jamiat-i-Ulama-i Hind. Disagreements, however, were soon overshadowed by mutual need.
The situation in Hyderabad was fragile, and Mawdudi had come to the conclusion that it was not the best possible place for launching an Islamic revival. This made him more interested in Niyaz Ali’s project, and he solicited
the job of administering the waqf. Unable to find any other suitable candidates, Niyaz Ali was inclined to agree, but the final decision had to await a response from al-Maraghi. Niyaz Ali asked Iqbal to write to Mawdudi and invite

Unable to find any other suitable candidates, Niyaz Ali was inclined to agree, but the final decision had to await a response from al-Maraghi. Niyaz Ali asked Iqbal to write to Mawdudi and invite him to settle in the Punjab. Iqbal arranged for him to come to Lahore and serve as the imam of the Badshahi mosque at a salary of 100 rupees per month and to partake in Iqbal’s plans for the revival of Islam, “umraniat-i Islami ki
tashkil-ijadid” (reconstruction of the social aspects of Islam). Mawdudi turned down Iqbal’s offer on the grounds that he did not want a payingjob that would restrict his freedom. Niyaz Ali then suggested Maududi as overseer of the waqf and secured Iqbal’s agreement to this appointment.

At the meeting , Mawdudi’s appointment was confirmed, but Iqbal did insist that he establish at Pathankot some form of educational institution with a clearly defined curriculum. Mawdudi accepted Iqbal’s scheme and agreed to use the
waqf to train a number of capable Muslim students and young leaders in Islamic law as well as modern subjects. Although the project was essentially educational, the imprint of Maududi’s politics was evident in its name, Darul-Islam (Land of Islam).

All this cooperation was uncharacteristic of the independently minded and self-righteous Maududi, especially since it was clear that by no means had he abandoned his political objectives. Accepting the position was, therefore, partly
out of respect for the celebrated poet and the appeal of being a close associate. Following their meeting with Iqbal, Mawdudi and Niyaz Ali agreed on the terms of Mawdudi’s position as waqf overseer, and Niyaz Ali included Maududi
in the waqf’s governing committee, the Darul-Islam Trust.
Niyaz Ali guaranteed Maududi the autonomy he had asked for, but not the permission to involve himself in political activity, because their agreement with Iqbal regarding the nature of the waqf’s projects precluded it. Mawdudi agreed
to these terms. In the November 1937 edition of the Tarjuman, it was announced that the journal would be moving from Hyderabad to Pathankot; Maududi arrived there on March 16, 1938.

After Iqbal’s death, JI cadres tried to cash in on Iqbal’s brand and called Dar-ul-Islam his brainchild but Maududi himself had a different view. Maududi argued that “the commonality
of views between ‘Allamah Iqbal and me are limited to our belief that Islamic law should underlie the revival of our religion; my thoughts and intellectual probing are my own.” Iqbal did not conceive of the Darul-Islam project as it eventually unfolded, and Maududi was not Iqbal’s choice to lead it. Even after the two met again in 1937, Iqbal’s opinion of Mawdudi was guarded. Mian Muhammad Shafi, Iqbal’s secretary, recollected that he referred to Maududi as
“just a mullah [low-ranking cleric] ,” someone more suited to lead the prayers at the Badshahi mosque than to oversee a pioneering educational project.

Now, in hindsight, did Iqbal’s poetry influenced Maududi and JI’s conception of Islam and the world? It depends on if you want to focus on Iqbal’s more Ummah-focussed poetry and his ideas about mixing of religion and Islam. You would find some overlap in ideas but it is hard to separate the threads in some instances. Whether Iqbal wanted it or not, JI cadres used his poetry for their propagands. But then, such is life.




Indian culture started when the British arrived: tales of shadology

When looking at Google Scholar after reading the paper on South Asian pigmentation, I came across this work, The Unfair Selection: A Study on Skin Color Bias in Arranged Indian Marriages:

Underlying the growing popularity of skin-lightening or fairness cosmetics in India is one of the most baseless biases experienced and practiced. Yet, the overriding importance of skin-color especially in context of marriage has been largely unaddressed. This exploratory study examined the influence of skin-color on preference for potential marriage partner. A 2 × 2 (gender × skin-color) between-group experimental design was used. Mothers (N = 108) of individuals of marriageable age group were presented with an option of five marital profiles containing education and work information only. The participants were shown profiles of either males or females depending on whether they had a son or a daughter. Once a profile was chosen, the participant was either shown a photograph of highly attractive fair girl/boy or a highly attractive dark girl/boy. The light-skinned and dark-skinned photograph was of the same person, except their skin tones were manipulated with the use of computer software. Participants were asked to rate how strongly would they recommend the girl/boy as potential bride/groom for their children. As expected, fair-skinned highly attractive people received higher ratings than dark-skinned highly attractive people. However, contrary to our expectations, ratings received for dark-skinned woman were not significantly lower than the ratings received for dark-skinned man. This study shows that the color of skin has the potential to even overpower traits such as general competency and physical attractiveness in both men and women.

The subjects are from the Indian capital. The surprising result is no sex difference. I’m not too interested in the paper’s primary result, but the introduction and discussion, which frames the preference for light skin historically, is of interest.

From the introduction:

While Black scholars in the Unites States have thoroughly examined the link between racism and colorism, there is paucity of information tracing the historical roots of skin-color discrimination in India (Parameswaran & Cardoza, 2009a). Internalization of superiority of fair/white skin has been related to the combined influences of colonialism, caste system,
and globalization. Many South-Asian countries like India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and so on were ruled by the British for around 200 years; “white” race was the ruler and the “dark” native were the ruled. This led to internalization of superiority and power of the “white” skin and inferiority and powerlessness of the “dark skin” (Speight, 2007). Internalized racism reveals itself in a variety of situations from work environment to social situations where people of color reject or denigrate those with dark-skin. The caste system in India is likely to have given impetus to the notion of superiority of fair skin-color brought by colonial rule (Parameswaran & Cardoza, 2009b; Shankar & Subish, 2016). Higher castes have been perceived to be “fairer” and superior while lower castes have been perceived to be “darker” and inferior. Today, in postcolonial world, globalization has led to increased spread and acceptance of Western beauty ideals in Asian and African cultures (Hunter, 2011; Peltzer, Pengpid, & James, 2016).

First, the Muslim West and Central Asians who arrived in South Asia, described it as a pattern where white people conquered black people. These people were quite aware that South Asians were not black in the way Sub-Saharan Africans were. There were black Africans in the armies of the Muslims, as the Siddi community demonstrates. Nor did the Iranians, let alone the Turks, consider themselves to be of the same people as the Europeans.

But when it came to the metric of skin color, the Muslim ruling class of South Asia was disproportionately very light in complexion and described themselves often as white. The natives were described often, though not always, as black (though more often obviously as “Hindus” or whatnot). When Europeans arrived they did not come as conquerors, but as supplicants to the great Mughal and the other powers. They perceived themselves to be white, just like the elite Muslims, as opposed to the dark-skinned native Indian population, which was mostly, though not exclusively, non-Muslim.

As the 19th century proceeded Europeans, and in particular the British, developed a refined, narrow, and simultaneously biological and cultural conception of whiteness which excluded West and Central Asian Muslims. But this was a process and does not negate the fact that the ruling elite of South Asia was disproportionate of the Muslim religion and very light-skinned in comparison to the populace as a whole for many more centuries than British rule occurred.

Second, “higher castes” are not perceived to be lighter in complexion. The data is clear: higher castes are on the whole on average lighter in complexion. Just as people from the north, and west, of the subcontinent, are lighter in complexion than people from the south and east. This is not a perception dictated by ideology, but biology.

As for whether Brahmins have become “higher” castes recently, my understanding is that they have always been a high caste, and that the British did not give them their high casteness. To be frank, Indian social heirarchies do not need the imprimateur of white Europeans to come into existence, ex nihlo.

And genetics makes it clear that castes seem to have been separated and distinct for around ~2,000 years or so in South Asia. Even before the Muslims!

Now, I don’t know enough about South Asian history and culture to comment on this part:

Thus, skin-color is related to social hierarchy in India; fair skin is often considered to be a mark of higher social standing. However, it is important to note that historically and culturally, dark not white skin was considered to be ideal and desirable in India. Some notable examples are the popularity of God Krishna (literally black) and Draupadi (also called Krishnaa), a character from the epic Mahabharata. Krishna is worshipped in many parts of India whereas Draupadi was considered to be one of the most desirable women in the world. The transformation of ideal skin-color from dark to fair can be traced to the influence of caste system, British imperialism, and global hegemony of whiteness. The caste system also called varna (literally color) accounts for the perceived superiority of fair skin over dark. Owing to the association of fairer skin with upper caste and darker skin with lower castes, skin-color came to signify the social position of an individual in our society. In addition, the racist construction of “dark native” by the British seems to have become a part of our unconscious and is often projected as strong dislike for the “dark other” (Parameswaran & Cardoza, 2009b).

I would be curious about the idea that dark skin was preferred to light skin. The historical genetics makes it clear that lighter invasive populations seem to have arrived and placed themselves on top of darker populations, with some mixing before caste crystallization.


The popularity of some dark-skin colored Bollywood actresses like Bipasha Basu, Kajol, Deepika Padukone, and so on suggests that masses are likely to accept a dark-skinned woman if she is perceived as highly attractive.

I do understand that Indian actresses use make-up (or lightening cream) to make their complexion seem fairer than it would otherwise be…but it is clear none of these actresses are actually dark-skinned in the broader South Asian context. They are at best of average complexion.

Now, perhaps you will tell me that I spend time only with kala-batchas or something, I really don’t know. But this whole paper is soaked in postcolonial anti-Western delusional discourse…and then it ends in the shadological delusion that these average complexioned actresses are actually dark skinned! Average South Asians are not light brown, they are medium brown. Medium brown actresses are not dark-skinned, they are dark-skinned for actresses (which is fine, but a different thing than being representative of the population).

Go to Google Images and type “dark-skinned Indian actress” and then “dark-skinned black actress.” In the latter case, the actresses are genuinely dark-skinned. In the former case, only a minority are actresses with the complexion of Sharon Muthu.


Is it time for Asian Americans and Latino Americans to ask to be considered “white”? (a)

This is the next article in the series “Is it time for Asian Americans and Latino Americans to ask to be considered “white.” Please also read Razib’s  Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act on Affirmative Action.

This panel brought up the issue of affirmative action benefiting caucasians at the expense of people of Asian heritage. According to a 2004 analysis of 1990s data Asians on average needed 140 points more on the SAT (out of 1600) than caucasians all else being equal to have the same probability of admission to elite universities.

Do any readers support race base affirmative action that benefits caucasians at the expense of people of Asian ancestry? If so, can you please share why? I have rarely met Asians who give a strong intellectual case for race based  affirmative action that benefits caucasians at the expense of people of Asian ancestry other than the following arguments:

  • We don’t want to be personally called fascist, nazi, a supporter of the patriarchy, racist, bigoted, prejudiced, imperialist, colonialist, oppressor, hegemonic, exploiter, white supremacist (not joking, Asians are frequently called white supremacist . . . I don’t understand why) etc.
  • We don’t want Asians as a group being called fascist, nazi, supporter of the patriarchy, racist, bigoted, prejudiced, imperialist, colonialist, oppressor, hegemonic, exploiter, white supremacist etc.
  • We want to reduce the “evil eye” or jealousy towards Asians
  • We are guilty because of Asian privilege and Asian oppression of blacks and poor people (never met Asians over 22 who say this, but many K-12 rich Asians children believe this now)
  • This is our punishment because Asians are very fascist, nazi, supportive of the patriarchy, racist, bigoted, prejudiced, imperialist, colonialist, oppressive, hegemonic, exploitative, white supremacist etc. (never met Asians over 22 who say this, but many K-12 rich Asians children believe this now)
  • Xenophobic caucasians might attack us if we don’t support affirmative action.
  • Blacks might attack us if we don’t support affirmative action.


In the above discussion Asian Americans seemed afraid to share their actual views. Why are Asian Americans so scared?

To repeat, please share any other reasons you might have for supporting race based affirmative action that discriminates against Asians.