The airstrikes

Indian Jets Strike on Pakistani Side of Kashmir Line:

Indian warplanes conducted airstrikes in the Pakistan-controlled side of Kashmir on Tuesday, Pakistani officials said, in an escalation of tensions between the nuclear-armed nations after a suicide bombing against Indian troops in the disputed region this month.

If confirmed, it would be the first time that Indian aircraft had crossed the Kashmir Line of Control to strike in years. But it was unclear what, if anything, the attack jets hit on the Pakistani side, raising the possibility that India was making a calculated bet to assuage public anger but minimize the risk of a major Pakistani military response.

Curious about value-add thoughts….

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Do people in India care about ‘racist’ knitters?


There is a weird controversy about a white knitter who was perceived to be racist against Indians because they were worried about going to India because it was so alien from her experience? At least that’s what I get from the conversation. See the above exchange for some more context.

The mainstream website Vox, published something relating to this, The knitting community is reckoning with racism. The post shows that this is really about Americans more than about Indians. For example:

As someone who is mixed-race Indian, to me, her post (though seemingly well-meaning) was like bingo for every conversation a white person has ever had with me about their “fascination” with my dad’s home country; it was just so colorful and complex and inspiring. It’s not that they were wrong, per se, just that the tone felt like they thought India only existed to be all those things for them.

The author of the piece is a mixed-race American. Her mother is Irish American, and her father an immigrant from India.

My question is simple: what do people in India think about this?

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White Hepthalites?

This is a parody account, which has been started by that blonde twitter account (I can’t recall her name).

However what I find interesting is treating the Hepthalites as “white.” There is a strain in Anglo-Saxon civilisation to absorb other heritages into their own. Furthermore as a shadow of the Western hegemony, “whiteness” is a trait often bestowed (the Aryans are treated as a white people).

I understand that there are many nuances but as the Devil Wears Prada teaches us, subtleties in the elite level trickle all the way down into the popular one.

The average Persian or India has a continuous link to their ancient by way of geography, history or ethnicity. What link does the average WASP really have to Alexander the Great; except a sentiment that they belong to the same “civilisation.” Constantly absorbing the winners of history into a mythos is what led to disasters like the film 300. The last traces of colonisation is economic & psychological; you still have to perceive another civilisation as superior to be able to buy into their lifestyle.

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Shatranj Ke KhilaRi (The Chess Players)

I just happened to catch Shatranj Ke KhilaRi on youtube (you can see the whole movie on youtube, though I am not sure if there is a free subtitled version.. for that you may have to pay). I saw this movie in the 1980s and I remember watching it as:

  1. A Satyajit Ray movie. Hence serious, arty. Deep.
  2. A movie that (brilliantly, obviously since it was by Satyajit Ray, see above) captured the (unequal) chess match between the perfidious English and the decadent Indian nobility. . i.e. a “history movie” that tells us something profound about the British conquest of India.
  3. A movie with a message.

Now I saw it after 35 years and it seems to me that these are exactly the worst things about the movie. It is in fact a VERY funny, beautifully directed, brilliantly acted period piece that anyone can enjoy without thinking “art movie”.  But it is NOT a good depiction of how and why the British conquered India. The annexation of Oudh was just that, the annexation of Oudh. Wajid Ali Shah was a very unique personality, a gentleman and a patron of the arts, but hardly a real ruler. His deposition did not require any great chess move. The Oudh nobility had decayed long before this event and the conversion of Oudh from indirect rule (with British officers manning the Oudh army and supervising tax collection, etc) to direct EIC rule was typical of many similarly decayed nawab-doms, but NOT typical of the British conquest of India. It may be that the decaying hulk of the Mughal empire was just as depicted in that movie, but the Mughals did not rule most of India by that time. The stylized story of perfidious albion conquering the decaying Mughals was true enough of Bengal, Bihar and Oudh, but India is much more than that…The conquest of most of it was a much more serious affair, fought against harder men than Wajid Ali Shah (Haider Ali, Tipu Sultan, the Marathas, the Sikh Empire, etc). It was an unequal contest in the sense that Europeans in general were far more advanced in science, state organization and military arts, but some of the rulers who held real power in their domains (Marathas, Sikhs, Mysore, Nizam of Haiderabad, even Nepal) did make efforts to modernize their military and many of them did put up a fight. They did not lose because they were composing music, organizing kathak dance or playing chess, they lost because they were disunited, and the British proved better than them at most things that matter in statecraft. To take this movie as a metaphor for that struggle or as a good depiction of it is a disservice to history. This may be a good enough description of the annexation of Oudh, but every reviewer on Rotten Tomatoes seems to take it as a great depiction of the British conquest of India, which seems wrong to me.

That said, it is still a good movie. Ignore the politics, enjoy the acting, the comedy, the dialog. Sanjeev Kumar and Saeed Jaffery are both great as the aristocats playing chess while their wives have affairs or get sexually frustrated, Victor Bannerjee as the prime minister, Shabana Azmi as the wife, all do a great job, though the best performance is by Amjad Khan as Wajid Ali Shah.  Tom Alter (the late American-Indian actor.. I assume that would be the term; if an Indian born in America is Indian-American, then an American born in India would be American-Indian?) is also good as the Urdu speaking English officer advising General Outram.

My favorite dialog: Wajid Ali Shah asking his prime minister why he is crying? Did Outram recite some poetry or sing a song to him? because only music and poetry can bring a real man to tears!

The hilarious cuckolding scene:

Complete Movie:

Postscript: A few links to reviews from the time

New York Times. 

BBC

Washington Post (enriched by the comprehension of an exceptional film artist, who perceives clearly what this historical parable signifies for his country and his compatriots.)

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Afghan Peace Process

From Dr Hamid Hussain

My two cents of Afghan peace process.  It is based on my own limited perspective informed by regular travels to the region and interaction with many including Pakistanis, Afghans, Americans, Indians etc.  Many have been kind to candidly share their views and not ‘official’ narrative as well as hopes and aspirations of common people in streets and bazaars that they shared with me.

Hamid

Making Peace with Broken Pieces – Afghan Peace Process

Hamid Hussain

 “There is nothing further here for a warrior.  We drive bargains; old men’s work.  Young men make wars and the virtues of war are the virtues of young men; courage and hope for the future.  Then old men make the peace.  The vices of peace are the vices of old men; mistrust and caution.  It must be so”.   Prince Feisal (Sir Alec Guinness) to T. E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) in Lawrence of Arabia.

In the last few months, a new window opened in the seventeen years old war in Afghanistan. There was breakthrough with first serious efforts of direct negotiations between United States (U.S.) and main militant group Taliban.  It was President Donald Trump’s announcement of withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan that got the ball rolling.  He made this decision without consulting any other government agency. Pentagon, intelligence community and State Department view rapid withdrawal as a recipe for disaster.  Trump appointed former U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and an Afghan-American Zalmay Khalilzad nick named Zal to spearhead this effort.  Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar worked as intermediaries and a bridge between Taliban, Pakistan and Americans.

Negotiations between Taliban and Unites States is only one dimension of a complex conflict.  Taliban’s strategy is simple in its execution.  It used its committed cadre of fighters and support structure in Pakistan to escalate violence to a level to achieve two goals.  First to sow enough fear and uncertainty among Afghans that will undermine the efficiency and to some extent legitimacy of the government.  Another objective is to convince fellow Afghans that without giving them a share in power and economic pie, Afghans will never see peace.  Initially, behind the scene, questions were raised by Americans whether Taliban are a unified entity to work with.  Taliban responded by announcing a three days ceasefire during Eid festival.  There were no attacks all over the country proving their point that they have a firm command and control system and all fighters follow the leadership.  When United States announced troop withdrawal plan, Taliban thought that by directly negotiating they will get the credit and fulfill one of their objectives of forcing foreign troop withdrawal.  This will help them to carve out a much larger share in power after American withdrawal. Another factor was intense pressure on Taliban from Pakistan and Arab countries.  Agreeing to direct negotiations with Americans, Taliban placated both parties and if no agreement is reached, they can claim that they entered in negotiations with good faith and put the blame of failure at American doorstep. From U.S. point of view, there is a narrow window of about six months. Domestic troubles of President Trump will take a sharp turn with completion of special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s work.  In addition, presidential campaign will start in the fall of 2019 and these two factors will suck all the oxygen in White House.  Like many other foreign policy issues, Afghanistan will also recede in the background.   Continue reading “Afghan Peace Process”

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Do you want to join the Caste of the Europeans?

the Portuguese in Goa, Madurai & Asia

He wrote in the Tamil language works in which the Hindu wisdom and the Christian were brought into harmony. He composed Christian poems which resembled the ancient Vedic hymns. He allowed his Brahman converts to continue wearing the sacred thread and to celebrate certain Hindu feasts; in the school which he opened, he allowed pagan rites to be continued and he respected Hindu prejudices over caste; he allowed no outcaste to touch his person, and if he needed to administer the sacrament to a member of an inferior caste, he proffered the Host at the end of a little stick.

I’ve typed out some fascinating excerpts from the Book “The Reformation” by Owen Chadwick. I was so stunned when I typed out the paragraph above that I put it to the top of the post.

I’ll excerpt more paragraphs from the book in future posts but I’m posting what I’ve typed out now.

Especially intriguing is how the Brahmins of Madurai accepted a Portuguese missionary as one of their own; it lends idea to the fluidity of the caste system if you were foreign.

The colour basis of caste seems almost irrefutable since the incidents I touch on took place in Madurai, which endured only 150 years of Muslim rule.

If there had been no Islam all the Turkic invaders would have been absorbed into a Hindu framework like the pre-Islamic invaders.

Japan

Even though I haven’t typed out anything about Japan in this post I’ll excerpt one quote. ‘In ten years,’ wrote a sanguine missionary in 1577, ‘all Japan will be Christian if we have enough missionaries.’…..

From 1627 suspects were forced to muddy with their feet a picture of Christ or the Virgin…..

The Portuguese

While the Spanish were at work in the Americas, the Portuguese were moving eastward. Their progress is traceable by the foundation of new sees: Madeira 1514, Cape Verde 1532; Goa, which became the seat of the viceroy in the far eastern empire, 1544, and an archbishopric from 1558…… the Jesuit Bendetic de Does crossed the Khyber pass disguised as an Armenian merchant and journeyed through Afghanistan and over the Hindu-Kush into Chinese Turkestan, to die at Suchow in China.

The Portuguese missions had many deficiencies, but they lacked neither courage nor enterprise. They were less conscious of a colour bar than other Europeans.

The Portuguese in the East were facing a different problem. They were weaker than the Spanish, and were meeting civilizations and religions far stronger than those of Inca and Aztec.

The size of the task was not at first understood. In some places in the East the pace of conversion was as rapid as in the Americas. In the Philippines the Spaniards achieved the outstanding success of all the eastern missions: 400,000 converts by 1585, about two million by 1620. Manila was founded in 1571, had a bishop from 1579, an archbishop from 1595, a Dominican university from 1619. It was natural that expectations everywhere should be sanguine.

Francis Xavier from Goa to (Cape Comorin) Kanyakumari

He embarked from Lisbon in 1541 with three companions as the Pope’s Vicar for all the coasts of the Indian ocean, and he had support from the King of Portugal (all Portuguese officials were ordered to support him).

A plain-speaking aristocrat, equally comfortable in a south German court, he went to Goa. From Goa, where he found a bishop, a cathedral, convents, and numerous churches already flourishing, he moved to Travancore, thence to Malacca and the Malay peninsula, thence to Amboina, and back to Travancore. In 1549 he sailed from Goa to Japan, accredited with letters to the sovereign. After preaching in the streets or disputing with the monks for two years, he determined to convert China as a preliminary to converting Japan. To secure the requisite authority he returned to Goa. But he found it difficult to get further than Singapore, tried to smuggle himself into Canton, and died on the Chinese coast near Macao late in 1552….

‘All things to all men’ was a motto familiar to Xavier who rapidly felt himself at home and at ease among Hindus or Muslims or Japanese..

He followed the method of mass conversion. On the fishers’ coast near Cape Comorin he wandered from village to village accompanied by his interpreters. He would gather the villagers together by ringing a handbell, and recite the creed, and the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Hail Mary, which had already been translated into Tamil. When the audience, after a few days or weeks, had sufficiently learnt the words and professed their belief in the articles of the creed, he baptized them, and went on baptizing until his hands sank with exhaustion……

It was extraordinary that a single man should have succeeded in opening so many doors.

The Problem of the Great Religions

In the East the evangelists confrontered a task of which the American missions  knew nothing – the great religions. The Jesuits, who in 1579 went to the court of the Great Mogul, Akbar, found that their Christian worship was acceptable in the temple which he had built at Fatehpur-Sikhri, but they must share the building with Parsees, Hindus, Jains and Buddhists.

Christian Iconoclasm and the destruction of Buddha’s tooth in Goa

An alleged tooth of the Buddha was brought to Goa in 1560, and thought a bankrupt government wanted to accept an offer of £100,000 from a rajah, the archbishop stepped in to destroy the relic.

The Spaniards in America and in the Philippines followed the principle that all the old religions must be destroyed as being heathen, that thus the new might enter in all its purity. The Bishop of Manila in the Philippines forced the Chinese converts to cut off their queues and wear their hair like the Spaniards, as a visible sign that they were freed from heathenish customs. ‘I longed,’ wrote the Jesuit Vilela in 1571, after he had seen the worshippers dancing at the Shinto shrine of Kasuga in Japan, ‘I long to have had a second Elijah there to do what he did to the priests of Baal.’

But in the religious circumstances of India and China, this Hebraic and exclusive tradition within Christendom began for the first time to be challenged or modified………..

Goan Christanity:

As the other religions became better know, the question of practise became crucial. The Spanish had hardly been troubled; they discouraged all old practises, and turned their converts, not only into Christians, but into Spaniards. The Portuguese tried the same policy in Goa. The original Portuguese catechism for India translated the question ‘Do you want to become a Christian?’ as ‘Do you want to join the caste of the Europeans?’ But the policy was soon found impossible, and their missionaries must therefore decide which of the social customs of Japanese, Chinese, or Indian was merely social and civil, which were religious but capable of a Christian meaning, and which were incompatible with receiving baptism.

In China reverence for ancestors and in India caste was integral to the social system……

The Christian Brahmins of Madurai

The example of Ricci’s method of evangelism was followed with resounding success by two Jesuits, Alexander de Rhodes in Indochina and Robert de Nobili in South India.

From 1606 Nobili conducted a mission at Madurai. He had himself taught by a Sannyasi, a penitent of the Brahman caste, dressed himself in the saffron robe of the Brahman ascetic, shaved his head and wore earrings, lived as a hermit in a turf hut upon a vegetarian diet. The Brahmans began to admire him as a holy man, and ended by recognising him as one of themselves.

He wrote in the Tamil language works in which the Hindu wisdom and the Christian were brought into harmony. He composed Christian poems which resembled the ancient Vedic hymns. He allowed his Brahman converts to continue wearing the sacred thread and to celebrate certain Hindu feasts; in the school which he opened, he allowed pagan rites to be continued and he respected Hindu prejudices over caste; he allowed no outcaste to touch his person, and if he needed to administer the sacrament to a member of an inferior caste, he proffered the Host at the end of a little stick.

It is not surprising that some of his fellow Europeans were shocked, and a long succession of denunciations went back to Rome. In 1618 he was brought before the court of the Archbishop of Goa and astounded the court by appearing in the garb of a Brahman ascetic. ‘The case of the Malabar rites’ was referred to Rome. In 1623 Rome refused to condemn Nobili, ’till further information was available’ and he continued to extend this unusual and successful evangelism until there were twenty-six Brahman converts among the 4,000 Christians of Madurai.

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The Five Great Brahmin Castes and their proclivities

I haven’t written anything this week and I was going to flush out my thoughts on my written diary or locked blog but an interesting observations came upon me, which I would share.

I’ve noticed with Vidhi’s science-intensive path that it’s very uncharacteristic for our northwestern cultural streams. Sindhis, Punjabis and the lot are into different professions.

I also noticed that religious difference didn’t make so much of a difference (Sikhs in some ways are surprisingly similar to Muslims but one must not over-hype their kinship, their loyalties with the Hindu population will always come first) but it seemed that a region’s exposure to Islamicate ways reduced their inclination for science (the Gunpowder Empires were advanced in military tech but were reknowned for their aestheticism).

As an aside to deny that Hindu criticisms of the Mughals is not grounded in communalism is laughable. Louis XIV (whose reigns roughly coincided with the latter two Mughal Emperors) was renowned for his profligacy (Versaille is the mini-Taj of Western Europe) and his constant wars of conquest (Aurganzeb comes to mind). Nevertheless after a Revolution or so the French remain profoundly proud of their “Sun King” in a way the Hindu Right Wing do not towards the Mughals.

Back to the Brahmins; there are 5 sets of Brahmins who capture the Indian imagination.

(1.) The UP Brahmins who are the core of Hindu doctrine and society. Without them there wouldn’t be a coherent Hindu society or population (there are 20 million UP Brahmins).

(2.) The Bengal Brahmins who are the periphery of the Hindustani belt (but still very much a part of it with Bengal being significant in the Mughal era and core heartland in the Colonial one), emerged as a core of a more “Hindu cultural identity.”  Is it any wonder that the Indian national anthem is in Bengali?

(3.) The Kashmiri Pandits. Unique among Brahmins they were a minority among an overwhelming Muslim population. Surrounded by Muslims, they Mughalicised, became the Hindu Mughals and the political class of independent Indians.

(4.) The Maratha Brahmins. On the Edge of Aryavarta and the heart of the Deccan; they became the Hindu warrior class after the Rajputs were entirely coopted by the Anglo-Mughal establishment (the Rani of Jhansi was a Maratha).

(5.) Finally the Brahmin class, which sparked my initial thought. The Tamil Brahmins, furtherest away from the Islamicate world in every way possible (their Islam is similar to the Kerala, TN, Ceylon, South East Asian one) and most obsessed with the hard sciences. It’s pretty obvious Vidhi wouldn’t have been on her scientific path if she had grown up in the North.

In some ways the “millennia of humiliation” (not my words) splintered the Hindu response 5-ways, which is why any reconstruction of Hindu identity rests on a multi-regional response.

Ps: Shocking in a case of life imitating art – I was just browing girmit’s last comment and found out that the commentariat were discussing the exact same thing..

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Indians in Kerala are less religiously polarized, those in Bihar are more polarized


Because some commenters on this weblog have a lot more lived experience within India than I do, you try to bullshit me. I suspect it, but I can’t prove it.

But I realized today that World Values Survey is broken down by region within countries. This means I can at least doublecheck some of the crazy assertions some of you make.

What I did is pretty simple: I selected India as the country and then selected regions as the first variable. I crossed it with a question about how much people trust those of other religions.

One thing that jumps out of the result is that trust across religions is highest in Kerala. There isn’t a huge difference across the north, but it seems lowest in Bihar. This makes sense.

These sorts of single results need to be treated with caution. The main issue is that respondents are usually asked in their native language, but word choice can bias the outcome.

I invite readers who are interested in bullshitting less to look at the WVS themselves. Raw table below the fold (with N’s).

Continue reading “Indians in Kerala are less religiously polarized, those in Bihar are more polarized”

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Brown is all, all is brown

There emerged a question in the comments below as to what was “brown” or “desi”?

Ah, the old demarcation problem! Since there is no “Pope of Brownness” we can all offer our opinions. I take a “liberal” and “broad” view.

There are children adopted from India in the United States who are as physically South Asian as anyone. But often they were raised as English-speaking American Christians. Though many attempt to reconnect with “their culture”, the reality is that their family is the family who adopted them. Their culture is the culture in which they grew into adulthood. But, because of the way they look people make assumptions about them. Perhaps people are racist against them as South Asians.

Despite their involuntary cultural alienation from all things South Asian, I have a difficult time thinking that these kids are not brown. Especially if they so want to identify as such.

In contrast, you have the case of people of various races who convert to religions with a South Asian provenance or were raised in those religions. Imagine someone whose parents convert to Hinduism, and raise them in India, but they are half Japanese and English American. They don’t “look” Indian. Brown. Or desi. But if they are raised in India, and practice a form of Hinduism, and speak Indian languages, I have a hard time saying that they don’t have a right to “claim” being desi or brown.

There are obviously many other cases. But I wanted to present these two as opposing and inverted instances, as I think they are the boundary conditions of what desi or brown identity is. People can say what they want about themselves. They could be an Iyer raised in Chennai who claims that they’re really not Indian or desi. Or, someone could be a Russian Karelian who is devoutly Orthodox who claims they Indian. I suspect most of us would think that this is nonsense. To be brown or desi does have boundaries.

But we can make the boundaries crisp and tight. Or broad and loose. For example, to assert that to be desi one has to be a believing and practicing Hindu who is racially South Asian would be a narrow definition.

Or, we can make them broad.

As an American, a broad definition works best for me. My children may not speak a South Asian language, worship Hindu gods, or look particularly “Indian.” But of their eight great-grandparents, four of them were born in British India. They have some claim I think to that heritage and identity, if not as strongly as those genuinely encultured.

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