Life is a great test

Being Asian American is often about tests. Doing well on tests. That’s what Asian Americans are supposed to do. Two conventionally liberal (“woke”) publications have stories about test-prep, testing, and Asian American academic life.

First, in The Juggernaut, Why Test Scores Can Be a “Proxy for Privilege”. To be franky, I did not like this story, because the conclusions were already there to begin with, and the author was just figuring out how to buttressed the preexistent argument. For example:

Mettu, for example, is well aware of her advantages as the daughter of educated, middle-class Indian immigrants who could invest in her college preparation. She recognizes that few students enjoy such privilege. That is why Mettu sympathizes with efforts at higher education institutions across the country to downplay — or altogether eliminate — test scores as a criterion in admissions. “In terms of equal opportunity,” she said, “it is a good shift.”

That’s the general gist. “Actually, testing is bad for the underprivileged.” Even though standardized testing actually emerged as a way to get around the unfairness of recommendations.

Meanwhile, Refinery29 has a much better story, An Interview with an Asian student at Stuyvestant. Since it’s an interview, most of the talking is given over to the student. That results in more candor and less canned conclusions:

How do students talk about the lack of Black and Latinx students?

When the news came out, it just wasn’t a big thing in Stuy. No one cared about it. We saw it in a random newspaper and everyone was just like, okay. We’re used to places writing about us. I remember one time, one of the chairs broke during one of our theater productions, and that made headlines. Everyone was like why?

Honestly, we were more vocal about school shootings. There was a whole walkout, a lot of us missed class for it, and we went to city hall. We were way more vocal about guns. The reason that Stuy is Stuy is that we’re the smart kids who do well on tests. NYC has LaGuardia, which is for people who are good at dance or music or singing. We have other schools with different talents that anyone else with those talents can get into. I think that’s one of the reasons that everyone in Stuy thinks the SHSAT test should be there, because if the test wasn’t here, what’s the point of Stuy then? What’s the point of even being here?

One thing to note: well-off white New Yorkers send their kids to exclusive private schools like Dalton. Stuyvesant is populated by children of working-class immigrants by and large.

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Why the Far Left Is More Dangerous Than the Far Right

I still remember the good old days.

When the biggest internal danger to America was Bible Thumping McDonald’s addicts and a spontaneous KKK takeover of the White House. I was a young brown kid growing up in a post-9/11 America. Politics was one of the last things on my mind and easily summed up as Democrats = “tolerance” and Republicans = “racist.” Barack Obama’s 2008 victory showed me that a minority in the United States could achieve anything.

All was well.

Then an apparent apocalypse happened in 2016 when the Anti-Christ was elected. I still remember watching the CNN panel go from Manhattan arrogance to DC downplaying to Rust Belt frustration to Portland freakout – the coast to coast American experience all within a day. And I kind of shared that fear too. I liked Bernie, voted for Hillary, and was aghast at Trump. I still believed my old Republican and Democrat dichotomy.

Then I decided to take a second look. I started to notice unnerving parallels between American and Indian politics, particularly those on the left end of the spectrum. Looking at it from a different angle, I realized I was misjudging the waves for the tide.

Continue reading “Why the Far Left Is More Dangerous Than the Far Right”

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Myth from history

There were many responses to my post on the Maratha Mindset: How to Control Your History and Emotions to Grasp the Future on Your Terms. I didn’t have the time to respond in detail, but a few conversations suggest I could be a bit more clear.

The primary issue that I’m alluding to is that a nation-state does not come out of thin air. They come out of history, historical memory, and organic cohesive identity. Victor Lieberman’s Strange Parallels argues that the mainland Southeast Asian nations developed nation-states rather easily (e.g., Vietnam, Thailand, etc.) because of a particular geopolitical background that they share with Western Europe. The contrast here might be with recently independent African nations, which often were literally constructed out of colonial-era compromises between European nation-states. Not so with Vietnam or Thailand, which had 1,000-year evolutions as political entities.

This moves me to the idea of India as a nation-state. It is clear that the Indian subcontinent has a broad civilizational affinity and unity. This was recognized by ancient Indians themselves, and it was recognized by outsiders. But civilization does not mean a nation-state. Western Europe is “the West,” the set of societies united by the Western Christian Church (later to become Protestants and Catholics). Aside from very short periods (e.g., the Napoleonic Empire) Western Europe, like mainland Southeast Asia, has been divided between different sub-civilizational units which developed a cultural and national coherency.

China is an exception to this. It has been a civilizational empire for 2,000 years, and today is the archetypical civilizational nation-state. It is, in some ways, what the Republic of India should aspire to become. The Chinese government has been pushing for Standard Mandarin to be known by the whole population within a few decades, without much controversy. The Han Chinese have long had a unitary political identity, no matter their internal linguistic diversity (which is dampened by the common written language).

Going back to India, it is clear that the construction of a nation-state and national institutions is a process. It is work. It does not naturally emerge out of thin air through fiat. In the previous post, I contrasted the Gangetic plain, in particular Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, with Maharashtra. What was I pointing to there?

The Gangetic plain has a strong civilizational identity. In this way, it is similar to many Arab Muslims, who have a strong identity as Arab Muslims. Arab Muslims also have weak national identities and strong local identities. This is a problem for nation-states because they need intermediate identities into which the local identities can flow. It’s a matter of organization that leads to structural cohesion.

The peoples of the Gangetic plain have strong communal identities, but weak regional identities. The communal identities were so robust that the vast majority did not convert to Islam. But with the weakening of the exogenous pressure, they need intermediate identities around which they can coalesce around to scale-out the social structure.

But how? One way you can do this is to focus on a national origin myth. But this presents a problem. The dominant indigenous polities of the Gangetic plain since 1200 A.D. have been Islamic and usually Turkic. Many Hindus on the Gangetic plain would argue that these were not even indigenous polities. Setting that aside, it does seem that the Mughals are ill-suited to being the binding historical precedent due to popular alienation (Ranjit Singh is too sectarian). There were obviously non-Muslim polities in the Gangetic plain before 1200 A.D., but myth-building at such a distance is not optimal. The Shah of Iran in the 20th-century attempted to reconfigure Iranian identity around that of the ancient Persians, but this was too tenuous a connection for most of the populace, which was more rooted in the Shia identity that came down from the Safavids.

In South India, even the Vijayanagara Empire may not be recent enough to serve as a concrete basis for myth-making.

The Marathas of the 18th-century are different. They are recent enough that many people have personal family connections to this period and the people of this period. There is a concreteness. Though the Marathas are people of the Deccan, they are not totally alien to the Gangetic plain, sharing a broad civilizational identification. Additionally, despite Maharashtra being a caste-based state like all Hindu-majority states, there is a strong sub-national identity. Despite the prominence of Brahmin Peshwas, the Maratha Empire was driven at all levels by the manpower of the militarized rural peasantry.

The Maratha identity emerged out of decades of conflict and warfare. In classic cultural evolutionary terms, intergroup competition drove within-group cohesion. This is a well-known dynamic. War tends to solidify identity, contingent on the scale of the war. Even if the Marathas originally did not see themselves leading a pan-Indian cultural revolution with arms, that does seem to be what ended up occurring at the height of the Maratha Empire.

Their military aspect is also critical. The Bengal Renaissance led to a strong sub-national identity among Hindu Bengalis in particular, especially the elites. But civilian brilliance does not seem to have the power to ground a myth. That must be done with the sword (or musket).

Ultimately, national identity must be more than a negation. This is most clear in the nature of Pakistan vs. Bangladesh. Pakistan’s identity is much more rooted in its negation of Hindu India (along with its claim to be the heir of the Mughals). The people of the Gangetic plain resisted Islamicization, but much of their broader identity beyond community seem to be fixated on the negation and rejection of the Islamic period.

The Maratha example is one which is not founded on negation, but creation. That creation occurred out of the maelstrom of decades of warfare and conflict. But it did occur. War led to the creation of the skeleton of an Empire based on Indian cultural motifs, without West or Central Asia ties.

The Maratha Empire was ultimately incomplete. The British stopped what was likely an inevitable deposition of the Mughals and a decentering of Islam as the obligate religious-identity at the apex of political power in the subcontinent. But it is a realized enough history that can serve easily as the seed for a future identity.

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Looking to the east: a different secularism than the West

Why Hagia Sophia, Turkey And The Charismatic Figure Of Erdogan Bristle With Resonances For India:

The Hagia Sophia reconversion ultimately points to the failure of the Kemalist project of top-down secularism. Much like the state secularism of nationalist authoritarian leaders in Egypt, Iran, Iraq etc had failed to lead to the secularisation of the wider society, it seems Turkey is no longer the exception it was long hoped to be. More fundamentally, the failing secularism of Turkey and India begs the question: is secularism even possible in non-Christian/non-Western societies? Without the Western experiences of Reformation and the Enlightenment, hard-fought victories as they were, can non-Western societies value the principles of freedom and secularism? Why is it that, unlike in the West where democratisation and secularism went hand in hand, greater democratisation has seemed to only bring religious chauvinism in India and Turkey?

Too often non-white intellectuals, in particular those from the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East, look only to Europe as their historical exemplars.

There is a legitimate argument that secularism in the Westphalian nation-state context, and using the model of the American republic, is the contingent outcome of the Reformation, and in particular Radical Protestant anti-state sentiment as well as Calvinist disenchantment with the world, and the sieve of the Enlightenment. But I don’t think this is what the author meant. Rather, I think the author is highlighting the importance of religious identity across the world.

In India and Islamic societies, your religion defines you in a very deep way. Religion and state have been deeply connected. The American and French models are objects of emulation but from a deeply alien tradition.

But these are not the only models and outcomes. China, Korea, and Japan are all societies where public religious identity is not nearly as important as it is in the Indian subcontinent and the world of Islam. I am not saying that people in East Asia are not religious or do not have supernatural beliefs. On the whole, they are less religious and more atheistic. But looking at religious affiliation numbers overstates this truth.

Rather, these are societies where religion does not dominate public political life because they have a particular history with organized religion which subordinates it to the political life of the society and nation.

Let me give three examples

– In the 9th century, the Tang dynasty expropriated property from Buddhist monasteries and defrocked monks and nuns. This is due to the fact that Buddhism was starting to become as powerful in China as the Catholic Church was to become in Europe.

– In the 15th century, the Joseon dynasty of Korea suppressed Buddhism in cities and drove the religion to the mountains. The percentage of Buddhists in Korea has actually increased in the 20th century for this reason.

– In the 16th century, Oda Nobunaga broke the power of Buddhist monasteries, in part by burning the down.

There is a history out there that is not European. Read some books.

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The Jats and Indo-Aryan expansion in South Asia

There is this belief that is held by many that the high steppe ancestry in Jats is based somehow on some latter steppe migrations into the region. But obviously there is no proof for it.  The association of Jats with some Central Asian migrants and more specifically the Indo-Scythians is a myth created in the 19th century and does not have any foundation whatsoever. However some people hold onto this myth and feel a vague sense of pride in it.

Nevertheless, there is a very easy and straightforward explanation for why the Jats have such a high steppe ancestry.  Here are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. The Haryanvi and Western UP Jats have apparently the highest ‘steppe’ ancestry among South Asians.
  2. This ‘steppe’ ancestry is associated with the spread of IE langauges in South Asia with Brahmins and Kshatriyas in any region having a higher share of this ancestry than the other groups within that region.
  3. The Vedic homeland was in Haryana and Western UP, the Kuru heartland from where the Vedic cultural influence spread into interior South Asia.

Let me quote Michael Witzel which is an avowed AMT proponent,

Kuruksetra, the sacred land of Manu where even the gods perform their sacrifices, is the area between the two small rivers Sarsuti and Chautang, situated about a hundred miles north-west of Delhi. It is here that the Mahabharata battle took place. Why has Kuruksetra been regarded so highly ever since the early Vedic period?…

…It can be said that the Bharata/Kaurava/Pariks.ita dynasty of the Kurus sucessfully carried out and institutionalized a large scale re-organization of the old Rgvedic society. Many aspects of the new ritual, of the learned speech, of the texts and their formation reflect the wish of the royal Kuru lineage and their Brahmins to be more archaic than much of the texts and rites they inherited. In this fashion, the new Pariks.ita kings of the Kurus betray themselves as typical newcomers and upstarts who wanted to enhance their position in society through the well-known process of “Sanskritization.” In fact, to use this modern term out of its usual context, the establishment of  the Kuru realm was accompanied by the First Sanskritization. Incipient state formation can only be aided if it is not combined with the overthrow of all inherited institutions, rituals, customs, and beliefs. The process is much more successful if one rather tries to bend them to one’s goals or tries to introduce smaller or larger modifications resulting in a totally new set-up. The new orthopraxy (and its accompanying belief system, “Kuru orthodoxy”) quickly expanded all over Northern India, and subsequently, across the Vindhya, to South India and later to S.E. Asia, up to Bali.

This procedure is visible in the Bharata/Kaurava dynasty’s large scale collection of older and more recent religious texts: In all aspects of ritual, language and text collection, these texts tend to be more archaic than much of the inherited older texts and rites. On the other hand, the new dynasty was effective in re-shaping society and its structure by stratification into the four classes (varna), with an internal opposition between ¯arya and ´sudra which effectively camouflaged the really existing social conflict between brahma-ksatra and the rest, the vaisya and ´sudra; further, the Bharata/Pariksita dynasty was successful in reorganizing much of the traditional ritual and the texts concerned with it. (It must not be forgotten that public ritual included many of the functions of our modern administration, providing exchanges of goods, forging unity and underlining the power of the elite.)

The small tribal chieftainships of the R°gvedic period with their shifting alliances and their history of constant warfare, though often not more than cattle rustling expeditions, were united in the single “large chiefdom” of the Kuru realm. With some justification, we may now call the great chief (raja) of the Kurus “the Kuru king”. His power no longer depended simply on ritual relationships such as exchange of goods (vidatha) but on the extraction of tribute (bali) from an increasingly suppressed third estate (vi´s) and from dependent subtribes and weak neighbors; this was often camouflaged as ritual tribute, such as in the a´svamedha.

In view of the data presented in this paper, we are, I believe, entitled to call the Kuru realm the first state in India.

Witzel also states elsewhere in the text,

The famous Videgha Mathava legend of ´SB 1.4.1.10 sqq. tells the story of the “civilization process of the East” in terms of its Brahmanical authors, and not, as usally termed, as the tale of “the Aryan move eastwards.For it is not only Videgha Mathava, a king living on the Sarasvatı, but also his priest Gotama Rahugana who move towards the east. Not only is the starting point of this “expedition” the holy land of Kuruksetra; the royal priest, Gotama Rahugana, is a well known poet of R°gvedic poems as well, and thus, completely anachronistic. Further, the story expressively mentions the role of Agni Vai´svanara, the ritual fire, in making the marshy country of the East arable and acceptable for Brahmins. All of this points to Sanskritization or rather, Brahmanization) and Ks.atriyazation rather than to military expansion.

The M¯athavas, about whom nothing is known outside the ´SB, may be identical with the m´athai of Megasthenes (c. 300 B.C.), who places them East of the Paz´alai (Pancala), at the confluence of the Erennesis (Son) with the Ganges. The movement of some clans, with their king Videgha and his Purohita, eastwards from the River Sarasvatı in Kuruksetra towards Bihar thus represents the ‘ritual occupation’ of Kosala(-Videha) by the bearers of orthoprax (and orthodox) Kuru culture, but it does not represent an account of the first settlement of the East by Indo-Aryan speaking tribes which must have taken place much earlier as the (still scanty) materials of archaeology indeed indicate.

According to Talageri,

…the geographical area of the Rigveda extends from westernmost U.P. and adjoining parts of Uttarakhand in the east to southern and eastern Afghanistan in the west. Strictly speaking, in present-day political-geographical terms, this includes the whole of northern Pakistan, adjoining areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan, but, within present-day India, only the state of Haryana with adjoining peripheral areas of western U.P and Uttarakhand..

…The descriptions in the Puranas about the locations of the Five Aila tribes in northern India clearly place the Purus as the inhabitants of the Central Area (Haryana and adjacent areas of western U.P.), the Anus to their North (Kashmir, etc.), the Druhyus to their West (present-day northern Pakistan), and the Yadus and Turvasus to their South-West (Rajasthan, Gujarat, western M.P.) and South-East (eastern M.P. and Chhattisgarh?) respectively. The Solar race of the Ikshvakus are placed to their East (eastern U.P, northern Bihar). This clearly shows that the Purus were the inhabitants of the core Rigvedic area of the Oldest Books (6, 3, 7): Haryana and adjacent areas, and they, and in particular their sub-tribe the Bharatas, were the “Vedic Aryans”. Their neighboring tribes and people in all directions were also other non-Vedic (i.e. non-Puru) but “Aryan” or Indo-European language speaking tribes. The Puru expansions described in the Puranas explain all the known historical phenomena associated with the “Aryans”: the expansion of Puru kingdoms eastwards explains the phenomenon which Western scholars interpreted as an “Aryan movement from west to east” (the area of the Rigveda extends eastwards to Haryana and westernmost U.P., the area of the Yajurveda covers the whole of U.P., and the area of the Atharvaveda extends eastwards up to Bengal), and their expansion westwards described in the Puranas and the Rigveda explains the migration of Indo-European language speakers from the Anu and Druhyu tribes (whose dialects later developed into the other 11 branches of Indo-European languages) from India..

The evidence is unequivocal. Quite clearly, the Vedic culture spread into the Gangetic plains and later on elsewhere from its central locus of the Kuru realm which was in Haryana and Western UP.

So is it so outrageous that the dominant community living presently in the traditional Vedic heartland from where the Vedic culture, ritual, language and religion is suppossed to have spread across inner South Asia, also has the highest ancestry of the type which is usually today associated with the spread of IE or Indo-Aryan languages and culture in South Asia ?

So why hold onto the unsubstantiated 19th century colonial myths when the evidence is so clear and straightforward ? As Razib has pointed out, a latter steppe admixture into the Jats from groups like Scythians is also difficult to argue because the Jats lack the East Eurasian component which is present in very signficant proportion in steppe groups from Iron Age onwards.

Infact, the close ancestry sharing between the Kalash, Pashtuns, Pamiris and Jats indicates, as I have argued earlier in greater detail, that this shared ancestry with high ‘steppe’ component goes back to the days of Indo-Iranian unity within the northwest of the subcontinent because while Jats are Indo-Aryan and Pashtuns are Iranian speakers, the Kalash are representative of the Nuristani branch which is often taken as the 3rd branch in Indo-Iranian.

One question that is often asked is – why are Jats not at the top of caste heirarchy ?

There is also a good explanation for this. The Indo-Aryan expansion from its Haryana-Western UP heartland is a roughly 4,000 year phenomenon. A lot of water has flown under the bridge since then. Mahapadma Nanda, who established the first major South Asian empire is stated in the Puranas to have  destroyed the Kshatriyas, and attained undisputed sovereignty. The Kshatriyas said to have been exterminated by him include Maithalas, Kasheyas, Ikshvakus, Panchalas, Shurasenas, Kurus, Haihayas, Vitihotras, Kalingas, and Ashmakas.

As you can see, the Kshatriyas among the Kurus, along with those of other kingdoms, were already exterminated during the time of Mahapadma Nanda eons ago.  So it is no surprise that present day Jats don’t hold any special position in the caste heirarchy.

I end here by taking a detour with the beautiful story of Pururavas, who is the ancestral figure of all Vedic tribes and is most likely an Indo-Iranian ancestor from the remote past. Noticeable aspects of the story include the fact that the place of Kurukshetra, Haryana has a mention in the story as a place of action and that sheep herding appears to have been  a feature of this early nascent Indo-Aryan/Indo-Iranian period.

Pururava was a good king who performed many yajnas. He ruled the earth well. Urvashi was a beautiful apsara. Pururava met Urvashi and fell in love with her.

“Please marry me,” he requested.

“I will,” replied Urvashi, “But there is a condition. I love these two sheep and they will always have to stay by bedside. If I ever lose them, I will remain your wife no longer and will return to heaven. Moreover, I shall live only on clarified butter.”

Pururava agreed to these rather strange conditions and the two were married. They lived happily for sixty-four years.

But the gandharvas who were in heaven felt despondent. Heaven seemed to be a dismal place in Urvashi’s absence. They therefore hatched a conspiracy to get her back. On an appropriate occasion, a gandharva named Vishvavasu stole the two sheep. As soon as this happened, Urvashi vanished and returned to heaven.

Pururava pursued Vishvavasu and managed to retrieve the sheep, but by then, Urvashi ahd disappeared. The miserable king searched throughout the world for her. But in vain. Eventually, Pururava came across Urvashi near a pond in Kurukshetra.

“Why have you forsaken me?” asked Pururava. “You are my wife. Come and live with me.”

“I was your wife,” replied Urvashi. “I no longer am, since the condition was violated. However, I agree to spend a day with you.”

When one year had passed, Urvashi returned to Pururava and presented him with the son she had borne him. She spent a day with him and vanished again. This happened several times and, in this fashion, Urvashi bore Pururava six sons. They were named Ayu, Amavasu, Vishvayu, Shatayu, Gatayu and Dridayu.

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The Jat Gene!

About 10 years ago there was a defunct blog called the “Jat Gene.” Standard stuff. Nothing super amazing discovered, but the Jats do seem on one end of the pole. I happen to have half a dozen Jats which cluster together. You can see where they are on the PCA plots above.

– no surprise that the Jat are on the ANI end of the ANI-ASI cline

– Please note that Jat and Ror and other such groups are distinct from Pathans and especially Baloch in that the latter groups seem to have more and later gene flow/contact from West Asian groups. Perhaps this is the Islamic period? Or perhaps this is just contact due to proximity. The Baloch and Brahui in particular are distinct because they have very little AASI. The Pathan are arguably an Iranian group with South Asian inflection, but the Baloch are just plain West Asian.

– You can see at the admixture plot below. The Jat are less (marginally) European-like than the Ror, but the Treemix indicates the Ror may actually be a mix of a very European-like group with native Indian (ANI-ASI mix). The Jat are probably the same but I don’t have the samples.
Continue reading “The Jat Gene!”

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Maratha Mindset: How to Control Your History and Emotions to Grasp the Future on Your Terms


The film Panipat is on Netflix, and I watched a bit of mostly for anthropological reasons. It seems a typical melodramatic Bollywood gloss on this period, and I found the depiction of Ahmad Shah Durrani rather amusing.

But it brought to mind a broader issue that I’ve been reflecting on over the past few years: the re-pivoting of Indian historical imagination around the Maratha moment. Most recently my thoughts have been sharpened by the goings-on in the United States, as we reevaluate our own historical figures and events. History is what it is, but the interpretation is multi-layered, and the process of analysis is subject to an infinite chain of point and counterpoint.

For example, Ulysses S. Grant has been rehabilitated because broadly on the questions of racial justice he was on the “right side of history,” though ultimately his efforts failed. This, after a period in the 20th-century when Southern historians slandered his character and competence in a clever trick of defeating him long after his death through control of historical memory.

And yet, if you talk to a Native American their view of Grant is far less positive. This is due to the fact that Grant participated in and executed the American government’s wars against Indian tribes.

The final verdict on Grant and his legacy depends on where you stand. The elements of history which lead up to this judgment though are far more solid. The terminus of the analysis is conditional on the analyst, but the facts themselves are invariant.

So how should we view the Marathas and the Mughals? When I wrote Haunted by History I alluded to general issues I’ve noticed in Indians in relation to their past. I have read enough history to be aware of the Marathas as a factual matter. But my conscious understanding of what they meant to Indians, and what they could have been, was stimulated by the arguments of a Hindu nationalist friend of mine.

In the 19th and 20th century various nationalist movements rose up which recaptured the political system from cosmopolitan and/or alien elites. The Chinese took back their state from the Manchus. Across Europe, ethnic groups such as the Lithuanians and Hungarians, submerged, sublimated, or subordinated, rose up and asserted their national identity. Lithuanians and Hungarians, to give two examples, had great histories as nations in the past, but by the early modern period, their elites had become subordinated and assimilated. The Lithuanian nobility became totally Polonized after the Union of Lubin. The rise of Habsburgs, and the fall of the Hungarians to the Ottomans, resulted in a Magyar nation which was under German and Turkish domination for centuries. The Dual Monarchy period after 1868 allowed the Hungarian nobility more freedom and status, though ironically they continued to oppress and subordinate the ethnic minorities under their hegemony in the eastern part of Austria-Hungary.

The emergence of these new identities entailed a reinterpretation of the valence of historical events.

Before we get to that, let’s consider the Marathas, of all castes and persuasions. The debates I have seen often end up at two antipodes. On the one hand, the Marathas are depicted as proto-Hindu nationalists, defending themselves against Muslim oppressors, and giving their swords in the service of the broader pan-ethnic Hindu Rashtra. The contrasting position is that the Marathas were motivated by more prosaic concerns, and their Hinduism was a secondary or ancillary element to their identity. In fact, one might problematize what “Hindu” even meant in the 17th and 18th centuries. That is, they didn’t have a “Hindu identity,” but had a Maratha identity, and Maratha religious practices and beliefs.

Both of these views are I think wrong-headed in understanding this period and these people. Humans are complex, and not cartoons. Someone like Shijavi may have reimagined who he was, what he could become, over his lifetime. In the beginning, he fought to survive. By the end, he fought to conquer.

Certainly, it seems probable, to give a different example, that Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor, reconceptualized his relationship to his new faith over the decades and also reimagined what it might mean for Rome. This is a different reading than that of those who assert that Constantine was never really a Christian because in the early years of his acceptance of the new faith he seems to still have nodded to aspects of the Solar cult which he was once a devotee, or of those who assert that he was a zealous Christian as they would understand it after he issued the Edict of Milan.

Where does this leave us? I have spoken earlier of the fact that to be frank, many people from Uttar Pradesh who are Hindu seem somewhat “broken.” Perhaps I should use a different word, as what I’m trying to get at is ineffable. But I believe that hundreds of years of continuous Turco-Muslim domination, and the historical predations upon their sacred geography, has left an imprint. Their land was the heart of the Mughal Empire, the shining exemplar of Turco-Muslim civilization. Though the Indian religion and self-identity maintained itself in a resilient fashion, it was subaltern. Though never sublimated as the Lithuanians were, it was subordinated.

Mount Rushmore means a very different thing to Native Americans than it does to white Americans. To many Hindus from the Gangetic plain, the apogee of the Mughals means something different than it does to Urdu-speaking Muslims. One man’s glory is another man’s shame. One man’s seduction is another man’s cuckoldry.

Which brings me to the “Maratha mindset.” What do I mean by this? I mean a self-assured, self-confident attitude. The sense that the arc of history bends toward the Dharma. The Maratha project failed in the end, but its ultimate failure was due to the reality of European hegemony and the rise of white supremacy across the globe. It seems possible in an alternative history where European domination occurred later, or in an incomplete fashion, the Maratha polities would have served as the ultimate basis for what became the Indian nation-state. This does not mean that Maratha would be the language of the Indian nation-state, or that the culture of the northwest Deccan would be hegemonic. An analogy here might be the role that elites from the Chūgoku region of western Japan played in driving modernization in the Meiji period, before eventually ceding ground to the resurgent Kanto region around Tokyo. Chūgoku was the nucleus, but only the beginning, the “starter.” The final product is always richer and more multi-faceted.

The moral of this post is that the Hindus of the Gangetic plain resisted Islamicization through a process of fracturing into localities, with a broader civilizational identity. But the resistance and centuries of Mughal domination crushed cross-regional asabiya, which is necessary for nation-building. Obviously the nation is built, and Uttar Pradesh in particular is politically central. But the psychology of the Hindus of this region has to move from negation, reaction, to positive action. They need to shake off their history and move forward into the future. They need to adopt the Maratha mindset.

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