Open Thread – Brown Pundits

How are things in India right now? As many Indians now read this weblog as Americans (33% each). Mostly curious about the post-coronavirus world.

New podcast with Abhinav Prakash. More suggestions for podcast guests welcome.

One thing I had a mild disagreement with is the use of the term “genocide” in relation to what the Turkic Muslims did in the subcontinent to the Hindus. I agree that killings occurred, some of great brutality. But I am more and more convinced that the true obliteration was the cultural evisceration of public monuments and the repression of history. Perhaps a more accurate or precise term would be “cultural genocide.”

My wife suggested that we rename the Browncast the “Browncaste.” I nixed that.

Happy Birthday America!


American caste! (?)

On August 4th a new book is coming out, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. The author is a journalist who has published a substantial extract of the book at The New York Times Magazine, America’s Enduring Caste System: Our founding ideals promise liberty and equality for all. Our reality is an enduring racial hierarchy that has persisted for centuries:

Throughout human history, three caste systems have stood out. The lingering, millenniums-long caste system of India. The tragically accelerated, chilling and officially vanquished caste system of Nazi Germany. And the shape-shifting, unspoken, race-based caste pyramid in the United States. Each version relied on stigmatizing those deemed inferior to justify the dehumanization necessary to keep the lowest-ranked people at the bottom and to rationalize the protocols of enforcement. A caste system endures because it is often justified as divine will, originating from sacred text or the presumed laws of nature, reinforced throughout the culture and passed down through the generations.

When shared on Twitter even Left-Indians, normally sympathetic to Left-American journalists and their Weltanschauung, recoiled. My main comment is simple: write what you know. From the extract, the author does not seem to know enough about the Indian social system and history to make informative and illuminating comparisons to the United States.

Also, though I personally am not positively disposed toward caste, comparing it to Nazi Germany seems needlessly inflammatory.

I will note a few things

– The latest surveys suggest intercase marriages in India are now at 10%

– In America, 20% of the marriage partners of black Americans are not black

In 300 years about 20% of the ancestry of black Americans is now of European origin. In contrast, there are villages in Andhra Pradesh where people of different castes (jati) are genetically more distinct than Scandinavians are from Italians. David Reich’s group has an estimated < 1% intermarriage rate between the groups, with a rough crystallization of caste boundaries 1,500 years ago.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents probably had its conclusion prewritten. The argument is something added on later.


Browncast Episode 109: Abhinav Prakash: Indian culture, society, and politics

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 Razib has a very wide-ranging discussion with economist Abhinav Prakash.

Topics includes:

– The culture of UP

– The economic policy of the BJP

– The role of Hindu identity in India culture

– The long-term prospects of Hindu-Muslim amity in UP

– Regional differences within India

– The “Maratha mindset”

– Now non-Brahmin/Bania Hindus are changing the nature of Hindu nationalism today from what it has traditionally been.


On Being Hindu in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan

Most readers of this weblog will already know this story. Far more than I do at least: Construction work at Hindu temple site in Islamabad halted. This part jumped out at me:

The Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), an ally of Prime Minister Khan’s ruling Tehreek-e-Insaf recently opposed the construction of the temple by claiming that it was “against the spirit of Islam.”

Let’s be frank: isn’t this correct?

Religions are what people make of them, and there are some latitudinarian Muslims who would object to the assertion that the building of a Hindu temple was “against the spirit of Islam.” But historically this action, the obstruction of the building (and repairing) of religious buildings of minority communities has been normative in many Muslim majority societies. Egyptians Copts, for example, have long had to obtain very high level dispensations to repair their churches.

The basic theory from what I recall from Islamic jurists is that minority communities under the protection of Islamic rulers were tolerated, but they need not be encouraged. Their religious liberties were provided at sufferance, and that was enough.

The issue with Hinduism is even deeper: Hinduism is rather explicit in that it is a form of shirk. Whether you conceive of your Hinduism as fundamentally monotheistic or polytheistic, from a Muslim perceived it is polytheistic, and therefore an abomination. The Pakistani polity is illiberal in its behavior, but it is operating squarely within the orthodox parameters of Islamic accommodation to some level of religious pluralism, which combines subordination with delimiting the purview of minority religious beliefs and practices.

This is not limited to Islam, as some readers will be aware that Late Antique pagan practice slowly reconfigured its outline into a shape less offensive to Christianity as the price of toleration (e.g., public animal sacrifice disappeared). In Indonesia Buddhism and Hinduism are both explicitly monotheistic religions, so as not to offend Islamic sensibilities (though in Indonesia Muslims can also convert to Christianity or Hinduism legally, unlike many Muslim nations).

What’s the solution to this illiberality? In the long term, the only answer is greater secularization. As long as orthodox Islam, looking back to the past remains central to Pakistani identity I can’t see any other reaction to the attempt by Hindus to practice and express their religion in the public domain, as opposed to private practice.

Note: There is a long tradition in Abrahamic religions which believes that the gods of polytheistic faiths are actually devils and demons. This is one reason that Christians in Korea have attacked Buddhist statues, and Muslims in Pakistan are expressing horror at the building of a temple to Krishna, who they believe to be a demon who actually exists.


The Arctic home of the Aryans

The Fatyanovo culture flourished between 2800 and 1900 BC. It seems they were part of a Central European “reflux” migration. That is, their forebears were related Yamna agro-pastoralists who migrated west out of the steppe and mixed with Central European farmers. Eventually, some of these people moved back east along the edge of the forest-steppe boundary.

The Fatyanovo is the name for a group of people who seem to have introduced agro-pastoralism to the region nearly up to the Urals in northeastern European Russia. A new preprint, Genetic ancestry changes in Stone to Bronze Age transition in the East European plain, confirms what we assumed:

Transition from the Stone to the Bronze Age in Central and Western Europe was a period of major population movements originating from the Ponto-Caspian Steppe. Here, we report new genome-wide sequence data from 28 individuals from the territory north of this source area – from the under-studied Western part of present-day Russia, including Stone Age hunter-gatherers (10,800-4,250 cal BC) and Bronze Age farmers from the Corded Ware complex called Fatyanovo Culture (2,900-2,050 cal BC). We show that Eastern hunter-gatherer ancestry was present in Northwestern Russia already from around 10,000 BC. Furthermore, we see a clear change in ancestry with the arrival of farming – the Fatyanovo Culture individuals were genetically similar to other Corded Ware cultures, carrying a mixture of Steppe and European early farmer ancestry and thus likely originating from a fast migration towards the northeast from somewhere in the vicinity of modern-day Ukraine, which is the closest area where these ancestries coexisted from around 3,000 BC.

The Fatyanovo culture seems to have given rise to the rival and later successor Abashevo culture, which flourished a bit further east (beyond the Urals in part). The Abashevo in their turn gave rise to the Sintashta culture, which flourished even further east, and somewhat south.

There are two things I want to highlight. First, the Y chromosome:

Then, we turned to the Bronze Age Fatyanovo Culture individuals and determined that their maternal (subclades of mtDNA hg U5, U4, U2e, H, T, W, J, K, I and N1a) and paternal (chrY hg R1a-M417) lineages…were ones characteristic of CWC individuals elsewhere in Europe…Interestingly, in all individuals for which the chrY hg could be determined with more depth (n=6), it was R1a2-Z93…a lineage now spread in Central and South Asia, rather than the R1a1-Z283 lineage that is common in Europe.

Here is the modern distribution of Z-93:

The reason Z283 is found where in ancient times Z93 was found is that over the past 500 years ethnic Russians have expanded eastward, retracing the biogeographic route of the earlier peoples along the forest-steppe frontier.

The steppe people seem to be highly patriarchal. Though there are some non-modal lineages, samples from a specific location are often dominated by a single haplogroup, indicative of a broader kinship-based society focused around descent from an ancestor. In contrast, the origins of females as evidenced by mtDNA, diversity seems to be rather catholic. Some of the mtDNA lineages above, and later in the Sintashta, seem to derive from farmer populations in Europe whose ultimate origins were in Anatolia.

Let me define gotra from Wikipedia:

In Hindu culture, the term gotra (Sanskrit: गोत्र) is considered to be equivalent to lineage. It broadly refers to people who are descendants in an unbroken male line from a common male ancestor or patriline. Generally the gotra forms an exogamous unit, with the marriage within the same gotra being prohibited by custom, being regarded as incestThe name of the gotra can be used as a surname, but it is different from a surname and is strictly maintained because of its importance in marriages among Hindus, especially among the higher castes

The second point is to show this table:

This group has been assembling a lot of data on phenotypic SNPs over time transects in Northeast Europe. One has to take these results with a grain of salt because the predictions are trained on modern samples. I do not think, for example, that European hunter-gatherers had “black skin.” I suspect that the Mesolithic populations were genetically different enough that their “light alleles” may not be in our panels, though my suspicion is that they’d be of darker hue as Inuit people are. That being said, selection work aligns with these results that Europeans, in particular, seem to have been getting lighter in many areas down to the present.

The eye color prediction I somewhat trust since it’s quasi-Mendelian (~75% of the variance is due to one genetic location in Europeans). For the pigmentation, I would focus on the trend, not the absolute value. Anyone who has been to the Northeast Baltic (I have) knows that these are amongst the fairest people in the world. It is very unsurprising that these people have been getting paler over time.

There have been various arguments on this blog and elsewhere as to what the Sintashta people would look like.  I’ve posted the Narasimhan et al. data before. The results are broadly similar to the ones above for the Fataynovo.

The Fataynovo do not have the pigmentation genetic architecture that is similar to Nordic people. But, neither are they out of keeping with some European peoples. The Sintashta would be ~25% blue-eyed according to Narasimhan et al.’s data. In the 1000 Genomes about 10% of the alleles in Punjabis, Gujaratis, and Bengalis is the derived variant so common in Northern Europe, giving a recessive frequency ~1% of so blue-eyed, which is too high since other genes have an influence in these cases (though this allele is found in West Asia at appreciable frequencies, including in very old ancient DNA).

On the whole, these results confirm that the Aryans when they arrived in India were fair-skinned people. But, they were likely not as rosy-cheeked as the English who arrived thousands of years later, nor were their eyes quite often pale.


A risk factor for COVID-19 in South Asians

The major genetic risk factor for severe COVID-19 is inherited from Neandertals:

A recent genetic association study (Ellinghaus et al. 2020) identified a gene cluster on chromosome 3 as a risk locus for respiratory failure in SARS-CoV-2. Recent data comprising 3,199 hospitalized COVID-19 patients and controls reproduce this and find that it is the major genetic risk factor for severe SARS-CoV-2 infection and hospitalization (COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative). Here, we show that the risk is conferred by a genomic segment of ~50 kb that is inherited from Neandertals and occurs at a frequency of ~30% in south Asia and ~8% in Europe.

The highest frequency is in the 1000 Genomes Bangladesh sample. 60%. In a study of Europeans all things equal the risk allele at this locus increases odds of respiratory failure by a factor of 1.75. This isn’t really the major factor; age and hypertension, all the things you know, matter more. But, it’s not trivial either to increase risk by 1.75.

If you are on 23andMe and got tested before the summer of 2017, the older chips has a marker for the locus that’s informative (in LD with the haplotype). This link should take you there. I’m TT homozygote. Modern human. A C is for Neanderthals.


The determinants of prosperity in South Asia

Do state capacity and policy really matter when it comes to wealth among regions in South Asia ? Or is prosperity today determined largely by a mixture of geographical and historical factors ? South Asia as a unit is a reasonable region to study because the introduction to modernity in this entire region was mediated by the British Empire.

Seen in the two figures below are GDP per capita ($ PPP) figures for smaller (< 20 million population) and larger (> 20 million population) regions. The entities include the nations of Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, states and union territories of India, and provinces of Pakistan. Some notes about the two figures:

  1. Green bars denote plains regions, red mountain regions and blue coastal regions.
  2. Bold x-axis labels indicate entities with major metro areas.
  3. Bold borders around bars indicate non-Indian entities.
GDP per capita ($ PPP) of smaller political entities (< 20 million) in South Asia. Indian states, Pakistani regions and nation of Bhutan. Bold x-axis label denotes presence of metro area. Bold border of bar indicates non-Indian entity.
GDP per capita ($ PPP) of larger political entities (> 20 million) in South Asia. Indian states, Pakistani provinces and nations of Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan. Bold x-axis label denotes presence of metro area. Bold border of bar indicates non-Indian entity.

There are roughly five bands of wealth we can identify:

  1. Rich smaller entities of India: Goa, Delhi, Sikkim and Chandigarh. These have GDPs of around $20-25000.
  2. Richer large entities consisting of Indian states and Sri Lanka. GDPs are around $10-12000, and these are predominantly coastal regions.
  3. Succesful agrarian states of India (Punjab and Andhra), mountainous states of India (HP, UT, MZ), Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, and country of Bhutan. GDPs between $8-10000.
  4. Interior Indian states and Odisha, along with all Pakistani provinces. This is the South Asian mean performance of around 4-6000$.
  5. Poor regions: Indian states of UP, Bihar, countries of Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan’s remote area of FATA and India’s remote state of Manipur.

Clearly being on the coast and having a major city help in a major way. In this context, there are three regions which are major disappointments, India’s West Bengal, Bangladesh and Pakistan’s Sindh. All three are on the coast, have major metropolitan areas and even have rich agricultural lands. But their economic performance is significantly below potential.

On the other hand, the economic star of the subcontinent is the Indian state of Haryana. It defies every convention, its not on the coast, lacks a huge metro region and lacks abundant rainfall. But it excels in every aspect of economic activity, its agricultural productivity is second only to Indian Punjab, its industries are varied and well developed and its service sector is a leader in India along with Karnataka. Gurugram hosts genuinely innovative startups, home to at least 7 of India’s 30 unicorns.

An interesting comparison is that between the state of Punjab and the Pakistani province of the same name. Indian Punjab is richer despite lacking a metro area. But there is a convergence in certain aspects. These are rich agricultural areas, with strong remittance networks but they both might lack industrial entrepreneurs.

Bihar, Nepal and Eastern UP together continue to be home to the largest concentration of poor people on planet Earth.  This is an isolated region, with no major cities, neglected by every Indian political entity for many centuries now. The Modi government’s national waterway one has already connected the region upto Varanasi to the ocean, upstream will be a technological challenge. Nepal, can look to Indian states like Uttarakand and Himachal for an effective growth strategy.

Although geography and history play a major role, the example of Haryana shows that those factors can be overcome. Market access, aggregation effects and the presence of mercantile communities are the key variables that determine economic performance.


Ancient and Modern Medicine

My friend Dr Joishy is a very well respected physician (an oncologist by training, with a special interest in palliative medicine). He also comes from a family of Ayurvedic practitioners and a long time ago he wrote a small article about ancient medical systems and modern medicine. He shared it with me, I liked it, one thing led to another, and here is his note about that article (unfortunately not available in etext form, only as a scan, see link in the following note).. I hope to do a podcast with Dr Joishy one day by the way..



 By Suresh K. Joishy, M.D., F.A.C.h.P.M.

                 My good neighbor Dr. Omar Ali and myself were having a mutually interesting conversation on ancient medical systems and modern medicine.  I had published a paper on this topic titled “Towards Ideal Medicine: What Can Traditional Medicine Teach Us?”   This paper can be accessed by copying and pasting the following link onto an internet browser:

After reading it, Dr. Ali suggested I submit it to “Brown Pundits” but we did not have an electronic copy. The scan is attached above.

My paper was written in 1981, when I was practicing Hematology and Oncology  in the U.S., after a research assignment in Malaysia.    Since I am a medical graduate from India, my grandfather was a physician in Ayurveda, and as I lived in several states of India, I was able to closely observe the ancient medical systems still in practice and thriving.

I am a practitioner of modern medicine.  I believe in science and evidence-based medicine.  Then why write about ancient medical systems?  My paper addressed this very question as to why Ayurveda, Unani and Traditional Chinese Medicine were thriving despite the success of modern medicine in curing infections with antibiotics and no limits to what a surgery can accomplish to repair, replace, or transplant organs.  I have described the science of modern medicine and compared it to Ayurveda,Unani  and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Rather than dwell on the past again, here I will give my views on what has transpired since 1981,  after which I was teaching and conducting research abroad in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, England, Japan, and New Zealand.  I also observed ancient medical systems were still thriving over there. Continue reading “Ancient and Modern Medicine”