India as the hydra against Islam

In some versions of the legend of the Hydra, every time you cut off one of the heads of the monster two more grow in its place.

I have been thinking about why and how India remained predominantly non-Muslim despite most of the subcontinent being under Muslim ruling for 500 years (dating from 1250 to 1750 approximately). The contrast here would be most stark with Iran and Turan. While the zone of the Islamic Empire between Mesopotamia and the Maghreb was dominated by a Christian populace which spoke an Afro-Asiatic language, Iran and Turan retained their language and their cultural distinctiveness, as evidenced in the nationalism clear in the Shahnameh.

There was a comment on this weblog that implied India was unique because of violent resistance to Islamicization. This is patently false. To give a concrete example, the region of Tabaristan in northern Iran was dominated by warlords and dynasties which adhered to the Zoroastrian region until the 9th century, 200 years after the Arab defeat of the Sassanians. Despite the inroads of Islam in the 9th century, after more thorough integration into the Abbassid Caliphate, Tabaristan was still throwing up Zoroastrian anti-Muslim warlords into the 10th century.

But most attempts to infer the religious demographics of Iran, which are to a great extent guesswork, suggest that it was in the 10th century the region became majority Muslim. One indication of this that this is so is that this period correlates with a more muscular and resurgent Iranian high culture and reemergence of political non-Arab political power. As Zoroastrianism was no longer seen as a threat to Islam, Persian cultural identity could reassert itself without a non-Islamic connotation (there is in the 10th century a shift away from ostentatiously Arab names by Persian Muslim elites).

Basically, it seems that it took about 300 years for Iran to become majority Muslim. I’ve seen similar numbers for Egypt and the Maghreb, though in the latter region indigenous Christianity became extinct by the medieval period.

There are two related issues that I want to suggest for South Asia: scale and complexity. Though the Indian subcontinent is geographically smaller than the Arab Caliphates as their height on paper, the reality is much of the Near  East and North Africa are empty of people. Islamic rule really consisted of a string of cities and fortifications interlaced over broad swaths of the territory occupied by pastoralists, as well as a few regions of dense cultivation.

Iran, Turkey, and the Arab world consist of between 400 and 500 million people. The Indian subcontinent has 1.7 billion people. The population in the past may have been different, but I think it gives one a rough sense of the differences in magnitude over the long-term.

Second, the social complexity of South Asia is astounding. I say this as a geneticist: the differences between different castes in the same region are hard to believe. Though there is a great deal of ethno-religious diversity in the Middle East, they are not surprising. Arabs engage in a consanguinity. Ethno-religious minorities such as Copts or Assyrians have less cosmopolitan ancestry than their Muslim neighbors. This is all to be expected.

In contrast, any analysis of ethnic “Telugus” has to take into account local structure because it is so extreme. Dalits are different from middle castes are different from Brahmins. Some of this is due to genetic drift, but much of it is due to continental-scale differences in genetic admixture.

The genetic differences tell us something us deep about the nature of South Asian social relations. Defection to Islam occurred on the individual scale, but generally, quantity could only be had by mass conversions. Even when groups of people of the same community are of different religions it was probably through mass conversion of particular subsegments.

Which brings me to Bengalis. The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier was written many years ago, and I read it long before I ever knew much about the genetics of South Asians. In it the author explains that the dominance of Islam on the eastern march of Bengal was due to the fact that it was a frontier society that emerged during the period of Islamic rule. Meanwhile, western Bengal was a culture which was in a stationary state.

The ability of Islam to penetrate into the Bengali-speaking peasantry was due to its fluid and unordered character. In contrast in western Bengal, a more traditional South Asiab society with well-delineated caste boundaries had already crystallized by the time of the Muslim conquest.

So here’s the thing that genetics adds: the topology of genetic variation of Bangladeshis is totally different than what you see in other South Asians. There’s very little structure. Basically aside from a few half-Brahmins and a small community of Dalits, the 1000 Genomes sample from Bangladesh shows none of the genetic variation partitioned by the community you see in most Indian samples. Or, that you see in the Indian Telugus, Gujuratis and Pakistani Punjabis (the Tamils from Sri Lanka are somewhat less structured, but still have more than the Bangladeshis).

To me, this confirms the thesis of The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier. As a frontier society, eastern Bengal was mixed in a way where the structure socially and genetically that was the norm in most of South Asia by the time the Muslims arrived simply wasn’t present. Without the powerful collective substructure, Islam was able to swallow up the rural society in toto. Perhaps the best analogy might be to Indian communities in Trinidad, where caste has mostly disappeared, and Christianity has made extensive inroads.

So why didn’t India become Muslim? What is this “India” of which you speak?

Note: I moderate comments, please don’t stupid spam me.

104 thoughts on “India as the hydra against Islam”

  1. India is the archetypal strong village, weak state society. There is a quote that despite Turks, Moguls, British, the Indian village remained the same for a thousand years. There should be interesting studies on why population churning did not happen in most of India for so many hundreds of years. Considering how populations in most other places changed even just for climate changes, this is a interesting chapter in history.

  2. Islam is harqal (hercules in Arabic) to Indian hydra monster. We sliced its head in Kashmir, its flanks in Pak and Bangla.

    Kashmiri Muslim brothers being subjugated by Kuffar as all Pakis know. Islam is word of god and god is all powerful. Ergo His believers will succeed. Hydras living on borrowed time.

    Jaggu Jangjoo

    PS: if I weren’t busy with my new janitorial duties for Markle apa, wallahi a mard-e-mumin like me would have done the job all alone.

    1. I remember there was more to the Hydra myth; in the end the Hydra’s poisonous blood is what killed Hercules!

      Hers raised Hydra to the Sky as a constellation and Hercules became a god so who knows the story may yet have a happy ending!

    2. This janitor joke is getting really old now. It was kind of funny the first time. Now as HRH says “We are not amused”. You need to up your satire game. Ever heard of Jonathan Swift?

      If you actually are a janitor you: 1) have a lot of free time and 2) are way too over-educated for your job.

      1. Hai hai, Kabir miyan, you are obsessed about me now … how i spend my time n all 😉

        I am just a bechara immigrant who fell through the cracks and got this job at Windsor. I’m ex-trotskyite. All of us are educated but no employability. Learned urdu from this punjabi tharki guy, who fled with my savings to pakistan. Visit brownpundits in my loo breaks. All the dominos u see…

          1. Terribly.

            I hope to make a Paki drama on my aap beeti. Maybe I will entitle it aap beeti. Would u sing the background score “Jaggu bechara, kismet ka maara”?

  3. Good question. I am not sure how genetic variation and correlation with castes and sub-societies can explain that. I can think of a series of rambling, unrelated reasons.
    If a population’s genes make them reject alcohol intake, they may be easier targets for Islam. Conversely, genes which are prone or neutral to alcohol intake reject Islam. My guess is that there is a genetic basis for Visual, auditory and performing arts and a preference for the same. Indian populations have a strong preference for visual arts, plastic arts and since Islam did not allow it , they have resisted Islam which hates visual representations or 3 dimensional representations of religious themes. Also performing arts like dance and drama started in religion – people with a strong liking for them may not give them up for any other worldly benefits which Islam offers . To put it simply Islam was not aesthetically satisfying. I have read somewhere that among Africans also Islam failed to make inroads as Africans are strongly oriented towards music and dance in groups with men and women dancing together – again aesthetic/kinetic reason.

    India’s perennial problem is that society is inward looking – i.e. major political projects of the day are for keeping inter-caste and inter-regional balance and stability – that is why India has not gone out on the world stage and become international power. This is what many Indians are negatively proud of i.e. ‘India has never invaded other countries for 5000 years ‘ and India is a non-aligned country for 60 years. When the political management falters in keeping inter-caste and inter-regional balance and stability, defense takes back seat , it has become open season for invaders and when Islamic rulers or Brits offered the political administration which the locals could not do themselves , with little effort foreigners could rule . When a foreign rule starts , some class of persons many times from the upper strata of the native population help them to rule ; at some point conversion trickle may become a flood; in the present area of Pakistan between 11th and 16th centuries , whole castes had become Muslim , and by the time of Guru Nanak , Brahminism as a political force was finished

    The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier takes a different approach. Basically it takes a materialistic historical view that productive relations in a society determines the ideological superstructure. In Eastern Bengal Islam presented itself as a cohesive ideology for the formation of an agrarian society – hence it became popular. This is very similar to Burton Stein’s view about south Indian society where Brahmanism offered the basis for an ordered agrarian society

    Where there is a strong fear of women and femininity and hence the need to control them by all means , Islam takes the crown. Actually , among Hindus also this fear is a large phenomenon and where Hindus have become Muslims, this fear is accentuated and reinforced by Islamic strictures interpreted in restrictive ways . Among populations where this fear is less , Islam has not been successful. Muslims generally are both attracted and frightened by societies where fear of women is much less .

    Whether alcohol-proneness , aesthetics , body kinetics and fear of women can be related to genes can be a good study by themselves

    1. Islam also changed when it came to South Asia. Qawwali was invented on the Indian subcontinent. There is not really a Middle Eastern equivalent.

      “Islam was not aesthetically satisfying”– I know this was not the main point of your comment but as a performing artist, I have a real problem with this remark. Begum Akhtar (Akhtari Bai Faizabadi) was very much a Muslim (as far as I know, she never said otherwise) and yet she sang thumris, dadras, kajris, ghazals etc. As for the other arts, on one of the other threads someone argued that the Taj is not “Indian” but “Islamic” or “Persian” architecture. So a theory of architecture did exist in Islam.

      It is true that in contrast to Hinduism which sees music as a gift from Saraswati Devi, there is still debate in Islam over whether music is “haraam” or “halaal”. That is a major difference between the two faiths.

      1. Good comment – Hinduism is naturally more festival/fun loving.

        I remember a Bangladeshi intellectually telling me as a kid that growing up; he always felt the local Hindu community was so colourful with their local festivals.

        Though I would also say that for many of the intervening centuries the lines between Hindu and Muslim were very obscure. I think people were caste conscious but probably Muslims of the same caste were seen as another sect one did not intermarry with.

        Communalisation and colonisation are interwovdn

        1. Islam can be “colorful and fun loving”. Ever seen videos of dhamaal at Sufi shrines (Sehwan Sharif for example)? One group of my students did their research paper on “Presence of Females in Dhamaal” (I still have to read all these papers).

          It’s really essentialist to make remarks implying that there is one “Islam” or one “Hinduism”. We should all be careful of doing that and recognize that all religions have many different interpretations (some less than others given that there is one sacred text, one prophet etc.).

          1. I think Islam is way more fun loving than any religion. The more religious we are the funnier we get. Holy Quran says having fun is good, so we have a lot of fun as per the revelation.

      2. Hindu music is more austere and religiously related,thats the thing in Polytheistic societies,art is not apart from religion,music in Islamicate societies was more ‘secular’ and treated as a ‘skill’ because it was patronised in temporal spaces like the court.Thats why you see a trend towards abstraction and themes around seasons/love in current Hindustani ‘high music’ of North India
        compared to Carnatic music but it still couldnt escape the religious theme.Around all Dhrupad bandishes and a lot of Khayal bandishes are centered on Krishna although these skills were almost monopolised by muslims.Just weighing in on the music theme.
        Although it would be wrong to say Islam wasnt aesthetically appealing,Punjabi and Sindhi Sufi shrines are fun spaces with music.Although it’s another matter that these spaces themselves were appropriated from earlier Hindu traditions.( for eg there is enough evidence to show that the shrine at Sehwan was a Shaiva base once)

        1. So I have a problem with the terms “Hindu” music and “Muslim” music. I find them vague and not useful. When you say “Hindu” music are you referring specifically to bhajans?

          Yes, it is true a lot of khayal bandishes are about Krishna. In Bhairav, we have “Jaago Mohan Pyaray” for example. But then Pandit Jasraj also composed (in the same raga) “Mero Allah Meherban”. Thumris are also generally about Krishna. “Kaun gali gayo Shyam” is a famous example.

          Anyway, to not digress from Razib’s post too much, this discussion can be continued over here:

      1. The 23andMe analysis says
        Heroin Addiction: rs1799971 AG: Substantially higher odds
        Caffeine Metabolism: rs762551 AA: Substantially higher odds
        Smoking Behavior: rs1051730 AG: More on Average if Smoker

        When I smoke (there have been a few years I managed to stop) its heavey. 30-60 cigarettes a day.
        Heroin, I think the alcohol kept it at bay.

        Caffeine, inherited from my mother. We both can drink coffee even before bedtime. In contrast my father (and sister), more than one cup of coffee they are constipated.

  4. I just don’t understand your post; e.g.,

    There was a comment on this weblog that implied India was unique because of violent resistance to Islamicization. This is patently false. To give a concrete example,

    But your example doesn’t make a case that India was unique in having a relatively successful violent resistance to Islamicization. Remember that the Mughals had to ally with the Rajputs to survive; before Akbar realized this, both Babar and Humayun were swamped with difficulties (from competing Muslim and Hindu warlords).

    Regarding your case that liberal/fluid society of Bangladesh allowed it to become Islamic (something modern Indians would be well advised to keep in mind): has someone made more than a vague case for this? And does this explain why the area that is today Pakistan succumbed?

    And I don’t see so much difference between India and Iran: Iran took only two centuries, India may take fifteen; the difference is of degree and not kind, accounted for by the population difference (something you mention). The glorious Jinnah offered Hindus an escape route several decades ago, which the foolish Hindus rejected and invited doom upon themselves.

    1. The demography element is exaggerated – I don’t think any society will “tip into” Islam only because of a baby boom.

      Check out Razib’s post in gnxp about bourgeois birthrates; I’ve noticed that having a kid has become a “thing” with the English. Whereas the divorce rate in Londonistan is absolutely appalling.

      I don’t know why people treat Islam/Muslims in such a monolithic fashion as though they don’t have agency/autonomy.

      1. Thanks for responding. I think the demography element is somewhere between the paranoid forecast of my co-travelers and the classical estimates.

        Consider Kerala, for example: the Muslim birth rate is almost equal to the Hindu birth rate now, though Hindus are twice the population of the Muslims ( e.g., ). I don’t claim any Muslim baby boom – but the Hindu baby crunch is much sharper. No estimates predicted this as far as I know, so I don’t believe those estimates either.

        I actually am not blaming Muslims for this at all; I find these attitudes to be healthy – I am disappointed in the Hindus rather. Yes, I concede I do have a fear of demographic tip, but I don’t blame Muslim personal choices for that.

        Yes, I read Razib’s gnxp post: the income has to be really really high before the curve starts rising again; I don’t see that happening in India in the near future, given that even an income of $60000 gives you far higher living standard in the US than that of most Indians.

    2. But your example doesn’t make a case that India was unique in having a relatively successful violent resistance to Islamicization. Remember that the Mughals had to ally with the Rajputs to survive; before Akbar realized this, both Babar and Humayun were swamped with difficulties (from competing Muslim and Hindu warlords).

      the pattern with the rajputs is not unique to india. it occurred in iran and turan. eventually, the local elites converted though. (eg tabiristan was brought under abbassid hegemony, but was ruled for a century under zoroastrian vassals).

      Regarding your case that liberal/fluid society of Bangladesh allowed it to become Islamic

      i never said *liberal*

      i think pakistan is a different situation. proximity, time period. the muslims arrived in sindh in the 8th century. despite some reversions to hindu dynasties here and there that’s 1,000 years.

      1. i never said *liberal*

        I was thinking “fluid” was a liberal trait, and stationary state = reactionary = opposite of liberal; but I agree the word liberal has too many connotations.

        Interesting; I think I should read about Iranian history. Can one hope to get a good understanding of how and why the local elites in Iran/Turan converted (as opposed to the Rajputs who did not?)

      2. Razib, many nonmuslims lived in Pakistan and Bangladesh until 1947. Do you think the Sufi influence is part of the reason why?

        Nuristan and some other parts of Afghanistan also retained large nonmuslim populations during the Mughal empire (Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist). Why did they not last?

        1. nuristan is obvious: isolation. the zoroastrians were in yazd and kerman. middle of nowhere. as for why they didn’t last, we know why, they were forcibly converted. it happened in the late 19th century so we have records 🙂

          Razib, many nonmuslims lived in Pakistan and Bangladesh until 1947. Do you think the Sufi influence is part of the reason why?

          aurangzeb was a sufi.

          anyway, a non-muslim minority doesn’t change my argument. the question is why in bengal the further east you go the more muslims you get. this is true *within* bangladesh too. the locus of islamic piety is in noakhali in the southeast. a few areas around khula had hindu majority but were deep in eastern bengal so added to pakistan.

          i think it has to due with weakness of hindu social structure. not anything about islam.

          1. Okay let me be stupid and ask: one could as well (theoretically) claim that caste is a factor favoring conversion to Islam, at least for the so called lower castes. How does one make a case for the social structure preventing conversion to Islam? By establishing an infrastructure for ostracization or making the uncanny valley more uncanny?

          2. Razib Khan,

            Early in life Aurangzeb was raised in a Sufi sympathetic environment. But he changed. He would likely have organized a genocide against twelvers and Sufis if Jahanara didn’t reach an agreement with him. Visiting a saint’s darghah once in a blue moon for virtue signaling politically correct ruthless politics doesn’t count. Part of the challenge is that any muslim can read some Sufi literature of visit a darghah. By itself that does not make them a Sufi. Especially if they keep literally reading the Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim and interpreting them in extremist ways. This is how Aurangzeb justified the extraordinary slaughter of Sufis, Shiites and Sikhs he conducted. If not for the sacrifice of Guru Tegh Bahadur many more Sufis and Shiites would have been tortured and killed.

            How can anyone who doesn’t venerate Imam Ali, Fatimah, Hassan, Hussein and the great Auliyas of family of the prophet be a Sufi? [Some who venerate the masters in the family of the prophet are Shiite, but all Sufis honor the great Pirs in the family of the prophet.]

          3. Sometime back I was reading about why a Hindu Bengali left East Bengal , then E.Pakistan. He said brahmins left, and if there no head , then what is the point of remaining there , so he also left with his family. Presence of brahmins – presumably religious and ritual- is a good reason for continuation of Hindu soceities

  5. ‘India has never invaded other countries for 5000 years ‘

    Indians need to brush up on Indian history. North Indians think India ends at the Vindhyas. Read up on the Chola invasion of Srivijaya.

    1. The Pandavas and Karna conquered much of the world in the Mahabharata.

      Raj, Chola doesn’t count because invading and conquering inside the Arya cultural sphere (Uzbekistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tibet, Sikhim, Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Burma, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos) doesn’t count. Please don’t ask why. I don’t know why. Other famous Indian academics I have asked don’t know why either.

    2. Chola invasion of south east Asia is well known. The quote I gave , I gave within quotes since it is not my idea , the quote was from Abdul Kalam ex-President of India, who came from the souther tip of India . Right or wrong it gives certain historical memory – or lack of it.

    3. Why would Indians venture out of their fertile land and invade other countries while crossing mountains and deserts? Indians simply didnt need to invade,there is a reason India was an inward looking civilisation.It had enough means and prosperity,and a very well developed societal setup,we didnt feel the need to occupy other countries.

        1. Was it Malthusian enough to make people in fertile plains feel the necessity to invade inhospitable terrains?

          1. Was it Malthusian enough to make people in fertile plains feel the necessity to invade inhospitable terrains?

            this is a complex issue. but many ‘invasions’ were mobilized by elites who wanted to increase their glory and extraction. eg the mughal attempts to reconquer their homeland went on for several centuries, even though economically it was just an adjunct.

            also, inhospitable terrains can be useful due to their location.

            my point is that in the pre-modern period almost everyone was the same wealth per capita. the ‘wealth of india’ was from the perspective of elites who could extract and steal it. the average indian may have been poorer than the average kirghiz pastoralist. but to truly be rich turki warlords had to steal from many more people.

            i think the indian and chinese and european lack of success against the steppe people had to do with the fact that they lacked horse-power. also, pastoralists are hard to conquer. the chinese and russians only finished the steppe in the 18th century when they used cannon & gun to decimate the oirat confederacy, closing 3,000 years of steppe predations on the rimland.

        2. how much do cultural norms and ideology dictate aggrandisement and expansion? Ancient Indians always had the notion of a chakravartin king who rules over other occupied kings but not by destroying them but by establishing paramountacy. Ancient Indian political theorists far often than not took the reality of multiple power centres as granted,and sought political glory within this ‘circle of kings’. Here ,often an invasion would be a ritualised defeat and then handing over the conquered lands back after establishing ‘kirti’ ( glory )
          Similarly, the upbeat Arabs consolidated by a supra-tribal ideology which made annexation of non-believer money and land as moral, succeded in an almost unprecedented way.

  6. For every Iran you have Andalusia which remained Christian majority even after roughly 800 years after the Arab conquest.

    I dont think diversity,population etc are the clinching reason for why a region would convert/resistant etc. I think one factor Rajib might be missing is “continuous reign” of muslim ruler. You can divide Islamic rulers reign into two parts (8th Century to -1750) and (1200-1750).

    Regions which were under muslim rulers in first phase dont really stand out as these regions did follow the same pattern of being 70-80 percent muslims(in 1947). While for the second phase i would say the Muslim population is determined by the amount of time “continuous reign” of muslims have been able to rule. An example will be Sindh and Rajasthan(who are neighbors ) where the former came under the 1st phase the latter under the second phase and that might be the reason of the population variance of muslims. Bengal and Orissa both come in the second phase but while Bengal was under “continuous reign” from mid 1200( still not being from the 1st phase meant it will not touch the 70-80 percent muslim figure) , Orissa came only in late 1500s after Akbar and then Marathas won it back in just 200 years . Thus the population difference.

    I am not saying this is “the” only factor but power politics and your ability to give out patronage to people as well the state being “perceived” to be belonging to a particular religion are also great impulses for conversion to get a better deal for oneself

    1. For every Iran you have Andalusia which remained Christian majority even after roughly 800 years after the Arab conquest.

      this is a stupid comment. here is why

      1) 800 years = 1500 AD. actually by 1150 AD xtians had reconquered half the peninsula. by 1250 the only muslim area left was granada, so 90% of the peninsula was xtian. so actually it’s closer to 450 years that muslims had the majority of the peninsula.

      2) there are plenty of arguments that muslims were the majority actually. mozarabs may have been the minority. the period btwn 1250 and 1500 in particular seems to have seen a lot of conversion to xtianity.

      3) You can divide Islamic rulers reign into two parts (8th Century to -1750) and (1200-1750)

      this is stupid too. islam had little purchase outside of the NW, and more specifically sindh, before 1000 AD. i was careful about excluding this.

      Bengal and Orissa both come in the second phase but while Bengal was under “continuous reign” from mid 1200( still not being from the 1st phase meant it will not touch the 70-80 percent muslim figure) , Orissa came only in late 1500s after Akbar and then Marathas won it back in just 200 years

      the region of bengal under more continuous muslim domination would be the western region, not the east (which was periodically under tripura or other non-muslim hegemons).

      p.s. don’t comment on non-indian history, you don’t know anything.

      1. p.s. don’t comment on non-indian history, you don’t know anything.

        Now come on 🙂

        [you certainly don’t know enough to comment with value]

      1. my name is rajib. my k5 teacher substituted “z” for “j” for some reason. but my parents call me ‘rajib’ as do my extended family.

        1. If this question isn’t forbidden: was Rajib meant to be a Bangla rendition of an Arabic word or an actual Bangla word?

          1. like bengali hindus most bengali muslims have a formal name and a ‘dakh nam’ (nickname).

            the nicknames are bengali. family and non-relative intimates (close friends) may use the nickname.

            my parents never referred to me by my legal (arabic) name, so i was always known as ‘razib’ (even though they call me rajib). eventually i got rid of my arabic name legally since no one ever used it.

            (jhumpa lahiri in the same boat; jhumpa is her dakh nam)

          2. Rajib is the Bangla version of the Indian (Sanskrit based) name Rajiv..

            Razib – I am assuming you rels pronounce your name “Raajib”

            [yes -razib]

          3. Wow! Rajeeva means lotus. “Lotus Khan” has a very “East Asian High Meditative” ring to it.

  7. It would be really interesting to know why Zoroasrianism became almost extinct in the regions it once dominated (Iran, certain parts of Central Asia) but the pre-Islamic religions of India, Egypt and the Levant continue to have millions of followers (Hindus, Jains, Copts, Orthodox Jews, Maronites, etc). There are only a few thousand Zoroastrians left in Iran, however. Even the Jews managed to retain more members than Zoroastrians in Iran, even though Jews started off with a lot less people. I’ve never really come across a historian that’s addressed how Zoroastrianism could collapse like this.

    Also interesting how the centres of Indian Islamic civilisation (Uttar Pradesh, Deccan, Hyderabad, etc) maintained a non-Muslim majority, but the Punjab and Bengal regions were the areas that possibly had the highest proportion of Muslims, and had enough Muslims to carve independent Muslim states out of after the British left.

    1. re: iran. the usual model is that persian zoroastrianism was too tied up with the idea that it was the ruling caste’s religion. remember, the late sassanids probably ruled as many xtians (in mesopatamia and within iran proper) as zoroastrians, while a large # of buddhists lived in turan.

      basically the thesis is once the tipping point occurred where enough of the local persian gentry converted to islam a bulwark for zoroastrianism no longer existed at the elite levels, and only the priestly caste adhered to the old religion (the parsis are reputedly descended from zoroastrian priests).

      remember, deep into the 10th century there were attempts to resurrect zoroastrianism or non-muslim faiths in rebellions. sometimes it got mixed up with ghulat islam, and even the abbassid revolt against the ummayads had an aspect mixed up with zoroastrianism millenarianism (remember, on the whole the early abbassids were pro-alid).

      in contrast, groups like jews and christians were long habituated to being subordinate. even in egypt the pre-islamic period was framed by the faction/dissent of egyptian monophysite xtianity against the melkite variety coming out of byzantium.

      Also interesting how the centres of Indian Islamic civilisation (Uttar Pradesh, Deccan, Hyderabad, etc) maintained a non-Muslim majority,

      marchlands tend to be more open to novel ideologies. in ancient rome during the late empire officials who came from frontier regions were more likely to be christian, those who came from the interior were pagan. peter turchin has talked about this more theoretically in his work.

      1. Interesting! So what is the explanation for religions like Manicheism and Nestorian Christianity becoming extinct among the Iranian peoples that lived under Sassanid rule? As I understand it, these religious groups were persecuted under Sassanid and Zoroastrian rule too, but then vanished among Iranians after Islam took over (in Iran proper and Central Asia). Maybe they are analogous to Copts in their pre-Islamic historical experience?

        Still quite remarkable that after Delhi Sultanate and Mughals, these centres of Indian Islamic civilisation (Delhi, Agra, Awadh, etc) couldn’t retain a Muslim majority into the 20th century.

        1. Cyrus, one of my Iraqi friends talked a lot about Manicheism. He was very familiar with Sumerian, Accadian, Babylonian religion and many now extinct religions. He wrote interesting papers in his graduate program that post modernist academics had difficulty understanding. He was very intelligent and interesting. Maybe I should check up on him.

          Are you familiar with Manicheism? What can you share about it? How did the Persian empire persecute Manicheism? And why? They seemed okay with Jews and Hindus.

  8. The Sena dynasty completely destroyed the pre-existing Buddhist social structure (reliogious, educational institutions etc.) in Eastern Bengal but failed to enforce their Brahmanical alternatives due to Muslim conquest. So the Muslim rulers found it easy to “Islamize” Eastern Bengal as there was a vacuum in the social structure.

    1. this is a common model. i’m not sure this is true. but it could be that this is it.

      basically however you slice it brahmanical hinduism was particularly weak in punjab and bengal during the early 2nd millennium.

    2. The Sen state must have been a very unusually strong and efficient one if it could destroy social structure over a vast area in just one and a half century. But they fell quickly to just a small cavalry raid of Muslims.

      1. The Sen state must have been a very unusually strong and efficient one if it could destroy social structure over a vast area in just one and a half century. But they fell quickly to just a small cavalry raid of Muslims.

        the key is not muslims, it’s mounted inner asians. remember these people were ravaging sedentary muslim states too during this period, so it’s not religion per se, though they happened to be muslim.

        i don’t think the sena state was particularly powerful. i think for whatever reason buddhism and non-brahmanical indian traditions in general (see jains in s. india) were in a period of regression. probably eventually hinduism would have reasserted itself, but the muslim interposition blocked and diverted that process into another….

        1. Yes, that may be. Why Buddhism was in retreat? Have you read and reviewed Norenzayan’s Big Gods argument?
          Big Gods
          How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict
          How did organized religions with “Big Gods”—the great monotheistic and polytheistic faiths—spread to colonize most minds in the world? In Big Gods, Ara Norenzayan makes the surprising argument that these fundamental puzzles about the origins of civilization answer each other.

          1. i’ve read big gods. it’s probably broadly right though some details are probably off (also, i bet some of the pubs it cites are not replicable).

            Why Buddhism was in retreat?

            don’t know. why did buddhism supplant hinduism in mainland southeast asia, but not maritime southeast asia? (where eventually hinduism gave way to islam)

      2. sorry but whats the evidence for this? for all we know the Buddhists never had a social system as developed as Brahminical Hinduism,so even in areas with significant Buddhist prescence,Dharmashastra rules were taken as given. I dont know the exact reason for the success of the initial Turkish assault on Bengal ( there may be an array of them) but this seems wrong.

        1. or all we know the Buddhists never had a social system as developed as Brahminical Hinduism,so even in areas with significant Buddhist prescence

          Yash you have forgotten Sri Lanka, a Buddhist country for 2,300 years.
          Asoka had been lost in India. He was found and identified and dated using the Mahavamsa. Mahavamsa: Be it known, that two hundred and eighteen years had passed from the nibbana of the Master unto Asoka’s consecration.

          There is more in the Carbon Steel… comments

    3. It is very likely most of Bangladeshi Muslims are converted from Pala Empire Buddhists during the Muslim period. The Buddhist Bengali folks in pala era were likely similar to non-Brahmin upper caste Hindus like Kayesthas/Vaidyas, modern Bangladeshis are very similar to them after all.
      @Razib Khan What would be autosomal DNA of Baruas of Chittagong?

      1. Zahid,

        Everyone wants to be descended from upper castes.

        I would argue that before Vedic Brahamin intrusion into East India, (e.g. Kalinga, Vanga (bengal) and Bihar), society was very agrarian and egalitarian. Pretty much what Sri Lanka is to this date.

        Agrarian by Vedic Hindu definition are Sudras. In case you think the Shudra’s were were just farmers, just remind yourself about the biggest and greatest Indian Empire, the Mauyra Empire. Chandra Gupta Mayura was an East Indian Shudra.

        1. @sbarrkum
          Not all of them were agrarian,right? There were martial class,merchant class,scholars,priests ect. It looks similar to modern Bangladeshi society somehow,which is divided between upper class,upper-middle class,lower-middle class,lower class ect. since Buddhism doesn’t have a caste system like hindus, so anything not related to hindus are automatically outcaste. Even under Medieval muslim rulers, the bengali society had a genuine class system,formed by Elite muslims(rulers/noblemen),upper/middle Common folks(by their profession and status),other common folks ect. For example,my paternal ancestors in Mughal period were Imam by profession so my house got the title of “Mullah”, I don’t know if they were wealthy or not , but they were respected by everyone. Later some of their descendants become wealthy merchants, so when they settled in Homna,Comilla(my hometown in Bangladesh) from Munshiganj(in medieval
          time known as Bikrampur) in British era, they bought many lands from local hindu zamindar.
          I think majority of Bengali muslims didnt have any sort of hindu-caste like endogamy for a few thousands of years(atleast under Palas and Muslims), but those social status always existed.

  9. I would try out the following hypothesis.
    Societies with lesser Aryan/Dravidian componet are susceptible to an egalitarian culture/society. East Bengal, Kerala, Sri Lanka and the Maldives are examples that come to mind. Outside the subcontinent it is the Austro-Asiatic countries of Malaysia, Java and Philippines.

    Maldives is what I would call nominally Muslim. The country with the highest divorce rate in the world. Very gender equal. The same for Sout East asia.

    Bengal and Kerala embraced communism. Kerala women (and Sri Lankan) are part of the labor in the mid-east. Its not good situation, but a society that allows women to travel and work, implies gender equality.

    (the Tamils from Sri Lanka are somewhat less structured, but still have more than the Bangladeshis).
    I would assume you mean the Sri Lankan Tamils in the North and East.
    The original underlying society was probably Sinhalese. With greater South Indian Influence and Hindus starting around the 12th Century and the import of South Indian labor by Dutch and English for the Tobacco cultivation (around 17th century) probably brought structure into society in the North.

    I would think Sinhalese society is less genetically structured, like Bengal or more so.. Cast was fluid and not religiously sanctioned. Plus the culture was different from Arya/Dravida. i.e. Sleeping around was the norm, just as in the Maldives.

    Then we have the civil war which was fought on the back of the women of both sides. In the south the women were in the ME earning foreign exchange (the biggest) for the war. In the north, they were the suicide bomber and front line soldiers (cannon fodder).

    1. Maldives is what I would call nominally Muslim.

      Comments like this irritate me to no end. Maldives claims to be proud of being a 100% Islamic country, being Muslim is a prerequisite for citizenship, and practice of any other religion while in the country is outlawed. There is simply no way Islam in such a country is going to be nominal.

      Why is it that Islam alone gets away like this – with some Islamic countries having their citizenship to be religion based, and yet getting to be regarded as only “nominally Muslim”? One regularly sees Bollywood celebrities who are ashamed about Hindustan going to this criminal country and praising it like crazy (but some of Bollywood <a href="or avoids Israel).

      If anything, I would think that it is some non-Islamic countries that would need to have citizenship restricted by religion to protect themselves, of course after partitioning, but we will never see that happening; they don’t ever face the same lax standards from the human right thugs the way Muslim countries or Islam do.

      1. Israel is not an Islamic country. Yet it is the “Jewish State” (despite the fact that 20% of its citizens are those who stayed back during the Nakba of 1948). Jews from anywhere in the world can immigrate to Israel and become citizens, even if they have no ancestry there.

        I had no idea the Maldives requires you to be Muslim to be a citizen. That is pretty shocking. Even “The Islamic Republic” of Pakistan has Christian, Hindu and Sikh citizens. They may be treated in a second-class manner, but they are still citizens.

        1. There is no comparison between Paksitan and Maldives. In Maldives any practice of a non-Islamic religion is banned (which to me is even more shocking than the citizenship thing), while in Pakistan you even see a Nawaz Sharif or a Bilawal Bhutto joining a celebration of Holi or Diwali.

          That said, I am still one of the few Hindus who believe in a two nation theory (though may be more like a multi-nation theory). You can’t simply desire peace into existence by making exalted statements about syncretism. Like with unhappy marriages, it may be better to divorce and be on friendly terms with each other than suffocate each other for the rest of one’s life. Muslims understand this very well, which is why most enfranchised Muslims in India voted pro-partition (most of those who stayed back did so out of inertia). It is the greatness of Muslim societies that they are more in touch with reality and not as easily swayed by pretty liberal lies. This genuineness/honesty has something to do with the appeal of Islam.

          1. Well, I am a “Muslim” who thinks the TNT was frankly stupid, but it is what it is and Pakistan exists now. TNT died the day the Muslims of East Pakistan walked out and made Bangladesh.

            I don’t think that most of the Muslims who stayed back in UP (for example) did so out of inertia. Many of them genuinely believed what Congress was selling them. If one could ask them all these years later, how they feel about their choice, the response might be interesting.

            I know that for my grandmother, the loss of Agra was devastating for the rest of her life. No matter how much she may have believed in the necessity of Pakistan. People are complicated. She had to leave behind her parents and brothers (which most married women of that time had to) but because there was now an international border, seeing them again was very difficult. This despite the fact that till the 1965 War, travel back and forth was not that hard.

          2. If I remember right, something close to 90% of the Muslims who had a vote in the 1946 elections voted for the Muslim league whose main running point was the creation of Pakistan. Of course, only a small part of the population had a vote those days, but 90% seems pretty conclusive.

            I am sorry to hear what your grandmother went through, but that issue seems more like a personal one rather than about the merits or demerits of the two nation theory. There is no doubt that the partition was shoddily organized, and that extraordinary security measures should have been taken to take the transfer both ways violence-free.

            Anyway, what matters for today’s purposes is the present perception and its consequences. Indians make shrill noises about unity in diversity, but the truth is that both Muslims and Hindus are deeply unhappy and both would be better off without each other’s company, except of course secular Bollywood-type Hindus who despise Hinduism and cherish Muslim culture. So a Hindu country + a secular country + a Muslim country which could possibly decide to merge with Pakistan and make itself the regional hegemon might be an interesting experiment.

          3. In 1946, no one knew that Pakistan was going to be a sovereign nation. In 1946, ML had accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan. Please remember that no one knew there was going to be a Partition until June 3, 1947 when the Viceroy, Earl Mountbatten,told Jinnah Sahab and Pandit Nehru that that was the offer on the table. So the voters who voted for “Pakistan” were voting for a vague concept which I think many of them did not realize would entail them having to leave their homes. “Pakistan” was being funded by UP Zamindars. If they thought that it meant they would have to leave UP and their huge estates, why would they fund it?

            My grandmother’s issue had nothing to do with violence. It had to do with the fact that under any kind of a plan, Agra was never going to go to Pakistan. She was going to be separated from her home. Exile is devastating. I hope you never have to go through it. She was married to a man who was a Civil Servant in British India. As a Muslim officer with roots in what is today Pakistan, when he was given the choice to join India’s Civil Service or Pakistan’s Civil Service, he chose Pakistan. As his wife, my grandmother had to go with him. But she remained a UPite till the day she died.

            As for today’s India, I don’t think ALL Hindus and Muslims are “deeply unhappy”. Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi are having a pretty good time. As for “secular” Hindus, I don’t know why you think cherishing Muslim culture means one has to “despise Hinduism”. I’m a “Muslim”. I cherish “Muslim culture” yet I also have a great deal of respect for Saraswati Ma. So people are complicated.

            As for “Muslim country that might merge with Pakistan”, that is one solution to the issue in the Kashmir Valley but I doubt you would want to let that land go. But you can always prove me wrong.

          4. Partition was bad. It was akin to removing the electric poles one had erected over time in a new town to electrify it, and replacing them in a neighbouring region where people were already used to lighting their homes and streets. The new town plunges back into the darkness…

            Partition robbed the millions of souls in India the chance to enlighten themselves with noor-ul Islam. The true religion of Islam that had organically spread to the heathens of the Indo-gangetic belt, instead of diffusing further got contained by Partition. Therefore Partition was anti-Islam.

          5. Of course, Javed and Shabana and lots of “secular Hindus” are happy; they can always opt to be in the secular part of the partition.

            As for “Muslim country that might merge with Pakistan”, that is one solution to the issue in the Kashmir Valley but I doubt you would want to let that land go. But you can always prove me wrong.

            I can’t “prove” anything, but I will claim that you are wrong. I have no problem in letting that land go per se. Keeping Kashmir costs India much more than benefits it, and I too am intrigued by why the Indian Government clings onto it. Perhaps it is just the ego, perhaps some “strategic” reasons of the sort I am not familiar with, which those people in power think are worth the costs.

            You may not know it, but Indian Government bends over backward to lavish all sorts of goodies upon Kashmir, at the expense of Jammu and Ladakh whose people are treated as children of a lesser God.

            This of course doesn’t make Kashmiris happy because their complaints are a different nature, and lavishing those goodies which don’t make any lasting change to their lives isn’t going to make any difference to them; those merely serve to upset Jammu/Ladakhi people. Thus the whole Government policy seems very self-defeating; no one is happy.

            This is not to say I would tomorrow vote for making Kashmir independent – but this is only because I would like to use the occasion as far as possible to demand a Hindu homeland; after all, if Kashmiri people can have self-determination and not belong to an “imperial Indian state”, why should card-carrying Hindus submit to it either?

            Also, you are misinterpreting me Kabir: I have no problem with Bollywooders being interested in Islam; after all I am myself deeply impressed by the Christian sermon on the mount. What I do have a problem with is what I perceive to be Bollywood double-standards in the treatment of the religions, but that is probably a matter of another debate.

          6. @Zack: Was your response to me? If so, I don’t know which joke is being referred to.

          7. Yes, Bollywood double standards should be the subject of a different post. Do we perhaps expect too much from our film stars? After all film actors are not known for being the most intellectual people.

            I lay some claim on Rekha, Amitabh, Meena Kumari, etc. SAK even has cousins and uncles and people living in Pakistan, all of whom are descended from the Begums of Bhopal. But somehow I don’t think his Pakistani cousins like him very much.

          8. When you “demand a Hindu homeland” do you mean Panun Kashmir or something else? After all, in some sense the entire country of India is the “Hindu homeland”. It’s something like 85% Hindu. If you want India made into a “Hindu Rashtra”, you just have to get your Constitution re-written which is not impossible (improbable but not impossible).

            I don’t know why you want further Partitions (even in theory). We’ve had two already. They didn’t really work very well for those who found themselves on the wrong side of the line. Asides from Punjab and Bengal, I guess no one really cares. We have a de-facto Partition in Kashmir with the LOC.

            I would suggest work towards making your country a place where everyone wants to live. But that’s just me.

          9. @Kabir: Why do I want a “Hindu homeland”? As I explain, try to imagine the Muslim analogue of some of this, that you might be better able to relate to and hence follow. In fact, it may even clarify some of your own views regarding Pakistan/Kashmir.

            I don’t want a “Hindu nation” to impose theocracy, but because but only as a means to equality and dignity for Hindus (you may disagree but think of your own view of Pakistan, and you will relate to this sentence better). Because I consider India to be an apartheid state that discriminates against Hindus. Many laws explicitly discriminate in favor of minorities, e.g., the Right to Education act. Those who instituted this discriminatory regime in India are not Muslims, but secular Hindus.

            But all this is “economic” discrimination, and far worse than this from the perspective of a religious person is “spiritual or psychological discrimination”; which I describe below, and which I expect you to understand better than the liberals would.

            Consider that no one, including a liberal, would keep working in a company where she is routinely insulted and humiliated; they would try to move elsewhere. This phenomenon doesn’t work to the same extent for a country, but to a lesser extent it does, so the line drawn by liberals between corporate and nation is somewhat artificial.

            Think of your own views: wouldn’t you rather be in a country where the newspapers don’t routinely insult your religion or your prophet, making your life miserable and choked? The liberal doesn’t have to deal with it, and that privilege is what gives her the luxury of being wedded to free speech. In other words, your view here is more nuanced, and the liberals’ view is a narrow “one size fits all”, all about simply ignoring inconvenient psychological dimensions and making an internally consistent oversimplification that is nevertheless a poor map of ground reality.

            Similar considerations apply to me about Hinduism in India, about the way the narratives are shaped and affect the quality of life of people (psychology is very important; materialist models miss out on a lot). When I say partition, it isn’t so much Muslims that I seek to escape from; Muslims are people who face problems analogous to mine, and it may be interesting if Hindus and Muslims to work together to separate from each other and from the seculars. It is secular Hindus who are the people who make me feel like a daily-spat-upon second class citizen, and for me “Hindu country” is not about any imposition of religion or spirituality but a mere filter to get rid of them; it is better if they humiliate Hinduism or operate Bollywood in their separate country.

          10. So, I grew up in the United States and I intend to live my life there. I am proud of being a Pakistani (don’t get me wrong) but too much time in an “Islamic Republic” becomes oppressive very quickly. This has nothing to do with the (good and bad) reasons that Pakistan was created in 1947 but more to do with the way that religion is thrust down people’s throats today.

            It is true that US newspapers don’t routinely insult the Prophet (pbuh). But I would still rather live in a secular state than a Muslim one. Ideally, Pakistan should be a secular state for all Pakistanis. There was a short period where it was just called “The Republic of Pakistan” until one of the earlier constitutions was abrogated and someone decided the word “Islamic” needed to be in there.

            It seems to me you give too much importance to Bollywood stars. You have a Hindu nationalist party in power. Why are they not doing the things that you desire? (Maybe you could write a post on this).

            And if you expand on your definition of “secular Hindu” (is it like a non-practicing or “nominal” Muslim?) that would help add context.

          11. @Zack: Your question about Khalistan was to me? If so I of course concede there are numerous details to be worked out; I am expressing just the general idea. Though I consider Sikhism to be part of Hinduism, it is what they think that matters.

            @Kabir: Yes, it is a good point to clarify what I mean by “secular Hindu”. Actually I wasn’t refer to non-practising; I don’t practise myself very much (so I am perhaps somewhat like you in this respect). I am referring to a political-belief category for which you would certainly consider some other word more appropriate. May be non-Hindutva people from Hindu background may be a better word; typically they believe that all religions are equally good or bad, but this is only their “epistemic belief”, which is different from their “procedural belief”, which is discriminatory: for instance, a typical celebrity who in practice focuses on real or imagined plus points of Islam (e.g., Islam means peace, Islam is great sufi spirituality, Islam came up to raise the status of women from what it was during Pagan Arabia), and on (often real but often also imagined) negative aspects of Hindu society (caste, comments some Hindu male makes about women etc., Holi creates water shortage and lets Hindu boys grope girls, Makar Sankranti is polluting, Jallikkattu is animal cruety, Diwali crackers are terrible and should be banned but New Year fireworks are great, and so on). Many other secular Hindus don’t go to this extent, but passively internalize these narrative conventions, and hence delegitimize those Hindus who ask for equality and respect.

            Citizens being subjected to roughly equal standards of shaming or praise are crucial to the functioning of a healthy society.

            My problem with secularism is that it is about theoretical equality. It should be judged by what it does in practice, especially if you think religions should be judged by what their self-proclaimed followers do. And in practice, Indian secularism has been mostly about Hindu-shaming (and any seeming respect for actual issues facing Muslims is only incidental, a tool towards their actual ends). Theoretically it may believe in equality and respect for all religions, but I don’t care about theory, and indeed I can’t afford to.

          12. And Kabir, there are consequences to secular attitudes that you won’t like. For instance, consider the Asifa case; the Bollywood celebrities wrote “I am Hindustan” instead of “I am India” in their “ashamed” placard. They prominently highlighted the temple name in their card. Typically, the humanitarian considerations got mixed up with a typical liberal desire to shame. Perhaps they think that shaming religious people will make them police the fanatics among them more seriously

            And what is the consequence? Nowadays lots of Hindutvavadis have started highlighting rapes committed in Madrassas or by Muslims quite prominently, trying to do analogous shaming tactics targeting Muslims whenever possible. Of course, there were always Hindutvavadis who did that, but these were relatively fringe within Hindutva, and now the secular aggression has made them more mainstream within Hindutva, both among the twitterati and online platforms.

            What looks liberal on paper is often the virtual analog of a blood-thirsty lynch mob.

            Edit: Here is a tweet from just 45 minutes ago – the “M” in it stands for Muslim:

          13. Based upon what you have written, it seems you really don’t like Nehru’s vision for India. Which is OK, but it is an Intra-Indian problem. It’s not really my concern. I don’t quite understand this feeling of persecution. If you are living in India right now, who exactly is stopping you from expressing your religious beliefs?

            Why is the BJP not doing what you would advocate? Please do write a post on this. I am actually interested (not being snarky). They openly claim to be a “Hindu nationalist” party. No one can accuse them of pandering to Muslims. So what’s the deal?

            As for Bollywood stars, are they really that important that you need to worry what they think of you? A lot of Hollywood liberals hate red-state America, but in the end Trump is still the president.

            My experience of living in a religiously-defined state is that it is no fun for those who are not of the right religion (or even the right sect within that religion). A lot of Pakistan’s deep seeded problems go back to being a “Muslim homeland” or a “fortress of Islam” or whatever we are calling it these days. I would hate to see India go down the same road, but that’s just my opinion as a non-Indian.

          14. I don’t go on twitter (except when I had to for work). I find most people on twitter extremely stupid.

          15. I don’t want to write a post, but your question is a good one, and let me try to express my thoughts about it here. Before that, I am thankful to you (and Zack) for respectfully engaging my bizzare theories: typically Indian liberals refuse to engage fringe ideas like this, and simply brand these views as not worth considering. That you don’t do so says something about your innate goodness and generosity.

            Now as to why the BJP does not do anything about what I claim to be discrimination against Hindus. It is a very good question. For instance, why does a party which supposedly only has to pander to Hindus increase minority affairs funding by 62%, or start free coaching for Muslim aspirants of Union Public Services Commission? Why did the BJP Government of the state of Haryana decide to allocate 13 public spaces for Namaz, instead of asking the rich Wakf board to either allocate space itself or pay up for the purpose? Why is it that the central Government’s official textbook make named criticisms of exactly one religion, namely Hinduism (the textbook was introduced by Congress, it is written by heavily anti-BJP people, but why is the Government continuing it)? It looks quite bizzare, when you consider that so few Muslims vote for BJP.

            In democracies, voting patterns and their consequences are quite complicated, because parties are not single-interest groups; they are umbrella coalitions of various interest groups, sometimes conflicting with each other, and moreover one gets exactly one vote to express one’s opinion on a whole range of issues from religion to infrastructure development to education. Being a politician is all about monkey-balancing between these interest groups. This is why I don’t call the ideology of, say Modi, as either nectarine or poisonous: simply put, he (or other politicians) has no ideology, and his focus is how to do actions with high marginal value for the purpose of his votes. If you are strongly committed to an ideology or principle, you cannot become a politician. (In particular, I am not a fan of Modi: of course he is an unprincipled charlatan like anyone else).

            Now let us come to the specific case at hand: the division into card-carrying Hindus and secular Hindus I wrote above was a gross oversimplification, for the sake of ease/clarity in presenting my point. Let us specifically look at what an exit poll says about Karnataka vote shares: – as you can see, voting patterns very strongly depend on the caste.

            So votes are not divided just along Hindu-Muslim lines, but along many other lines, very prominently along caste lines. Some of this has to do with the presence of people from specific castes inside a political party, some to do with politics of reservation, and some to do with blatant partisanism (e.g., when Akhilesh Yadav Samajwadi Party was ruling Uttar Pradesh, it seems to have been understood that a disproportionate number of appointments in various government services such as the police would be from the Yadav community); and once in a while one hears complaints like this that there are favoritism towards Kashmir and against Jammu/Ladakh in appointments in Jammu and Kashmir.

            Card-carrying Hindus like me are spread across castes (which are not represented proportionally, unfortunately so if you ask me). They are part of what may be called the base of BJP. My best guess would be that they are quite a minority, but not statistically insignificant demographically. However, electorally they are even less significant than their demographic share, because they mostly don’t have anyone but BJP to vote for.

            Something similar happened with the Republican establishment taking the Republican base for granted, and the resulting resentment among the Republican base was exploited by Trump with his provocative comments to basically upend the establishment and get himself to be the candidate. This hasn’t happened with the BJP yet.

            So a politician from the BJP would have his/her eyes on marginal values of votes. Do you get to increase your voteshare by pleasing people who are anyway constrained to not vote for others, or people may possibly swing to your side with freebies? These involve complicated calculations/risky speculations; politics is a very difficult job that needs a lot of talent and luck.

            Even these are only the factors related to the political process. There are actions of the judiciary etc. that the Government cannot do much about. Consider the Rohingyas settled in Jammu (not in Kashmir as Al Jazeera claims: the Kashmiri separatists insisted on settling the Rohingyas in Jammu but not in their state). The BJP Government actually pushed to deport them, only to be stayed by the Supreme court (remember Trump’s travel ban overturned by US courts?) It was the Supreme Court which invited itself into the battle over Diwali and banned fire cracker sale in Delhi just a few days before the 2017 Diwali, pushing a lot of cracker making families into poverty. It was the Supreme court which banned Jallikkattu.

            More importantly, it was the Supreme Court (and not the Congress Government which brought it) which made the Right to Education act in India discriminatory, exempting minority-run educational institutions from it.

            More generally, I am every democracy has “checks and balances” to ensure that democracy doesn’t go too far, and often the clever way of getting what you wish is not through the democratic process but by tweaking these checks and balances: as a tweet I saw from Razib’s twitter put it:

            Epistocratic voting is for noobs, a real class warrior for the new class knows we rule most effectively through the administrative state, judicial activism, and simply narrowing the scope of conceivable policies— Rogue Works Progress Administration (@GabrielRossman) May 12, 2018

            So there you go. You will certainly have a lot to disagree with many of my points above, but for good or for worse, this is a summary of my view on why things are the way they are in India.

  10. Societies with lesser Aryan/Dravidian componet are susceptible to an egalitarian culture/society. East Bengal, Kerala, Sri Lanka and the Maldives are examples that come to mind. Outside the subcontinent it is the Austro-Asiatic countries of Malaysia, Java and Philippines.

    those southeast asian nations are austronesian. not austro-asiatic. austro-aiastic people never even reached the philippines.

    Maldives is what I would call nominally Muslim. The country with the highest divorce rate in the world. Very gender equal. The same for Sout East asia.

    divorce is allowed in islam. and maldives is not nominal

    I would think Sinhalese society is less genetically structured, like Bengal or more so

    the data i’ve seen confirms this.

    1. “are austronesian. not austro-asiatic”: My fault, hasty replies.

      Divorce: Maldivian women are also allowed to say Talaq/Talat and divorce.

      Maldivians, nominally Muslim
      Maybe I am thinking of the Maldivians I knew in the 70’s, Girls and boys who attended school, all Catholic schools in Colombo and Galle. Dont know of any Maldivian who attended Zahira College, the premier Muslim school in Colombo. Never saw a abhaya wearing Maldivian either, but then none of the Sri Lankan muslim women wore abhaya either. The whole abhaya thing is new, about 10-15 years old; Saudi money.

      There does seem an effort in Maldives now to erase the influence of Sinhalese and Buddhism. Half of Divehi is Sinhalese.
      Boduberu, traditional drums is purported to be from East Africa according to Wiki. Boduberu would be Budu Bera=Drum in Sinhala.

      Buddhist statutes have been completely obliterated and destroyed.

      Human Interest:
      My grandfathers brother and his wife (an American Missionary) attempted to complete translation of Bible into Divehi.
      A certain Mrs K. Wood Kumarakulasinghe of Nuwara Eliya, together with her husband, who was “in government service”, had been for some time concerned to share the Gospel with the Maldivians. Mr. Kumarakulasinghe had attempted a fresh translation of the Scriptures into Divehi. Exactly how far this progressed or what was the fate of his manuscripts I do not yet know, but once again, as with Leyden, the work was cut short by his death (1905, Yellow Fever contacted in Maldives). Mrs Kumarakulasinghe had attempted to continue the work, but again unsuccessfully.

  11. Not directly related to spread of islam but your comment of little substructure in Bangaleshi’s reminded me of something I’ve been curious about: is there substructure in other non-hindu majority south asian countries?

    I’m thinking specifically of Sri Lankan Sinhalese (sounds like SL Tamils have somewhat reduced substructure) and also Maldivians. Have the the Buddhist/Islamic cultures there eroded substructure?

    1. AV90

      I think Sri Lanka and Maldives never had Vedic Hindu culture and stratification.

      So minimal genetic stratification (less than SL Tamil) among Sinhalese and Maldivian.
      Anyway Maldivians are two small a population for stratification (400,000as of 2016). I recall numbers like 100,000 and 200,000 probably from the 70’s.

      1. But they speak IA languages. Did languages spread before or w/o Vedic culture that might have carried rules for social stratification?

        Also, its not clear that caste endogamy originated w/ Vedic culture. Have heard rumblings that social stratification and genetic substructure was present in Indus Valley. How does this square w/ less substructure in SL and Maldives?

        Do they have less substructure bc they have less Indus Valley influence and more direct IA influence? Or is it a product of more recent, non-Vedic history?

        1. av90,

          Language (and culture) can spread without genetic intrusion e.g. Romans in Britain.

          To put it crudely, you speak and write English fluently. Are you at least part English, i.e. your recent ancestors mixed with the English.

          Thousand years from now, if someone excavates the many middle/upper class cemetery in Sri Lanka they will see tombstones in English with Christian sayings. So they could conclude that the English invaded SL, appropriated SL last names but kept their given names. e.g. Junius Richard jayawardene and Percy Mahinda Rajapakse (two Presidents of SL).

          Or is it a product of more recent, non-Vedic history?
          Pre Vedic history, i.e AASI people. Just have a look at the SL cricket team. Do they scream Aryan. And thats with 500 years of European occupation in a very small country, less than 2 million people in 1900.

          1. “SL cricket team. Do they scream Aryan…”

            This is a strange comment. ‘aryan’ in traditional Hindu sense was ritual and cultural . Buddhism defines itself as ‘Charutani Arya satyani’ (Four Arya truths) or ‘Ashtanga arya marga’ (Eightfold arya way) . Due to political correctness , in English this is usually given as Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Noble way , blanking out ‘aryan’ .
            Even if the SL cricket team had screamed aryan , that would not have been out of place. But it is upto them what they scream

          2. This is a strange comment. ‘aryan’ in traditional Hindu sense was ritual and cultural .

            Vijay, with all due respect, Arya in India implies light skinned and CULTURALLY part of the twice born within the Varna Dharma.

            In the Rg veda there is this verse,
            The Valiant Aryas slew the dark huckster Dasa’s.

            No question, in Buddhism, Arya is a reference a learned person, not his/her cultural/ethnic background.

            Vijay, you are doing some intellectual quibbling.

            Arya in general in India implies light skinned peoples.
            Are not the Sudra castes in India, not considered Aryan.

          3. hi Sereno
            “Vijay, you are doing some intellectual quibbling.

            Arya in general in India implies light skinned peoples.”

            You have reduced 3500/5000 years of Hindu history and culture to a racial joke Any non-racial reading of Hindu history you just push away ‘intellectual quibbling’ . Great pity . Arya in general is vedic/hindu pedigree . What you call Shudras also considered themselves part of this cultural complex
            Many Muslims and Christians are much lighter skinned than manu if not most Hindus , OTOH they are not part of arya society as they don’t subscribe to it’s basic tenets.
            Racial reading of Indian/Hindu society and history was a western contribution , that has to be thrown out lock, stock and barrel. More later, beer, food and mrs waiting

  12. Okay let me be stupid and ask: one could as well (theoretically) claim that caste is a factor favoring conversion to Islam, at least for the so called lower castes. How does one make a case for the social structure preventing conversion to Islam? By establishing an infrastructure for ostracization or making the uncanny valley more uncanny?

    yes. individuals can’t opt out without losing their whole social support. muslims didn’t give converts equal rights. in the arab conquest of sindh brahmins were even allowed to keep caste privileges.

    high status converts from hinduism might have been viable because they would welcomed more into the power structure. low-status converts would gain little, and lose a lot.

    whole communities need to convert and even in those cases they retain their low caste status.

  13. Kabir, India is not a Hindu country in the way that America is not a Christian Country. Note that many Indian Hindus are atheist or agnostic. But they are still Hindu because many Hindus have always been atheist or agnostic. Notice that India has very few who identify solely as atheists (the vast majority are Hindu/Buddhist/Jain/Sikh atheists).

    Hindus consider Buddhism and Jainism to be two of their ten philosophies or Darshanas. Hindus also consider Sikhs to be within their fold. But even if you do this, India is at least 19% Muslim/Christian/Zorastrian/other. Hindus minus Buddhism/Jainism/Sikhism is probably about 78% and falling fast.

    Nepal is the world’s only Hindu country, with a large Buddhist Hindu minority.

    1. Isn’t Nepal technically a secular state? It used to be a Hindu kingdom but since the coming of democracy, I believe it has become secular.

      The US (when you say America, that is what you mean) consciously decided to be a secular state. That is why the First Amendment to the Constitution calls for “Separation of church and state”. At the same time, the majority religion remains Christianity. Which is why presidents and all candidates for political office have to keep saying “God bless America”. When I was in school, I remember there were people who didn’t want to say the words “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. God remains a big deal in the US.

      1. religion became especially big after universal suffrage. the early presidents didn’t care too much about religion, but their votebank was more elite.

        1. Thanks for the clarification Razib. 🙂

          sbarrkum, all Shudra are and have always been Arya. Just as all Buddhists and Jains are. Sikhs and Zorastrians are also regarded by Hindu to be Arya.

          Shudras are venerated in Purusha Suktam, one of the most commonly chanted sections of the Vedas (which many of my friends have memorized):

          Shudras are those people who are Thama Guna predominant. Shudras are masters of bhakti or devotion.

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