The rise of Islam after 1500 in the Indian subcontinent

For me, Richard Eaton’s The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204–1760, is the best analysis of the peculiar spatial distribution of religion in South Asia today. This is not because Eaton’s work is without flaw, or beyond reproach. It is because few have made as concerted an effort to analyze this issue in a dispassionate manner.

The map to the right shows the proportion of Muslims within united Bengal in ~1870 by region. The outlines of Bangladesh and West Bengal are already clear. That being said, one feature that seems clear is that the more marginal areas are curiously mostly Muslim (e.g., the far southeast). Eaton’s broad argument, following upon others, is a consequence of the fact that these areas came under intensive cultivation only during the Mughal period, and therefore under the aegis of Muslim elites. Therefore, the local peasantry took up a nominal Muslim identity as a matter of course. To reinforce the mechanism, Eaton points out that there are noted cases of villages founded by Hindu zamindars in the east where Hindu shrines were built, and the peasants nominally adhered to the sect of Hinduism professed by the zamindar.

The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204–1760 is fully available online. I encourage you to read it. One thing that is now clearer to me again after reading it is that Islam as a religious identity of the peasantry of eastern Bengal is a notable feature only after the Mughal conquest of 1576. Visitors to Bengal from other regions before this date mention Muslims only as residents of cities and towns. Additionally, these Muslims often have some foreign connection, whether it be Afghan, Turk, or Persian. As far as the rural people go, none are mentioned as Muslim. Some of them described in eastern Bengal also seem likely to have been Tibeto-Burman in origin. They are described as “beardless”, and Muslim commentators assert they are neither the religion of India nor are they Muslims.

After 1600 visitors began to observe large numbers of Muslims in places such as the lands on either side of the Meghna river. In contrast, observers of the Hooghly basin note that all the inhabitants are Hindus (e.g., a Jesuit declares they are all “idolaters”).

In another paper Eaton analyzes Punjab. While the Islamicization of Bengal was driven by small mosques and shrines in newly founded hamlets, Eaton argues that in western Punjab Islamcization was driven by the transition of pastoralist Jatts to farming, and their settlement around charismatic Sufi shrines. But, he presents data that suggests that this process of Islamization was gradual and somewhat later than the present-day Muslims assert. Siyal Jatts of Jhang in northern Punjab assert they have been Muslim since 1250. But a record of names of notables from this community suggests this is unlikely.

Islamicization began in the period between 1400 and 1500. But the shift from Punjabi names to self-conscious Muslim names did not complete in totality until 400 years had passed.


Brown privilege in the American executive suite

Why East Asians but not South Asians are underrepresented in leadership positions in the United States:

Whereas extensive research has examined the “glass ceiling” faced by women, little research has examined the “bamboo ceiling,” whereby Asians appear disproportionately underrepresented in leadership positions in the United States. To investigate the mechanisms and scope of this problem, we compared the two largest Asian subgroups: East Asians and South Asians. Across nine studies (n = 11,030), East Asians were less likely than South Asians and whites to attain leadership positions, whereas South Asians outperformed whites. The leadership attainment gap between East Asians and South Asians was consistently explained by cultural differences in assertiveness, but not by prejudice or motivation. To leverage diverse leadership talent, organizations should understand the differences among different cultural groups and diversify the prototype of leadership.

I’ll put some stuff from the discussions of each of the analyses:

– “Our analysis of the population of S&P CEOs revealed notable leadership attainment gaps among EAs, SAs, and whites. Whereas EAs had a lower CEO-to-population ratio than whites, SAs actually had a higher CEO-to-population ratio than whites. These results indicate that at the highest level of US corporate leadership, EAs are less likely than SAs and whites to attain leadership positions, whereas SAs actually outperform whites.”

– “By analyzing a large-scale field survey distributed to a set of S&P 500-level companies, study 2 provided evidence that the leadership attainment gap between EAs and SAs exists not only at the CEO level (study 1) but also in broader senior leadership across large US companies. Importantly, this effect could not be explained by control variables such as birth country, education level, or the economic prosperity of EA vs. SA countries.”

– “By analyzing another large-scale field survey, study 3a provided evidence that EAs were less likely than SAs to attain senior leadership positions partly because EAs were lower in assertiveness, but not because they were lower in motivation. Again, these effects could not be explained by control variables such as English fluency, birth country, education level, or the economic prosperity of EA vs. SA countries.”

– “By analyzing another large-scale field survey, study 3b provided further evidence that EAs were lower than SAs in both current and prospective leadership attainment, partly as a function of EAs’ lower assertiveness.”

– “Complementing the field studies involving large US companies (studies 2, 3a, and 3b), study 4 analyzed a large MBA dataset that mitigated self-selection and self-report biases. Replicating the prior studies, EAs were less likely to be nominated as leaders than SAs; this effect was again mediated by assertiveness. Consistent with study 1’s finding about CEO representation, SAs were more likely to be nominated as leaders than whites. Importantly, these effects could not be explained by control variables such as personality, SES, and birth country.”

– “By analyzing the objective leadership attainment of a large dataset of MBA students, study 5 provided further evidence that EAs were less likely to attain leadership positions than SAs; this effect was again mediated by assertiveness. Consistent with the prior studies, SAs were more likely to attain leadership positions than whites. In addition, EAs and SAs did not differ significantly in leadership motivation or aptitude, suggesting that these two factors were unlikely to be the main reasons for the leadership attainment gap between EAs and SAs.”

– “Dovetailing with study 6a, study 6b found that non-Asian Americans exhibited greater prejudice toward SAs than EAs. These results suggest that prejudice is unlikely to be the main reason for the observed leadership attainment gap between EAs and SAs. As a robustness check, we replicated these results in another preregistered study that employed a group comparative design (for details, see SI Appendix).”

– “Study 7 provided experimental evidence that non-Asian Americans rated EAs lower on leadership potential than SAs. Consistent with our prior studies, this effect was significantly mediated by perceived assertiveness, but not by prejudice or perceived motivation. Together, these results suggest that, despite facing less prejudice than SAs and being equally motivated, EAs are less likely to attain leadership positions.”

The authors cite Amartya Sen’s The Argumentative India, but anyone who has spent time around subcontinentals and East Asians is aware of the difference. To be frank, we brown people can kind be annoying dicks, lacking in grace and civility. This is evident in comments on this weblog. But these antisocial tendencies happen to be good for selecting CEOs of major American companies.


Why physical appearance is an imperfect individual proxy for ancestry

Kalash children

Pictured above are some Kalash children. You notice in the foreground and center a child who could easily pass as European and draw no notice on the streets of Gdansk, Poland. But look at the child right behind her, I would guess she’d draw no notice on the streets of New Delhi!

Though the Kalash are noted for their fair features, most of them look more West Asian than anything else, and from what I can tell as many have a “northwest Indian” phenotype as a “European” one. Genetically we know that they are good proxies for “Ancestral North Indians” (ANI). About ~30% of their ancestry can be modeled as derive from the steppe peoples, such as the Sintashta. Indo-Aryans. The other ~70% of their ancestry is similar to that of the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC) people, which itself can be decomposed as mostly ancient Southwest Eurasian-adjacent (i.e., derived after the Last Glacial Maximum from the ancestors of Zagros farmers) and a minority of ancestry that is more like that of Andaman Island and pre-Neolithic Southeast Asians (“Ancient Ancestral South Indians,” or AASI).

Another thing to note about the Kalash is that they are genetically very homogeneous. This is due to the fact that they live in an isolated region, and their non-Muslim religion means that they have not intermarried with nearby Muslim people. What does this imply? It means that the Indian-looking girl is exactly the same ancestrally as the European-looking girl. Both have the same proportion of AASI and Indo-Aryan ancestry. That being said, the Indian-looking girl exhibits features more like that the AASI than the European-looking girl. Why?

The simple reason is that the genes which vary and encode salient physical features are a much smaller subset than the total genome. Therefore, they are subject to much higher variance from individual to individual (lower N in the denominator).

Here’s a concrete example. Compare eye color to inferring total ancestry and your total ancestry. Modern SNP-array ancestry inference relies on 100,000 to 1 million genomic positions. It is pretty good as a proxy for the 10 to 100 million SNPs out of your 3 billion base pairs that define your variable ancestry. For eye color, there are a few dozen genes at most, and more honestly a handful that really impacts variation. For Europeans, 75% of the variation of blue vs. non-blue eye color is due to variation around one genetic region, the HERC2-OCA2 locus. This means that just because someone has blue eyes, one can’t be sure that one has much European ancestry at all!

In the 1000 Genomes South Asian populations the SNPs for “blue eyes” are 2 to 10% frequency by population. Since the expression is recessive (you need both copies of the “blue eye” variant), assuming just this SNP you’d expect 0.05% to 1% manifestation of the characteristic in Indian-origin populations. The people with blue eyes have no more or less European ancestry than anyone else in their family.

Where does this leave us? You should understand from this that within a given family or ethnic group there is going to be a range of appearances, and a range is normal within many groups without exotic ancestry. Most Bengalis have 5-20% East Asian ancestry (closer to 5 in West Bengal, closer to 20 in Comilla and Chittagong). This means most of their ancestry is South Asian, and most Bengalis look just like other Indian-origin people. But a substantial minority look somewhat East Asian, to varying degrees. This is exactly what you expect when you have a minority quantum of ancestry.

Finally, many of the commenters here made a lot of assumptions about vloggers talking about their ancestry and were quite rude. I wish you wouldn’t do that. As a matter of fact, many of the inferences may actually be correct, but you don’t know for sure, and you don’t know the whole story. I’m pretty liberal on the comments of this weblog, but if you exhibit a serial pattern of rudeness I’m going to start randomly deleting your comments (if you complain about this I will immediately ban your IP).


Most Bangladeshis are 10% to 20% East Asian

I wish consumer genetic tests did a better job of communicating the madness to the methods. The vlogger above is a bit confused because one of her grandmothers looks rather East Asian, but her DNA results clearly indicate her Bengali ancestry. What the Ancestry DNA test does not make clear is that Bengali ancestry includes within it 10-20% East Asian ancestry.


The Indian Neolithic

To understand the genetic patterning of South Asia more understanding of the archaeology of the Neolithic is necessary. Unfortunately, I don’t have that. The site of Chirand in Bihar has extensive Neolithic features which date to at 4,500 years at the latest (the region seems to have undergone stepwise development for thousands of years earlier). Who were these people? What happened to them?


Indus Valley, Sintashta, and Andamanese ancestry in select grioups


I ran some qpAdmin on some populations. In the table below if it’s empty, that means that the model isn’t very good with that population. In other cases, the model doesn’t work without a population. So, if you put East Asians into the model for most South Asians it kind of goes crazy…but without East Asians, Bengalis and Munda are not modeled too well.

I used the exact left and right populations as outlined in the Narasimhan et al. paper when possible. You can see that East Asians are part of the model for Bengalis, so they are removed from the “right” set of populations in that model.

My results are very close to Narasimhan et al. (the main difference is my reference set is slightly different than that of the Reich lab population). Additionally, please note my intuition is that this overestimates Sintashta ancestry by a few percent. That being said, take a look at the Ror (Jatt), Khamboj, and Brahmins from Uttar Pradesh. The Ror have more Indo-Aryan and more Andamanese than the Kamboj. The Uttar Pradesh Brahmin is about the same fraction Indo-Aryan as the Kamboj but has about ten times as much Andamese ancestry.

Continue reading “Indus Valley, Sintashta, and Andamanese ancestry in select grioups”


Brahmin please!

The shadow of peasant past: Seven generations of inequality persistence in Northern Sweden:

We use administrative data linked to parish records from NorthernSweden to study multigenerational inequality in education, occupations, and wealth from historical to contemporary times. Our data cover seven generations and allows us to follow ancestors of individuals living in Sweden around the new millennium back more than 200 years, covering the mid-18thcentury to the 21st century. In our sample of around 75,000 traceable descendants, we analyze (a) up to 5thcousin correlations and (b) dynastic correlations over seven generations based on aggregations of ancestors’ social class/status. With both approaches, we find that past generations structure life chances many generations later, even though mobility is very high. The persistence we find using cousin and dynastic correlations is much higher compared to a simple Markov model limited to sequential parent-child transfers, but we also find that direct ancestor associations are very small. This suggests that there is a weak but constant kinship influence that attenuates slowly over generation.

These results align with Gregory Clark’s work in The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility. Last summer Clark told me that he is done with a draft of a new book that confirms and extends the data and argument from The Son Also Rises: though generational mobility is high in the short term, there is a long term persistence of social and economic status across lineages.

To me, the most striking element of Clark’s data is the persistence of Normans in the British elite. Though 0.30% of the British population at most, they were 16% of the student body at Oxbridge in the 12th-century. The proportion of Norman surnames at Oxbridge did not converge to the population proportion until the late 20th-century! This means it took nearly 1,000 years for Normans to regress (they are still over-represented in the British officer corps).

This tells us that social mobility over the generations is a thing. But, it also tells us that social mobility converges very slowly. This is intuitively surprising because single generation-to-generation changes in status are so extreme that one would predict the converge would happen much faster. Often one sees generation-to-generation correlations of income on the order of 0.50. But Clark’s data suggests that the systematic biases across many generations of status are such that the correlation would be closer to 0.90 to explain these results without an underlying phenomenon.

Why is this relevant? Clark had more access to surname information from Europe. But his data now extends internationally, and Clark claimed that this pattern is a cross-societal, and, the “intergenerational correlation” is very high. This includes India (in fact, some of the material in The Son Also Rises indicates that the correlation is higher in India than elsewhere).

This is the context where we have to understand comments like this:

There are two major dimensions to understand this.

When people are beating you down for being a “terrorist” it doesn’t matter if you are a Brahmin or Dalit, a Hindu, Muslim or Sikh. North Indian or South Indian. Light-skinned or dark-skinned. All that matters is that you are brown. There are some people who are white-passing or black-passing among subcontinental origin individuals, but these are the small minority.

Insofar as “white supremacy” is what you think determines the lot of non-white peoples in the United States, talk of caste privilege seems quite silly. It is correct that Indian Americans tend to come from “upper castes” and the socio-economic elite. But what if you think that the only thing relevant about an Indian American with a Ph.D. is that they are a “person of color” (or as they say now a “black and brown body”)? Then that caste/class privilege really doesn’t matter in this country. All that matters is what white people think about you.

But I think this view is wrong. No one in the United States cares you are an Iyer. But what Greg Clark’s data suggest is that it’s not just your name, it’s not just what other people think of you Your inherited “capital” matters. A very dark-skinned Nasrani from a line of doctors may not be comparable to the descendants of slaves and farm laborers. It’s not because they’re Nasrani. It’s because they’re the descendants of doctors.