Paatal Lok – Review

Open Thread – 08/22/2020 – Brown Pundits

The usual.

But I’ll make a comment here. I am of the school that thinks facts matter a lot. Many of you trade in standard Hindu nationalist tropes and generalities about Islam. As someone who told Shadi Hamid on our interview, I am not a big personal fan of Islam, I don’t really mind people fearing Islam. I have personal experience of the religion after all.

But, facts matter. And a lot of the “facts” that get bandied about here are false.  I won’t tolerate that. There are two general categories I will point to:

1. First, people take traditional Muslim historiography at face value. You shouldn’t. This is like taking Christians at face value when they talk about the Four Gospels are pure positive history, when they were finally compiled and redacted decades later. Whether Muhammad exists is an empirical question in the same way that whether Jesus exists is an empirical question. As it happens, I’m modestly confident both figures existed in some form but were quite different from what Christians and Muslims depict them as (I do suspect that Josephus was a later interpolation).

The broader issue here is that Muslims on the whole have not gone through the modernist transition in regards to a critical-rationalist take on their religion. In Christianity, traditionalist-fundamentalists exist, but they have to take dialogue with modernists as a given. They exist in large part as reactions to modernism. This is not the case with Islam. Muslims accept that non-Muslims reject their religion, but within Islam, there is not a strong rationalist engagement with their texts that applies the sort of criticism than the Germans pioneered within Protestantism in the 19th century. That means they present a “unified face” about their early history which too many non-Muslims take for granted. Islam with all of its constitutive elements is not truly recognizable to us until about 850 A.D.*

2. Because this is a blog with a South Asian focus a lot of Hindu nationalist tropes and facts get presented at face value. I don’t really mind them as mythologies that give people succor or create their identity, but a lot of them have as much factual basis as a pagan Mecca: not much.

Most of the Hindu nationalist commenters do reflect a reality of “lived experience.” As someone who grew up around South Asian Muslims, I can admit they have total contempt on the whole (there are exceptions) for Hindus and their “bizarre” beliefs. But, as someone who is personally anti-Islam and literally tolerant of diverse views, many people from Hindu backgrounds of all ideologies have told me what they really think of Muslims, and the contempt is returned.

My issue is always when people turn their personal experiences into deep historical insights. Do not do that if you don’t enjoy me jumping down your throat, because if I’m not busy, I will do so.

More broadly, lots of Indian readers would benefit from reading more history. Especially non-Indian history. A broad cross-cultural perspective is essential, so do more!

For the curious here are a few books:

China: A New History
History of Rome
A History of the Byzantine State and Society
A History of the Arab Peoples: Updated Edition

* The Shia-Sunni split starts to become discernible in a way we’d recognize, Hadith culture is already on track to marginalize the “philosophers” and Hellenists, and the ulema centered around madrassas spread from the east to the west.

The Qualitative Destruction of Pakistan Army between 1955 and 1971

From Major Amin. Originally written in 1999

Why Military Defeat in 1971-The Qualitative Destruction of Pakistan Army between 1955 and 1971 Major A.H Amin (Retired)
Why Military Defeat in 1971-The Qualitative Destruction of Pakistan Army between 1955 and 1971
• August 2020

Research teaching and writing were unproductive jobs in British India since they did not enable a man to be a deputy collector or barrister or doctor! It was a mad race made further mad by frequent outbursts of communal frenzy, which increased as population increased during the period 1890-1940. All this helped the Britishers who had been traumatically shaken by the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857 when a largely Hindu majority army had rebelled under Muslim leaders! The British were thus happier playing the role of judges resolving Hindu Muslim disputes rather than performing the more unpleasant task of facing a combined political movement of all Indians regardless of race or religion as in 1857, 1919 or 1922! This is the basis of anti-intellectualism in the Indo-Pak Sub-continent. It is truer for Pakistan since the Muslims were educationally more backward and relatively less true, yet still true and applicable to India too! Pakistan and India have produced very few serious military writers. In Pakistan the situation is worse since an unofficial ban was imposed on military writing by various military usurpers who ruled the country for the greater part of its existence.

The finest summarizing of the incalculable qualitative harm inflicted on the Pakistan Army, by the self-promoted Field Marshal of peace, by a contemporary, was done by Major General Fazal I Muqeem, when he described the state of affairs of the Pakistan Army during the period 1958-71; in the following words: “We had been declining according to the degree of our involvement in making and unmaking of regimes. Gradually the officer corps, intensely proud of its professionalism was eroded at its apex into third class politicians and administrators. Due to the absence of a properly constituted political government, the selection and promotion of officers to the higher rank depended on one man’s will. Gradually, the welfare of institutions was sacrificed to the welfare of personalities. To take the example of the army, the higher command had been slowly weakened by retiring experienced officers at a disturbingly fine rate. Between 1955 and November 1971, in about 17 years 40 Generals had been retired, of whom only four had reached their superannuating age. Similar was the case with other senior ranks. Those in the higher ranks who showed some independence of outlook were invariably removed from service. Some left in sheer disgust in this atmosphere of insecurity and lack of the right of criticism, the two most important privileges of an Armed Forces officer. The extraordinary wastage of senior officers particularly of the army denied the services, of the experience and training vital to their efficiency and welfare. Some officers were placed in positions that they did not deserve or had no training for” 1.

Continue reading The Qualitative Destruction of Pakistan Army between 1955 and 1971

Kamala Harris embrace of ‘victim identity’ bothers me

Apparently Kamala Harris was admitted to law school through LEOP:

LEOP offers admission to approximately 50 high-achieving students each year—up to 20 percent of the class—who have experienced major life hurdles, such as educational disadvantage, economic hardship, or disability. The majority are students of color. Besides traditional admissions criteria, such as grades and LSAT scores, the program also considers students’ overall potential and the obstacles they’ve overcome. “These are extraordinary students who have been playing while injured in the game of life, but all they do is win,” McGriff said.

Once students enroll, LEOP supports them throughout their tenure at UC Hastings, offering a weeklong orientation, academic counseling, practice exams, and help preparing for the bar exam and job interviews, among other resources and services.

…. LEOP went on to count many prominent alumni among its ranks, including U.S. Senator Kamala Harris ’89; San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi ’85; Adelmise Warner ’01, chief counsel at Pandora; and Andrew Houston ’07, procurement counsel for the University of California’s Office of the General Counsel.

We know a lot about Kamala Harris’ mother’s family. They are upper-middle-class Tamil Brahmins. Her mother did raise her mostly alone. So she was a single mother. But she was also a Ph.D. biomedical researcher.

Here is a profile about her father, Kamala Harris’s Father, a Footnote in Her Speeches, Is a Prominent Economist:

Dr. Harris was raised in a landowning family on the north coast of Jamaica by a paternal grandmother whom he described as “reserved and stern in look, firm with ‘the strap,’ but capable of the most endearing and genuine acts of love, affection and care.” Reserved and highly intelligent, he was more cut out for academia than activism, contemporaries said.

Basically, on both sides of Harris’ pedigree, there is evidence of sub-elite status. Her utilization of the LEOP program seems to be unfair to students who were genuinely disadvantaged.

The Aryan Integration Theory (AIT)

I’ve been thinking a bit recently about loaded terms like the “Aryan Invasion Theory.” Since I’m not Indian I don’t get super worked up about the ideological valence of the term. But, after thinking about it for a while, a few weeks ago I decided that the term “Aryan Invasion Theory” (AIT) is not useful, and I will abandon my gentle defense of its utility.

My own views can be read extensively at already, so I won’t belabor the details of what I believe.

Rather, I think that the classical version of the “AIT” is not useful because I think most people associate the idea of a barbarian “invasion” with a conflict between two clear and distinct groups, and one of the groups have a coherent social and political organization in a complex fashion. This is not what I believe at this point. Rather, I believe that Indo-Aryans interposed themselves into a fallen landscape.

The best evidence from Narasimhan et. al. indicates that “steppe” admixture into Indian subcontinental groups in the northwest dates to the period between 1900 and 1500 BCE (95% confidence intervals). What we now call “Ancestral North Indian” (ANI) and “Ancestral South Indian” (ASI) seem to have emerged in the period between 2000 and 500 BCE. In the “Swat transect” which begins ~1000 BCE there is an increase in AASI related ancestry over time (and, increase in “steppe” as well), suggestive of subcontinent-wide gene flow, including into the northwest from the southeast.

My idea for how Indo-Aryans became preeminent in South Asia is similar to the arrival of Rohirrim into Rohan. The “Mature IVC” had almost certainly have collapsed by the time of the Indo-Aryans arrived. This is part of a West and South Asia wide collapse of complex urban societies. This is often attributed to a climatic shock and was correlated with an influx of barbarian peoples (e.g., the Guti of the Zagros into the territory of Ur III). In some cases, such as Egypt, the indigenous elites recovered rapidly. In the case of Babylonia, an intrusive Semitic population, the Amorites, assimilated into the high culture of the Akkadians and Sumerians.

The situation in South Asia is unlikely to be peaceful. The Y chromosomes of South Asians are on the order of 10-20% attributable to the steppe (depending on sampling and weighting of populations). A much smaller percentage of mtDNA is attributable to these people. The indication here is that this was a migration of males.

But, the opposition to the Indo-Aryans was not culturally as advanced as the IVC. Rather, the likelihood is that what we see is similar to what occurred in the Balkans after 550 A.D. and the withdrawal of East Roman forces. The Latin-speaking peasantry, with no elites, and the collapse of the Christian church, eventually assimilated into the “peasant culture” of the intrusive Slavs across much of the Balkans. A similar process seems to have occurred across much of Britain, where a minority of pagan Germans assimilated larger numbers of semi-Christianized Celts after their elites retreated to Cornwell, Wales, and Brittany.

It seems that complex specialized societies can be quite brittle. Especially those from the Bronze and early Iron Age (the late Bronze Age collapse is another case). The decline of the IVC probably resulted in the evaporation of many elites who had served to anchor the identity of these polities. My assumption is that the arrival of Indo-Aryans, who had more social cohesion at this point (steppe nomads are all easily mobilizable as a fighting force due to lack of specialization), resulted in integration of the remnant local elites rapidly into the new social order.

Citizenship Amendment Act – the straw that broke the camel’s back

Since the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, which culminated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid, nothing has polarized Indian politics and society as much the Citizenship Amendment Act. On its own, its fair to assume that CAA is not  a particularly insidious piece of legislature, but when it gets combined with National Register of Citizens (NRC) as explained by Amit Shah below, it becomes some to be vary of.

As Amit Shah stated, CAB(A) will be applied before carrying out the process of NRC. In his own words, the refugees(non Muslim migrants) will be granted citizenship and the infiltrators (Muslim migrants – he also referred to them as termites at one instance) will be thrown out or prosecuted (there was some talk of throwing them into the Bay of Bengal).

Its clear to conclude that by refugees – he means Bangladeshi Muslims who reside illegally in India as almost no Muslims from Pakistan and Afghanistan come to India illegally with an intention a  better life. (When they do cross the LOC illegally, they’re treated as enemy combatants or terrorists)

The ACT: 

The instrumental part of the act reads

any person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered into India on or before the 31st day of December, 2014 and who has been exempted by the Central Government by or under clause (c) of sub-section (2) of section 3 of the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 or from the application of the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 or any rule or order made thereunder, shall not be treated as illegal migrant for the purposes of this Act

While this amendment to the ACT is seen as problematic, one must point out that large portions of the existing ACT are also extremely problematic – most of which were added after 1955 under various governments at various times. In particular the 1986 amendment (under Rajiv Gandhi) – which meant children born to both illegal immigrants wouldn’t get citizenship. This is seen as a contradiction with the Birthright naturalization (Jus soli ) principle of the Constitution. The 2003 amendment (under Vajpayee) further restricted citizenship to children, when either of their parents is an illegal immigrant.

The 2003 amendment also prevented illegal immigrants from claiming naturalization by some other legal means. So in short with the CAA 2019, this particular amendment (2003) has been annulled for Non Muslims who have come to Indian sovereign land from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In other words, the CAA facilitates the imagination of India as the natural homeland of subcontinental Non-Muslims (but not a Hindu Rashtra or Hindu State).

Objective Reasons for opposing the CAA:

Continue reading Citizenship Amendment Act – the straw that broke the camel’s back

Getting beyond the nerd understanding of religion

Since about 2006 I’ve had to write the same post again and again due to the nature of my audience: religion is not the purview of technically oriented nerds, and technically oriented nerds just don’t “get” it intuitively. This is something that is relevant to me personally, because I am myself a technically oriented nerd, and I just don’t “get” religion.

A few years ago I was asking a co-worker whey he believed in ghosts, and he stated: “because I’m human.” This is actually a good response, as all societies have the sorts of supernatural beliefs that we might categorize under beliefs about gods, spirits, and demons. This is the cognitive raw material of religion, which is a universal feature of human cultures.

Do you believe this stuff???

A minority of people lack such intuitions. At least with any strength. I am definitely one of those. My realization that I was an atheist occurred when I was eight, as I thought for a few moments about the idea that God might not exist. At that moment I realized I did not think God existed, and, I also realized I hadn’t really thought about it before because religion was simply something I never really gave much thought to.

When I began to give more thought to religion when I was a teenager in the 1990s it was due to its cultural salience. By this, I mean two things. First, the rise of Islamic terrorism and political violence. Second, the emergence of the Christian Right in the United States. In my personal and private life, I had many conservative Christian friends and would engage them in the discussion from my atheistic vantage point.

Between 1995 and 2005 I went through a “Richard Dawkins” phase. As it happens, I met Dawkins casually in 1995 at a talk and had been reading his biology works. I was not particularly interested in his religious commentary. Rather, I read books such as Atheism: A Philosophical Justification or relevant portions of Summa Theologica. I plumbed the depths of ontological, teleological, and cosmological arguments. I engaged with the works of men such as Norman Malcolm and Richard Swinburne.

Continue reading Getting beyond the nerd understanding of religion

Shaniwar Wada: The Palace Of The Peshwa

The seat of the Maratha empire from 1730 to 1818, the Shaniwar Wada is a very important place in Indian history. Built by the Peshwas (Prime Ministers) of the Maratha King (Chhatrapati), this palace fort has nearly been destroyed completely by a combination of military attacks and fires through the centuries.


Under the Peshwai (leadership) of Bajirao I, the capital of the Maratha Empire shifted from Satara to Pune. Bajirao chose Pune for his seat because he found the climate and geography of Pune most suitable for the Peshwai. As both ceremonies – laying the foundation stone and a house warming – took place on Saturdays and the Wada was built in Shaniwar Peth, it was named Shaniwar Wada.

Bajirao I – the Great Cavalry General and Peshwa who build Shaniwar wada as the prime seat of Maratha kingdom. © Gaurav Lele

The main entrance of the Shaniwar Wada is called the Delhi Darwaza, so called because it faces the north and due to Bajirao’s ambitions of conquering Delhi. The building of Shaniwar Wada is thus a pivotal moment in the history of Pune, which has been the cultural capital of Maharashtra ever since.

After Bajirao I

Nanasaheb or Balali Bajirao, the son of Bajirao-I, was the longest ruling Peshwa at 21 years and saw the glory of Shaniwar Wada multiplied during his tenure. However, by the end of his rule, the Marathas had lost the third War of Panipat which resulted in the glory of the Shaniwar Wada being somewhat diminished.

Madhavrao I – Nanasaheb’s second son, his eldest son having been killed in Panipat – who became Peshwa after Nanasaheb, spent considerable time and resources fighting many enemies of the Peshwai, including his uncle Raghobadada), and was thus unable to undertake further constructions in the Wada.

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Book Review: The Universal History of Numbers

A review I wrote 20 years ago.

Georges Ifrah is a Frenchman of Moroccan origin who was an ordinary schoolteacher of mathematics before his students sparked one of the great intellectual quests of our time (or, indeed, of any time). His students asked him where numbers came from? Who invented them and why? How did they take their modern form? When he tried to answer these simple questions, he found that the information found in standard textbooks was highly unsatisfactory and frequently contradictory. Not content with passing on half-truths and conjectures, Mr. Ifrah abandoned his job and embarked on a ten-year quest to uncover the history of numbers. He traveled to the four corners of the world, read thousands of books, visited hundreds of libraries and museums and asked questions of countless scholars. All this research was supported by odd jobs as delivery boy, chauffer, waiter, night watchman and so on. The result was a book called FROM ONE TO ZERO A Universal History of Numbers, (published in English translation in 1985  ). The book was a hit and brought fame and fortune and the chance to do more research. This led to a much larger book, The Universal History of Numbers: From Prehistory to the Invention of the Computer, which was translated into English in 1998 (after initial publication in French in 1994) and is now available in either one or two volumes.

These books have earned Mr. Ifrah the title of “Indiana Jones of numbers” and worldwide celebrity. After reading the book, I can only add that he deserves every superlative that has been used, and more. To quote a reviewer from “The Guardian”: “Georges Ifrah is the man, and this book, quite simply, rules.” This is not just a history of numbers, it is universal history disguised as the history of numbers. Mr. Ifrah starts with the most basic questions; what kind of “counting sense” do animals possess? What do we know about the number sense of our pre-human ancestors? When we evolved into Homo sapiens sapiens, what kind of numerical ability was “hard-wired” into our brains? He presents fascinating information about the most primitive counting systems, using tally marks, fingers, body parts etc. from these simple beginnings, we move to the abstract concepts of number and its notations. The detail provided is astounding. We learn about the earliest systems of numbers used in the Middle East, India, china, and the ancient Maya etc.etc. And not only do we learn about the numbers, Mr. Ifrah slips in his humanistic, sensitive and very very detailed knowledge of history so smoothly that we hardly notice that we are learning, not just the history of numbers, but the history of mankind; told by a very fair, very balanced and deeply sympathetic observer. Continue reading Book Review: The Universal History of Numbers

MS Dhoni – the Master of Methodical Madness

MS Dhoni decided to hang up his boots yesterday after a long and slow decline in his cricketing outputs. It was the COVID pandemic that ensured that we MSD fans don’t get a farewell inning from Mr Cool Captain.

MSD’s cricketing career has been defined by a streak of what I call “Methodical Madness”. He burst on to the scene with a squash buckling century against Pakistan at Vishakhapatnam. Later on, he went to make many more scores that elated the country – like the 183 against Sri-lanka. Perhaps even during these early days, his nerves of steel were often on display, especially during the Indo-Pak ODI series in 2006 , when Dhoni and Yuvraj chased 2 big scores with almost serene calmness that later became Dhoni’s signature.

India in Pakistan 2006

After Dhoni became the captain of a young Indian team for the inaugural T20 World cup, India and Pakistan, both underdogs went into the final against the run of play. The final was a close-fought contest which had truly swung into Pakistan’s favour owing to a splendid inning by Misbah-Ul-Haq. Going into the final over, Pakistan needed 13 from 6 but with the momentum truly in Pakistan’s favour. India had only 2 bowling options, the offspinner Harbhajan Singh and the slower than Shahid Afridi medium-pacer – Joginder Sharma. Harbhajan who had seen 3 sixes fly past him from the blade of Misbah, was not given the final over. Dhoni threw the ball to Joginder. After hitting a clean six, Misbah the last man standing, holed out to S.Sreesanth standing at short fine leg. Throwing the ball to the mediocre (no offence) Joginder looked a gamble, but for Dhoni, it was a calculated risk. Misbah had the bad habit of trying unorthodox shots when none were needed, and such shots are riskier to execute against the bowling of medium-pacers with the old white ball. MSD backed his brains, not his instincts in my opinion.

Continue reading MS Dhoni – the Master of Methodical Madness

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