Indian Zero? Pakistani Zero?

Carbon-dating of a Sanskrit manuscript in Oxford’s Bodleian library, originally excavated from the village of Bakhshali in British-India’s North-West frontier province (now renamed Khyber-Pakhtunkhva in modern-day Pakistan), recently created a seismic shift in our understanding of the history of mathematics. It pushed the earliest recorded date of the use of zero as a placeholder in the cardinal number system, that used nine signs for counting and calculation, by half a millennium. The actual evidence for the use of zero as a full-fledged number (in the decimal system) comes from Brahmagupta Siddhanta, by the Indian mathematician Brahmagupta from Ujjain.

close-up image of folio 16v

The Bakhshali manuscript, as it has come to be known, is written in Sanskrit in the Sharada script (the liturgical script still used for Kashmiri, and the ancestor of Gurmukhi). All references to this news, including the few in Pakistani English press, referred to the document as Indian. Unsurprising in itself, as Pakistan treats everything with any relation to Sanskrit as Indian. I am not aware of much Sanskrit expertise in Pakistan’s universities [happy to be corrected, if this is inaccurate!] and conflation of Sanskrit with Hinduism (and Pakistan’s founding animus for it) may have something to do with this notion. E.g. here’s a piece on a rich collection of long neglected Sanskrit documents found at Punjab University Lahore:

A rich treasure of knowledge — an invaluable collection of 9,075 Sanskrit manuscripts on various branches and disciplines of Sanskrit literature — is lying unexplored in Punjab University (PU) library in Lahore since partition. Though they have been preserved properly for decades, hardly any effort was made in the past to study the contents of these manuscripts in detail. Insiders say this indifference was because that the state was least interested in seeking expertise of Sanskrit scholars in India and sharing even an iota of knowledge with them.


So far we have received high-tech cameras and equipment from Koreans to digitise all the contents of these manuscripts. To date, we have not handed them over any manuscript either in original form or in duplicate.” He says at a later stage — once the digitisation process is complete — Koreans can come here to teach Sanskrit to our people

The travesty is that Pakistanis are taught Sanskrit by Koreans. It’s as bad as Chinese giving Latin lessons to the French.

Back to the Bakhshali manuscript, however … I had the chance to see some Pakistanis on twitter express the notion that this manuscript should not be referred to as “Indian”. According to them, India (the state) is a modern state, day younger than Pakistan and cannot lay claim to a document composed anywhere between 224-383 CE (possibly coincident with the Gupta Empire across modern-day N India & Pakistan; 320 CE-550 CE) in a region that’s now Pakistani. So there’s more reason to call it a Pakistani manuscript and a testament to Pakistani creativity, or so the argument goes.

Image result for gupta empire

While many (probably most) Indians will automatically dismiss this claim as another “crazy Pakistani fantasy”, I think that is incorrect and this claim merits some serious thought.

The lowest hanging fruit is the claim that the modern political state (Union) of India was founded a day later than Pakistan. This actually is untrue, and the source is bigdaddy Jinnabhai himself in his “Message to the Nation”:

It is with feelings of greatest happiness and emotion that I send you my greetings. August 15 is the birthday of the independent and sovereign State of Pakistan. It marks the fulfillment of the destiny of the Muslim nation which made great sacrifices in the past few years to have its homeland.

But how about there being no state called “India” in the past and that India is really a modern nation state? I think this holds a lot more water than most people (Indians) realize. India is a modern nation-state, and its political culture differs from what came before in very important ways. E.g. there’s no denying the fact that India never had any culture of universal adult franchise before, or never before in India was an exercise in active, top-down social engineering been attempted (cf. caste reservations for the uninitiated), or women given legally equal status as men, or the existence of a single federal state unifying everything from the Andaman & Nicobar Islands to Ladakh etc. These laws and the culture that animates them are thoroughly unIndian in provenance. To a guy from, say, the Gupta Empire modern India would therefore be politically foreign, revolting and fascinating in equal measure.

India of today in my view is very much a freshly-minted country and so much the better for it. However, cultural continuities exist, just as they do for France from the early Frankish Carolingian kingdom to the ancien regime to the post-Revolution Fifth Republic. Clearly the region under Charlemagne (< Lt. Carolus Magnus) did not have the exact same territorial boundaries as modern France – it in fact included some territories of what’re now Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium and Spain. Politically too French Revolution mutated the very DNA of the French state. Yet, the Frankish Carolingians founded and unified France as a Catholic state. The emblematic French fleur de lis (lily flower) also owes its use to the Carolingian dynasty.

Seen in that light, India really is in some respects the successor state of the Mauryan Empire and India’s founding fathers knew this all too well (cf. Lion Capital of Sarnath). Much of India was divided and re-unified many times over from the first Mauryan unification of the Mahajanapadas, the last (partial) re-unification being under the Marathas until their confederacy fell to the British in 1818. Megasthenes, the Seleucid Greek ambassador in Chandragupta (Sandrokoptos to Greeks) Maurya’s court said this about the country he was the ambassador in:

India, which is in shape quadrilateral, has its eastern as well as its western side bounded by the great sea, but on the northern side it is divided by Mount Hemodos (Himalayas) from that part of Skythia which is inhabited by those Skythians who are called the Sakai, while the fourth or western side is bounded by the river called the Indus, which is perhaps the largest of all rivers in the world after the Nile. The extent of the whole country from east to west is said to be 28,000 stadia, and from north to south 32,000.

I think the description above doesn’t leave much to imagination about what India was in the minds of Classical writers. Modern-day India is not geographically completely identical to the above definition, but the description is well-nigh accurate. Barring the thin NW slice of Punjab and Sindh between Indian border and the Indus riparian, that now exists within Pakistan, and including regions of far NE, which were beyond the pale in the Mauryan period, India more-or-less is the same entity geographically.

Finally, does India have some/any cultural continuity from the Gupta period when the Bakhshali manuscript was written? This is a hard question as a lot of water has flown down the Indus and Ganges since. Nonetheless, some cultural motifs survive, including the most important of all – language. An Indian of the 21st century (like me) learns enough spoken Sanskrit in school to have a rudimentary dialogue with the authors of this manuscript. On the other hand, if the Bakhshali manuscript writers were to suddenly travel in time to modern Indian Punjab they will be able to read some Gurmukhi and recognize a few familiar words in it. They’ll see the people who look like them, have a similar accent in speech, relate to the same cultural reference points (say of the Indian Epics), keep long hair (another old Indian marker of piety) and every second person with “Inder” in their names. Basically enough indication that these modern Indian Punjabis (or Himachalis, Haryanvis, Dogras, Kashmiris etc) are of the same cultural strain.

The same can be said of the French v Latin, or Greeks v Classical (Homeric) Greek, though not of Iranians v Old Persian. A Sanskrit-knowing Pandit from Benaras can understand more of the inscriptions of Darius and Cyrus with some effort than your average Iranian – a testament to how cleanly Arabs wiped that slate. Indeed, Old Persian grammar was reconstructed by modern linguists by directly extrapolating from Sanskrit. An example of how similar the languages are:

  • \ adam \ Dârayavauš \ xšâyathiya \ vazraka \ xšâyathiya \ xšâyathiy
  • ânâm \ xšâyathiya \ Pârsaiy \ xšâyathiya \ dahyûnâm \ Višt
  • âspahyâ \ puça \ Aršâmahyâ napâ \ Haxâmanišiya \ thâtiy \
  • Dârayavauš \ xšâyathiya \ manâ \ pitâ \ Vištâspa \ Vištâspahyâ \ pitâ \ Arš
  • âma \ Aršâmahyâ \ pitâ \ Ariyâramna \

Sanskrit translation:

aham DharavAsu*, kshatriya vardhaka, kshatriya

kshatriyanam, kshatriya paraseya, kshatriya dasyunam

Vishtashvasya putra, Arshamasya napa, Sakhamanaseya. AH iti

DharavAsu kshatriyaH: mam pitA Vishtashva, Vishtashvasya pitA

Arshama, Arshamasya pitA Arya-ramana ..

[Note that “Darayavahus” (which is Darius in actual Old Persian) is the exact cognate of Sanskrit Dharavasu (lit. holder of good), but in Sanskrit this compound is formed as Vasudhara instead, a commonly attested name in India to date. Also the Persian title of kings, “shah” is simply a corruption of Old Persian “khshayathiya” cognate of Sanskrit “kshatriya”]

While classical history in Iran has essentially been lost, in Pakistan the slate is in the process of being wiped clean – as the Sanskrit document collection example indicates. Only time will tell how far this effacing process continues.

To be brown is to be a civilization

Though I often disagree with him, I do enjoy Zach’s perspective on things because they are different from mine, though we exhibit similarities (e.g., both of us generally align with the center-Right in Anglophone societies). Zach may be one of the first cosmopolitan desis in his pedigree; he, himself of part-Persian heritage, marrying a South Indian Sindhi, probably to raise a family in England. In contrast, I may be the last brown person in my pedigree for a while, fading into legend and myth (or infamy!).

But one of the things I think is important to emphasize is South Asia is a civilizational entity straight-jacketed for historical reasons into a few nation-states. Though India and China are often compared together, they are totally incomparable insofar as the Han majority of China exhibit a racial and linguistic unity which South Asians do not (even though southeast Chinese dialects are unintelligible with Mandarin, the written language is the same).

By and large, I am predisposed to agree that someone like Zach is more prototypically South Asian than I am. Despite his religious heterodoxy his cultural rootedness in the Northwest quadrant of the subcontinent does put him at the “center of the action,” so to speak. In contrast, my own family’s recent origins are on the far eastern fringe of recognizably desi territory…. That is, my family is from the eastern portion of eastern Bengal (my grandmother was almost killed by the crazy elephant of the maharani of Tripura!). It’s interesting that 3,000 years after the emergence of Iron Age South Asian cultures the fulcrum of South Asian identity is where it began all those millennia ago (there was a period between the Mauryas and the Guptas when Bihar was the center).

Talking about what is more prototypically desi is like talking about what is more prototypically “European.” Being French or German is more prototypically European than being Albanian or Russian. We could argue why, but in your heart you know it’s true. There are definitions of Europeans which exclude Albanians and Russians (even though I’d disagree with those personally), but no plausible ones which exclude French and Germans.

Finally, I do think it indicates the limits and flexibility around race and brown identity. As Zach has said repeatedly he is very light-skinned (and part Iranian to boot). Myself, I don’t think anyone would describe me as either light-skinned or dark-skinned; I’m pretty much the average South Asian in complexion. Brown. Not light brown. Or dark brown. Literally just brown. But that doesn’t really weight much in terms of who is “more desi” or not. I have never watched a Bollywood film all the way through. That matters more.

Why Brown Pundits? – II

My main reason for being on Brown Pundits is that fellow blogger Omar Ali, whose thoughts & views I much admire, asked me if I could contribute and I was happy to do so. I’d vaguely known about this blogging website, but never actively contributed before.

My main interest is actually in the linguistics of South Asia, and wider IE linguistics generally. Politically my interest in or knowledge of South Asia is no more than average, other than about the peculiar situation of Jammu & Kashmir, which I’ve studied about and discussed in a lot of detail due to my personal circumstances and upbringing. I’d like to think of BP as an opportunity to learn about the diversity of perspectives of India’s peripheral states: Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal etc, from the people of these places.

I’m what one could call a Whiggish Enlightenment fundamentalist. I believe in the moral superiority of Western culture and values and I think Indians have a lot to learn from them. In fact, India is, in some respects, a Western state – though the last word on this has still not been said.

That said, I am also quite interested in Physics, Philosophy and Finance – with no specific South Asia/Indian relevance – and occassionally my blogs do and will reflect that interest.

Thank you for reading 🙂



Why Brown Pundits?

This post is in response to Zach and Zimriel.

Why Brown Pundits? Why this blog? And why do I post here, as opposed to Gene Expression or Secular Right, or various other venues which I have access to?

To a great extent the origins of this blog for me go back to the early 2000s, when I began to have some discussions with a few South Asian friends/readers through carbon copy emails. Two of those individuals later went on to co-found the Sepia Munity weblog.

Growing up in an overwhelmingly white America my understanding of South Asians was parochial and superficial, or at least academic, until I entered adulthood. At that point I met various South Asian Americans, and formed some friendships of some durability, and began to see how they viewed the world. How their experiences differed from mine, and how they were similar.

There was, and is, a lot of diversity. But I didn’t see too much of my own perspective being represented. Books such as the Karma Of Brown Folk reflected what I think the most dominant and “hip” element of American South Asian subculture, which is culturally left-wing, and aspires toward what has become bracketed under the term “intersectional.”

I’m not saying that these people are the majority. Just that they vocal, and active, and the ones who are likely to agitate and organize around a South Asian American identity (as opposed to local particularistic identities, such as being a Tamil Brahmin, or a more general identity, such as being a liberal Democrat or conservative Republican).

This blog is a way to get some more heterodox and diverse views out there. For example, I am a libertarian leaning conservative who is an atheist, whose children are “white presenting” as they would say today. I am Bengali by birth and upbringing, but it is unlikely that my descendants will be Bengali in anything but distant lineage. That’s a statement of fact, and neither positive or negative. It probably influences my negative attitude toward fashionable anti-white poses struck by gentry left-wing American South Asians (poses struck in solidarity with other “PoC”), as anti-white prejudice impacts my family directly.

As for what I post here vs. what I post elsewhere: if I’m not aiming toward generality of inference or lesson I’ll post them here. A South Asian illustration of a general principle can be posted elsewhere, but sometimes issues and questions exhibit strong South Asian particularities, and they belong here.


Turkish Turbulence – Shock Therapy for Turkish Armed Forces


From our regular contributor, Dr Hamid Hussain

“A tree won’t fall with a single blow”. Turkish proverb

A failed coup attempt by some members of Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) in July 2016 made international headlines for few days. The news quickly faded away and firm clamp down and a purge inside Turkey prevented any detailed information about the dramatic changes in Turkish Armed Forces in the last two decades.

Events of July 2016 were the final phase of the demise of the first republic established by the country’s founder Kamal Ataturk and emergence of second republic. Turkish Armed Forces assigned themselves the role of guardian of the republic and were a dominant force for almost a century. TAF directly intervened several times while at other times removed civilian governments by orchestrating events behind the scene if they perceived any deviation from the Kamalist secular vision. Turkish Armed Forces have finally met their tragic end and moved out of the power center. Continue reading “Turkish Turbulence – Shock Therapy for Turkish Armed Forces”

What is Brown Pundits?

Even since I’ve relocated to the Shires and inspired by my wife’s intense focus on her PhD I’ve been trying to write a science fiction novel. It’s going well and it’s sort of something as a bucket list thing to do. One thing I’ve realised as a “writer” is that distractions are lethal.

Therefore virtually all of my activities have been trimmed down so that I can write more. However writing isn’t a linear activity; it’s not only related to time but inspiration.

At any rate how does this all relate to Brown Pundits? I was of course involved in the original Brown Pundits (in the winter 2010/spring 2011) but not so much in this reboot. It’s also difficult to actually pin down what Brown Pundits is about.

Do we talk cricket, no there’s cricinfo for that. Do we talk desi politics, there’s NDTV for that and we don’t really comment on films or popular culture (I watch Hindi films & Urdu drama but my commentaries on it never really get picked up). Also I don’t accept that Brown Pundit is a Sepia Mutiny successor.

The Devil wears Brown

I find the answer lies in the Devil Wears Prada. In one iconic scene an icy Meryl Streep lectures a dowdy Anne Hathaway about how MS’s Haute Couture decisions percolates through every pore and layer of fashion until it reaches to the bottom of Anne’s bargain basement collection.

BP in some ways is like that; we aren’t the High Culture of Brownitude (not by any stretch of the imagination) but the High Intellect of it. We won’t discuss Kashmir necessarily but rather the underlying pattern of conversion to Islam among Kashmiris and how that led to the situation that is today. We aren’t academic specialists by any means because we trade depth for breadth.

Of course each Punditeer has a different style; Razib is precise & knowledgeable, Omar has a ideo-political framework whereas I’m much more hazy and experiential. We also now have Slapstick with his interest in his Kashmiri Pandit history & politics.

I don’t know if I have given a clear definition but I would like to think the intellectual discourses we have here about South Asia and diaspora percolates, even in a tiny way to the rest of Desidom.

The Obliquity of Oriental Culture

I love the Tipping Point genre. I was recently reading Matthew Syed’s “Bounce” & I also enjoyed the Rational Optimist, Black Swan (which is tbh slightly different to the rest). However most of all Obliquity deeply impacted me.

I tend to be oblique, or indirect, in my aims & agenda. It’s something that’s perplexing for my wife, who is extraordinarily direct. That suits her in her academic career and cultural heritage, where Sindhis seem to wear their hearts on their sleeves.

Growing up I was deeply impacted by the very restrained mores of Irani Yazdi Baha’i culture (it’s a thing trust me & disproportionately influential in the South Asian Baha’i world). I always found desi culture much more emotional whereas ours was reserved (almost) to the point of being British, to this day I find emotional outbursts to be troubling and a personal failure (also for someone so chatty I find it difficult to discuss deep emotions).

Further to that is the distinction between the public face and the private one, again a relic of Persian culture. Now by Persian culture I have no idea whether it’s prevalent in the mainstream Iranian culture but rather in the diasporan pockets of Baha’i communities in the Gulf & South Asia. However ta’arof (the art of politeness) is a pretty universal thing among Persian speakers I imagine. 

Ironically these Oriental cultural features, obliqueness, reservedness, class consciousness (that one I picked up from Pakistan which in the 90’s & naughties was positively Victorian in its class hierarchy), the private & public distinction were all cultural traits that hyper-accelerated my integration into Britain. Britain is a complex country and the class system is still very much a national feature; especially in the regions that I’m in (Oxbridge Formals sometimes feel straight out of Hogwarths).

For instance take the term “micro-aggression”; now I’m not exactly sure of what it means but I understand it to be a way of scoring racial points by white people in as subtle a way as possible. That’s basically Persian Baha’i culture because our Faith is so idealistic we can never be outright rude to one another so sometimes we manifest anger in very mundane, petty & hurtful ways.

My wife makes a good point that Pakistani & her Sindhi Bhaiband culture are very similar; there’s a love of socialising, glamour and opulence. It’s very very different to the sub-culture that I grew up in that preferred the under-stated and refined rather than scale or lavishness. 

Brown Pundits becomes interesting to me personally when I need to reflect on my culture, on my mindset and whether it hinders me or aids me. I imagine if I had moved to the US instead of the UK I would have probably emphasised the more Pakistani-desi aspects of my heritage; the extroversion, the ebullience & conviviality (again I’m talking about the Karachi KGS sub-culture in Pakistan). In Britain however the haunting & melancholic tones of a lost Persia (Yazdi culture is a culture of mourning & redemption in the Faith) chime very very well here and sort of facilitated an interest in the rarer circles of British life.

I do find posh Britain to be a bit common & vulgar at times, especially when they are always trying to get sloshed/drunk (alas the English & their drink), but once one swims among the older generations there is a sense of artistic and aesthetic inclination coupled with a love of good conversation. 

However nothing prepared me for my wife’s hugely superior approach she took to life in the West. Whereas I was always holding on to my idealised constructions of my heritage; she essentially junked that and showed me that even though I was a many-generationed Baha’i there was some ineffably Islamic bug about my mentality that hindered my full progression in the West.

Islamic cultures have this sort of puffed up pride because of their glory-days and Bahai’s too can sometimes have it because our Prophets were Persian. This unearned haughtiness makes us feel sometimes that the West is only technically and materially superior but nothing more. What my wife has shown me that Westerners have an extremely different, not so positive, impression of our cultures and that only through internalisation of this reality can one hope to truly compete in the West. 

For all this time even though I commingled in White Society, in a variety echelons, I somehow stayed apart & alien to it because my own conception of my heritage bubbled me from truly intimate interactions. It’s only when I popped the bubble, thanks to my wife, did I truly join White Society and began to realise there are things like white privilege, micro-aggression and that white people behaved pretty much like much like ethnic people just much more subtly.

I also realised that when I went from being an exoticised & fascinating alien to be an actual member in England among the English that why so many immigrants prefer the ethnic enclave. The English are not racists but neither are they entirely welcoming. Brexit reflected that silent strain of superiority brought upon by Memories of the Empire. 

If I wasn’t naturally very extroverted I would have retreated back to Londonistan a long time ago. My wife & I find ourselves in situations where we are the only dark-haired people in crowded room (it’s shocking how mono-ethnic social groups are in multi-cultural societies) and Society does see us as Sui generis

  • As an example we have the very un-Asian thing where we have a puppy (mA a beautiful one at that) as opposed to a child (Asians are more into kids, white people more into pets). 
  • My wife is more educated and accomplished than I am, which is rare in most couples but even more so in desi ones. We are in Oxbridge because of her.
  • We live in the shires and not in the multi-ethnic urban zones.
  • Even though I write on BP as Pakirani IRL I will usually call myself an Indian out of respect for my wife. The country that I cannot bear to see criticised/humiliated is India because I see it as an attack on my wife (irrational I know)
  • Mind you this is very different to the BP banter where Internet Hindus wants to see me as this crazed Paki & I like to provoke them.
  • For an Asian/Indian woman my wife has privileges and a voice that is rare even in emancipated Western cultures. As I said in my wedding speech I see my wife as an incarnation of Lakshmi (maybe a tad hyperbolic but YOLO).

Hindustani Culture as a Link culture?

I was replying to Razib on this comment & thought that instead I would turn it into a post. I would also like to caveat my thoughts:

I have a habit of generalizing since I am now more used to social media posts than blogging. As always I’m very happy to be wrong and these are simply my thoughts and observations.

The fact that my wife is a Sindhi from Chennai (among other things) gives me an additional window into “other” parts of South Asia long inaccessible to the average Paki. As an aside my late eponymous paternal grandfather was actually Kakazai but my grandmother was an Urdu-speaker from Amroha so that culture was instead transmitted to the next generation. So I speak both as an insider and an outsider to this Hindustani cultural complex that I’m commenting on. Not fully in but neither out & just enough on the margins to make it interesting!

How do Desis from any part of the Subcontinent connect? Let’s say as a thought experiment we take the extremes of the South Asian desi region; a Tamil, Pashtun, Nepali and Bengali walk into a bar. Now none them may know Hindustani or they may speak it with a very heavy accent but that is their common link and bond, which would even inflect the English that they speak to one another (English usage of course depending on their socio-economic strata). If they didn’t want to watch a Hollywood film they could conceivably agree on a Bollywood film. UP, in that way, is the beating heart of all South Asia.

All of these cultures are radically different from “Hindustani” culture (for want of a better term) but there’s enough familiarity with it, which makes it a civilizational links of sorts (or a cultural lingua franca that underpins Desidom).

A culture that hasn’t been touched by Hindustani culture or is far removed from it (both Afghanistan and SE Asia were at times part of the Indic cultural sphere but it’s hard-pressed to consider Burmese, Dari-speakers or even the Hindu Balinese as Desis) doesn’t get absorbed into desiness. Whereas Nepal has sufficiently desi touches even though its people do look very different (most of the Nepalis I’ve met in my limited experience do seem more East than South Asian).

As a final point to a very great extent Hindustani culture has been deeply influenced by the colonial project as part of the divide & rule strategy (I don’t want to go into the Hindi-Urdu controversy hence why I’ve used the neutral term Hindustani). There is a reason why that, despite their very different geographies, both the successor states to the British Raj (India & Pakistan) depended on this culture as a nation-building project for their diametrical ideologies.

There were of course severe limits to the Hindustani language project with riots in South India in mid 60’s and the independence of Bangladesh in 1971 but even so the march of Hindustani as a core component of Desiness remains unabated especially with the rise & rise of Modern India & Hinglish.

Disaffection of Kashmiri Muslims

At the outset I must say that I am a Kashmiri Pandit, born in the 80s in Srinagar and my family (and I) were forced to migrate from the Valley in the early 90s. I have summarized my experience on brownpundits earlier. In this third of a series, I’d like to analyse the reason why Kashmiri Muslims were, and significant sections of Muslims still remain, disaffected with India. [Please note that what you’re going to read is my opinion, which may contain some bias in spite of my best efforts to correct it. Much as I try to remain objective about Kashmir’s politics generally, it is not humanly possible to isolate my thoughts from my experience.]

The short (but simplistic) reason behind the disaffection of Kashmiri Muslims from India is politicized religion, i.e. Islam. However, like all problems in the physical world, reducing explanations to simplistic binaries is never a very good idea. Therefore, some exploration of the context of Islam/Muslims in Kashmir is necessary. What people (especially Indians) should realize is that the group they refer to as “Kashmiri Muslims” is far from being a homogeneous group, and unsurprisingly like any human society not all of them think alike. Secondly, when we speak about “anti-India sentiments” amongst Kashmiri Muslims, one should try to form a nuanced understanding of what exactly is anti-India in those sentiments.

I’d like to begin by a disambiguation about Muslims of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, for the next few paragraphs, before delving into their disaffection (or lack thereof) with the Indian State. Here’s a detailed ethno-linguistic map of the (erstwhile) state of J&K:

The dark oval-shaped region that you see above is the Kashmir Valley, surrounded by the Pir Panjal (< Skt. pira panchala) range. As the figure shows, the dark Kashmiri-speaking region (entirely within Indian boundaries by the way) is circumscribed by the diagonal (descending) pattern which corresponds to Gojri in the legend. The sliver of land, immediately to the west of the Line of Control is patterned differently and is inhabited by Lehnda/Pothowari speakers. To the East of the Valley, we have the Shina and Ladakhi regions, occupying the lion’s share of the landmass of the state of J&K. To the South the pattern changes again as people speak Dogri (< Skt. dvigarta, dialects akin to Pothowari in Pakistan administered regions and to Himachal Pahari), and to the very sparsely populated North, Dardic (Shina, Burusho, Pashai etc) dialects dominate.

Clearly, Kashmiri Muslims form a subset, an important subset (but a subset nonetheless) of the undivided state of Jammu & Kashmir. Non-Kashmiri Muslims of J&K also include some prominent Dogra Muslims, e.g. ex-CM of J&K and a cabinet minister in many Congress/UPA governments, Ghulam Nabi Azad, the Dogri singer Malika Pukhraj (who emigrated to Pakistan), tabla-nawaz Ostad Allah-rakha (Ostad Zakir Husain’s father) etc. This is what Dogri language sounds like (a rather famous Dogri folk piece sung by Malika Pukhraj ironically on PTV – all place names mentioned: Paprole, Lakesar, Nadaun etc are in Jammu & Himachal by the way):

The Gojri-speaking Gujjar-Bakerwals (one of India’s scheduled tribes) are semi-nomadic pastoralists who move from mountains to the Valley with seasons. The Gojri-speaking cattle-herders can be found from Kashmir to Northern Rajasthan (and parts of Indian and Pakistani Punjab in between) and, at least in India, Hindu and Muslim Gujjars self-identify as a single ethnic group. E.g. during the Gujjar-agitation by Rajasthani Gujjars to get Scheduled Tribe status (which implies positive discrimination in education and jobs), Muslim Gujjars of J&K joined the rioting. Gujjars of J&K have also been at the forefront of demands for raising a Gujjar Regiment of the Indian Army and Muslim Gujjars currently form the backbone of the Jammu & Kashmir Light Infantry. Unsurprisingly, the only BJP MLA from a Muslim majority border constituency in J&K is a Gujjar. The Indian SC/ST reservation system, pasture-land and grazing rights and support for Gojri language (part of the Western Rajasthani/Marwari dialect cluster) and culture by the Indian Government over the last 70 years has been a major factor in main-streaming of this community. Muslim Gujjars make up around 20-25% of J&K Muslim population and are a sizeable votebank. Furthermore, Gujjars were traditionally looked down upon by the settled Kashmiri population of the Valley and attitudes to them were no different to notions about, say, gypsies in Europe – an uncouth people who excel at thieving and petty crime. I’ve personally seen various instances of this discrimination first-hand, in one case against Gujjar children. All of these factors make Muslim Gujjars of J&K one of the most stoutly pro-India constituencies.

Furthermore, J&K has Shina and Ladakhi-speaking (predominantly Shi’a) Muslims in the Kargil region to the North of the Valley. They are racially, ethno-linguistically and due to their Shia-belief also in religion distinct from the majority Sunni Kashmiri Muslims of the Valley. Note that Kashmiri Muslims themselves have a Shia sub-group (around 20% of the Valley’s Muslim population and primarily resident in the North of the Valley). Some of the Shia families are actually of mixed Indo-Iranian descent and were instrumental in introducing Persian carpet-weaving skills to Kashmir. The Kashmiri rug trade is almost completely in the hands of the Shia, and all Kashmiri Shia traders plying their trade in rugs and shawls can be found in all corners of the country. Kashmiri Shia too have a strong pro-India bias, and Shia recruitment into the Indian army from North Kashmir villages is commonplace.

The Kashmiri-speaking Muslims (primarily Sunnis) are the predominant ethnic group of the Valley. They are almost completely descended from the Hindu population (of different castes) before Islam came to dominate the Valley from the 15th century onwards. In some cases, the caste-mandated occupational distinction called kram in Kashmiri (< Skt. karma; work, guild) still survives. E.g. Surnames like Wani (K. wonyh < Skt. vaNika; cf. Hindi baniya) is the class of tradespeople and shopkeepers, Batt (K. baTh < Skt. bhaTa;  lit. mercenary, soldier), Tantray (K. tantray < Skt. tantriNa; soldier – word attested only in the Rajatarangini for soldiers of Kashmir’s kings), Pandith (K. paendyith < Skt. panDitaH; scholar, teacher, brahmin), Dar (K. Daar < Skt. Damara; agriculturalist feudals of Kashmir Valley, analogous to Jatts of Punjab or the dehghan of Iran), Lone (K. loan < Skt. lavanya; a class of Kashmiri damaras, see below) are common amongst Kashmiri Muslims.

Lavanya/Damara, feudal farming community of Kashmir in the Rajatarangini

It has to be said that unlike many Muslim communities of the plains on both sides of the Indo-Pak border, Kashmiri Muslims almost never try to concoct any Middle-Eastern/Central-Asian descent, in spite of the fact that Kashmiri Muslims are much more recent converts than say Muslims of Sindh, Punjab or Gangetic belt. However there has been an urban legend about Kashmiri descent from Jewish tribes, which is easily dismissed given zero evidence in any pre-Islamic Sanskrit chronicles of Kashmir (which are numerous and detailed) and no tell-tale genetic imprint. In general, any Kashmiri Muslim will straight-up admit to their forefathers converting to Islam from Hinduism, and I have even known Muslim families (converted Pandits) to hang on to the yajnopavit threads of the paternal ancestors lest throwing them may bring ill will of the departed. Needless to add, Kashmiri Muslims are genetically indistinguishable from the Hindu Pandits.

Concurrent genetic markers of Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims


Given the above background, when one thinks about the views of Muslims of Jammu & Kashmir on India, one needs to keep these important ethnic / religious distinctions in mind. The rest of this post is concerned with Kashmiri-speaking Muslims of the Valley of Kashmir, wherein the disaffection with India is the strongest.

Per se criticism of India is a national right and being anti-some-aspect-of-India is not just expected, but necessary in a functioning democracy. There can be no improvement in functioning of a society or government without voicing criticism and all such “anti-India” activities should be very welcome. Many of the anti-India sentiments expressed by the Muslims of the Valley are very genuine and a person like me would support these over knee-jerk patriotism any day. The vocal opposition to AFSPA, which a draconian law fit for totalitarian states rather than democracies, is a genuine “anti-India” sentiment. So, is the criticism of the Indian State for mass-disappearances of many locals, detentions without trial, encounter killings, torture of innocents and militants alike and other such terrible excesses and the demand for punitive justice in these cases are the duties of every Indian citizen. The rule and due process of the law are not things that a state can suspend at will or apply arbitrarily when it chooses it. Sticking to them, in face of the gravest of provocations, is absolutely necessary for the functioning of a state that would like to call itself civilized. In that respect, India falls way short of the mark.

In all of this, one should not lose sight of who/what is this “Indian State” that has been doing these terrible things. Unlike China, it is not an unelected party of individuals driven by some ideology. Nor is it a military-driven deep state like in Egypt or Pakistan, or a Majles of clerics like in Iran, or an absolute Monarchy like Saudi Arabia. The Indian State is its citizens, who vote for representatives to legislate and govern India. Whatever the state machinery does to citizens in a democracy is their collective responsibility and people can lobby against such policies and remove governments with such policies. The voting out of the Indira Gandhi led Congress government in the aftermath of the Emergency is a case in point. Therefore, nothing really stops the local representatives (elected Members of the Legislative Assembly, of whom, interestingly BJP represents the largest voteshare) from lobbying MPs or Ministers in the Parliament for change of laws.

While referendums are generally a terrible idea in any parliamentary democracy (esp. one as large and diverse and with so many social/ethnic/economic faultlines as India’s), I would not mind an independence referendum for Jammu & Kashmir on the same lines as the Scottish independence referendum either, in fact. The caveat, however, is that the means to achieve that (say via peaceful lobbying of Indian MPs and public opinion) ought to be as moral as the end. Ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri minorities doesn’t quite meet that standard.

In addition to these genuine criticisms, anti-India sentiments amongst Kashmiri Muslims also include a host of other uncharitable views against the Indian State that are genuinely indefensible. These include expressions of any intention of violence against Indian democracy, ethnic-cleansing of minority populations, of support for totalitarian / genocidal states like ISIS or calls for religious war / revolution. It is the expression of this latter category of sentiments that any citizen of India must oppose.

Reports and witnesses said that huge number of people turned up for the funeral of Najar, a resident of Batapora in Sopore, and it was held twice. The witnesses said that body of Qayoom Najar was wrapped in black flag of Al Qaeda and ISIS while slogans in favour of Ansar Ghazwatul Hind chief Zakir Musa were also shouted by mourners.

The evidence is fairly incontrovertible that the people who express anti-India sentiments of the second category are indeed Kashmiri Muslims. The question still remains, why are the second category of views (which are frankly despicable) expressed by some Kashmiri Muslims at all? While, I am no sociologist, and my understanding on this matter could well be mistaken, I think the reason has to do with the total hijacking of the old (and largely bi-partisan) movement of Kashmir’s political independence by right-wing Jamiat-e Eslami or Islamist sympathizing elements from the late 40s onwards.

Himalayan regions like Kashmir (or Nepal, Bhutan etc) have always been politically distinct from the Indo-Gangetic plains. This isn’t just true today but was true from the very early days of Kashmir’s self-image as a single political entity. Note, historical references to Kashmir only refer to the Valley of Kashmir. Unlike other parts of the Indian sub-continent, the medieval history of Kashmir has been very well documented, and ample evidence from the Rajataranginis indicates how Kashmiris then saw Kashmir as a politically distinct entity (more on this in my next post).

The same expression of political independence finds voice in pre-modern Kashmiri folklore as well and many Kashmiri intellectuals (both Hindu and Muslim) bemoaned the lack of independence of Kashmiris, first under the Moghals, then Afghans and finally the Sikhs/Dogras. The movement of political independence from the Dogra monarchy (Dogras being Pahari-speaking Hindu Rajputs of southern Pir Panjal, Jammu and modern-day Himachal) sowed the first seeds of the Azadi movement in the Valley, with both Pandit and Muslim ideologues in support. The largely secular / bi-partisan nature of this movement was solely to democratize the region, by overthrowing the monarchy – much like similar movements in Nepal against the Gorkha Shah/Rana dynasties or even the secular political movement against the Pahlavi Shahs of Iran.

This realization resulted in Nadim’s almost exclusive concentration on Kashmiri. He had written his first Kashmiri poem in 1942 on “Maej Kashir” (“Mother Kashmir”), an appropriate topic for a time when Kashmir was passing through a critical phase with the mass movement slogan “Quit Kashmir” challenging the established Dogra dynasty

However, the “secular” nature of this movement (like other such movements in Iran or West Asia) slowly evapourated as the Islamists hijacked the entire narrative – especially after the Partition and Pakistan’s active support of such “Jehadis”. The rise of Zia-ul Haq in Pakistan, which coincided with the Afghan Jehad and copious amounts of money (Saudi and American) being transferred to the radical Islamic seminaries in Northern Pakistan led to a tremendous shot-in-the-arm for Kashmiri Islamists. That is the time (late 80s) when we witnessed the rise of overtly Islamist tanzeems in Kashmir: Harkat-ul Mujahedeen, Allah Tigers, Lashkar-e Tayyaba, Jaish-e Mohamed etc, who now are inextricably tied to the modern global Jehadist narrative. The ethnic cleaning of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley was a logical implication of this Kashmiri Islamism and remains a bleeding sore.

Today, most of the “Azadi” speak of Kashmiri Muslims is a thinly veiled aspiration for an Islamo-fascist utopia, a kind of Lebensraum for Muslims. Obviously, we already have the first Lebensraum for Muslims of South Asia next-door in the shape of Pakistan, so the mutual camaraderie is rather de jure. This yearning for a Lebensraum also explains the rather recent trend of unfurling ISIS flags from mosques in Kashmir and overt support of Kashmiri militant leaders to the global Jehadist cause.


What does it mean to be “Brown?”

I have never liked the word Brown (too much of a New World term) but I much prefer Desi. 

I don’t actually know what desi means (I think it’s rustic & rural combined) because its haziness is what makes it so compelling. It’s a shorthand for the children of Mother India but doesn’t extend to South East Asia, the term attenuates somewhat in Sri Lanka (who have their own cultural peculiarities) and Nepal (because of their physical resemblance to the East).

Desiness fades off somewhere in KPK/Afghanistan; exactly where is a matter of choice because the historical boundary with Greater Iran begins somewhere in the Hindu Kush. The Indo-Gangetic plan is the beating heart of Desiness; the three rivers constitute the lifeblood of desiness.

Desiness connotes shared food, a Hindustani vernacular, Bollywood, an Urdu-Mughal High culture set off against Sanskrit religion, a local & earthy UP-Punjabi culture, PIR & Guru worship, a feeling of physical & geographic unity that extends to South Asia. It’s also a sentiment and a state of being rather than a fixed characteristic. Some desis are not so desi and sometimes you can turn up and turn down the Desiness, not so with Brown (unless you use some nasty bleach products).

Of course in the migration to the New World the stark complexities of what it means to be desi sort of strips away into “Brown.” For instance do Brown people like Urdu dramas & Hindi films? Desis usually like one or the other (and the smarts ones both 🙂

When we call ourselves Brown Pundits is there really much of a common ground in this matter? Is there anything that really unites Brown people beyond the colour of their skin; there are brown Cambodians and Turks.

Desiness of course is earthiness fused with a sumptuousness and lavishness that is almost unparalleled (look at a desi wedding as an example). Persia and her strong aesthetic influence have historically percolated through the Sub-continent via the medium of Muslim/Mughal High Culture (thanks to the Brits who ensured the two became synonymous). The interplay between the Sanskritic pushback and the Persian advance has contributed to so much of our cultural heritage (try as they might Urdu is not dead yet; in exile from its UP homeland to find refuge & succour in the Punjab and a bastardised existence as lyrics in Bollywood films).

But at the end of it all Desiness somehow captures the magic & mystery of India; a culture that has persevered despite all the odds. A millennia of foreign Pardeshi rule but India has somehow managed to preserve her traditions, her religion and her culture; no mean feat. 

Even Persia was reborn of an Arab rape in a way that India was not. There are several orders of magnitude more continuity between the Rig Veda and modern day India than there is with the Avesta & Iran-zamin (Zoroastrianism is memory fused with myth; Hinduism is a living reality ready to tame Islam at a moment’s notice, in fact Hinduism derives her strength by not being Islam).

Brown doesn’t really do justice to what is a highly complex and evolving civilisational space. Even if India & Pakistan make an ass of themselves on the world stage battling one another (and Pakistan always threatening defection to be a sweeper in th Minarets of the Middle East) it doesn’t mean it’s not a fascinating Sub-continent. When I compare India, Pakistan & Iran; India has retained that hue & joy of paganism that the stark monotheists have long abandoned (Islam has had such a problematic relationship with music for instance).

Of course Desipundits doesn’t have as good a ring to it as Brownpundits so I guess we’ll have to suffice with Brown.