Caste in US medicine?

My last name “Theetha Kariyanna” has its origin from a small village Theetha and added to it is my dad’s name Kariyanna (a local folk god). Back in my school days, the name was weird to my friends as the name Kariyanna also literally translates to “black brother.” As a kid who was hesitant to loudly say his name clear and loud, I have grown up to say my name loudly with pride as I often do: “Hello there, I am Dr. Kariyanna, your heart doctor today.” I was likely hesitant to say my name loudly because of its literal translation and the fact that it easily discloses my roots in the Kuruba community — sheepherders of south India who fall into the shudra category of the caste system. The fear and hate for the caste system started very early on in my life.

The caste system is thriving in medicine in the U.S. via 

Incident 1: Once a friend of mine made me meet a clinical psychologist of Indian origin who took no time to make fun of my last name. This was followed by, “If you don’t mind me asking which caste do you belong to?” The man himself “belonged” to a so-called higher caste. All I did was blank out for a few seconds, felt disgusted and answer his questions.

Incident 2: I was casually talking to an attending of Indian origin who had recently graduated from residency. Upon asking him as to how he prepared for ABIM exams, he mentioned “reading the MKSAP thoroughly”; that was expected part of the answer, but then came “well the majority of residents of Indian origin in my program belonged to a caste X. I was constantly differentiated, I wanted to show them caste has nothing to do with one’s performance and ability to be a good physician. So I really wanted to do well in exams.” I was clueless as to how I should respond.

Incident 3: It did not take a long time for a colleague of Indian origin who immigrated to the U.S. approximately 35 years to ask which caste I belonged to. When I replied with my caste, a sort of sympathetic words followed from her, “Well, you are a physician now despite being born in a lower caste. This makes you higher instantly.” I had little time to respond as I was expected to scrub in for the next procedure. But as I washed my hands, I thought, “What if I was not a physician, will that make me less of a human being based on my caste?”

Recent research has shed light on challenges faced by dalits (the “untouchables”) in United States. The trends of intolerance, violence, physical and verbal abuse towards people of lower castes are much higher and in alarming rates, all in this land of freedom and equality America. It is the right time for federal and state governments of the United States to make caste-based discrimination illegal and punishable by law. American hospitals perhaps can be role models by initiating this timely and just action first. Until then many from “lower castes and Dalits” will continue to suffer in silence.

178 thoughts on “Caste in US medicine?”

  1. There are already laws against discrimination that would apply in case of hiring and firing decisions and such, and given the relatively small number of American Hindus, I don’t see why US legislatures would pass new laws specifically for Indian caste issues (I am responding to brother Arivan’s demand for new laws in the linked article). Also, I am not sure how US courts are supposed to interfere in areas like wedding proposals and social signaling?
    I realize that this fits in with the trend of creating laws and “diversity deans” to deal with all such problems, but the outcome is rarely satisfactory (to any party)..
    That said, I am sure this class of articles will proliferate and will be very popular. Partly because aggrieved persons will spread them, but mostly because woke high caste Hindus will join a fairly large coalition of American groups (ranging from Evangelicals to Islamists to Marxists) who use caste discrimination as their main entry point for re-forming Hindu society and religion. Writing this, I realize that my first paragraph assertion about the unlikelihood of such laws being passed may be wrong. On this issue, this coalition may have critical mass.
    Whether that will do more harm than good remains to be seen.

  2. Incident 1 – Does not highlight the objective of the person who asked for caste ? Most probably it could have been to poke fun in the name of caste identity or to either discriminate her on the basis of caste which would be totally wrong ?

    While caste is constant in both cases but both scenarios are different in their degree of offense as one is more about ignorance & indifference i.e. making fun of someone in the name of caste while the second would be a serious criminal offense of discrimination.

    Incident 2 – This incident highlights the kind of presumptions that have became norm because of the manner caste discussions have move forward through the ages. It highlights that while one can achieve success by their determination but presumptions regarding any form of identity are hard to break through.

    For e.g. – Did those students tried to put him down because of caste or he became aware of caste identity because of how it gets debated among the general public ? When he mentions ‘differentiated’ then i would like to know the ways he felt he was differentiated.

    Incident 3 – First the main protagonist is the person who essentially is from a period where Caste identity was much more intricately linked to work, social status, prejudices etc. {esp. in Indian subcontinent} but even that person was able to look beyond Caste identity & accept the social position of the ‘low caste’ person in a class based hierarchy.

    This begs the question – What does one look for when someone asks for Caste of another person ? Is it to see the social hierarchy, religious hierarchy or something else ?

    Point is we can keep debating identities but will never reach any sort of agreement the best way to discuss these issues is to look at human society’s evolution through the evolution of governance systems {Since it has always been the people in power who describe the society & the society generally respond to the conditions the elites create for the rest of the people}.

  3. this is not an issue for indian americans born or raised in the US. but, indians are mostly an immigrant community. lots of ppl have migrated here since 1995 or so….

    1. Even those Indian immigrants after 1995 to be too squeamish on just a chat about caste is dishonest. After all the political parties have seen to it that caste certificates are the basis of education, job and promotions and everyone has a caste certificate makes such squeamishness double faced . There are hundreds of caste associations lobbying for ‘their’ people with the government . What is your caste is no different from where were you born since both are certified by the local governments in India. That is part of ‘progressive politics’ in India.

      1. It would be nice to hear from a Shudra-American, or better yet a Dalit-American, on this thread.

        A country club WASP won’t be the best guide on race relations in the Comptons..

        1. Well said Zack. Brahmin and Dalit representatives are not the best guides to gaze the situation in the society. Both are outliers from the bulk of the society as in graphs. My apologies in advance for any controversy this may cause.

        2. Quite apt to righteously disabuse people like me of the silly notion of entitlement that we enjoy having selected our parents from the cream of the crop. I wish if the zygotic me had chosen the womb better, the adult me wouldn’t have had to face the ignominy of having their testimony given little credence on blogs.

          Waiting to shuffle off this mortal coil with fingers crossed. Better luck in next life, I suppose.

        3. Sujatha Gidla is a Dalit-American. Her views on Indian-Americans and Caste are scathing (as they should be).

          1. One only sees the scathing part that fits ones views otherwise the nuance is much more layered & textured.

            From the same article –
            // There are scores of sub-castes within the Dalit community and the top castes among them treat the lowest of the low, the scavengers, for instance, the way the upper castes treat the Dalits. //

            Thus the usual terms of Upper & Lower to define the discriminatory behavior only serve to strengthen the prejudices {Academic, Orientalist & international} instead of presenting a clear picture regarding discriminatory behavior among communities.

          2. One only sees the scathing part that fits ones views otherwise the nuance is much more layered & textured.

            Thats true, the reason i shared it that its one of the few nuanced review.

          3. Rohit,
            Again, we are not talking about the “rape of non-Muslim women”. That is not the topic of this blog post which is titled “Caste in US medicine?” What ever gave you the idea that I condone rape?

            Whataboutery is not a good argument. Your comments are now starting to border on Islamophobia. I will let Zack deal with you.

          4. Again, we are not talking about the “rape of non-Muslim women”

            No we are not, but one still has to burst that prickly little bubble which you float when you claim that islam is egalitarian.

        4. Kurbas are not dalits , they are OBCs. There is a reason why he uses words like “shudra” and “lower castes and Dalits” so as camouflage this.

          1. // It’s not really a Pakistani or a Muslim thing, at least in the same sense that it operates in Hindu society. //

            May i ask how you concluded that ? What are the differences that you notice about Caste in Hindus then say among Muslims or other minorities ?

            Do check the book –
            Beyond Caste: Identity and Power in South Asia, Past and Present

          2. Indeed kurubas are not dalits, they are if anything a highly regarded community in our parts, though perhaps not known as white collar workers The kurubas I know wouldn’t understand this guys inferiority complex. In Karnataka, kurubas (sheperds) lineages have produced kings and folk heroes and are still a symbol of rugged social autonomy. They are even priests of some of the most important religious sites. The prestige of the sheperd community in Deccan society is profound, and its hard to find analog in other regions of the subcontinent.

          3. Deep Bhatnagar,
            We don’t talk about caste in Pakistan. We have no concept of “untouchability”. All Muslims can pray together in the same mosques. We do have “baradaris” and it matters for marriage whether someone is a Syed or a Jatt. But socio-economic status trumps “caste” any day, at least in Pakistani Muslim society, which is the society that I am familiar with.

          4. Class is where the wealth/status of the father matters for marital matters
            Caste is where the ancestry of the mother matters.

            What is astonishing in India and Israel where inter caste and inter ethnic marriages do happen is where men marry “up” with women of higher ancestral status..

          5. @zack

            As a whole only 2% of all marriages in India are inter caste /inter religious. I dont think if we can draw any inference from that

          6. It’s not really a Pakistani or a Muslim thing, at least in the same sense that it operates in Hindu society.

            Indeed. The difference between the high caste ashrafs and low caste ajlaf’s has nothing to do with Hindu society. Neither have the conflicts, violence and hatreds between the shia’s, sunni’s, and sects within and outside of these denominations. The feudal and tribal hierarchies spread all across the muslim world, including pakistan, also have nothing to do with hindu society. Nor do race based conflicts between arabs, turks and persians and others. The 1400 year history of slavery and sexual slavery (sanctioned rape of non muslim women captured in battle) also have nothing to do with hindu society. One can go on and on but you get the gist.

            But of course, islam is egalitarian simply because they all worship the same god.

          7. Rohit,
            The Shia-Sunni split has nothing to do with caste. This whataboutery is not reflective of a strong intellect.

          8. Kabir;
            The Shia-Sunni split has nothing to do with caste. This whataboutery is not reflective of a strong intellect.

            Neither are ad hominem comments, nor are claims of egalitarianism by followers of a religion that sanctions the rape of non muslim women captured in battle.

  4. The article does not prove caste ‘system’ is thriving , especially with respect the denying some people opportunists on the basis of his/her caste. Only when discriminatory behavior can be proved on the basis of caste , it can be taken up by law. Just asking someone ‘which caste are you’ does not make it discrimination (positive or negative) for job , education, etc.

    The Indian constitution also only prohibits discrimination on the basis of caste – except affirmative action, which itself is very controversial. I don’t know what the US Constitution/courts can do which the Indian law/courts cannot do

    1. just to be clear: this article is about a guy doing his residency in the united states. though some of the examples are from india, the ones in the USA are more interesting/novel/surprising.

      1. Even though people are living in USA but their relatives & many connections are in India so the discussing about ‘Caste’ anywhere in the world then has various links –

        1) Current scenario in India – Getting the ‘lower caste’ status via victimhood is the game in India.
        2) Perpetuation of caste Identity Politics & Victimhood internationally to secure a position of
        Caste oppressed people because it allows for another criterion of representation in the debate of diversity. {Do you really think that any Caste’s Indian person in Western nations is in any way directly linked to the experience of caste in India but that connection is accepted because of Identity politics’s – Distributive Justice & Guilt by association principles.}
        3) The impact of caste scenario in India in the rest of the diaspora – What happens is that as soon as caste networks start to take precedence every caste becomes a ‘Victim’ from their own perspective & these caste networks are now linked & present all over the world.

        Search – Caste Mahasabhas 1920’s Or check papers like these –

        Now what is happening is that these same organizations are forging their networks inter-continentally to further the caste identity based politics & victimhood mentality.

        Victimhood mentality perpetuation examples –
        Books –
        The Culturalization of Caste in India: Identity and Inequality in a Multicultural Age by Balmurli Natrajan
        The Persistence of Caste: India’s Hidden Apartheid and the Khairlanji Murders by Anand Teltumbde

  5. Zack,
    One thing to understand is that Shudras are part of the mainstream in India, and increasingly the dominant group across India. Almost all Indian states are ruled by leaders / coalitions of Shudras which includes the Patels (super dominant in Gujarat), Reddys (super dominant in Andhra/Telangana and with a fabulously rich and accomplished section), Yadavs etc..Modi himself is a Shudra.
    People need to stop conflating Shudras with Dalits..

    1. Yes, they are called dominant castes. I have noticed some resistance in acknowledging this amongst the left academics and journalists. Most crimes against Dalits are committed by these castes.

      I think there is a slight difference between Marathas and the remaining dominant castes, since Marathas dont feel inferior to anyone else post their empire. They have completely taken over the role of Kshatriyas in Maharashtra, while Jats and Yadavs still have to contend with Rajputs/Thakurs.

      1. Interesting comment regarding Marathas. Reminds me of the Nairs of Kerala who were also Sanskritized as Shudras, but since they also fulfilled martial roles in support of the large Namboothiri landholders (and their own more meager holdings), some Nair groups were granted Kshatriya status by the Namboothiris in exchange for services rendered. The Travancore Royals famously had to periodically renew their Kshatriya status by propitiating the gods & Namboothiris.

        Today, although Nairs are technically Shudras, they are classified as “forward caste” in Kerala and most Nairs don’t identify as Shudras anymore. Among Kerala Hindus today, Ezhavas (SC) are probably the best organized politically, then Nairs, and the Namboothiris are basically atomized.

    2. satya wrote;
      Modi himself is a Shudra.

      The Modi surname is most common among shopkeepers in Gujarat, but Narendra Modi comes from the ghanchi (oil pressers), teli community and the teli’s have always been part of the vaishya (bania), vyapari community. Modi bullshits about his caste origins and has stated in the past that he too was a victim of caste discrimination because of the shudra origins, but that, like so many other things about his past, is utter bullshit.

      1. Yes, Modi is an occupational marker of sorts and there are non Ghanchi Modis who are not OBCs (for example: Nirav Modi who is a Jain Bania) and many upper caste /Agrawal Modis in Rajasthan. Having said that Narendra Modi’s caste, Ghanchi is an OBC (and officially recognized as such) caste, and is not considered upper caste in Gujarat.

        In fact it is considered lower than Patels (who are politically dominant and economically powerful, and are traditionally a non-Savarna (Savarna = Good/Golden varna = Upper caste) “Shudra” caste) who are not OBCs and don’t get reservations in Gujarat. Ghanchis get reservations, Patels don’t. If Patels are Shudras, how can Ghanchis not be?

        There are basically only three groups of upper castes in Gujarat: Rajputs, Brahmins and the upper Banias (Jain and Vaishnav); the rest are not. Gujarat is quite egalitarian (so hardly any upper caste vs OBC dynamic) and relatively prosperous and mercantile, which means many non-upper castes are economically successful.

        People need to keep their biases aside and not spread disinformation. Another example of a canard that Congress and others have spread is that Amit Shah is a Jain, despite him repeatedly saying that he is a Vaishnav Bania (which is in fact the case). I suppose this is to dent BJP’s credibility as a champion of Hindus but not sure how Amit Shah supposedly being a Jain (which he is not) would affect that (it would be a different matter if he were a closet Christian or something)

        Whatever else Modi may have bullshitted about, this is not one of those things.

        1. Here Achyut Yagnik (a Gujarati, strong Modi critic) talking to Sheela Bhatta of Rediff:

          [The moot question is — is Modi an OBC?

          “Yes!” says Achyut Yagnik, co-author of The Shaping of Modern Gujarat and a staunch critic of Modi.

          Yagnik, an Ahmedabad-based thinker and social activist, says, “The Modh Ghanchi community is part of the Other Backward Classes in Gujarat. They are NOT upper castes.”]

          1. Ok, my bad in not knowing about the shudra status of the modh ghanchi community.

            But might it be fair to assume that the lack of conflict between the upper castes and shudra groupings (forward or backward) make modi’s claim of facing discrimination based on caste status somewhat specious?

      2. rohit

        I dont know from which part of India you are from telis are not vyaparis like marwadis etc , in my village their socio economic conditions are similar to other OBCs like small shopkeeper ,cow headers etc. Whether he was a victim of caste discrimination is like asking if a Kurba is a victim of caste discrimination or not. Your guess is as good as mine.

        Couple of folks ,specially folks who have grown up in cities, have asked me Modi dad owned a tea stall at a station, that means he must have paper work and all , so was from a well to do family.
        That should answer you much urban india knows about rural india.

  6. Shudra-american , dalit-american, etc non-existent terms ; these cannot exist by themselves , but need whole lot of other identities (like vaishya-American )followed by a substantial section of the population . We cannot talk up identities ; if there are such things as Dalit-American, it will fall on our head without asking for it ; no need to look for it with microscopes.

    1. Sujatha Gidla gave an interview where she described trying to join various associations for Telugu Americans. As soon as they found out her caste, they refused to have her. So why can she not call herself a Dalit-American?

        1. She tried to be a member but she found out that one association was basically only for Reddys and one was for some other caste etc. When she told them she was an “untouchable”, they were all like “eww no”. And she is an IIT trained (ex) engineer.

          1. Kabir wrote: She (Sujatha Gidla) tried to be a member but she found out that one association was basically only for Reddys and one was for some other caste etc. When she told them she was an “untouchable”, they were all like “eww no”.

            Kabir, I can say this is not true. Media or she herself is sensationalizing the whole untouchableness to sell books. This is sad and deplorable and counter productive to everyone concerned. I request readers on this blog not to be mislead by the fake news. As a long term resident of the U.S. I know persons involved in the founding of these two rival national Telugu organizations and active in one of them for several years. I conducted U.S. national meetings of one of these organizations. Before K.R. Narayanan became president of India he was the Ambassador in Washington D.C. He inaugurated the biannual Telugu national meet conducted in NorthWood HS in the D.C. area. (You should be able recognize the name of the school.) One need to do very little to become a member of one of the two main national organizations. One is called TANA and the other called ATA. You just mail the annual fee and you will be a member receiving all the mailings. You will be much sought after soon by candidates contesting for different posts in the association. What you have presented above as happened to Ms. Gidla can be classified as an urban legend. If anyone has specific questions I can address them rather than go on ranting.

          2. Hello hoipolloi,

            I have been quite curious for a significant amount of time- to what extent are these two organisations TANA and ATA founded upon caste rivalry (and are only those two castes that are commonly mentioned involved or is the entire community wholeheartedly divided into some sort of Mahabharata style allegiances-to either this one or to that one?) ? And to what extent does caste continue to play a role in the functioning of these two organisations? Is there a Telangana vs. non-Telangana (or rather the central coastal vs. non-central coastal) divide involved too here anywhere? You may answer if you are absolutely okay with it.

            And then, coming to Sujatha Gidla problem, it has been my belief that people don’t typically declare their (erstwhile or present) caste like that- any one; even if historically powerful upper caste or something like that. It is at least not done in Hyderabad- about the notoriously very casteist central coastal districts (I heard so from relatives and other people) and in general the coast, I don’t know. I can imagine that she may have done it out of some kind of peace and satisfaction at the same time coupled with angst that she may have thought she would find in asserting her humble origins to the world and make connections of that with the extraordinary success of her in her personal life against the odds, but I can more concretely imagine the types of responses from the hearer(s) when she said it to them.
            1. If an evil hardcore casteist, then yeah they may very well have said such a detestably visceral “eww”.
            2. If a person belonging to a caste rival to that perceived as controlling the organisation being discussed, then it is possible that the “eww” was actually directed towards that other caste rather than Ms. Gidla’s mention of her caste. Not saying that this would have been definitely the case and I’m not at all questioning Ms. Gidla’s judgement here at all; but just saying that failure of communication without all the significant participant parties not realising it, is a possibility. I’m not being an apologist for anything, anyone, whatsoever. I believe the worst thing I’m doing here is speculation. Other than that, I don’t think my intentions or actions are misplaced anywhere.
            3. If a rather what-to-term-it “normal” person (I believe these are in the majority), then I can only imagine they not dwelling too much upon it, or at least trying to do so, in the first place. They may even feel compelled to mention that so and so types of problems of casteism exist in the NA Telugu organisations, perceived from distance or more factually experienced, but I cannot for the life of me imagine some normal non-casteist person saying “eww” (and in the case of a somewhat mild casteist person, it is still difficult to imagine they say that such viscerally) just on hearing the word “Dalit” and as a reaction to it.

            So either of 1 or 2 (or really 1, keeping aside my perhaps very unwarranted but nonetheless uncontrollable speculation) may have happened to Ms. Sujatha Gidla. A very unfortunate incident. Anyway who is dying to get membership in those organisations (no offence of any kind whatsoever intended towards anyone whosoever). I’m personally a very lapsed Telugu, speaking with respect to going to cultural organisations, and my relationship with my specific Telugu culture (if it is not really middle class Indian culture in disguise) (as well as the Telugu language) is entirely personal and at most familial. I don’t know if Ms. Gidla is any of the above also but as an introvert, I am wont to say “good for both of us” addressing her in my mind.

          3. Okay, the incident seems to have happened with one “Telugu Brahmin association” or something like that and not with TANA and ATA which stand for Telugu Association of North America and American Telugu Association respectively and are not explicitly caste associations like the first one, just linguistic associations, at least in theory. I don’t know how different the latter two are compared with the first in practice though. I also realise now that I’m also not competent to address the right set of problems now that we have identified them correctly- i.e. ethically, 1. is the existence of a “Telugu Brahmin association” (valid if we replace Telugu Brahmin by any other specific caste name also) problematic? 2. if not in the wrong fundamentally, is the denial of membership to a non-Telugu-Brahmin by that association problematic- should they have had some place for some honorary non-Telugu-Brahmins, etc. in their organisation, etc.? And some others of the kind which I perhaps cannot identify.

          4. historumsi,
            I think the fact that Indian-Americans are still sorting themselves by caste is problematic. It goes against American ideals of “equality for all” that were drummed in our heads since grade school. If there was a Pakistani-American association that decided that non-Syeds need not apply, I would be appalled by that as well.

            But you can ignore my opinion given that I am neither Hindu nor Indian.

      1. oh kabir, i know you genuinely care about poor Sujatha Gilda, but as long as she doesn’t say the golden words, even if they are said right before dying, she too will burn in hell and will be tortured and tormented for eternity for committing the worst crime in the history of all mankind, the worship of any other than your almighty peaceful beneficent elohim.

        1. Umm yeah, you don’t know me. I am a fiercely secular person. I don’t care about Sujatha Gidla’s religious views or lack thereof.

          Please desist from personal remarks in the future

          Zack, please take note.

          1. How is the comment personal?

            What has you being fiercely secular go to do with the status of hell bound mushriks in your chosen faith, be it Sujatha Gilda’s or anyone else’s?

          2. I think you need to cease assuming my religious views and cease using offensive terms like “hell bound mushriks”. That is an extreme interpretation of Islam.

            I am Muslim because I was born in a Muslim household. If I had been born in a Hindu household, I would have been Hindu. As it is, I sing Hindustani Music. I don’t know what point you think you are making, but it’s not a very good one.

  7. If someone feels discriminated on the basis of caste, they should go to courts and get justice. At the minimum tell Labour unions or police. Bringing in the state institutions is better than spreading rumours.

  8. Who other than me has read Manu Smriti/Dharma Shastra? Or has read many of the Maha Puranas, Valmiki Ramayana, Mahabharata and Hari Vamsha?

    The level of ignorance about caste, Jati, Varna is breathtaking:
    –A Jati can collectively switch Varnas. For example Vishwamitra’s Jati converted from Kshatriya Varna to Brahmin Varna. This can still happen today as some of the above examples attest
    –Individuals can convert to any Varna they choose regardless of their Jati; provided they prove Yogya (worthiness) and agree to daily practice required for said Varna.
    –In practice caste, Jati, Varna has no significance for spiritually evolved people, or successful people, or rich people
    –I have known many Shudras over the years who were considered de facto Brahmin because of their spiritual accomplishments and Yogya (worthiness).
    –In many cases Dalit/Harijan Jatis don’t want to join the Varna system and follow prescribed daily practice. If this is their choice, they should be free to choose this.
    –Varna and Jati are a meritocratic hierarchy based on competence, capacity, characteristics, qualities and interests
    –The phrase “caste” was invented by Europeans and used by European post modernists in an attempt to deconstruct, delegitimize, negate and replace
    Hinduism with post modernist colonization of the mind to damage self confidence and induce inferiority complex

    1. If you are born an “untouchable” there is nothing meritocratic about it.

      By the way, the Republic of India outlawed “untouchability” back in the 1950s. That it still persists today in practice in 2018 is shameful.

  9. The first Chief of the Indian Army was Gen Cariappa. (A variation of Kariyappa in writing) Don’t know why she makes a fuss about the name. In south Indian languages, it sounds absolutely fine.

    1. I want to second your point that there is nothing to be concerned about a name like Karianna in the south. Your example of General Kariappa is right on the mark. There is so much fake news and disinformation that goes on in the intertubes. At least things that are text book knowledge should not be debased.

  10. In most regions south of the Vindhyas there is no landed kshatriya caste above these dominant shudra ones. A few communities have those pretensions like the Rajus of Rayalseema, and there are the 96 kuli Marathas who distinguish themselves from the common Kunbi, but the varna system operates quite differently in penninsular India. Being a shudra was not an insurmountable barrier to kingship. I wonder how much of this is explained by limited Indo-Aryan patrilineal population incursions apart from priests. That said, it probably doesn’t occur to a typical Reddy or coastal Karnataka Bunt that they are Shudras, they may even get defensive about it.

    1. Wasn’t the same true for Patels for the most part? Most believe that they are Vaishya? The Yadavs of UP, the Ahir’s of Rajasthan all believe they are Yaduvanshi (descendants of krishna). I think Ahir folklore says that they killed Krishna but eventually became followers of his.

      Also in eastern India, particularly Assam are there any specific dalit communities, because i remember a conversation with a vaishnavite assamese, a follower of Ekasarna Dharma and he said there were no dailt communities in assam, though i find it a little hard to believe if that is true.


    2. girmit wrote: “… south of the Vindhyas there is no landed kshatriya caste”.

      That is a perceptive comment. The dynamics of the varna system is slightly different in the south due to this fact. Over the years, priests have elevated some of the peasant groups in the south to the level of kingship to fill the vacuum created by lack of kshatriyas. But their religious status remains Shudra. As an example, what you said about Reddys is correct. Though they ruled Andhra for a long time before and after independence and one of them even made it to the Delhi throne as President, they are shudras and their raking in a traditional Hindu ritual is same as other BCs. To spell it out, they are ceremonially impure. It is true of other forward castes (Kammas, Velamas, Kapus etc.) in Andhra as well.

      There is an interesting story about how Shivaji, a shudra, had to struggle to be coronated as king of Marathas as recounted by professor Vijay Prashad on the internet.

  11. Kabir wrote:
    “Deep Bhatnagar,
    We don’t talk about caste in Pakistan. We have no concept of “untouchability”.”

    I disagree with this notion completely. Caste matters a lot in Pakistan, especially when you need to get something done at a government office. A lot of ‘untouchables’ who converted to Islam still are known as ‘chuhras’ which literally means untouchable. For more information, you can read ‘The Unconquered People: The Liberation of an Oppressed Caste’ by John O Brien. If you go beyond the PakNationalist view of history, Sir Syed was a caste chauvinist, Ali Garh School and later college were reserved for Higher caste Muslims. Religious leaders like Ahmad Raza Khan Barelvi, Qasim Nonotwi (founder of Deoband), Mufti Shafi Osmani, Hussain Ahmad Madni were also against teaching ‘lower-caste’ muslims.

    Yes, caste seems invisible in Pakistan’s bigger cities (Lahore and Karachi) and one can say that caste doesn’t play a role in daily life BUT it matters during elections, during matrimonial activities and during dealings with the state bureaucracy. If you ever go to a government office (Police, Judiciary, Income Tax), try looking at the leaderboard of that office’s previous incumbents there and notice how most people on that list have their caste listed after their name. Also, go to the district courts in Lahore or any city and see how many lawyers have mentioned their caste after their names.

    1. AbdulMajeed Abid;

      Please correct me if i’m wrong, but didn’t most the remaining hindu dalits in the Punjab that became part of Pakistan convert to Christianity, yet continue to be tied to the same professions that hindu dalits were forced to accept. I also remember some government placement advertisement for sewage workers that clearly stated that only non muslims need apply for these positions.

      1. Yes, it is true. When Dalits/Untouchables converted to Islam, they were called ‘Musallis’, when they converted to Sikhism, they were called ‘Mazhabi’ and when they converted to Christianity, they were called ‘Chuhras’.

    2. Caste does not operate in Pakistan the same way it does in India. It is not sanctioned in Islam like it is in Hinduism. All Muslims can pray together in the same mosques (Ek hi saaf main kharay thay Mehmood-o-Ayaz…). Those are some major differences with India.

      Yes, we talk about “chuhras” and that is derogatory and we should stop doing it. But they are not Muslim. Pakistani Christians are stigmatized for being Christian, not because of “caste”. We have compassion for poor Muslims. We wouldn’t marry our daughters to them, but matching by socioeconomic status happens all over the world.

      The whole Brahmin, Dalit etc etc is a Hindu thing. Please stop trying to conflate Hinduism’s problems with Islam’s problems. Pakistan has enough problems of our own. We don’t need to be blamed for the sins of Hinduism as well.

      1. Dalit/Harijan/untouchability is anyone who chooses not to be part of Eastern Arya society. Islam has this too. People who are not of the book. Aren’t these two issues similar?

      2. I have not mentioned Hinduism once in my post, because in my opinion, the caste question is a south-Asian mental disorder and is equally disturbing in Pakistan or India. One could argue that it is less prevalent in Pakistan but if you deny its existence as a whole, you are ignoring daily realities in Pakistan.

        1. We have “biradaris” and we have discrimination based on socio-economic status. We do not have caste at least not among Muslims. That is my opinion as a Pakistani.

          1. I agree there is difference between how caste operates in India and Pakistan.

        2. can’t we agree caste exists among muslims, but it’s a major difference of degree from hindus?

          conversely, religious intolerance also exists among hindus, but it’s a difference of degree from muslims?

          similarly, i’ve talked to nw indians who are not muslim (punjabis) who claim iranian/persian affinities. obviously they’re racially proud. but it’s more extreme among muslims for obvious reasons to say this sort of stuff.

          1. I would mostly agree with you but “caste” as the word is usually used is a Hindu thing. Islam does not sanction “caste”. Each and every Muslim is equal in the eyes of Allah.

            What we have in Pakistan is called “biradri”. “Caste” behavior among Pakistani Muslims is a remnant of our encounter with Hinduism. It is not a thing that comes from proper Islam.

    1. Anan, it may be a European invention, but it has been fully internalized by Indians, so this observation may be moot.

      That said, I have slowly come around to agreeing with some of my Hindutva-vadi friends on one point: that the notion of caste has indeed been weaponized by SOME people who are not interested in objective history or fair analysis, but who rather have a hidden agenda, i.e. the destruction of what we may call classical Hindu culture and civilization. Even if we believe that classical Hinduism is indeed worthy of destruction (just as some people think Classical Islam is worthy of destruction), what is problematic here is that very few of these people make this aim explicit, which is a bit dishonest.
      I am not referring to a much larger penumbra of educated/woke Indians and Pakistanis who genuinely believe they are friends of all humanity and only interested in reforming or “ending” caste because it is such a reprehensible idea. I know these people and I do not doubt their sincerity (here I part ways with many Hindutva-vadi friends; they tend to suspect the motives of all woke folks). The preceding paragraph was only meant to be about people who have an agenda, but don’t want to admit it.
      There are, of course, a smaller number of people who have an agenda AND who proudly admit it (some American evangelicals and their desi convert followers would fall into this category).
      I realize that I will probably have to write a long post one day soon to explain what I meant here. Friends will forgive and/or be patient 🙂

      1. +108 Omar.

        I didn’t know caste was still a deal until I started reading Brown Pundits. Being serious here. Caste doesn’t matter in business and tech. Caste also doesn’t matter for people who are perceived as spiritual in most Hindu religious settings. They are automatically upgraded to de facto Brahmin.

        India is a heavily “class” based society.

        1. “India is a heavily ‘class’ based society”. So is Pakistan. On that we can agree.

      2. Sadly Indians get defensive while talking about caste (the whole California text books issue). A more open discussion would help

  12. “Caste” behavior among Pakistani Muslims is a remnant of our encounter with Hinduism.

    just to be clear: we were hindus. we didn’t encounter it 😉 [minor exceptions like zach’s mother aside]

    my devout paternal grandmother would always be repeating surahs with her thosbee (rosary, don’t know if there’s a different word for it). but she always maintained a habit of separate dishes for non-family members. later found out from mom her dad was born a hindu (he converted).

    1. My family were never Hindus. We came from Iran and Afghanistan to Kashmir and then to other parts of British India. My dad can trace family trees from the last two hundred years to prove it.

      My maternal grandfather was from Amritsar, but his father was from Srinagar. It is possible that there may have been some Kashmiri Pandits in that distant ancestry.

      The word you are looking for is “tasbeeh”, at least that’s how we pronounce it in proper Urdu.
      As for separate dishes for non-family members that is still done in Pakistan, though mostly it is separate dishes for household servants. I think that is a matter of hygiene. Servants don’t tend to have the same cleanliness standards as the upper classes.

      1. I think that is a matter of hygiene. Servants don’t tend to have the same cleanliness standards as the upper classes.

        Wow. I mean just wow. How does one even respond to stuff like this?

        1. It’s a statement of fact. They don’t have hot and cold running water. You can hardly expect them to shower once (and sometimes twice) a day like the upper-middle classes do.

          My mother is a Public Health physician. She has a hard enough time just training the cook to wash his hands regularly.

          We don’t have separate utensils for servants in my parents’ house but my grandmother used to do it. People didn’t think it was weird then.

          1. They don’t have hot and cold running water. You can hardly expect them to shower once (and sometimes twice) a day like the upper-middle classes do.

            The absence of running tap water doesn’t mean that people from economically challenged sections of society are not hygienic. Nobody can survive without water, people in poor bastis may have to buy water, at times at expensive rates, but even there people take a bath daily. Modern notions of hygiene are build around preventing pathogens from damaging one’s health and at times not having the right information about these may lead to certain behavior which may be considered unhygienic, but that doesn’t mean that poor people are unhygienic as a norm.

            Even purity pollution rituals, which by all means are used as tools to stigmatize the underclass’s and even women are built around notions, not the most sound notions, but yet notions of hygiene.

            It is patently crass and perhaps the worse form of elitist entitlement to assume that poor people have no sense of hygiene.

          2. Well, I am just telling you our servants don’t change their clothes daily. We change our clothes sometimes twice a day (as in workout clothes and regular clothes).

            They may have a notion of hygiene but it is not our notion of hygiene. Sometimes it seems like deodorant is a foreign concept.

            This may be “elitist” (guilty as charged) but I think I am just recognizing reality.

          3. This may be “elitist” (guilty as charged) but I think I am just recognizing reality.

            A reality steeped in class entitlement and contempt for the poor, bravo.

        1. I don’t know if this is supposed to be a trick question, but the answer is Zoroastrianism.

          1. Arya faiths. Combination of Zorastrianism and what today would be called Hinduism. Many Indologists believe that ancient Iranians worshiped the Daityas and Danavas. Arya countries have pluralism, freedom of religion, art, thought, intuition and feeling built in.

          2. afghanistan and turan where highly buddhist. large buddhist populations persisted to the 10th century. there were also hindus in the kabul valley. probably back-migration.

            the balance in turan seemed to vary by city. some places buddhist. some zoroastrian. presumably nestorians all over the place.

        2. I don’t really care what religion my super-distant ancestors were practicing in 600 AD. What is salient is that when they left Iran they were Muslims. Presumably, at some point someone in my ancestry was Zoroastrian. But I don’t identify with Zoroastrianism. I don’t identify with Iran either. I identify with Kashmir, Punjab and Agra. That is at least the last 200 years of family history. The rest is just academic at this point.

      2. Kabir miyan, welcome to the club bro. Except my family line is from even deeper within Central Asia. Ferghana on the daddy’s (uzbek) and Astrakhan on the mummy’s (tatar). Pure Muslim breed wallahi. Kashmiri bandits sounds gross :/ may want to change that.

        (I could do with a pure kashmiri muslimah gf)

        1. Haha, even Allama Iqbal was descended from Kashmiri Pandits. At some point all Kashmiris are descended from Kashmiri Pandits. At least we can say we were Brahmin before we became Muslim 🙂

          1. Bandits in the language of holy Quran so will stick to that tvm 🙂

            On a serious note (fuck! forgot when I last was serious. Mental note to not skip the daily dose of the naughty stuff) werent kashmiris but parasts or something before noor ul islam shone on them? Cant be all bandits.

            Nuristan FTW!

          1. I’m not an Arab, thanks very much. Iran I am happy to have somewhere in the distant background. Arabs not so much.

          2. Ouch!

            Mecca and Medina are the cornerstones of any Muslim genealogy. Though it’s strange that the Turks saw no need to connect back to that period..

      3. My family were never Hindus. We came from Iran and Afghanistan to Kashmir and then to other parts of British India. My dad can trace family trees from the last two hundred years to prove it.

        have you been genotyped? it would be clear.

        parsis are 25% or so guju. iranis are not.

        in any case, this is not true of the ancestry of 99% south asian muslims. they were “hindu” (or hindu-like religions).

        1. Yes, I do know that most South Asian Muslims are converts.

          However, we have family trees with names of ancestors so we know that at least my dad’s ancestors left Iran around 200 years ago. On my mom’s dad’s side, there may have been some Kashmiri Pandits. It is also possible that some of these arrivals from Iran married local women (not ruling that out).

          But at least for the last two centuries, we have been Muslim. I think that as far as identity goes that is the salient point.

          1. Why? I’m quite happy knowing that I am Kashmiri on both sides of my family and we’ve been Muslim as long as anyone can remember.
            What is genotyping going to do for me?

  13. I do follow this discussion and, although I knew some historical things, I am now able to see what the present situation is. Also, in previous couple days I was researching some topics related to Ancient India including so called Aryan myths. Unfortunately this topic is closed here (?) but I can share with you my impression that the majority of scholars, almost without exemption, are OIT proponents. They can talk for hours about this topic without saying anything specific about Aryans, Sanskrit, etc. In fact, they are fighting the former colonial masters who committed multiple genocides in India by starvation during their colonial rules, they talk about Hitler, although he was only 12 years in power. They are also so impressed with Western (US, English) scholars especially if they are from Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard.

    I will repeat that English, German, Greeks and Romans have nothing to do with Aryans. Their languages also do not have anything with Sanskrit, the time distance is almost 3-3500 years (English and German) and everything had happened much before Greeks and Romans appeared in the history.
    I don’t want to be so abstract and I will put here some specific things and ask questions for those who can answer me. There are some (in English) words which are identical in modern Serbian language and Sanskrit:

    Garden, fire, laughing, love, inflame, crazy, town, force, spark, sweet, sword, hellebore, cross, dark, spook, bell, learn, skin, mare, espouse, strike, chimney, when, who are you, whoredom, grandmother, grandfather, mother, father, world, dog, mouth, guest, mane, breading, belvedere, alive, then, supreme, traveler, friend, to sit, dead, by itself, give, door, virgin, cold, jungle, cloths, hide, light, bracelet, fuck…

    There are many words which are almost identical. For example, almost identical, more complicated but single words are for: husband’s mother, husband’s brother’s wife, wife’s sister’s husband, wife’s brother’s wife, etc. Is this coincidence?

    My questions are for those who know (to save me time for research):

    Related to the discussion about castes – In Mahabharata is story about tribe Belici (this was a Serbian tribe in India) where they were described as very bad people because they did not have castes, their Brahmins could be from any class, because they eat all meats, they drink a lot, etc?…Anyone know about this? There was also a (Serbian) tribe Kuci, where their wives were burned alive with their dead husbands. Anyone knows? Does anyone know how Calcutta got the name? Anyone knows what is specific for the town Nis in India (also the second largest town in Serbia). Is there a town with such name in India? How Baluchistan got the name? (I can answer this). Where the name Aryans came from? (I can answer this).

    Thanks for your time and this opportunity to comment.

      1. Take care about (two) dots. You may ask Razib to send it again. Cheers.

          1. There are obviously some exaggerations, for example the number of soldiers (3 mil.). I don’t know about this but maybe there was some real event the basis for building this myth. Very often, the names are also different from different perspectives. I will try to read this critically. Probably, there was something real what was later got mythical proportions.

            But, I am sure they were not Greeks. They had polis, i.e. city based state organization and never had big empire which was able to undertake such expeditions.

            Regarding, East Europeans, I already mentioned that all of them evolved from Serbian roots (genetically is proved) and the languages are similar. They have similarity with Sanskrit because this is old Serbian language, they are also Aryan descendants as Serbs. English and German languages also have similarities but not directly with Sanskrit, they have similarities with Serbian language which is several thousands of years older and was spoken on territories where they live now. They have so many Serbian words and toponyms in their languages. Do you know what was the first name for London?

            For example, Polish. Do you know what Polish means? It means people from the field. They have the alternative name – Ljasi or Lesi. What does it mean? People from the forest. Does it sound as name of old nation? They are former Serbs so as Prussians in Germany. Because, there is similarity with Sanskrit, because they are Serbian offshoots.
            More next time Cheers.

    1. Milan T., I read accounts of similarity between Latvian and Sanskrit. You are talking about Serbian. How do they compare? Thanks.

      1. Thanks for a question. Let me go back to basics. Look at selective timeline:

        9500 (years BC) – Lepenski Vir (Serbia), the oldest urban settlement in Europe discovered
        7500 – Vinca settlement (14 km from Belgrade) discovered, first alphabet in the world, swastika (rising sun symbol) discovered
        Genetics confirmed continuity with today’s Serbs, so called the Serbian gene is 12000 years old.
        Serbs are indigenous European people, they lived between Atlantic and Black Sea, from Baltic till northern Mediterranean Africa
        2500 – one stream of Serbs went over Karpaty mountains to today’s Russia, Volga, Caspian Sea, etc. Later become today’s Russian nation.
        2025 (cca) First Aryan invasion/exploration to India led by Serb Nino Belov (biblical Nimrod, ruler of Assyrian kingdom, founder of Babylon)
        1400 (cca) Second Aryan invasion by Serb Serbo Makaridov (also mentioned in the Bible)
        1300 (cca) Troyan war, Serbs fought from both sides
        800 (cca) Greeks appeared in history, came to Mediterranean escaping from Egypt’s slavery, met advanced Serbian civilization on Crete (Mino), adopted Serbian mythology and transformed to today’s known Greek mythology
        500 (cca) Greek historian Herodot wrote that Serbs are the largest nation in the world after Indians.
        327 Serb Alexander Macedonian The Great led the third invasion to India
        0 Jesus crucified
        313 (years AD) Christian church becomes official in Roman empire
        1054 Christian church split on west (Vatican) and east (orthodox)
        1200 (cca)English language formed
        1400 (cca) German language formed
        15-16th century, Vatican starts falsifying history, published that Slavs (i.e. Serbs) came from somewhere to Balkan. This is currently official historical version in Europe.
        etc, etc.

        Many nations formed from Serbian roots – after Russian, Baltics, Romanian, Bulgarian, Croats, Ukrainians, most of Germans, Skandinavians, etc.
        Even now, colonial and global powers keep disintegrating the Serbian national corpus creating artificial nations and instigating wars between them – Bosnians, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Kosovars, etc, etc. to achieve their global domination.

      1. I will read it, it is a bit longer staff. Do you know Nilesh Nilkanth Oak? I was listening him in the Infinity Foundation’s panel discussion related to the current state of Aryan theories. He had interesting contribution related to some astronomical perspectives, I may listen again. I also left a comment there, my is still the newest. It is similar to what I have already mentioned here.

        I am asking for him or anyone else, open-minded, who can initiate some new research considering new information I provided. It would be good if this initiative comes from Indian scholars’ side because, I think, they feel a bit inferior towards Oxford/Harvard/Cambridge ‘scholars’ although they did not offer any new knowledge of Aryans. They never said, who actually they were, how they got their name, why the German and English have Sanskrit words although the time distance is more than 3000 years. For me they are BS scholars who continue the imperial politics for previous colonial rulers. Indians scholars are defensive and in discussions about Aryans always come back to fighting racism and Hitler’s theories.

        If they are proactive (I am searching for such guy) I could offer them 100 questions to ask above mentioned scholars regarding European history where ONE wrong answer would mean that new European (at least) ancient and several centuries AD history needs to be rewritten. It would mean that they did not have credibility to have all this talk in previous years including everything about Aryans. They would like to present themselves (Germans, English) as Aryans descendants and based on this to project some superiority today.

        Indian scholars and ordinary people would be happy and would feel more comfortable to have a dialog, if they know that Aryans are actually linked to friendly Serbian people who also , as Indians, were subjected many time to genocides and they do not have intentions to propagate imperial or rasist policies. I approached one of Infinity speakers, he was very kind but he told me that he is very old and sick, unable to start such big project especially because he was one of big OIT proponents. I may approach Rohan Malhotra or someone else. Can you give me some potential names? Cheers.

  14. // We don’t talk about caste in Pakistan. We have no concept of “untouchability”. All Muslims can pray together in the same mosques. We do have “baradaris” and it matters for marriage whether someone is a Syed or a Jatt. But socio-economic status trumps “caste” any day, at least in Pakistani Muslim society, which is the society that I am familiar with. //

    So the current social behavior matters right ? & every social behavior has history so now let me present to you some history –

    Islam gets credited with slavery abolishment in the basis of a set of Fiqh rules that allow slavery abolishment but does Hinduism gets the same treatment ?

    1. E.g. –

    Vajrasuchi Upanishad

    The mention of this text is important is important due to it’s philosophical attack against all human divisions including Varna & Jati. Secondly due to it’s antiquity and the theological importance of it being a Upanishad & an example of lesser known text of Hindu text that challenges the notion that Hinduism mandates casteism.


    2. No mention of debate regarding “Backwardness” in Maharashtra which becomes important about discussion of how Indian society is being viewed by state (during colonial period & since then) in terms of Governance & the central debate around “Individuality” Vs “collective identity” & the role of the debate in strengthening features of collective aka Caste identity.

    Debate regarding Backwardness from colonial era

    The important point which comes out is the change of backwardness debate from education & social diversity to religious, clan & region based identities aka ‘Castes’. So basically the state was formed around collectivist narratives at the cost of individualistic possibilities.


    3. I would also like to mention the book Beyond Caste: Identity and Power in South Asia, Past and Present Book by Sumit Guha & Check it’s review termed ‘Setting Caste Back On Its Feet’ because it provides a direct comparison of this book with Louis Dumont’s influencial Homo Hierarchius –

    Most important aspect of the book is that it moves beyond religion to look at practices which are prevalent in the different parts of world esp. Indian subcontinent which resemble ‘caste system’.


    4. Traveler accounts differ greatly regarding Caste it’s meanings & it’s role and thus raises many questions with regards to Purity or pollution, temporary or permanent punishment etc. & their links to ‘casteism’.

    a) – Indica by Megasthenes {7 classes}

    This report is not completely reliable due to the imaginary descriptions mixed with real life descriptions but does provide a sort of glimpse into the life of people during that period.

    b) – Xuanzang’s report of 7th century India, title – Buddhist Records of the Western World
    Translations – Vol I –, Vol II –

    Again varied descriptions about castes or class but no clear single Pan Indian system.

    c) Faxian – He wrote ‘The Great Tang Dynasty Record of the Western Regions’.
    Translations – & Another translation –
    From Faxian’s travel accounts – {From 10th reference PDF}
    page 105 – vaiśya or vaisya caste king, page 110 – śūdra caste king, Page 123 – vaiśya or vaisya caste king, On page 155 read para – to the southwest of the place where the Śākyas were slaughtered……, page 182 read para – Going southeast for more than one hundred li from Aviddhakarṇa Monastery, crossing the Ganges River to the south, I reached the town of Mahāśāla, page 191 read para – One day they caught in this river a large fish with eighteen heads….., page 192 – kṣatriya caste Buddhist king, Page 264 – Brahman King, page 272 – kṣatriya or Kshatriya caste, page 305 – śūdra or shudra caste king etc.
    Read from page 45 of how castes rules, differences, practices etc. of clans or castes.

    It mentions kings from various ‘Varnas’ so if occupation, caste & varna’s were linked how is it possible that they were taking each other’s professions {King has to fight so must only be Kshatriya but we find Brahman Kings & Shudra Kings} yet mentioning their different Varnas ? This creates a question – What was the role of these birth based ‘ascribed categories’ & their role in the societies back then ?

    d) – Al-Beruni’s caste account from Alberuni’s India.
    Questions about caste on basis of Al-Beruni’s account –
    His account is the most elaborate account of all but note on page 101 he mentions Hadi as one of the Outcaste but on next page he notices the similar tribal ranking among outcastes as within the castes & mentions Hadi as the top Outcaste out of all outcastes. So this brings into question did such hierarchy already existed due to tribal populace & Indic religions co-opted them as a means of gaining authority for empires or did such divisions were formed by elites after establishing empires ? This goes back to the central question about caste debate i.e. did religion created caste or class based division became sources of discrimination which later got termed as ‘castes’. {Since it is clear that term ‘caste’ is an Orientalist narrative so the description should end with class divisions resulting in discrimination but since now it has been named castes I have appropriated the Orientalist narrative as it has been appropriated by majority of the world.}.
    Also note his common reference to Vasudeva & he mentions him as a descendant of Sudra caste on pg. 104. Vasudeva is basically Krishna & he commonly refers to Vasudeva & Arjuna thus describes the parts of Gita.


    ”’Islamic period Caste -”’

    In the centuries of Muslim rule in India, the ‘Ashraf’ and ‘high’ caste Hindu converts {Don’t know about any direct examples but it is mostly stated this way so i am including it as it is} played a key role in the state administration, as advisors, ministers, governors, army officials, and estates managers, as well as sufis and ‘ulama’. On the other hand, despite their conversion to Islam, the social and economic conditions of the mass of the ‘Ajlaf’ and ‘Arzal’ Muslims hardly changed and they remained tied down to their traditional occupations as artisans, peasants, labourers and sweepers. Many great ‘ulama and intellectuals, past as well as present, belonging to the various Muslim sects and formations , including Shia and Sunni, Aligarh Tahreek, Deobandi, Barailvi, Ahl-e-Hadith, Jamaa’t-e-Islami and the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) supported the caste system either in the name of the supposed superiority of the sadat/ahl-e-bait (people tracing their origin to the Prophet’s daughter, Hazrat Fatima Rz.) or the belief that only a person of Quraish descent (Sayeds and Shaikhs) could be the Caliph or through caste-based kufu (endogamy).

    In fact, during the colonial rule (as early as 20 th century), both the communal forces viz. Hindu Mahasabha and Muslim League, sensed a conspiracy to divide the respective community by a caste based census. Both the organizations appealed the members of their communities to make their religion count, rather than their caste. Ali Anwar in his book “Masawat Ki Jung” gave a historical account of such effort made by Muslim League’s leader. On the eve of the 1941 Census, the provincial Secretary of the Bihar Muslim League, Syed Badruddin Ahmad- an Ashraf- issued an appeal to the Muslims to mention their religion but not their caste. He saw the inclusion of the caste category in the census as something divisive and hence against the ‘community’. Taj Muhammad, a district leader of the low-caste Muslim movement called Jamiatul Momenin, forcefully countered the Muslim League’s appeal. In open opposition to the Muslim League’s position, he appealed to the colonial, ‘ethnographic state’ that Momins must necessarily be counted and registered as a separate caste.

    In a letter published in The Searchlight on September 1 0, 1941, Taj Muhammad pleads his case :-
    Frightened with the numerical strength of the Mom ins, the veterans of the Muslim League, who have always looked down upon Momin as a class have left no stone untumed to enlist them not as Momins but merely as Muslims … In this context, the exploited and the deprived Momins make a humble request to the government that to maintain their representative character, which others want to annihilate, it directs the census department to register the Momins as a separate caste.

    However, social stratification in Indian Muslim should not be considered as a colonial construct. Because if we look at the words designed to categorize the Indian Muslim society i.e. ‘Ashraf, ‘Ajla.f or ‘Atla:f and ‘Arzal’ or ‘Ardhal’, all have purely Arabic roots and remained in use in pre/Islamic Arabia. Ashraf came out of the word ‘Sharif’ , which means ‘noble’ or ‘respected person’. There is no substantive research material dealing with the early use of this word. But one can safely say that, the word ‘Ashraf’ was used by people who trace their genealogy from the prophet’s son-in-law Ali, through his martyred son Hussein. Their modern representative is the Sayyad who, in the fourteenth century, adopted as the outward sign of their claim to distinction- the green turban which was so noticeable in some Muslim lands. Similarly, ‘Ajlaf’, came out of the root word ‘jilf’ means uncivil or unjust or brutal. Whereas, ‘Arzal’, is derived from the word ‘Razl’, or ‘Radl’, means impure, mean or lowest of all. The word ‘Arzal’ came into use in the context of India. Once Islam came to India, the meaning and the context of use of these words changed, which will be discuss later on. However, these words were certainly not in use to categorize the Arabian society on caste basis. Making the study of early Arabia, W. C. Smith, produced evidence, which clearly indicates that, “Arab society at the time was undoubtedly organized on the basis of tribal groups which shared the ‘notion of honour and status’ but were not necessarily vertically stratified”. These words began to associate with the ‘caste’ like features meant to encompass higher status in India and evolved gradually.

    Ashraf consisted of four birth-defined strata, supposedly in descending order of status
    1) Sayyid, descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, usually claiming patrilinial descent from his daughter Fatima and her husband Ali
    2) Shaikh, descendants of the companions of the prophet, that is, also of Arab origin, but also used as a term for sufi religious figures and extended more widely to people who have converted to Islam, perhaps in association with their sufi preceptors
    3) Mughal, which might refer to Chagatay Turks or more broadly to people of Central Asian and even Irani background who were associated with the Timurid dynasty
    4) Pathan, people descended from Afghan migrants to India.

    Other Muslims were classified on the basis of indigenous Indian origin, often sharing the caste designations of their Hindu ancestors. Starting in 1847, British census operations set about locating and counting the population according to these ranked divisions.

    The 1901 Census
    The Superintendent of the census for 1901 for the Province of Bengal records the following interesting facts regarding the Muslims of Benga1:
    “The conventional division of the Mohammedans into four tribes-Sheikh, Saiad, Moghul and Pathan-has very little application to this Province (Bengal). The Mohammedans themselves recognize two main social divisions, (I) Ashraf or Sharaf and (2) Ajlaf. Ashraf means ‘noble’ and includes all undoubted descendents of foreigners and converts from high caste Hindus. All other Mohammedans including the occupational groups and all converts of lower ranks, are known by the contemptuous terns, ‘Ajlaf, ‘wretches’ or ‘mean people’ : they are also called Kamina or ltar, ‘base’ or Rasil, a corruption of Rizal, ‘worthless’. In some places, a third class, called Arzal or ‘lowest of
    all’, is added. With them no other Mohammedan would associate, and they are forbidden to enter the mosque or to use the public burial ground”. “Within these groups there are castes with social precedence of exactly of same nature as one finds among the Hindus.

    I. Ashraf or better class Mohammedans

    (1) Saiads

    (2) Sheikhs

    (3) Pathans

    (4) Moghul

    (5) Mallik

    (6) Mirza

    Aj laf or lower class Mohammedans
    (1) Cultivating Sheikhs and others who were originally Hindus but who do not belong to any functional group, and have not gained admittance to the Ashraf Community, e.g. Pirali and Thakrai.

    (2) Darzi, Jolaha, Fakir, and Rangrez.

    (3) Barhi, Bhathiara, Chik, Churihar, Dai, Dhawa, Dhunia, Gaddi, Kalal, Kasai, Kula. Kunjara, Laheri, Mahifarosh, Mallah, Naliya, Nikari.

    (4) Abdal, Bako, Bediya, Bhat, Chamba, Dafali, Dhobi, Hajjam, Mucho, Nagarchi, Nat, Panwaria, Madaria, Tuntia.

    Arzal or degraded class
    Bhanar, Halalkhor, Hljra, Kashi, Lalbegi, Maugta, Mehtar.”

    The Census Superintendent mentions another feature of the Muslim social system, namely, the prevalence of the “panchayet system”. “The authority of the panchayat extends to social as well as trade matters and……. marriage with people of other communities is one of the offenses of which the governing body takes cognizance. The result is that these groups are often as strictly endogamous as Hindu castes. The prohibition on inter-marriage extends to higher as well as to lower castes, and a Dhuma, for example, may marry no one but a Dhuma. If this rule is transgressed, the offender is at once hauled up before the panchayat and ejected ignominiously from his community. A member of one such group cannot ordinarily gain admission to another and he retains the designation of the community in which he was born even if he abandons its distinctive occupation and takes to other means of livelihood ….. thousands of Jolahas are butchers yet they are still known as Jolahas.” Similar facts from other Provinces of India could be gathered from their respective Census Reports and those who are curios may refer to them. But the facts for Bengal are enough to show that the Mohammedans observe not only caste but also untouchability.

    There can thus be no manner of doubt that the Muslim Society in India is afflicted by the same social evils as afflict the Hindu Society. Concluding we can argue that the early phase marked the division of Muslims into two
    broader categories i.e. Ashraf and Ajlaf The Muslims like Arabians, Iranians, Central Asian, and Turkish who claim their origin from foreign descent belong to former category and the dark-skinned local converts belong to the latter one.

    ”’Questions –
    Is there any form of stratification that is completely vertically stratified ? How is caste Vertically stratified if the level of stratification, identification. practices of community identity changes from region to region since ancient times ? If Hindu ancestry is to be blamed for caste among Muslims then why not blame all the Islamic theologians, emperors & pre existing caste like ideas of Islamic communities who had the power for so long to end this form of stratification ?

    Religion although deriding social division {even though we all know Abrahamic religions accept slavery} but the ‘caste-like’ practices being justified via constructing theological arguments because of already prevalent ideas tribalism like Kaum, Biradri etc. from prevailing tribal Islamic societies then why can’t the same leeway is not being considered in terms of linking Hinduism to caste system ?”’


    Untouchability among Muslims – India

    In Pakistan –

    Perception & behavior UN experiment {do read comments esp. note the discussions regarding Romani people} –

    There is no clear definition what does terms like ‘caste’ & ‘untouchability’ mean & if one wants to apply these terms in arbitrary manner one can do so due to the fuzzy nature of their description.

    As far as looking at people who do certain jobs in certain manner, even developed nations are not bereft of it. Now can we again start from defining the social behavior or do we still have to describe using the terms which are Orientalist in nature ?

    1. I’m not going to read this whole long thing. Who has that kind of time?
      The point is Pakistanis don’t think in terms of “caste”. It is not a useful analytical unit in our society. Class is useful. Muslim vs. non-Muslim is useful. Ethnicity is useful. “Caste” is not.
      This is a Hindu thing and it is a problem you guys need to sort out. Please leave us out of it. Thanks.

      1. Repeat a lie a hundred times and it becomes the truth. I guess it doesn’t work every time.

      2. So basically you are saying that you won’t look at historical proofs which challenge or to some extent disprove your assertions regarding Indian civilization & Indic beliefs, this shows how ‘fiercely secular person’ you are.

        1. I’m saying I don’t have that kind of time. I have other priorities in life.

          As Razib said, you leave super long comments and literally no one cares.

          As a Pakistani, I don’t think “caste” is a useful way to understand Pakistan. You can disagree. But I think I know more about Pakistani Muslim society than you, given that it is my lived reality.

          Feel free to hold forth on “Indic beliefs”. I really don’t care about “Indic” (meaning Hindu) issues.

          1. // I don’t think “caste” is a useful way to understand Pakistan. //

            The same is my claim about India but you are asserting that Caste is necessary to understand India which is what i am challenging.

            Regarding Indic beliefs you responded to none of my sources and the info they entail & i use the term Indic beliefs because “Caste aka Varna & Jati” is mentioned in other Indian religions as well.

  15. Islamic period Caste part 2 –—part-2–indian-muslim-society-in-the-shadow-of-casteism-/d/3616—part-3–the-impact-of-the-aryan-invasion-of-india/d/3619—part-4–early-anti-aryan-movements-in-india/d/3626—part-5–the-origin-and-spread-of-islam-in-india/d/3630—part-6—-in-the-period-of-%E2%80%98muslim-rule%E2%80%99/d/3636—part-6—-in-the-period-of-'muslim-rule'/d/3636—part-7–the-role-of-the-medieval-ulema/d/3647—part-8–firoze-shah-tughlaq%E2%80%99s-reign/d/3656—part-8–firoze-shah-tughlaq's-reign/d/3656—part-9–evidence-from-the-mughal-period/d/3658—part-10–transformations-in-the-colonial-period/d/3665—part-11–hindutva,-gandhism,-and-the-caste-question/d/3672—part-12–modern-indian-ulema-on-the-caste-question/d/3678—part-13–casteism-in-the-aligarh-muslim-university/d/3686

    Note – Series of articles about Castes among Indian Muslims & they try to pin the blame on Hindus & Hinduism without actually looking at the Islamic justifications, Islamic beliefs, Islamic practices which were the source of casteism during Islamic empires on Indian subcontinent.

    Brief account of “Caste” during Indian subcontinent’s Islamic empire from first series of articles –

    Accordingly, the four ethnic groups that claimed foreign—Arab, West Asian and Central Asian—descent, the Syeds, Shaikhs, Mughals and Pathans, came to be considered as ashraf/sharif or ‘noble’. Converts from the ‘high’ caste Hindus were also considered as sharif. On the other hand, impoverished Muslims of indigenous origin, converts from the oppressed castes, who came to form the vast majority of the Indian Muslim population, were branded as ajlaf or ‘low’ or even as arzal/razil or ‘despicable’.

    It is from the reign of ”’Sultan Shamsuddin Iltutmish (d. 1236)”’ onwards that we get much evidence of caste-based discrimination against ‘low’ caste Muslims being actively enforced by the state. A good illustration of this is provided in ”Ziauddin Barani’s Tarikh-e Firoze Shahi”, which relates that in the reign of both Sultan Shamsuddin Iltutmish (d.1236) and Sultan Ghiyasuddin Balban (d. 1287), who belonged to the Slave Dynasty, ‘low’ caste Muslims were forbidden from all senior government posts. Moreover, if a ‘low’ caste person was found to be occupying any such post he was immediately dismissed.

    ”’Sultan Ghiyasuddin Balban”’

    It is related that once Sultan Ghiyasuddin Balban ordered his courtiers to search for a capable and experienced man from a ‘good’ family for the post of overseer of Amroha. Thereupon, Malik Alauddin Kashli Khan, Amir Hajib, and Malik Nizamuddin Bazghana selected a certain Kamal Mahyar as a candidate for the post. When Kamal Mahyar was kissing the ground before the Emperor’s feet, the Emperor ordered his courtiers to ask him what the word ‘Mahyar’ meant. The man answered that this was the name of his father, who had been a Hindu slave. On hearing this the Emperor rage knew no bounds. He berated the men who had brought Kamal Mahyar before him for committing what he regarded as the grievous office of suggesting that he employ a ‘low’ caste son of a slave, even though he was capable and well educated. Then, addressing two of his close courtiers, Adil Khan and Timar Khan, he said, ‘I know that God has blessed me with one characteristic, and that is that I simply cannot tolerate a low-born razil occupying any respectable position, and whenever I see such people my blood begins to boil. I cannot employ the son of a low-born or incapable person in the administration of my kingdom, which has been given to me by God. I cannot grant him any service or land grant.’ He warned his courtiers that if henceforth anyone recommended to him a ‘low-born’ person, no matter how capable, for a job or post, he would teach him a ‘brutal lesson’. And so as long as Balban lived no one dared suggest to him to employ a ‘low-born’ person to any post.

    Following in the path of Sultan Shamsuddin Iltutmish, Balban ordered that the caste of every person in the royal services be investigated. As the noted historian Khaliq Ahmad Nizami writes in his highly-acclaimed study, ”Some Aspects of Religion and Politics in India During the Thirteenth Century”:

    ‘[…] Balban made very thorough enquiries about the families of all his officers and government servants. Expert genealogists had assembled in Delhi from all parts of the country to help him in determining the family status of the persons.’

    It would not be an exaggeration to say that in the eyes of these Sultans who were fanatically wedded to caste discrimination the status of poor, oppressed Muslims and Hindus was worse than that of animals. The latter could never dare to come close to the royal court. The vast majority of Indian Muslim (and, of course, Hindu) rulers and nobles or umara were extremely caste conscious.

    Chronicling the reformist efforts in the Saharanpur district in present-day Uttar Pradesh of the noted early nineteenth century Islamic scholar and activist Syed Ahmad Shahid, Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi comments:

    ‘In the Daud Sara locality in Saharanpur there lived some families of Noorbafs (Julahas or Ansaris). They, too, desired to give the oath of allegiance (bai’at) at the hands of Syed Ahmad Shahid. Members of the caste consulted among themselves and sent to leaders to him and requested him to visit their humble homes. He accepted their invitation. They also invited other respected and noble people (shurafa) of the town. The nobles of the town were ashamed to accept the invitation of this caste and visit their homes. When they learned that he [Syed Ahmad] had visited the Noorbafs’ locality and had accepted their hospitality, they reluctantly did the same, although in their hearts they did not like his going there. All the members of this [Noorbaf] caste gave the oath of allegiance [at the hands of Syed Ahmad Shahid] and presented him with gifts.’

    ”’Ziauddin Barani: A Casteist Mullah and His Anti-Islamic Ways”’

    Ziauddin Barani, a Syed, was one of the noted historians of the period. He was the author of the ”Fatawa-e Jahandari” and the ”Tarikh-e Firoze Shahi”, both of which he wrote in order to flatter the rulers of his time. He himself admitted that, together with other ulema, he sought to flatter the Sultan and pander to his desires, and that in order to enrich himself he deliberately interpreted the Quran incorrectly and quoted traditions of doubtful authenticity. Repenting in his later life for his sins, Barani very candidly admitted:

    ‘We who deny the favours of God, who had read a bit and acquired some knowledge, which is a means for respect and honour, became victims of hypocrisy out of greed for worldly pelf. We were among those close to the Sultan but we did not speak the truth in front of him on the matter of inflicting punishments that are against the shariah. Fearing our life, which is sure to go one day, and scared of losing our wealth, which is one day bound to finish, we were scared of him and regarded it convenient not to speak the truth before him and remain silent on the matter of punishments that violate the shariah. In the greed to acquire his closeness and an exalted status, we agreed with him and assisted him in acting against the laws of the faith and recited narrations of dubious authenticity in front of him. I do not know if others also behaved in the same way as I did. As a result of what I did and said, now, in my old age, I have become debased, stricken with calamities and without any helper, dependent on others, and stripped of honour. This is my state in this world. I have no idea what my condition will be in the life to come and what all punishments I will have to suffer.’

    Both of Barani’s books are replete with scurrilous abuses against oppressed caste people who embraced Islam on their own volition. Barani describes them as ‘despicable’, ‘mean’ and ‘low-born’, and contrasts them with his own Syed family, which he praises as ‘high-born’, ‘extremely respectable’, and as ‘revered by the entire world’. He boasts that they were ‘so highly knowledgeable, God-fearing and pious that their qualities are beyond description’. He even claims that members of his family were able to perform miracles (karamat).

    Barani was a staunch defender of the caste system, for which he sought to provide Islamic legitimacy. Thus, he argued:

    ‘From the very beginning of Time itself, positive and negative characteristics have been distributed among, and allotted to, human beings. The actions and thoughts of human beings are determined by the commandment of God. When the All-Powerful God produces some good or bad in a human being, He gives him the capacity needed to express that particular good or bad quality. This capacity is hereditary, and because goodness is given to those who adopt good professions, they have been called as of high status, free-born, pious, religious, and of superior lineage. Only such people and groups deserve posts and positions in the government of the Muslims. No benefit can be had in this world through helping the despicable and low-born progress. Because to act against the will of the Creator of the Universe is to have no care for the future, one should not be deceived by the low-born, for their merits are false, not genuine.’

    For instance, he linked the Quranic verse ‘Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you’ (49: 13) with the so-called ashraf and contended:

    ‘Sacredness is the right of the ashraf. Hence, if any person is pious it must certainly be that he has ashraf elements in his ancestry. But if it is proven that he is low-born then his holiness is only show. If in the eyes of God Qasais, Julahas and the sons of shopkeepers have greater respect, it is truly a matter of shame.’

    Further, he says:

    ‘Sultans, Sufis and Sufi shaikhs are superior to everyone else, and their status is equal to that of the prophets. The high-born advisors of the Sultans can understand those secrets that God has kept concealed in the Hidden Tablet (lauh-e mahfuz).’

    Barani insisted that rulers must not provide any opportunity for the oppressed castes to advance, claiming that this was against the Divine will. He advised rulers to forbid the ‘low’ castes from acquiring knowledge thus:

    ‘The ruler must keep low-born Muslims away from education. If anyone dares to give them education he must be punished. And not just that, such a person must be sent into exile.’

    ‘Every person must be compelled to follow the occupation of his ancestors.’


    This is just part of the list & the article is incomplete & one can look at sources to get the more examples. The point is ‘casteism’ flourished during Islamic empire on Indian subcontinent on the basis of justifications formulated from Islamic sources.

  16. // Caste does not operate in Pakistan the same way it does in India. It is not sanctioned in Islam like it is in Hinduism. All Muslims can pray together in the same mosques (Ek hi saaf main kharay thay Mehmood-o-Ayaz…). Those are some major differences with India.

    Yes, we talk about “chuhras” and that is derogatory and we should stop doing it. But they are not Muslim. Pakistani Christians are stigmatized for being Christian, not because of “caste”. We have compassion for poor Muslims. We wouldn’t marry our daughters to them, but matching by socioeconomic status happens all over the world.

    The whole Brahmin, Dalit etc etc is a Hindu thing. Please stop trying to conflate Hinduism’s problems with Islam’s problems. Pakistan has enough problems of our own. We don’t need to be blamed for the sins of Hinduism as well. //

    One sociologist Dipankar Gupta wrote the book which was exactly about this conflict – Hindu text’s caste VS Caste in human society & the book was “Caste in Question: Identity Or Hierarchy?” I suggest that you read it first.

    Or else prove that Caste is exclusively mandated by Hinduism on basis of Vedas ?

    1. I really don’t care that much. “Caste” is very low on my list of priorities. I don’t find it useful for talking about Pakistan. That’s all.

    2. The Laws of Manu is a Hindu text not an Islamic text. This is your problem. There is no “caste” in the Holy Quran.

      1. There is no caste in Manu Smriti either. Manu Smriti describes Varna. It takes great intelligence to understand what Varna means.

        1. Oh please! Brahmins were created from God’s head and Shudras from his feet.

          You people have deep issues. Please stop trying to defend something so disgusting in the 21st century.

          1. The feet are the most auspicious part of the body. If you have no interest in Hinduism or Indic or Eastern philosophy, why do you keep discussing it? As long as you do; expect a response from people who derive meaning from eastern philosophy.

          2. As long as you keep misinterpreting Pakistan, I will call you on your bullshit.

            If you restrict your discussions on Hinduism to the territory of the Republic of India, I promise never to comment on those threads.

            But I find it truly disgusting that “caste” is being defended in the 21st century. This is like defending slavery. It is that horrible. Sujatha Gidla’s book was a real eye-opener.

      2. I won’t deny the presence of rules in Manusmriti but do you accept that religious texts have hierarchy ? like – Quran, Hadiths or Kutub al-Sittah, Sira etc.

        Now i challenge you to first sort all Hindu texts in chronological order & then present the profs of casteism from primary sources like Vedas or Upanishads ? Since you are asserting that Hinduism mandates or demands casteism.

  17. Why? I’m quite happy knowing that I am Kashmiri on both sides of my family and we’ve been Muslim as long as anyone can remember.
    What is genotyping going to do for me?

    right, fair point. if you found out you weren’t kashmiri on both sides perhaps you’d be unhappy?

    also, if you have very little indigenous south asian ancestry despite your family being in south asia for two centuries it would definitely confirm caste-like tendencies among south asian muslims. your people would have had to work hard to maintain blood purity 😉

    (my maternal grandmother’s father was from a lineage [paternal] of iranian muslims who originally settled in delhi but moved to bengal in the 19th century; unlike your family they intermarried and became totally bengali genetically except for a very small %)

    1. I know we are Kashmiris. We have Kashmiri “caste” names in our names to this very day (Mir and Khawaja).

      I would think that most marriages were within the extended family because Islam allows cousin marriage and in the olden days people preferred it. There may have been some local Indian Muslim women here and there.

      But I don’t really care. It’s good enough for me that my dad knows the places in the Kashmir Valley where his ancestors went. It’s good enough for me that my dad’s father was from Peshawar and his mother was from Agra. My mom’s father was from Amritsar and her mother from what is today Pakistani Punjab. So we never left the Northwest of the subcontinent.

      This is all very interesting historically. But what is salient to me is that I am an American of Pakistani descent. That’s pretty much all I need to know.

      1. This is all very interesting historically.

        yes. but your first comment was totally not representative of what you’ve said on follow-up. there are people, like ayetollah khomeini, whose families arrived from iran, and never seem to have intermarried with indians (khomeini’s family was in india for only a few generations anyhow).

        and there are a few indian muslims i’ve met in my life who look to be 100% west asian (one was a scion of a minor princely house).

        but if your family has been in south asia for 200 years, and there has been intermarriage with local women, you probably have plenty of hindus in your recent past. the fact that your paternal lineage looms large makes cultural sense.

        but when you say your family were “never hindus”, well, that doesn’t seem true at all. just the people you count as genealogically salient.

        genotyping would resolve all of this. but if you don’t care, you don’t care. not my business now that you’ve clarified what you meant.

        p.s. this was the first comment and why i’e followed up: My family were never Hindus. We came from Iran and Afghanistan to Kashmir and then to other parts of British India. My dad can trace family trees from the last two hundred years to prove it.

        1. There may have been some Hindus. Who really cares? What is important is that we have been following Islam for at least 200 years.

          To me, being Pakistani is far more important than being Muslim anyway (in practice these two categories often bleed into each other). But that is a topic for a different thread.

      2. Mir and Khawaja

        I am only going to comment once on this thread to clarify that there are no such “caste” names (kram or zöts) native to the Kashmir valley. Secondly, Kashmiri Pandit (or other caste) converts to Islam keep their zöts. E.g.

        Please feel free to delete the comment if it offends anyone.

        1. Are you trying to imply that my ancestors were not Kashmiri? If I tell you that we were from Baramulla, Pahalgam, Srinagar and Shopian will that make any difference to you?

          In Pakistan it is pretty well known that those with Mir and Khawaja in their names tend to be of Kashmiri origin.

          1. The beauty of Islam is that origins don’t matter as much; we are all children of Mecca..

            Islamicate is not plagued with caste/race obsession and rigorously pure ancestry. Admittedly there is a colour bias (the Gunpowder Emperors got lighter every generation) but that’s not sanctioned anywhere in the Holy Quran..

          2. Kabir

            What does Pahalgam mean, as in deconstructing the name.

            In Sinhalese PahalaGam/a would mean lower village/s (lower=pahala gama=village gam=villages). It would just based on elevation/distance.

        2. Just to counter the (absurd) suggestion that “Mir” and “Khawaja” are not Kashmiri Muslim names, let’s look at the following link:
          I quote:

          “Hey everybody, I got some questions about my heritage.

          I’m of Pakistani descent and my family have Kashmiri ancestry, our forefathers migrated from Kashmir (around Sringar) to rural North Punjab near Sialkot & Gujranwala and later my grandparents branched out to other cities across Pakistan. We belong to the Butt clan but also use Khawaja as a our last name or title, now the thing is I’m confused about whether Khawajas and Butts are the same clan or we’re 2 different clans.

          From what I’ve read, most Kashmiris settled in Punjab adopted ‘Butt’ as their lastname as a collective identifier of their Kashmiri heritage even if they didn’t actually belong to the Butt clan. Pretty much all people with the last name Butt also use Khawaja as a last name. All the men in my family get refered to as ‘Butt saabs” in Pakistan however my father says we’re actually Khawajas and Butt was just a collective name. ”

          Another person asks:
          “Are you from the valley? What’s the backgrounds of Khawaja’s in Kashmir? Do they descend from Wanis?

          Btw do any of you know the history of the Mir clan? It’s a very common Kashmiri origin clan and probably the 2nd most common after ‘Butt’. I read somewhere from the internet that ‘Mir’s are a “sub-clan” of the Butts, what does that mean? ?Is there any relation between Butts and Mirs? ”

          Finally here is a Wiki article on Kashmiri-Punjabis:

          In general, I think people who tell other people that their family history is wrong are rather obnoxious. Perhaps that’s just me.

          1. zack said;

            As a caste gets wealthier they also “invest” in their origin story.


  18. I don’t have time to get too deep in this, but one book I recommend everyone should check out is “Western Foundations of the Caste System”, edited by Martin Farek, Dunkin Jalki, Sufiya Pathan, and Prakash Shah, which was released just last year.

    There seem to be a lot of assumptions made about caste that need to be unpacked. Assumptions like there is a unified religion called Hinduism, which has a Brahmin priesthood that imposed an unjust caste system on the population, it was justified through the Manu Smriti, the supposed law book of all Hindus, and Buddhism, Jainism, Bhakti movements were revolts against the corrupt Brahamanical caste system.

    All of these assumptions are flawed, and these assumptions are based on British Protestants taking their views of the Catholic/Jewish priesthood and superimposing them onto Indian society, even though there are many contradictions between the mainstream caste narrative and ethnographic data. I can’t go into too much detail because it would require me to write a really long comment that no one is going to read, so I just recommend everyone to check this book out.

    1. “There seem to be a lot of assumptions made about caste that need to be unpacked. Assumptions like there is a unified religion called Hinduism, which has a Brahmin priesthood that imposed an unjust caste system on the population, it was justified through the Manu Smriti, the supposed law book of all Hindus, and Buddhism, Jainism, Bhakti movements were revolts against the corrupt Brahamanical caste system. All of these assumptions are flawed,…”

      I beg to differ. Those assumptions in general are not flawed. For those who grew up in the Indian subcontinent it is obvious that the statement restated below for the sake of clarity is closer to truth.

      “…there is a unified religion called Hinduism, which has a Brahmin priesthood that imposed an unjust caste system on the population, it was justified through the Manu Smriti, the supposed law book of all Hindus, and Buddhism, Jainism, Bhakti movements were revolts against the corrupt Brahamanical caste system.”

      I can attest to this. Natives do not have to read books to know basic things about their own faith; propaganda not withstanding by the vested interests.

      1. It was the British census that created the category of the “Hindu”. As Anan says Hindus call their religion “Sanatana Dharma”. The British decided that anyone who couldn’t claim that they were Muslim or Christian was “Hindu”. There has been a lot of academic work on this. I don’t have citations quite at the moment.

        1. “As Anan says Hindus call their religion ‘Sanatana Dharma’.”

          I’m skeptical about this claim. A lot of modern Hindus say that, but if you go to rural parts of India that have been completely untouched by Westernization, Hindus aren’t go to say they practice “Sanatana Dharma.” Hell, they’re not even going to say they’re Hindus. Their primary form of identification would be their specific caste name, and this is a thing for all castes.

          Discourse about Hindu traditions seems to go through these main routes: 1) Hinduism as a religion is a colonial construction and it didn’t exist until British colonialism or 2) Hinduism as a religion has always existed and still exists.

          What the authors of the book I mentioned in my comment claim is something different: 3) Hinduism as a religion did not exist, and it still does not exist as a religion in modern times. There may be Hindu (and Buddhist, Jain, etc) traditions just like there are Christian, Muslim traditions, but the existence of these traditions does not mean the existence of the religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. And they base their ideas from the book “Heathen in his Blindness” by S.N. Balagangadhara, who uses non-Abrahamic Indians as a case study for how religion is not a cultural universal.

          This sounds like a weird claim, but a lot of anthropologists have made the claim how the category “religion” does not describe non-Abrahamic traditions well, and how viewing them as “religion” can have unintended consequences. There’s another anthropologist, Jason Ananda Josephson, who makes a similar claim in his book, “The Invention of Religion in Japan” about Shinto traditions.

          1. Arjuna,

            What are considered Buddhist rituals in Sri Lanka are pre Buddhist. Everything pre Buddhist is given the “Hindu” label.

            Example of a modern Buddhist tradition in marriage rituals. Buddhism traditionally did not have any part of marriage. The way of the Buddha is renunciation of life, i.e. leave your wife and children and live a celibate life and (hopefully) attain Nirvana. A Buddhist priest seen at a marriage ceremony would be considered extremely bad luck/in auspicious.

            That said for last 2-3 decades Buddhist marriage ceremonies sing/play the Jayamangala Gatha in Pali. It sounds like a Christian hymn, but is a victory over desire.

            For Sri Lankan context of Hindu Buddhist, Gananath Obeyesekere’s writings are a good starting point.

            Jayamangala in Pali (does it make sense in Sanskrit).
            One of the comments has the Pali/English Stanzas.

            Jayamangala Gatha, Sri Lankan (high sinhalese)

            Cambodian Version

          2. I have heard of “The Heathen in his Blindness”. I think my dad mentioned it to me.

            Religion is not my primary area of interest so I didn’t follow up. I’m much more interested in Theater and Music.

      2. Merely being brought up in India doesn’t necessarily mean automatically understanding how Indian society works, especially considering that Indian education teaches issues like caste and religion in a very colonialist way that distorts the way Indians interpret their experience.

        For example, the entire concept of religion is foreign to India. There’s no indigenous word for religion in Indian languages. People nowadays use “dharma” to mean “religion”, but the idea that “dharma” means “religion” is a post-colonial usage. There’s no way to ask someone in Indian languages (except Urdu) “what is your religion?” in a way that doesn’t sound weird. In the early periods of British colonialism, Hindus did not understand what “religion” was. when they were asked that question. The only way they answered was by giving their caste name.

        Also, Hindu priest does not always equal Brahmin. There are plenty of communities in India where the temple priests are not Brahmins. The Lingaraj temple in Orissa has had both Brahmin and Badu (Adivasi) priests for hundreds of years. The Panchubarahi temple in Orissa is another one that only allows married Dalit women to be priestesses.

        Manu Smriti was completely unknown to the majority of India until it was popularized by a British scholar. Most Hindus did not view Manu Smriti as any type of law book that was important to them. Even the Vedas weren’t considered important to a lot of Hindu communities.

        And I’m not sure what you mean by “propaganda by vested interests.” If anything, some of the book I mentioned in my comment are connected with local communities in Karnataka, and they are noticing contradictions between what is happening on the local level and what is currently being taught. If anything, they have a better grasp on what’s going on than the majority of Indians.

        1. In Urdu, we would use the word “mazhab” for religion (though perhaps it literally means “sect”).

  19. This blog is getting to be quite “interesting”

    I see Shudra/Dalits everywhere.

    Milan sees Serbians everywhere

    AnAn sees Aryan South Asians everywhere (except those nasty Pakistanis grooming in the UK).

      1. A small anecdote , after independence India biggest state United Provinces had to be renamed , and Nehru asked for suggestions from the Chief Minister. The cabinet sent their recommendation that the state should be named “Aryavrata” literally the land of the Aryans. WW2 had just ended and Nehru knew what this name would sound like in the wider world and politely asked the CM to consider another name.

        1. The alternative suggested for U.P. was Sadar-e-Hind. Rajagopalachari vehemently objected that no one should appropriate the name Hind as south is India too. 🙂

          1. I thought they wanted to keep the initials so “United Provinces of Agra and Oudh” became Uttar Pradesh 🙂

      1. Do you mean some here have a not so hidden agenda

        Agenda would imply someone is actively trying to change the system.
        I doubt any of the rantings here will change whatever system.

        Like I said this is all academic for most.
        Maybe Razib makes some impact, and that still for the academically (and semi) inclined.

        Possibly trickle down genetic theories.

  20. What does Pahalgam mean

    Native Kashmiri Prakrit form of Sanskrit upashalyagrAma (lit. village near the base of the mountain)

    It is a Sanskrit samas (compound construction) which can be analysed as follows (the parsing is more complex but who has the patience for that but a machine these days):


    prefix for nearness-(base) of the mountain-village

    Compare upa- and its opposite, apa- to Latin apo- (cf. apogee). shaila is Sanskrit for mountain (lit. rocky) and shalya is a vRddhi derivative meaning descended from or belonging to the mountain (referring to the base here). Finally grAma is the word for village and nearly all IA languages have it in one version or another (India lived in its villages after all :))

    Kashmirian Prakrit is typified by /sh/ > /h/ and usually elision of word-initial vowels. Ergo pahalgam. Correctly pronounced as pöhölgām in Kashmiri.

    (Feel free to delete if deemed digressive)

      1. As I explained, it is neither upper or lower per se. The word pöhöl (compound used very rarely, e.g. pöhölmonD, a medicinal root, monD, found in the mountains) has to do with nearness to mountains. Sure enough anyone who has visited Pahalgam can see why it was named thus. I almost drowned as a kid in Lyidder in Pahalgam – still gives me nightmares.

  21. Incidentally, my phuppo (dad’s sister) is married to a man with “Mir” in his name. His relatives still live in Muzaffarabad where they landed up when forced to flee Srinagar. So don’t tell me that we are not Kashmiri.

    1. Kabir,

      One of these days maybe it will be proved I am a direct Male descendant of peoples of Mohendajaro/Harrappa (YDna=J2b2*).

      Thats like my class mate Wittenberg (name slightly changed) who could prove he was of Dutch descent and emigrated to Australia in the late 70’s. He was ten shades darker than me, and was considered Burgher (Eurasian) in school.

      1. I don’t get your point.
        I was responding to Slapstik’s argument that “Mir” and “Khawaja” are not Kashmiri names. My great-grandfather’s grave is in Srinagar. We are as Kashmiri as it gets.

        1. Kabir,

          I get this impression that you are someone who runs around Pakistan in a car, very likely chauffeur driven.

          Do you travel around (ever) in a bus.
          When was the last time you went to a village home (specially a non relative) that did not have a flush toilet.
          A visit to a home that did not have servants. in case you missed the memo, servants are now called the help.

          Kabir, you are a young guy. get off the computer and at least have a meal in the homes of the poor in your country. Fuck the hygiene, you may get sick one or two times.

          Dont get too upset, most of the Indians who comment here have the same mentality. They are just too adult/PC to make your type of comments, as in servants are not to hygienic.

          1. Why would I fraternize with the poor? I’m sorry. My family gives to charity. We are very nice to our servants or “domestic help” if you prefer. We don’t need to start living the way that the lower socioeconomic classes live.

            I just traveled in a bus today from Islamabad to Lahore. Yes, it was an expensive bus that poor people cannot afford. I don’t see why I need to be uncomfortable.

            I think you don’t understand that in Pakistan, you either have servants or you are a servant. As far as it goes, my parents just have a cook and a cleaning lady. We had a cleaning lady even in the US. Some of my relatives are much wealthier than we are, but that is neither here nor there.

          2. Kabir says
            Why would I fraternize with the poor?
            I think you don’t understand that in Pakistan, you either have servants or you are a servant. As far as it goes, my parents just have a cook and a cleaning lady. We had a cleaning lady even in the US.

            American culture (confederate) at its best.
            So do you bang the house niggers. Obviously Fraternizing with the niggers will give second thoughts about banging them.

          3. Nothing that I have said is even close to plantation slavery. For one thing, our employees are paid and they can leave whenever they like. We are not going to send the dogs after them (we don’t even have dogs). The fact that they don’t leave means they are happy with their salaries and with room and board. They are treated as human beings in our home and not as animals.

            The rest of your comment is too disgusting to even acknowledge. If I were you I would think before I write.

        2. “Mir” and “Khawaja” are not Kashmiri names

          You are extrapolating from my statement (which has a much narrower scope). The names are not native to Kashmir (i.e. not used by local converts). However, people from Iran and Turkestan did immigrate to Kashmir, and maybe they are your ancestors. Or your ancestors changed names after they moved away from the Valley. Genotyping may help.

          Kashmiri is not a diffuse label but (like Pashtun or French) an ethno-linguistic identity: köshur gokh yeli köshur tagyee.

          As someone wise once said on this forum, it is generally a good idea to visit and live in a place before holding forth on it. Cheers.

          1. Oh please! I have given plenty of links above to prove that Khawaja is a subset of the Sheikh community or as they call themselves in Pakistan “Butts”. I am not sure exactly who “Mirs” are but they are clearly a Kashmiri Muslim biradri.

            It is true my ancestors moved from the Valley to other parts of British India. In the Wiki article I linked it says lots of Kashmiri Muslims moved to Punjab because of famine or persecution under Dogra rule. I don’t know the exact details. But Kashmiri-Punjabis are a distinct ethnic group, whether you think we exist or not. Obviously, once we moved to Punjab we started speaking Punjabi and Urdu. If your definition of Kashmiri is one who speaks the Kashmiri language, then I am not Kashmiri. But you can’t take my family’s ethnic origin away from me.

            I would love to visit my ancestral homeland and see my great-grandfather’s grave (if it can be found). Unfortunately, in reality people of Pak origin cannot go to that side of the LOC. The closest I can get is Muzaffarabad and I plan to go if I get the opportunity.

            Let’s drop this issue here.

          2. “Kashmiri is not a diffuse label but (like Pashtun or French) an ethno-linguistic identity: köshur gokh yeli köshur tagyee. ”

            French is a nationality. All citizens of France are French. It doesn’t matter where they come from or what their native language is.

            Kashmiri should be a nationality but as of now it is an ethnicity divided between two countries–Pakistan and India.

            Urdu by the way is the official language of India’s “J and K”. If you are so proud of the Kashmiri language, maybe work on getting the official language of your own state changed.

  22. Kabir: “I have given plenty of links above”

    Please don’t confuse people with facts if they already know the answer.

    1. LOL, I don’t really care. I just think the idea that a Kashmiri Pandit can tell a Kashmiri-Punjabi Muslim that his family is not really Kashmiri kind of offensive. But it’s not that important.

  23. One would think he of all people would get how offensive this is. Kashmiri Pandits hate it when they are told that they are not really Kashmiri because they don’t follow the religion of the majority community in the Valley. I understand why they hate that line of reasoning because it makes excuses for ethnic cleansing.

    Similarly, I think being told I am not really Kashmiri because I don’t speak Kashmiri is really quite offensive. Though I always qualify myself as a Pakistani of Kashmiri origin or a Kashmiri-Punjabi. I have never pretended to have a first hand view of the Valley though I have plenty of Facebook friends who live there right now.

    Anyway, Kashmir deserves a more substantive post. If only it doesn’t devolve into a shouting match.

      1. There use to be Swami Lakshman Joo, but he passed away in 1991. I am a huge fan of Lakshman Joo and have many of his books.

        Kabir, you don’t have to fraternize with the poor. But there is great value to understanding poor people by collaborating with poor people to achieve shared values and shared interests. Have you seen?:

        Unless we deeply understand others we can’t help others. Most of the problems in the world are created by people trying to help and unintentionally causing harm. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

        1. Understanding the poor is not a high priority for me. Theater person and musician here. This would be the proper domain of a sociologist. I’ve read novels about the poor (Les Miserables comes to mind) and am not even particularly interested in that anymore.

          My family helps the poor by helping those around us. We help our servants (or the”help” if servant is considered too un PC) by employing them and providing them with room and board. We help their families by donating clothes and giving extra money on Eid. We treat them like human beings who are performing a job. They are employees not slaves. We give to charity.

          Frankly, I don’t think we should be begrudged our upper class lifestyle. My parents worked hard to become doctors and economists and to earn in dollars. They deserve to spend the rest of their lives in comfort and in air-conditioned rooms. It is also true that my parents benefited from the previous generation being educated and well-off. My paternal grandfather was a civil servant while my maternal grandfather was a criminal lawyer. From my maternal grandmother’s side, her father (my great-grandfather), Maulvi Zahooruddin Quereshi, was a lawyer at the time of the British Raj. So we have had education and class since before the birth of India and Pakistan. That definitely makes a difference in our outcomes today. I am eternally grateful to have been born in an upper-middle class professional family which valued academic achievement and fluency in English. I am also eternally grateful to have been taken to the United States at age 5 and to have grown up there.

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