Copts- elites amongst elites

as per Gregory Clark (The Son Also Rises). Indian Christians merit a separate category (why? they are all Brahmins). Separate Iranian Muslim category (there must be a large count of Iranian non-muslim physicians). Chinese are surprisingly low down in the ranks. Black African is possibly the most meaningless classification (the author would probably like to single out black non-Americans, but then there is also black Haitian).

As far as Indians are concerned it would be of interest to look at data across generations- first generation, second generation,…and so on.


Appeal for personal law reform…in Pakistan

In a South Asian context the fault lies here as much with the (faux) liberals as with the dyed-in-the-wool conservatives. These laws more than anything else keep people in their ghettos. Also it points to the huge (sometimes evil) influence that pre-modern Britain had on the sub-continent (not that this excuses the inability of SAsians to repeal discriminatory and stupid laws).

A Pakistani man on Friday challenged the nearly 150-year-old
Christian Divorce Act in a court so that he could separate from his wife without
accusing her of adultery. Ameen Masih, who filed a petition in the Lahore high
court, said, “I want separation but
owing to complications in the Christian Divorce Act of 1869, I have no other
option but to level an allegation of adultery against her.”

He said: “With pain I have to admit that I accused my
wife of adultery, which she never committed, in order to divorce her.” Masih said divorces under the act had been
tarnishing the image of innocent Christian women.

The act enacted during the British Raj has legal lacuna that
should be done away with, he said. Section 10 of the act should be declared
ultra vires and in contravention of the Constitution, he added. “Only
provision of divorce abridges the fundamental rights of Christians,” he
said. Masih asked the court to strike
down the impugned section of the act so that Christian men could divorce their
wives in a “dignified way”.


Fight to the bitter end

How much do we the browns value “clean chits” from our superiors- the whites (of course they are our superiors in every way)? Evidently a lot. Unlike the original Battle of Britain some 60 years ago, the new battle of Britain (and the USA) will be a hand to hand combat experience. The funny thing is that the “visa question” may even benefit Modi (victim status confirmed) more than it hurts him (and it must hurt a lot).

A debate on BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s controversial
past sparked a row at a meeting within Britain’s parliament complex.

Human rights groups and organisers of ‘Narendra Modi and the Rise of Hindu
at a committee room in Parliament building on Wednesday claimed they
had been subjected to intense pressure and death threats from Hindu right-wing
groups in the UK to cancel the debate.

“This meeting has been held under extremely difficult conditions, in the
face of death threats. It just highlights the inability of Narendra Modi’s
supporters to tolerate anything other than their narrative and attempts to
suppress free speech,” said Chetan Bhatt, director of the Centre for the Study
of Human Rights at the London School of Economics (LSE).

The meeting received the backing of a number of British parliamentarians,
led by Labour MP John McDonnell, as well as celebrated India-born British
artist Anish Kapoor. “We are in a moment of great danger and your call to our
sense of justice is much needed,”
Kapoor said in a message read out at the



Understanding the geographic context for Islam

 I hope I’m not sounding too much of a geographic determinist but it does echo what I’d be droning of for years as Islam as predominantly a mercantile and arid faith. Islam’s borders can be pretty much defined by the prevalence of pork in the East, West & South (Uganda is 15% Muslim but pork is a very favoured meat here).

The wonderful story given by the demi-god Mackinder on Lahore is the last paragraph of the top page and continues on. Oh and by the way Russia is not a European power but a North Asian one.

Flat out prejudice

Many people much wiser than me have voiced this thought but it needs repeating, Hindus (and Jains and..) and Muslims of all stripes need to learn to co-exist with each other. Communities (to use a cliche) should learn how to recognize is that the enemy is not the other man (or woman), but the common poverty, illiteracy, and all other social ills. All said and done you dont have to be a hero to get a flat in Mumbai, let alone a muslim one.

In September 1990, Captain Zainul Abidin Juvale, master of a cargo vessel called MV Safeer, became master of the fate of 722 Indians who sailed out with him from Kuwait to Dubai. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s troops had invaded Kuwait and the Indians there were stranded for over a month.

For over a month now, Juvale has been house-hunting in Bandra (W), but he is unable to buy a flat when he likes one. The brokers have frankly told him that the societies where he has shown interest have an unwritten rule: not to rent or sell flats to Muslims.

“Nobody asked me my religion when I risked my life to rescue fellow Indians who faced starvation and death in Kuwait,” says Juvale. “Now I am being made aware of my Muslim identity.” 

PS In response to Zachary, most likely to be societies dominated by veg Hindus/Jains. Non-veg Hindus will also not be welcome.

A world built on Slavery

As late as 1940 under sustained duress by France, Haiti was still spending 80% of its budget paying slave-owners compensation for their 1791 independence and emancipation. Essentially it took Haitians 150yrs to buy their own freedom as a free people and then we have the temerity to ask why is Haiti a poor nation?

I’m interested to consider whether one-drop rule had much to do with the lingering effects of slavery in Anglo-America?
Consider, for example, the way the advancement of medical knowledge waspaid for with the lives of slaves.
The death rate on the trans-Atlantic voyage to the New World was staggeringly high. Slave ships, however, were more than floating tombs. They were floating laboratories, offering researchers a chance to examine the course of diseases in fairly controlled, quarantined environments.  Doctors and medical researchers could take advantage of high mortality rates to identify a bewildering number of symptoms, classify them into diseases, and hypothesize about their causes.
Corps of doctors tended to slave ports up and down the Atlantic seaboard. Some of them were committed to relieving suffering; others were simply looking for ways to make the slave system more profitable. In either case, they identified types of fevers, learned how to decrease mortality and increase fertility, experimented with how much water was needed for optimum numbers of slaves to survive on a diet of salted fish and beef jerky, and identified the best ratio of caloric intake to labor hours. Priceless epidemiological information on a range of diseases — malaria, smallpox, yellow fever, dysentery, typhoid, cholera, and so on — was gleaned from the bodies of the dying and the dead.
When slaves couldn’t be kept alive, their autopsied bodies still provided useful information. Of course, as the writer Harriet Washington has demonstrated in her stunning Medical Apartheid, such experimentation continued long after slavery ended: in the 1940s, one doctor said that the “future of the Negro lies more in the research laboratory than in the schools.” As late as the 1960s, another researcher, reminiscing in a speech given at Tulane Medical School, said that it was “cheaper to use Niggers than cats because they were everywhere and cheap experimental animals.” 

The victims of partition(s)

…the (in)fighting never stops as the poison re-circulates in perpetuity…. minority communities will bear the greater burden everywhere…the lines separating the minority from the majority are very thin and are being continuously re-defined (majority oppressor class today, minority oppressed class tomorrow). Finally, it would appear that the separating and dividing exercise will continue until we are all in our box of one- each one of us a minority fighting against the other (my brother, cousin, friend,…etc.)

Unidentified gunmen shot dead four persons, including a prominent India-born Shia scholar, in this Pakistani port city on Thursday in target killings. Four gunmen opened fire on an auto-rickshaw in which Allama Taqi Hadi Naqvi was traveling.
Naqvi succumbed to his wounds in hospital, police official Imran Shaukat said.

Renowned within academic circles, Naqvi was born in Moradabad district
of India’s Uttar Pradesh state and moved to Pakistan with his family
after independence.

Three other persons, including the
administrator of a madrassa and his son, were shot dead by gunmen in
separate incidents in the city.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

East Africa’s growth potential from a Private Equity Perspective

This is the one graph you need to know to understand the Rise & Rise of Uganda (despite being the headlines for all the wrong reasons). Demand for Capital is going to be most intense from medium-cap funds in Anglophone Eastern Africa. Isn’t the definition of Serendipity being about at the right place at the right? It’s almost as if the McKinsey Report is describing TLG Capital.

The americans are keeping (a careful) watch

Quick question: How frequently does Pew conduct opinion polls on election eve in foreign (third world, poor, no hope) countries?

Since it is conventional wisdom that polls conducted by Indian organizations are bogus (americans are saying so, one TV channel is also up with a sting operation) the next logical step is for the US organizations themselves to roll up their sleeves and step up to the plate and clear up all the confusion (+/- 3.8% is pretty credible). This in turn shines a spotlight on how much the americans are prepared to invest to make sure that they are well aligned with the coalition that will presumably rule India for next five years.

A Pew Research Center survey conducted between December 7, 2013 and January 12, 2014 based on face-to-face interviews with 2,464 randomly selected adults and a margin of error of 3.8% says

The survey has been conducted in all corners of India (Kerala excluded) and across all categories/divisions (gender, age, education, income, rural vs urban) BJP bests Congress by a huge margin.

At the lower end of the scale are the following: low income group (+37), 50+ age group (+37), women (+38), urban (+39). At the higher end we have the following: college degree (+52), middle income group (+49), men (+48) and (high) school certificate (+48).

What conclusions can we (imperfectly) draw from this? The Indian muslim population is less wealthy and more urbanized, this may help explain the low points. The middle class, well educated men form the backbone of the IH community so the high points are also not a surprise. Thankfully women appear to be (just a bit more) sensible as compared to men and aged people may recall the good old days of Nehru/Gandhi. Since the old generation will be fading away it appears that the hope for a secular India lies with her women. Stree Shakti is the best, it seems (as it was in the Vedic past when goddess Durga rode into battle against Mahisasura).

As far as regional differences are concerned: North (+74), followed by South (+42), West (+33) and East (+27). The southern anomaly is the most interesting data point of all. Explanations are (1) poll is crap, (2) shudras are relaxed about Sir-ji (why not? he is one of them, no?), (3) Kerala was not counted, (4) a bit of all of the above. If true this suggests that the southern leader-ess and others who may be thinking of jumping into bed with BJP will not be suffering any serious backlash if they decide to jump.

All in all Pew appears to confirm that the middle-caste, sons of the soil are ready to take back the power invested with mixed blood (also foreign blood) monarchs who have (mis)ruled India almost without break for so many centuries past. The shudra king of a shudra nation will not be stopped in his tracks by a bunch of liberal, pseudo-secular, activists. This is how democracy works, folks.


Jab We Met: Encounters between Islam and Hinduism in Early-Medieval Punjab

Yesterday, I posted a piece on my blog ( that may be of interest to readers on Brown Pundits as well. So, at Zach’s suggestion, I am posting it here as well.

If the exhortation to pity the nation that forgets is own
history is taken seriously, few nations are more pitiable than Pakistan today.
Occupying one of the most historically rich pieces of land on the
planet, modern Pakistanis go about their business oblivious to the echoes of
the past that swirl all around them and the layers of history that lie buried
under their feet. And more’s the pity for a better understanding of this
historical past could explain a lot of the present and its problems, and
perhaps even help solve them.
One of the most interesting and least understood periods in
the history of the region is the time between 711 CE and 1200 CE, i.e., from
the time when the first Arab conquerors under Muhammad bin Qasim established
the so-called Emirate of Sind to the end of Ghaznavid rule in Punjab. One
reason why this period is of special significance is that it represents the
first extended encounter between Islam and the religious traditions of India,
notably Hinduism (Buddhism too, but more on that another time). Given how the
interaction and conflict between these two traditions has shaped – and
continues to shape – the history of the region, looking back to the earliest
encounters is especially important.
Though not studied as intensely as some other periods, the
history of the early medieval period in Northwestern India has attracted its
share of scholarship, from the contemporary writings of Al-Biruni,
and Ibn Hawqal to the
work of modern historians such as Romilla Thapar1,
Finbarr Flood2,3
and Derryl MacLean4.
These works describe a fascinating process of interaction, integration and
antagonism between two great cultures in an ancient land. In this piece, I will
only consider a narrow but interesting set of issues, motivated, as often, by a
coin in my collection – a bilingual
Ghaznavid dirham
circa. 1128 CE, shown below.

The silver coin was minted in the name of the greatest ruler
of the Ghaznavid dynasty, Mahmud, who is famous – at least in South Asia – for
his repeated attacks on India and his destruction of the great temple at
Somnath in 1024. While his attacks ranged over large parts of northern India,
Mahmud annexed only regions that lie in modern Pakistan. The coin was struck in
419 AH (1028 CE) at Lahore, which was then known as Mahmudpur – itself an
interesting bit of historical information (the name “Mahmudpur” can be read
clearly in the margin of the image on top at the 6 o’clock position). The
complete inscription in the margin reads (as far as I can reconstruct it from
this and other similar coins): bismillāh
zuriba hādha-al dirham mahmudpur tis’a ‘ashra wa arba’ mi’ah
(In the name
of Allah. This dirham struck at Mahmudpur 419). The central text on this side
of the coin reads: lā-ilāha ill-allāh /
muhammad rasūl-ullāh / yamīn-ud dawlah / wa amīn-ul millah Mahmud
(There is
no God but Allah / Muhammad is His messenger / protector of the state / and
custodian of the community Mahmud). The inscriptions at the 12 o’clock and 9
o’clock positions together read al-qādir
, which was the name of the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad, to whom Mahmud
nominally professed allegiance (more on this below).
Even more interesting is the reverse side of the coin, shown
on the bottom. The text is in Sanskrit, written using the Sharada script, which was
used throughout the region at the time and is the ancestor of the Gurmukhi and
Kashmiri scripts. The text in the margin declares that the “tanka” – the Indian
equivalent of the dirham – was struck in Mahmudpur on the given date, but it is
the central inscription that is most interesting. The text reads: avyaktam ekaṃ, muhamadaḥ avatāraḥ, nrpatiḥ
. This translates as: The
Invisible is one; Muhammad is His manifestation (avatar); Mahmud is the king
The margin also has a Sanskrit translation of the statement about the mint and
date, including the Arabic bismillāh
(in the name of Allah) translated as avyaktīya
(in the name of the Invisible). I rely on the reading reported by Flood
in Objects
of Translation: Material Culture and Medieval “Hindu-Muslim” Encounter3
citations to several other works),  but
also given by Thapar in Somnatha:
The Many Voices of History
1, and other
sources, such as the entry for coin number 39207 in
the Zeno Oriental Coins database and CoinIndia.
This inscription, which is the first known “official”
translation of the Muslim declaration of the creed (shahada) into Sanskrit, is
interesting for three reasons. First, the very fact of putting a Sanskrit
version of the shahada on a coin signals a certain outreach to the conquered
Hindu population. After all, they were the only ones who would be expected to
read the Sanskrit version. Perhaps there was also an element of proselytization
in the move, trying to acquaint Hindus with the basis of Muslim belief. In any
case, it was a remarkable acknowledgement of the need to communicate across communal
lines. Second, the exclusive Islamic declaration, “There is no God but Allah”
is translated as “The Invisible is one” (or sometimes as “the Unmanifest is
one”), which excludes nothing. Indeed, it is best read as an affirmative
statement declaring the unity of all that is ineffable and immaterial – the
great world spirit, so to speak. For Hindus who believed in the undefinable,
unchangeable reality – Brahman – at the core of everything, this would not have
been a stretch at all. This is especially so if
MacLean is correct
and the major form of Hinduism prevalent in the area was
Pasupata Saivism with
its strongly monotheistic beliefs. Finally, the most remarkable aspect of the
translation is the declaration that the Prophet Muhammad is a manifestation
(avatar) of God – not a messenger, as Muslims believe.  From an orthodox Islamic viewpoint, this is a
heretical statement, but there it was on the coins of that most pious protector
of Islamic orthodoxy, Mahmud “the idol-breaker”!
It is worth noting that, as far as is known, these bilingual
coins were issued only at Lahore, and only for two years (418 and 419 AH). In
an end note, Flood
(p. 279) quotes Tye
and Tye 5
, as suggesting that these might have been fiduciary
coins for local use. Nevertheless, given the importance of Lahore to the empire
– it was virtually a joint capital with Ghazni – and the fact that in 1028
(when the coins were issued), it
was governed by Mahmud’s hand-picked governor
, Malik Ayaz (of Mahmud-o-Ayaz
fame), the issuance of the bilingual coins and the text of the Sanskrit inscription
cannot be dismissed as an anomaly. Clearly, there was an explicit and official
attempt to reach across the communal divide, not only in form but also in ideas
– perhaps to promote a version of the Islamic creed that would win greater
acceptance among the Hindu populace. Nor was this the only such example.
Mahmud’s son, Mas’ud I, also issued coins depicting
Hindu iconography
, including an image of Nandi, the bull of Shiva, which
had been a prevalent motif in the Hindu Shahi coinage before the Ghaznavids.
Indeed, these Hindu
motifs continued to be used on Ghaznavid coins
by Mahmud’s successors in
clear contravention of the orthodox Islamic proscription against images. Some coins also used Sharada
inscriptions naming the king
and occasionally invoking Hindu deities. These
iconographic practices persisted
into the Ghorid dynasty as well.
But the history of bilingual coinage and syncretism between
Islam and Hinduism in the region goes back somewhat further, and has some ironic
As far as is known, the first bilingual coins by any Muslim
rulers in India were struck in Multan by the Sāmid Amirs who reigned there in
the 10th century. Multan was then the capital of what is sometimes
called “Northern Sindh”. After the initial Arab conquest in 711, Sindh was
rules by a succession
of governors
appointed by the Umayyad administration, and then by the
Abbasids after they took over in 750 CE. However, the hold of the caliphate on
Sind became increasingly tenuous, and by the early tenth century, the region
had split into a southern part, ruled from Mansurah by descendants of ‘Umar bin
‘Abd-ul-‘Aziz al-Habbāri
, and a northern part, ruled from Multan by the
descendants of Sāmah bin Lu’ayy
. Both dynasties were of Qurayshi Arab
origin, and professed nominal allegiance to the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad.
Multan, at the time, was famous for its magnificent Sun Temple, which was a
major center of Hindu pilgrimage. The Sāmid rulers seem to have supported the
temple and a tolerant, perhaps syncretic version of Islam. However, sometime in
the mid-tenth century, the rulers of Multan converted to Ismai’ili Islam, and
transferred their allegiance from the Abbasids to the Fatimid caliph in Cairo,
who was also the Isma’ili imam. Initially, the Isma’ili religious leadership in
Multan appears to have continued on a tolerant course, but this aroused the
wrath of the Fatimid Caliph, Al-Mu’izz, who sent a new preacher (dā’i), Jalam
bin Shayban
, insisting that the Isma’ili Amir of Multan purify the local
religious practice (per Isma’ili doctrine, of course), and end support of “idol
worship”. In a famous incident, the Caliph, hearing that a major local idol had
been destroyed by the new preacher, asked that the head be sent to him as proof
of destruction. It has been believed, on the authority of Al-Biruni, no less,
that this refers to the destruction of the Sun Temple and its idol, but other
evidence, summarized by MacLean, suggests
that it was probably another, lesser idol. Nevertheless, it is ironic that the
first recorded instance in Punjab of systematic idol-breaking in the name of
Islamic purity came from Isma’ilis rather than orthodox Sunnis. A second irony
is that it was the Isma’ili presence in Multan that attracted the most famous
of “idol-breakers”, Mahmud, to attack
Multan in 1010 CE
, depose its Isma’ili ruler whom he regarded as an
apostate, and annex the province into the Ghaznavid empire. Apart from
his religious objections, Mahmud may also have been motivated to punish
the rulers of Multan for transferring their allegiance away from the
Abbasid caliph, to whom Mahmud pledged nominal fealty.

The bilingual coins are thought to be from the early
Isma’ili period Multan around
965 CE
. As shown in the examples from my collection (above), the text on
these very small coins is usually hard to read. However, one side had the name
of the ruler in Arabic (left panel) while the other often had a Sanskrit word,
written in the Sharada script, with Hindu religious significance (right panel).
According to Flood3,
four distinct Sanskrit inscriptions have been identified – two referring to
Vishnu, one to Lakshmi, and the fourth to “Madhumadi”, which is regarded as the
Sanskritized version of “Muhammad” (also used elsewhere in India at the time). If
this is true, the coins represent an attempt to insert the Prophet of Islam
into the Hindu pantheon. Perhaps it was such practices that raised the ire of
al-Mu’izz and motivated him to send a “purifier”.
To summarize the sequential ironies of the situation: First,
Isma’ili Muslim rulers in Multan attempted to create a syncretic culture among
the Hindus and Muslims of their emirate; then they were chastised by an
Isma’ili Caliph in Egypt who ordered them to destroy idols and temples – which
they did; but their Isma’ili faith was still seen as heretical by the pious
Sunni king, Mahmud, who invaded and annexed their kingdom; and then, Mahmud’s
own hand-picked governor in the region made another similar effort at syncretic
outreach, minting coins with statements that orthodox Muslims would have
regarded as heretical – but only in Sanskrit!
History is a lot more complicated than we think!

1.       R. Thapar (2005) Somanatha: The Many Voices of a History. Verso.

2.        F.B. Flood (2011) Conflict and Cosmopolitanism
in “Arab” Sind. In: A Companion to Asian
Art and Architecture
, R.M. Brown & D.S. Hutton (eds), pp 365-397. Blackwell.

F.B. Flood (2009) Objects of Translation: Material Culture and Medieval
“Hindu-Muslim” Encounter
. Princeton University Press.

4.        D.N. McLean (1989) Religion and Society in Arab Sind, Brill.

5.        J. Tye and M. Tye (1995) Jitals: A Catalogue and Account of the Coin Denomination of Daily Use
in Medieval Afghanistan and North West India
. John Tye.

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