Open Thread – 08/01/2020 – Brown Pundits

I think when we started the Brown Pundits Browncast we planned a ~1 time a week affair. As it happens it’s not that regular. The Browncast will be gone for 3 weeks, and then come back every other day for a week. Really you should subscribe at one of the options (just click the link in the strip above the latest podcast).

If you want to hear the podcasts early, please become a Patron. I do post them early. Sometimes hours. Sometimes days. Now and then weeks. And on an occasion here and there months. There is also a podcast you can’t hear unless you are a patron since the person interviewed was up for a government position, and they thought it would be best to remove all public opinions for the moment.

The open threads are getting super long, and I will try some non-WP option at some point. Also something with a killfile. I’m pretty relaxed on censorship with the open threads…but at some point, the nastiness is going to turn people off.

I am frustrated by the historical ignorance of many readers of this weblog and “India” Twitter. So a question, if there are three history books someone should read on the West, India, and China, what would they be? I have plenty of suggestions but I’m wondering what the reader would say.

I’m not going to post a separate show notes episode for Kushal Mehra and myself talking about caste, but it’s up.


Browncast Episode 118: Professor Ahmet Kuru, Islam, Authoritarianism and Underdevelopment

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.

In this episode we talk to Professor Ahmet Kuru. Professor Kuru teaches at San Diego State and is the author of (among others) “Islam, Authoritarianism and Underdevelopment”. We discuss his book and the causes of the (relative) decline of the Islamicate world in the last 800 or so years.


Hindu conversions to Islam in Pakistan

Since many of you are innumerate, I first want to make it clear that Sindh province is 10% Hindu. These Hindus are concentrated mostly in rural areas. As you likely know most elite Sindhi Hindus no longer live in Pakistan. These are poor and relatively powerless people.

This story makes a lot of sense in that context, Poor and Desperate, Pakistani Hindus Accept Islam to Get By:

The mass ceremony was the latest in what is a growing number of such conversions to Pakistan’s majority Muslim faith in recent years — although precise data is scarce. Some of these conversions are voluntary, some not.

News outlets in India, Pakistan’s majority-Hindu neighbor and archrival, were quick to denounce the conversions as forced. But what is happening is more subtle. Desperation, religious and political leaders on both sides of the debate say, has often been the driving force behind their change of religion.

Treated as second-class citizens, the Hindus of Pakistan are often systemically discriminated against in every walk of life — housing, jobs, access to government welfare. While minorities have long been drawn to convert in order to join the majority and escape discrimination and sectarian violence, Hindu community leaders say that the recent uptick in conversions has also been motivated by newfound economic pressures.

As someone who has read a great deal about religious dynamics, this is not subtle, but a very typical. Contrary to some claims, very few conversions to Islam were “forced” in a physical sense. Rather, historically, individuals converted out of self-interest or desperation. Often there were whole communities who make this choice.

A second issue is that there are attempts to present a symmetry between what is happening in India and Pakistan. This story illustrates how no such symmetry exists. Muslims in India are obviously at a disadvantage, but their situation is not analogous to Pakistani religious minorities.

Part of the story here is obviously about the treatment of religious minorities under Islam, which was not out of the ordinary in 1000 A.D., but 1,000 years later is anomalous, insofar as low-grade persecution is common. But it is also a story about the lack of Hindu solidarity with these people who were literally “left behind” as the Lohannas decamped for Mumbai.


Belief and Reclamation

For eons, ascetics and wanderers would journey to the sacred snow-clad Himalayas to test the fires of their belief. Where the skies met the earth and the heavens met the material world, humans met enlightenment; and their discoveries would cascade down the subcontinent. These beliefs would be ossified by ritual and rite, and a culture would engulf the land between the great Himalayas and an endless ocean – India, that is Bhārata.

And it is this legendary journey from the foothills of the Himalayas to the tip of the subcontinent that a civilizational epic takes place – the Rāmāyana. On August 5th, 2020, the ancient song of Valmiki will echo in the villages, in the cities, in the deserts, the fields, the jungles, the mountains, the waters, and especially in the minds of those who believe. A civilization will enact its long-awaited reclamation.

Continue reading “Belief and Reclamation”


A better commenting system

Readers have been posting stuff about better commenting-systems. I want to keep WordPress because I don’t have time/energy to run a new CMS.

In the comments below put up your suggestions, pros and cons.



Long long with caste be a bar? Perhaps more than three centuries!

In the 2000s I read a fair number of books such as Nicholas Dirks’ Castes of Mind. The impression one gets from these books is that jati-varna status and stratification are protean. Much of it a recent function of jockeying during the colonial and liminal colonial era. The “uplift” of groups such as Patidars and Marathas, for example. Or the emergence of Kayasthas as literate non-Brahmin service castes for Muslim rulers.

The genetic data that emerged in the 2000s though shocked me with two facts:

– There is within region a rough correlation, imperfect, but existent, of what we now call “steppe ancestry” and caste status

– Jati groups in a given region were shockingly distinct, and many exhibited a lot of genetic drift.

Endogamy was deep, ancient, powerful, and, genetic differences of the deep past persisted, rather than mixing away.

These are not perfect generalizations. The correlation between steppe and and status breaks down in the northwest to a great extent (thought still not totally). There are groups, such as Bengali Kayasthas, who approximate Brahmin status (even still being lower), but are genetically similar to non-elite non-Brahmins. Within the data there are castes which seem composites (Khamboj in some recent data).

This is a preface to the fact that I’ve gotten into recent arguments inadvertently online about caste, and its role in the Indian future. So I decided to look at the data. Here is my short conclusion: jati-varana is way more robust than I would have thought. Outmarriage rates were 5% as of 2011, and they didn’t vary that much by social status. At current rates it could take 500 years for caste not to be a big deal in India.
Continue reading “Long long with caste be a bar? Perhaps more than three centuries!”


Browncast Adjacent

Apple Podcast has a “Related” feature that shows up if your podcast gets enough subscribers.

If you look at “Related” for The Insight, the science podcast I host with Spencer Wells, you’ll see every “Related” podcast is science-focused except for the Browncast. The Brown Pundits Browncast is on the list because I’m involved with both podcasts.

Now that the Browncast is moderately popular it has an informative “Related” list. I’ve made a table below which shows by column:

– The podcasts suggested as “Related” for the Browncast
– If the Browncast shows up as “Related” for that podcast in a reciprocal fashion
– If someone involved with that podcast has been a guest on the Browncast
– If someone from the Browncast has been a “guest” on that podcast

Continue reading “Browncast Adjacent”


Browncast Episode 117: Meet the Maheshwaris!

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.

On this podcast, Razib, Mukunda, and Omar talk to Nikhil M., the cousin of Sima Taparia. Though a younger generation, Nikhil offers up his opinion on how accurately the show depicts Sima (he has met her and their families are close). But a 27-year-old young professional who grew up in California, the conversation ranges widely on topics of relevance to the young and brown.

Also, lots of stuff about Marwaris and the phenomenon of “Indian Matchmaking”.

If you want more podcasting about Indian Matchmaking, please check out Big Brown Army. DeCruz interviews three of the stars, Vyasar Ganesan, Vinay Chadha, and Manish Das.


Fragmented Consciousness:Do Varna-Jatis Learn?

Keep the slanderer near you, build him a hut in your courtyard —
For, without soap or water, he will scrub your character clean. ~Kabir

Ancient India post Indus civilization did not have a written language. Therefore the creations of Vedas and the requirements of memory in order to preserve it was the driving force for the believers. It therefore was a constraint to overcome, and in doing so created a class of people beginning from various stock to record and memorize verbally what was central to their lives and to enact the rituals.

Over time,as the volume of the content increased it perhaps became more laborious to try to remember all the relevant information and rituals, that meant the learning had to start early. This created a constraint for the preservers of knowledge (Veda) to become a lineage and over time for it to pass on from father to son and so on. This happened for a period of 1500 yrs before the writing system came to them. A very unique event. The consequence of this kind of development was that knowledge and learning was specific to particular varna-Jatis that developed as a result and the knowledge gained would not reverberate across all of society. And the consciousness of the people as a whole would be fragmented, the concerns fractured, the languages of the people also fragmented.

One notices the learning and who was eligible to acquire it go from a set of general principles to particulars. Consider the Artha Shastra, It speaks of a past referring to schools of similar genre before it.

Continue reading “Fragmented Consciousness:Do Varna-Jatis Learn?”