Brown fat, the bad kind

Unless you have been hiding under a rock you know that people of South Asian are at more risk for metabolic disease than is the norm. More concretely we tend toward “skinny fat.”

My current BMI 24. By normal calculators I’m normal weight (barely), because the cut-off is 25. But for South Asian we should be worried if we’re above 23.

There is the caveat that muscle is heavier, so one shouldn’t take BMI literally, as opposed to seriously. You know if you have too much visceral fat, you don’t need to weight yourself. The phenomenon of brown guys with big bellies due to years of self-indulgence is a thing. And excess weight among South Asians who reach a certain affluence level seems a thing the world over.

So here’s a question: for those of you who have managed to keep the weight off and stay trim, how do you do it? Exercise? Diet? Both?

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Brown Pundits, big in India!


I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll reiterate something I’ve noticed recently: this website is getting bigger and bigger in India. More precisely, though traffic is increasing in the USA, traffic is increasing from Indian IPs even faster.

Here is the breakdown for the last month:

Country% Users
United States35%
India29%
UK6%
Canada5%
Pakistan5%
Australia2%
Germany1%
France1%
UAE1%
Bangladesh1%

In terms of where the traffic is coming from, the map above shows the cities.

I’m of two feelings about this.

  1. This is going to cause issues because of cultural differences. Educated Indians speak English, but norms and idioms differ. In general, my personal strategy is to hegemonically impose American norms.
  2. Over the past few years I have become bearish on the United States, and bullish on India and China. I’m very curious what people in Asia think, because I think the Asian future is coming at us more quickly than I’d anticipated just a few years ago (American decline, rather than Asian ascension being a cause).
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Our existence is an offense to moderate Muslims!

I’m really not incredibly invested in these internecine BP conversations, but this kind of comment honestly convinces me of deep incommensurability:

Perhaps if you don’t go around publicly announcing that you are an ex-Muslim, you will face less problems.

There are lots of “Muslims” who barely practice the religion. But for form’s sake, we say that we believe in Allah and in the Prophet of God. Especially if we have family in Muslim countries.

First, I don’t face problems. But I sympathize with people who are being murdered on account of their irreligion in Muslim countries. I have friends who are Bangladeshi immigrants who were friends with people who were murdered for their lack of belief. It’s pretty disturbing.

So why do I announce my atheism? Because in this country I can. I’m an ex-Muslim only from the perspective of Muslims and anti-Muslim racists. The two groups actually agree on a lot. Because Muslims and anti-Muslims assume I’m a Muslim theist of some sort, of course, I have to announce it so they won’t be confused.

It’s my own conceit and privilege to be wedded more to substance than forms. Now, there are American Muslims like Omar Ali who seems at peace with the substance as well as privileges of Western liberalism (I believe the above individual is an American Muslim?). So I’m not going to full Islamophobe, but these sorts of attitudes suggesting it’s more seemly that we irtidads go back into the closet so preserve public sensitivities really make me suspicious of the Submitters.

I guess this sort of exchange has actually made me more sympathetic to “internet Hindus.” When judgment day comes, go with the side less likely to kill you!

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South Asians and “communalism”

In Who We Are and How We Got Here one of the things that David Reich states is that while China consists to a great extent of one large ethnic-genetic group, India (South Asia) is a collection of many ethnic-genetic groups. To some extent, this is not entirely surprising. People from the far south of the subcontinent look very different from people from Kashmir or Punjab.

But that’s really not what Reich is talking about. People in Hebei look quite different from people in Guandong. Perhaps less different than a Tamil from a Kashmiri, but still quite different. But these regional differences grade into each other along a cline.

South Asia is different because strong genetic structure persists within regions. Both Tamil and Bengali Brahmins share some distinctive genes with local populations, but genetically they’re still a bit closer on the whole to Brahmins from Uttar Pradesh (I say this because I’ve looked at a fair number of genotypes of these groups). Similarly, Chamars from Uttar Pradesh and Dalits from Tamil Nadu share more with each other than either do with Brahmins from their own regions (though again, Chamars share more with Brahmins from Uttar Pradesh than Dalits from Tamil Nadu, in part because of gene flow from Indo-Aryan steppe pastoralists into almost all non-Munda people in the Indo-Gangetic plain).

When I read Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India in the middle 2000s it seemed a persuasive enough argument to me. I had read other things about caste during that period, by both Indians and non-Indians. The authors were historians and anthropologists and emphasized the cultural and social preconditions variables shaping the emergence of caste..

The genetic material at that time did not have the power to detect fine-grained differences (classical autosomal markers) or were only at a single locus (Y, or, more often mtDNA). By the middle to late 2000s there was already suggestion from Y/mtDNA that there was some serious population structure in South Asia, but there wasn’t anything definitive.

A full reading of works such as Castes of Mind leaves the impression that though some aspect of caste (broad varnas) are ancient, much of the elaboration and detail is recent, and probably due to British rationalization. The full title speaks to that reality.

This is one reason I was surprised by the results from genome-wide analyses of Indian populations when they first came out. On the whole, populations at the top of the caste hierarchy were genetically distant from those at the bottom, and the broad pattern of the differences was mostly consistent across all of South Asia.

To give a concrete example, there are “lower caste” groups in Punjab which may have more steppe pastoralist ancestry than South Indian Brahmins. But within Punjab “highest caste” groups still have more ancestry than “lower caste” groups.

But this wasn’t the most shocking aspect. That was the fact that many castes are genetically quite distant, and anciently so. In a recent paper, The promise of disease gene discovery in South Asia:

We identify 81 unique groups, of which 14 have estimated census sizes of more than a million, that descend from founder events more extreme than those in Ashkenazi Jews and Finns, both of which have high rates of recessive disease due to founder events.

Some of this is due to consanguinity among Muslims and some South Indian groups, but much of it is not. Rather, it’s because genetically it looks like many Indian communities stopped intermarrying ~1,500 years ago. This reduces the effective number of ancestors even in a large population due to increased drift. At a recent conference, an Indian geneticist suggested that this might have something to do with the crystallization of caste Hinduism during the Gupta period. I can’t speak to that, but anyone who has looked at the data sees this pattern.

To illustrate what I’m talking about, assume ~1% introgression of genes from the surrounding population in a small group. Within 1,500 years 50% of the genes of the target population will have been “replaced.” The genetic patterns you see in many South Asian groups indicates far less than 1% genetic exchange per generation for over 1,000 years in these small groups.

But this post isn’t really about genetics. Rather, I began with the genetics because as an outsider in some sense I’ve never really grokked South Asian communalism on a deep level. Yet the genetics tells us that South Asians are extremely endogamous. It is unlikely that this would hold unless the groups were able to suppress individuality to a great extent. Though people tend to marry/mate with those “like them”, usually the frequency is not 99.99% per generation.

In the United States, things are different. Interracial marriage rates were ~1% in 1960.* This was still during the tail end of Jim Crow in much of the south. Since then the fraction of couples who are in ethno-racial mixed marriages keeps increasing and is almost 20% today. There is still a lot of assortative mating, and ingroup preference. But fractions in the 10-20% range are worrisome for anyone who is concerned about genetic cohesion over a few generations.

Though some level of group solidarity exists, explicitly among minorities, and implicitly for non-minorities, individual choice is in the catbird seat today. This was not always so. By the time I was growing up in the 1980s social norms had relaxed, but a black-white couple still warranted some attention and notice. In earlier periods interracial couples had to suffer through much more ostracism from their families and broader society.

In some South Asian contexts, this seems to be true to this day. But unlike the United States the situation is much more complex, with numerous ethno-religious-linguistic subgroups operating in a fractured landscape of power and identity.

I have wondered in part whether the South Asian fixation on sensitivity and feeling when it came to offense and insult is a function of the strong communal/collective aspect to honor, identity, and decision-making. Muslims outside of South Asia are similar to this, and in the Islamic context the rationale is quite explicit: non-Muslims and heretics are tolerated so long as they don’t challenge the public ethno-cultural supremacy of Islam. For example, atheism is punished less because of deviation from religious orthodoxy and more because it destabilizes public order and is seen as a crime against the state.

The conflicts between Hindus and Muslims in relation to religious parades have their clear analogs to strife between the dominant Catholics and the new Protestant communities in Latin America. But among Hindus the same tendencies crop up in inter-caste conflicts. The sexual brutalization that is sometimes reported of lower caste women by upper castes in parts of the Gangetic plain is a trivial consequence of the power that land-holding upper castes have over all the levers of power over low castes in certain localities. Lower caste men are powerless to defend their women against violation, just as in the American South enslaved black men couldn’t shield their womenfolk from the sexual advances of white men.

Will any of this change? I suspect that economic development and urbanization is the acid that will start to break down these old tendencies and relations in South Asia. It also seems clear that all South Asian communities which are transplanted to the more individualistic West have issues with the fact that collective and communal power is not given any public role, and in a de facto sense has to face the reality that individual choices in mates and cultural orientation are much more viable in the West.

This is particularly important to keep in mind on a blog like this, where many people are reading from South Asia (mostly India) and many are reading in the USA and UK. The conflict of values and signifiers occasionally plays out in these comments! For example, a Hindu nationalist commenter once referred to me as “Secular.” As an atheist, materialist, and someone who is irreligious in terms of identity and affiliation, secular describes me perfectly…in the West. But I was aware of the connotations of the term in India in particular, I told him that in fact, I wasn’t “Secular” in the way he was suggested. The reality is that unlike Indian Americans I don’t take a strong interest in what India does so long as it’s a reasonably stable regime, and so don’t signal my affiliation with Hindu nationalism or anti-Hindu nationalism.

* Latinos were not counted as part of this in 1960, so the rate looking at those numbers is 0.4%. I assume this is an underestimate because of Latinos.

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White presenting, women presenting, person defends Dharmic terminology from white people

Not sure if I would have believed this tweet existed if it didn’t. But it does.

But wait, it gets better! More white presenting people defending the cultural sensitivities of people of the Dharmic persuasion.

Now, I do think it is true that Dharmic religious perspectives tend to be made light of on occasion. For example, Hindus have “mythologies.” As opposed to the presumably real Abrahamic “God of history”?

But I don’t think this is going to help the situation. In fact, these sorts of public posturings are more about the person posturing than about what they are posturing about.

From the entry on Newspeak:

In “The Principles of Newspeak”, the appendix to the novel, George Orwell explains that Newspeak usage follows most of the English grammar, yet is a language characterised by a continually diminishing vocabulary; complete thoughts reduced to simple terms of simplistic meaning.

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Not all Aryans are Indian, though most Indians are part Aryan, and most Aryan ancestry is in India

Ossetian boys

This post needs to published mostly to clarify some issues in relation to terminology. The genetics is moving fast, and people are going to get overwhelmed.

First, the term Aryan, or Arya, is not exclusive to South Asia. As most of you know it was used by many (though not all!) Iranian peoples. The Indic and Iranian branches of the Indo-European language family are close enough they form a very tight clade. The only comparison might be Baltic and Slavic, though some have asserted that that is due to the fact that Baltic peoples have lived so close to Slavic peoples for such a long time.

Though in the main Iranian peoples are in close proximity to South Asia, or in West Asia (e.g., Kurds), one group is exceptional in that it has no connection to West or South Asia: the Ossetes.  These people on the northern fringes of the Caucasus are descended from Iranian steppe pastoralists who never went south. You know them as Scythians, Sarmatians, and Alans.

To my knowledge these northern Iranian peoples never called themselves Arya, so perhaps the world itself was some sort of loanword? (internet resources are of differing opinions on the provenance)

Second, the division between Indo-Aryans and Iranians predates the  arrival of the latter into the Indian subcontinent and to West Asia. The latest genetic work indicates that steppe signal did not show up at BMAC until ~2000 BC. We also know that a group of Indo-Aryan provenance was in Upper Mesopatamia 1500 BC. In contrast, Iranian peoples show up to the east of Assyria ~1000 BC, and there were Iranian peoples to the north of Turan deep into antiquity (the Sarmatians who harried the Pannonian frontier were Iranian heirs to the Scythians).

The “Indo-Aryans” who were integrated into the kingdom of Mittanni/Hanigalbat may never been resident within South Asia. Where the major pulse of migration went to the India subcontinent after 2000 BC, another wave probably sent outriders to the west.

But where the Indo-Aryans in South Asia would have  encountered collapsing IVC order, the societies of West Asia bounced back reasonably from the time of troubles around the turn of millennium, when barbarians from the northern and eastern peripheries (“wild Guti”) collapsed the Third Dynasty of Ur and Semitic pastoralists took the reins of Mesopatamian civilization.

There are suggestive but very clear Indo-Aryan aspects of the Mitanni elite culture. But, by and large it was absorbed into the Hurrian substrate of the region. The analogy here might be what happened to the Turkic Bulgars in what became Bulgaria, as they were cultural absorbed by the Slavs over whom they ruled (or, the Scandinavian Rus).

Let’s call these steppe people “Aryans.” Iranians and “Indo”-Aryans.

How many are there around today? Let’s say 10% of South Asian ancestry is Aryan. This is very conservative (see this post). That’s 150 million people, 0.10 x 1.5 billion. There are ~200 Iranian speakers. There’s no way that 75% of the ancestry among this group is steppe. It is high in Turan and eastern Iran, but in populous western Iran and in Kurdistan the steppe fraction declines (Haber et al. found 7% “pure steppe” signal in Lebanon, so it’s not trivial even in western Iran, but it’s probably not going to be more than 50%).  Most of the Aryan ancestry in the world is in India.

That being said, one should not confuse South Asian culture with Aryan culture and Aryan culture with South Asia. The two are distinct. It is hard to deny that South Asian culture was strongly shaped by the Indo-Aryans; most of us (or our recent ancestors) speak an Indo-Aryan language. The Hindu priestly caste seems to have more Indo-Aryan ancestry, and some of their rituals and customs date back to the Vedic period. Only a few groups have zero evidence of steppe ancestry, even in South India.

Indus Valley artifact

But Indian culture and Indo-Aryan culture in South Asia are not exclusively Indo-Aryan. The “Hindu religion” is diverse, but it is clearly not present outside of South Asia, except as reflux as South Asian polities and peoples moved to the margins of Turan (e.g. the Shahi kings), or through cultural and demographic diffusion to Southeast Asia (there is robust evidence of Indian genetic impact in places like Cambodia and Bali).

I do not believe that Hinduism, and Indian culture more generally, can be understood without consideration of its non-Aryan component. The cultural archaeology of this is beyond the purview of this post, but I believe that like the Greeks the Indians were strongly shaped by pre/non-Indo-European currents.

As Indian culture in the 1st millennium BC can only be understood as a synthesis between Aryan culture, and non-Aryan culture, the expansion of Buddhism into other parts of Asia, and more specifically to Turan, was not just of Indianized Aryan culture, but of an Indian culture which was a synthesis of Aryan and non-Aryan. It was something new, novel, and distinctive, that was exported throughout Eurasia.

 

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The quiz show contestant

The above click is “going viral.” One of the things that crosses my mind: would a guy who looks like this ever get a shot in Bollywood, or more generally Indian, film industry as a leading man? Is skin color an issue for men as well as women? The only leading men I know off the top of my head are relatively fair to medium, as opposed to dark (I can think of three or four, hardly any, I don’t follow Indian media).

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South Asian genetics, the penultimate chapter

A long post at my other blog, The Maturation Of The South Asian Genetic Landscape, a reflection on the important preprint The Genomic Formation of South and Central Asia. Shorter:

  1. The original inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent who descent from the “out of Africa” migration separated very quickly, ~50,000 years ago, from other eastern populations (East Asians, Andaman Islanders, Papuans, etc.). These are the “Ancient Ancestral South Indians” (AASI).
  2. Agriculturalists from what is today Iran seem to have entered and mixed with the AASI in the Indus Valley earlier than 5,000 years ago, and possibly as early as 9,000 years ago. The only samples they have are from extra-Indian sites, in Central Asia and eastern Iran, as outlier individuals. They call these “Indus_Periphery” (I call then InPe).
  3. The “Ancestral South Indians” (ASI) were created from a mixing of InPe with AASI still extant in much of South Asia ~4,000 years ago.
  4. Between ~4,000 and ~3,200 years ago populations from the steppe arrive, carrying admixture from Iranian farmers, as well as people from the steppe (Andronovo-Sintashta?). They mix with the ASI population, though a few groups, such as the Kalash, mix directly with InPe, and create unmixed “Ancestral North Indian” (ANI).
  5. Subsequent mixing between ASI and ANI populations in various fractions accounts for most of the variation in South Asia.
  6. Some groups are enriched for “steppe” as opposed to the Iranian agriculturalist that first came with InPe. In particular, Brahmins. The hypothesis then is differential ancestry of Indo-Aryan heritage persists to this day.
  7. The Munda of northeast India have a somewhat different origin, mixing Southeast Asian ancestry with ASI and further AASI. The fact that unmixed AASI were present in South Asia indicates that the Munda arrived before the full mixture was complete. Though Austro-Asiatic expansion into northern Vietnam dates to ~4,000 BC, so I think it can’t be that early.

Things I now think are unlikely:

  • Indo-Aryan interpenetration with non-Indo-Aryans in the IVC before 4,000 years ago (I was somewhat agnostic on this). The date for migration now seem very close to the “Classical Model” of arrival around 1500 BC.
  • The AASI is very diverged from the Onge, who form a clade with mainland Southeast Asian Negritos. I now think it is likely that the AASI were primal, and not migrants from Southeast Asia.

It would be nice if the results were published from the Rakhigarhi site, which dates to 4,600 years ago. But it seems less and less necessary. Perhaps at some point we’ll get enough samples from Pakistan to generate a reasonable model….

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