The Sintashta shamans

By Razib Khan 49 Comments

Recently I’ve been reading about the Kalash religion. For readers who are not aware, the Kalash area group of Indo-Aryan speaking pagans who reside in the fastness of Chitral, Pakistan. Genetically about ~30% of their ancestry can be modeled as “Sintashta”, the pastoralist Indo-Europeans who were dominant in Bronze Age Turan, and likely gave rise to the Indo-Aryans. The remaining ~70% of their ancestry is similar to that of the Indus Valley people.

Despite their predominant non-Aryan ancestry, I do wonder if the Kalash could give us insights about the beliefs of the original Indo-Aryans, before they were exceedingly transmuted by India. One thing that is clear to me is that their “mountain shamanism” seems to be similar to the “steppe shamanism” outlined in Empires of the Silk Road. The insight from this work is that ecology and lifestyle matters. Turks, Iranians, Mongols, and Tungusic peoples all transformed in similar ways when exposed to and habituated toward steppe pastoralism. The shift toward more “organized” and structured religion happens with sedentarism and mixed-agriculture.

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The Abbasid invention of Islam

By Razib Khan 5 Comments

Since many readers of this weblog have rather naive views of Islam and its interaction with the Indian subcontinent, I thought they might appreciate my post on my other weblog, The Myth Of Arabian Paganism, And The Jewish-Christian Origins Of The Umayyads.

It wasn’t emphasized in the piece, but I will make it clear here: the development of Sunni Islam as we understand it was strongly conditioned on the cultural influences from the matrix of Iranian-Indian religious and social thought which matured in Turan. In fact, one of the early Abbasids, the son of an Iranian mother, even considered moving the capital of the Caliphate to Central Asia, in particular, the city of Merv.

The aspects of Islamic thought most clearly a product of this period and place? I believe that this is the hadith culture embedded within the institutions of the madrassa. Many argue the madrassa is a modification of the Central Asia vihara, and the analysis of proper practice due to religious law was a major function of the religious within these viharas.

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Hindu racism against Muslims

By Razib Khan 67 Comments
Tom Haverford

On the TV show Parks & Recreation Aziz Asnari’s character, Darwish Ghani, changes his name to Tom Haverford. The joke is that as a brown-skinned man he can change his name all he wants, but he’ll always be Darwish Ghani to the fair citizens of Indiana.

I thought of this while after I listened to Mindy Kaling on Fresh Air talking about her new show, Never Have I Ever, and a scene where aunties are ostracizing a woman who had married a Muslim. Kaling mentions offhand that the “racism” against Muslims is something that she remembers from her childhood. She uses the word racism, rather than prejudice, because for the predominantly white liberal/progressive listeners of NPR Muslims are a “race” after a fashion.

But if Darwish Ghani changed his name to Vikram Chokalingam, he would be able to “pass.”

Kaling’s peculiar interpolation of the Western view of Islam, as a “nonwhite religion,” has resonances in the Indian subcontinent with some Hindu nationalists, who view Muslims as an alien race, the scions of foreigners, and some Muslims, who proclaim their Arab, Iranian or Turkic antecedents. All the while, genetics and the plain evidence of our faces makes it clear we are basically all the same “race” (i.e., Punjabi Hindus and Punjabi Muslims aren’t really different except a tiny bit on the margins*).

* Muslims are more likely to have a bit of ‘exotic’ ancestry.

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Never Have I Ever

By Razib Khan 4 Comments


The new series on Netflix about a young Indian American teen is pretty good. Despite attempts to write about it in a political frame, I don’t see that it’s a political show really. There is also an element of verisimilitude to the show because the non-Indian love interests are of East Asian, Jewish, or mixed East Asian backgrounds. Too often when talking about dating and love outside of one South Asian culture there’s a temptation to assume “American” means Sven and/or the St. Pauli Girl. Southern California, where the show is set, is way more diverse than that, and unlike 90s sitcoms like Friends and Seinfeld Never Have I Ever actually seems like it was set in and around suburban SoCal.*

Oh, and I have to observe, that the protagonist is complected like a lot of the Indian Americans I grew up around.

* The protagonist did say “Hella,” which is very NorCal. I have no idea how that got past the writers’ room.

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Browncast Episode 96: From Vietnam with Phở

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify,  and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

You can also support the podcast as a patron. The primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else. This website isn’t about shaking the cup, but I have noticed that the number of patrons plateaued a long time ago.

I would though appreciate more positive reviews! Alton Brown’s “Browncast” has 30 reviews on Stitcher alone! Help make us the biggest browncast! At least at some point

This episode is a discussion Jasper Gregory, an expat living in Danang. Having basically “beaten” Covid-19, is coming out of “lockdown.” We talk about how this happened, and what “normalcy” looks like.

Jasper and I also discuss the geopolitics, religion, and popular culture of Vietnam and Southeast Asia. Also, does he prefer northern or southern phở?

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Sri Lanka: post 1948, Economy and China

By sbarrkum 20 Comments

Some snippets on Economy, Population.   The seeds for the darkest years of our history were being laid.   China was lending a helping hand, and India was backstabbing Sri Lanka by training the LTTE.

Sri Lankas population was approx 7 million in 1948
By 1971 had increased 12 million (70% increase)

Until 1967 or so high rubber prices, were able to sustain a welfare system. Free rice etc. Development of better synthetic rubber, dropped natural rubber price.
Sri Lanka economy crashed and unlike now, no one was willing to lend.

A large part of food, including rice was imported. Gal-Oya type scheme (Large dam/Irrigation system, see here for more descriptive) etc was not sufficient for a population that was increasing by the day. There wasnt enough land to go around for the large population increase.

The first big sign of the crisis caused by the population and an economy unable to keep pace was the 71 insurrection by Sinhalese mainly southern rural youth. Once the insurrection was suppressed, Land Reform was put into place and  imposed a ceiling of twenty hectares (50 acres) on privately owned land and sought to distribute lands in excess of the ceiling for the benefit of landless peasants.

No foreign exchange, we had to engage in barter, eg the Rubber Rice pact with China.  Then as usual the Americans twisted our balls. Their surplus wheat that had gone mouldy was given under PL480. It was not free, SL had to pay for it.

So, we had to learn from scratch, without much capital to be self sufficient.

The economy of Jaffna and the Vanni boomed. Much of the veggies, chillies came from there.

Then in 1977 JR Jayawardene opened up the economy. The farming economy and local industry, collapsed specially in the North.    !977 riots, burning of the Jaffna library helped us well on the way to self destruction.

Well worth reading

Prime Minister, Dudley Senanayake, however, fully backed his Minister of Commerce and was prepared to pay this price; he realized that the benefits to Sri Lanka from the agreement far outweighed losses consequent to the cutting-off of American aid. He argued:
“Ceylon’s oil trade pattern has been knocked out by changes in the world market and we have to seek new markets for our needs of essential foodstuffs and for our exports”

R. G. Senanayake: “We noted on the Chinese side the absence of the spirit of bargaining and haggling on comparatively small points. On the other hand, they gave us the impression of being large minded and forthright in their dealings”

http://www.island.lk/2002/12/22/featur06.html

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India and industrialization

By Vikram 32 Comments

The question: why does China produce and export so much more than India does ? At the coarsest granularity, the answer comes down to demographics, distance and war.

Demographics: India and China may have similar populations today, but the size of China’s labor force is still around twice that of India’s. This is because of the different ways in which the two countries transitioned to low fertility. China had a huge surge in population growth after WW2, but its fertility fell dramatically in the 1970s. This has given it a huge pool of workers, nearly a billion, but their number will fall off equally rapidly in the coming years.

In contrast, India will never as many workers as China does today, but will have the largest workforce of any country for a long time. India’s transition to low fertility has been steady and smooth. Basically India’s labour force time series will be flatter with a lower peak, as compared to China’s sharp curve with a higher peak.

Distance: Distance matters. A lot. Within India itself, villages within 5km distance from an urban area became 20% richer between 1993 and 2005, whereas those more than 10 km away became 2% poorer in the same period. Wealth clusters, rich countries tend to clump together in Western Europe and East Asia. The same is true for the rich states of the American North East.

China benefited enormously from being proximate to Japan, Korea and Taiwan (total population 220 million). They were already plugged into the American led rich world, and China entered this network via its contacts with them. For India, the rich countries nearby were the oil rich Gulf states, and we did benefit from them via remittances. But these desperately underpopulated countries cannot be compared to places like Japan that experienced massive industrialization in the early 20th century.

War: Among the top industrial powers in the world, China ranks first, but this is mainly due to low tech goods and high tech reexports. But after China, the countries are the US, Japan and Germany. In fact, they were the leading industrial powers since WW2. (India, by the way is sixth after Korea).

The American economy expanded by a factor of 3 in the decade of the WW2. Even though Germany and Japan were devastated, the hysteresis effects from the large scale industrialization that fighting modern, mechanized wars remained. They had the will and memory to industrialize again.

India has also seen military conflict, but this has remained confined to its margins. We have just never experienced ‘war time’ economy and discipline for long periods of time.

If Indians wanted large scale industrialization, they would demand it. But they dont. They demand everything from reservations to train routes to temples. Perhaps, the payoff from industrialization for workers is not as great as our chattering classes like to think. Foxconn factory workers in Sri City make half the salary of a maid in nearby Chennai. For many families, a second child is a better investment over the long term than the temporary boost in income from the woman working a factory job.

Trying to become the ‘next China’ is not desirable at all, we have to find ways of increasing our service exports, and improving our agro productivity.

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Extraction!

By Razib Khan 7 Comments


I just watched a somewhat silly film Extraction on Netflix. There’s not much plot. But some of the background is subcontinental. Some comments

* The translation of the Bengali elided quite a bit of flourish. For example, they didn’t translate “son of a bitch” from Bengali into English in the subtitles

* The dominance and impunity of organized crime in Dhaka seems implausible

* It was kind of funny watching Chris Hemsworth beat up guys a foot shorter than him

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