Ancient German gotras

By Razib Khan 9 Comments

The Bell Beakers are an interesting “culture.” A Bronze Age European people defined by their beakers, their origins seem to be amongst non-Indo-Europeans in Southwest Europe. But, at some point, the motifs spread to Indo-Europeans in Central Europe, an offshoot of the Corded Ware people who had admixed further with Neolithic farmers. These Indo-Europeans are the ones who brought the Bell Beaker Culture to the British Isles. We know this because of ancient DNA.

But what was the Beaker Culture right beside their material culture? Again, ancient DNA tells us, and Indians, in particular, may find the results interesting.

Kinship and social organization in Copper Age Europe. A cross-disciplinary analysis of archaeology, DNA, isotopes, and anthropology from two Bell Beaker cemeteries:

We present a high-resolution cross-disciplinary analysis of kinship structure and social institutions in two Late Copper Age Bell Beaker culture cemeteries of South Germany containing 24 and 18 burials, of which 34 provided genetic information. By combining archaeological, anthropological, genetic and isotopic evidence we are able to document the internal kinship and residency structure of the cemeteries and the socially organizing principles of these local communities. The buried individuals represent four to six generations of two family groups, one nuclear family at the Alburg cemetery, and one seemingly more extended at Irlbach. While likely monogamous, they practiced exogamy, as six out of eight non-locals are women. Maternal genetic diversity is high with 23 different mitochondrial haplotypes from 34 individuals, whereas all males belong to one single Y-chromosome haplogroup without any detectable contribution from Y-chromosomes typical of the farmers who had been the sole inhabitants of the region hundreds of years before. This provides evidence for the society being patrilocal, perhaps as a way of protecting property among the male line, while in-marriage from many different places secured social and political networks and prevented inbreeding. We also find evidence that the communities practiced selection for which of their children (aged 0–14 years) received a proper burial, as buried juveniles were in all but one case boys, suggesting the priority of young males in the cemeteries. This is plausibly linked to the exchange of foster children as part of an expansionist kinship system which is well attested from later Indo-European-speaking cultural groups.

Gotras and exogamy. Sound familiar?

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Browncast – Saagar Enjeti: An Indian-American Right Populist

By The Emissary 15 Comments

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.

This episode features Mukunda and Akshar talking to Saagar Enjeti, co-host of Rising on The Hill and host of The Realignment Podcast. We talk about Saagar’s come up and his political journey as we delve into the US election results, right populism, and an Indian-American’s place in all this.

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Reducing Hindu nationalism to the Enemy

By Razib Khan 45 Comments

Politico has a silly piece up, How Hindu Nationalism Could Shape the Election. The silliness is in the title: Hindu nationalism will not shape the election. No one in the USA knows what it is. No one in the USA cares. But headlines need to justify the “deep-dives.”

The author clearly had a preconceived conclusion, and it’s pretty much a paint-by-numbers article in that light. There is zero chance that any Indian Amerian journalist will write a sympathetic portrait of Hindu nationalism, and develop a “strange new respect.” The conclusion is baked into the cake.

With that said, why do many Indian Americans get so angry at these sorts of pieces? I would appreciate comments (unhinged and somewhat concise please, I know many of you are going “bug-eye” over this piece, so calm down).

First, this quote jumps out: “Savarkar made clear that he saw Nazi Germany’s treatment of Jews as a model for dealing with India’s Muslims.” Any mention of Nazi Germany in a Western context as an analogy is poisonous. It’s like having an expensive multi-course meal at the French Laundry, and then they tell you there’s a touch of feces in one of the items. The totality of what you’re eating no longer matters, you are not going to eat even a little bit of shit. Any mention of Nazis is going to ruin and color the whole thing. You know what the audience will take away, and you know what the writer intends.

But that brings us to the point that from a liberal perspective there were many unpleasant things associated with early Hindu nationalist ideology, and Hindutva-identified people have been associated with atrocities for decades, from Godse down to leaders in the Gujarat riots. Isn’t this fair?

I think the problem here is that the same journalists who would reject the reduction of Islam to Sayyid Qutb or shrug off the relevance of the Nazi sympathies of the Mufti of Jerusalem have no problem engaging in reductionism in relation to Hindu nationalism and Hinduism. Basically, many Indians see that Islam and Muslims are treated with generosity, and not judged by their lowest moments, while the converse is true for Hindus and Hinduism. Muhammad, the notional founder of Islam, engaged in sex slavery. This is just a fact. But Muslims are not judged by Muhammad’s illiberality, while Hindus are judged by illiberal interpretations of Manusmriti. Why? (some scholars and politicians in the Gulf have used sex slavery as a justification for the tolerance of Russian sex workers, so it’s a live issue)

For reasons that are only partly clear over the last few decades, the global Left and the West’s intelligentsia has taken a default philo-Islamic stance. Modi’s India can be depicted in very negative terms, while there is benign neglect of persistent and massive human rights abuses in Pakistan. The differing standards obviously enrage many Hindus, but the deeper question is why. Is this a “bottom-up” process, or, are there larger institutions that have made particular decisions? Remember, most Westerners are very vague about Hinduism, and have never seen the word “Hindutva.” These journalists and publications are shaping first impressions. Where are their marching orders coming from?

The same people who would decry demands that Rashida Tlaib denounce her own kith and kin as guilt by association are demanding that Preston Kulkarni do exactly that. Where do these double-standards come from?

In the future, I expect we’ll see more “think pieces” and “investigations” of American Hindus and Hinduism which sheds light on dark developments in this subculture. Meanwhile, there will be benign neglect of the illiberalities among American Muslims and Islam. The media’s attention and energy are finite, and they are quite selective about what they devote their focus to. Focus is clarifying, because it tells you what they care about, and what their motives are.

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Caste in 2nd Generation American Diaspora

By The Emissary 52 Comments

Saw some very interesting conversations on caste in America in the recent Open Thread and wanted to hear more perspectives as well as sharing my own.

Growing up, I wasn’t aware of my caste nor my friends’ caste. I still am unaware of most other Indian-Americans’ castes (besides obvious ones like Sharma and a few Gujarati ones I know) and never thought too much of it. Caste just doesn’t seem to factor into 2nd Gens…except this trio of exceptions:

  1. The SJW Brahmins

  2. The Victim Card Dalits

  3. Poonjabi (NOT INDIAN!!!!) Jatts

Group 1 seems like a case of White Guilt with a few drops of saffron. Read any BuzzFeed-esque article written by this group and you could easily Find & Replace “White” with “Brahmin” (or “Hindu” if they are really deep in the hole) and “Black” with “Dalit.” Simple transpositions on an infinitely more complex topic.

Group 2 is enrolling in the grand Oppression Olympics that is underway in America. While I recognize the dire need to address the discrimination against Dalits in India, I cannot for the life of me understand how any 2nd gen would even be aware enough to discriminate against another 2nd gen based on caste. I can’t memorize that many last names and their associated caste. Maybe it happens amongst immigrants, but I can’t imagine any impact between Indian-Americans born in the US.

Equality Labs is probably the vilest and most prominent example of this new vehicle in action where they even want to make caste an official marker in the USA.

Both Group 1 and 2 label any “Hindu” practice, no matter how inconsequential or innocent (like Holi, vegetarianism, pujas, tilaks, the literal color orange, etc…), as Brahminical Patriarchy, fascism, and/or casteism. The agenda is pretty clear cut. See my “Brahminism” post. 

Group 3 is honestly a conundrum to me. I just don’t understand the “why” in this group. But the lack of understanding makes it the easiest group to lampoon. Can only listen to music where the word “Jatt” is rammed into the song at least 40x, or else it’s Hindi music. This clique proudly flaunts their caste like they’re back in India (oops, sorry I meant Punjab). They’re in an intermittent digital war with Hindu E-Trads (who are already a shitshow themselves), many times because of some unnecessary and out the way slandering of India/other Indian ethnic groups or E-Trads disgusting edgelording over 1984. There is a heavy pour of Punjabi/Jatt chauvinism (and Scythian???). In the end, it goes back to what I said at the beginning – I don’t get the “WHY” for this group.

When I initially asked my fairly religious Punjabi Sikh friends why the singers keep saying “Jutt” in all the bhangra music I listened to – they rolled their eyes, explained it’s a caste, and then called them dumbasses and we laughed off. They then told me to call anyone who engages in that behavior a “tatti di sabzi.” I think that’s a fair response for all of the above.

Save for these 3, I don’t think caste is that important to most Indian-Americans, including normal Brahmins, Dalits, Jatts (note – I am none of these so it’s just my outside perspective).

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Scale – In Satyagraha, Societies, and Statecraft

One writer who caused an evolution of my thought is the fiery Nassim Nicholas Taleb. His brash yet precise style, swashbuckling smashing of intellectuals, and ancestral Mediterranean insights provided an alternative thought diet in a world that force-feeds the same message to me on television, social media, and amongst my friends here in a buffet of American coastal elites. From the jest of randomness, the beauty of black swans, the advancement of antifragility, and piercing skin in the game, Taleb created a dancing sequence of jabs and hooks to create a battle-hardened mentality to approach the world and knowledge.

One of the biggest yet most nuanced lessons I learned from Taleb was that of scale – how inputs yield outputs differently, depending on size and magnitude. An easy example of this common-sense concept is the difficulty in enforcing an exercise and diet regimen for oneself versus one’s entire family versus one’s entire community and so on. Trying to do good things is easier and possibly more effective in the long run when done on a smaller scale.

It’s one thing to change oneself on an individual level, another to create a visible shift in societies, and another to execute proper governance accounting for different groups along with the externalities and the headaches that come along with policies.

The Search for Truth

Satyagraha or the holding of truth paved the road in Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent struggle for India’s independence. Inspired by the ahimsa of Hinduism and Jainism, Gandhi brought his own interpretation taking an ancient concept to new frontiers.

The principles of satyagraha:

  1. Nonviolence
  2. Truth
  3. Not stealing
  4. Non-possession (not the same as poverty)
  5. Body-labor or bread-labor
  6. Control of desires
  7. Fearlessness
  8. Equal respect for all religions
  9. Economic strategy such as boycott of imported goods (swadeshi)

Admirable qualities that built the legend of the Mahatma, the great soul. Selflessness at its apex captured the hearts of Indians across the subcontinent in a mass non-violent movement at such a scale that it has no parallels in world history before or since. While an individual taking on satyagraha is highly laudable, expanding it to society proved a double-edged sword.

With the British reeled from a cataclysmic World War at home and a cracking crown jewel in the Raj, their leaders eventually acquiesced to the rightful demands of an independent India. Truth had met victory in the eyes of the Mahatma’s disciples, but this satyagraha would now face a much older foe that had made its home in the subcontinent over centuries.

Jinnah and Gandhi Prior To Their Falling Out Early On In The Indian Independence Movement

Naiveté crept into a population until it was maimed by the madness of a maniac with Muhammed Ali Jinnah’s call of “Direct Action” severing the dreams of Gandhi and millions of other Indians for a united India. What Gandhi and his ideological descendants, Gandhians, got wrong is how values apply at scale. Stunningly noble principles for individuals could not be forced upon a people who were facing a polar opposite ideology filled with aggressive malice and cultivated by despicable men to match.

“Hindus should never be angry against the Muslims even if the latter might make up their minds to undo even their existence.” —Mahatma Gandhi, Birla Mandir, New Delhi, on April 6, 1947; Partition Would Occur 4 Months Later

The beauty of satyagraha was smeared with the ugliness of Islamism and this duality incarnated by way of a bloody partition. An assassin would cite the suicidal idealism of Gandhi as the gunpowder to his fatal and fateful bullet that transformed a man into a martyr and Gandhi into a god. The last breath of Gandhi permeated throughout Indian politics since.

Forsaking looking at others’ faults and focusing on your own to improve are great actions on an individual level. Trying to apply this mentality at a large scale is impossible and can be disastrous. Gandhi’s goal to apply the kindness and tolerance that he practiced throughout his life at a larger level provides a testament to the dangers of this ruinously beautiful ideal.

Primus Inter Pares

While I may have been harsh on Gandhi, his satyagraha was a very inspirational movement that achieved its primary aim (with the help of several violently resisting Indians of course, too) and would echo in the minds of different generations and geographies. Its failures would only truly come to fore when reciprocity broke down as scale increased and satyagraha faced the sinister.

A communal concoction that had been boiling for centuries spilled over once again just as Gandhi tried to ease the concerns of an ambitious Jinnah and company who were decided in their choice to break India. What went so wrong here?

Good behavior scales badly. Bad behavior scales goodly.

An essential lesson to impart here is that the kindness that we should all so admire shouldn’t be extended frivolously in the world at large scales. Strive to be exceedingly kind to all the individuals in your life, but expect less of a return as familiarity decreases and quantity increases. The world of geopolitics and governance is witness to how might towers over magnanimity as scale maximizes. And it is here where we need to examine a powerful chapter across world history for the past several decades – social justice.

Inspired By Gandhi’s Non-Violent Movement, Martin Luther King Jr. Marched For Civil Rights and To End Segregation

Social justice has yielded some of the greatest moments in politics as policies such as apartheid and segregation were thrown into the abyss, while reservations in India helped lower castes climb out of the abyss. Tangible benefits were born through simple and actionable policies and goals.

Today, however, social justice movements have been plagued by vague goals and a lack of dynamic leadership. Faceless protests descend into rioting at an alarming rate with politicians taking advantage of the chaos and righteous movements thwarted by themselves. No Gandhi’s, no Dr. King’s, no Mandela’s lead the wave of change today. The absence of these emissaries who create a dialogue between the masses and politicians means that when social justice is applied at scale, it descends into disarray with vultures disguised as politicians picking and prodding at a soon to be carcass of a movement. Justice has inherent danger when applied at scale and needs the right leaders and values to guide it properly.

On the flip side, there are also the potential horrors of hyper-local justice such as in the panchayat system of rural India, where a clan of elders decides the fate of the accused, sometimes with cruel and Hammurabi style punishments. We are seeing this hyper-local eye for an eye type justice now extrapolate to larger scales amongst many intelligentsia and political leaders, a notion that would lead to disastrous strife if the scale continues to ramp up.

Virtualism

Bruno Maçães, a prominent political analyst and now part-time philosopher, proposes that America is entering a period where fantasy supersedes reality. The digital world at your fingertips is shaped by the hand of technology. What you see and consume on your timeline is a lens with a distorted scale of the world. What is anecdote becomes amplified into annals as the speed of the extreme races past the mundane on the information superhighway.

THE SPREAD OF SOCIAL MEDIA AND TECHNOLOGY HAVE BLURRED THE LINE BETWEEN FANTASY AND REALITY

Outrage oscillates the Overton Window wildly as technology’s reality distortion field melds our perception. This pendulum pushes our politics in an increasingly divisive direction as upstart politicians wield clout and clicks on social media steering agendas into fantastical territories that are disconnected from realities and history. Technology and social media have brought notions of the past closer to us than ever as rabid battles over who oppressed who pan out in the digital theatre of war.

Elite consensus is upended by guerrilla historians, sometimes erroneously but many times rightfully. These intellectual insurgents zoom out and in on specific instances to promote their perspective, occasionally out-of-context but every so often right on the money. The thin selection of stories published by establishments has given way to an explosion of untold chapters bypassing traditional media and academia, all with the help of technology.

Protests Have Quickly Descended Into Riots Across The US As No Leader Stands On The Same Platform As The Giants of the Past

However, this has directly lead to an exacerbation of the application of justice. Crimes of the past are scaled out to include those in the present. Justice morphs into its fraternal twin, revenge. Now, I don’t believe it’s right to silence the discussion of the horrors of the past as that is essential to reconciliation. However, this discussion must be joined with efforts to bring real justice – opportunity and truth – to those who have been oppressed and not extend the hatred of the past to the descendants of oppressors in the present. Funny enough, the answer to opportunity may lie in economics (whether welfare reform, access to capital, ease of business, tackling inequalities, etc…) rather than culture wars.

Today’s society values performatives over pragmatism. In the quest to fight historical injustices, we can’t ask for revenge that spirals into a wheel of fire. We should remember the great effort to organize mass non-violent movements such as satyagraha and civil rights in an era today where the embers of violence quickly follow the gasoline rhetoric of many of our politicians and “activists.” For only great men, great women, and great movements transcend the limits of scale and sculpt our tomorrow.

This is a repost from The EmissaryPlease visit the blog for more content and thanks to Brown Pundits!

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Noakhali rape victim video

By Razib Khan 2 Comments

Bangladesh: Protests Erupt Over Rape Case:

Protests in Bangladesh erupted this week after a video of a group of men attacking, stripping, and sexually assaulting a woman went viral, Human Rights Watch said today. Protesters called for the resignation of Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal over the government’s failure to address an alarming rise in sexual violence against women and girls.

Noakhali Gang Rape Victim: Delwar raped her several times before:

Our Noakhali correspondent’s personal office is in a computer market in Maizdee Old Bus Stand area. Over the last two days he has witnessed how the video spread over the whole market. It was played and replayed in public on computer screens as everyone crowded to perceive first-hand the horror inflicted on the woman.

“Bhaiya, do you have the video? I had it but it got deleted… I wanted to show it to someone,” said a computer businessman, approaching our correspondent, who declined to entertain the request.

Snippets of conversation overheard on the street also attest to how widespread the video has become. Two elderly men out on their evening stroll complained to each other, “The video keeps popping up on my mobile phone. This is so awkward, especially in front of the wife and kids…”

So perhaps a naive question: why are people sharing this video??? Every few years I hear about a gang-rape video coming out of MENA and South Asia, spreading virally. Why do people want to see this? It’s like sharing a video of a murder..

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The Ambition of the Emirates

By The Emissary 6 Comments

 

For a large part of history, the inhabitants of the Arabian peninsula were on the fringe in the rise and fall of empires. They alternated raiding and trading as this wheel of fire rolled on across the dunes. But eventually, the Arabian caravan would be equipped with both sword and word to make haste across the Old World in a relentless raid that would change both history and humanity.

Yet just as quickly as the prized Arabian horses would gallop into newly conquered lands, the Arabs would soon scatter leaving their language, faith, and the prestige of their roots behind in strange lands. Tribalism trumped their newfound unity and the Arabs would once again retreat into their wildernesses and pilgrimages.

That is until wealth erupted from its wastelands. The old elites of the Middle East would now return from their desert exile to begin another round of a game of thrones.

Continue reading “The Ambition of the Emirates”

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Sexual selection by Indian Society and its implications

By GauravL 8 Comments

Peacock courtship (A peacock displaying its full-length tail feathers in a courtship dance) © Gaurav Lele

To human eyes, few things in the animal world come close to the splendor of a full-grown peacock in plumage. The iridescent blue and green of a peacock tail can leave even the driest and unpoetic of us spellbound. Such a magnificent fellow seems wasted on the thoroughly mediocre peahen. The peacock’s tail puzzled Charles Darwin, for he could not find any survival value in the flamboyant tail (rather the tail makes escaping predators much more difficult). The driver of this trait was not any direct survival value, but the seemingly partial treatment peacocks with fuller tails received from the peahens (some say the tail is a health indicator). They mated more often, sired more offspring and so their genes flowed and conquered the peacock gene pool, making peacocks with huge tails a norm.

In the 21st century, many evolutionary biologists state that with increasing health care, eradication of many contagious diseases, evolution via natural selection of homo sapiens is no longer shaping our future as a species as it did leading up to the 20th century (Or at least they did in the Pre COVID era ). For generations, preferences and desires of women have helped shape the alpha male- the knight in shining armor, whereas the preferences of men have led to the distinct female characteristics being present in most women. Oddly though, today overwhelmingly humans without means to meet even their basic needs are passing their genes to further generations (breeding like rabbits some call it). To compare humans to other animals may offer a specious argument today as we have left some of our evolutionary habits far behind, leading very different lives than our animal cousins. The Games of Sexes in humans have become incredibly nuanced which has complicated ramifications on every aspect of our society.

This courtship game has taken even weirder morph in the Indian subcontinent. In India, it’s not just the woman whom decides she mates with, but her parents, grandparents, her uncles, and aunts. Sexual selection has become a task for the entire society and feeling incredulous at this tendency is considered suspect. As we depend on middle-men in arranged marriages, single negative feedback from an otherwise unimportant person is enough to cast serious doubt in the proceedings. The growing feminism movement in the world has not yet had a substantial effect on the way marriages work in India. The society (Eg: western Maharashtra ) still dictates that an eligible bachelor

Image for post

  • Is halfway decent looking
  • Earns over 5–15 lacs per annum & Earns at least marginally more than the girl (a lot of Indian mechanical engineers in the US – especially California are facing worse rating in the arranged marriage game as girls tend to take to Software and hence earn a lot more)
  • Owns at least one house (or at least his parents own a Pucca house; The more the merrier — Preferably with low EMI)
  • comes from a well to do family & own’s caste.
  • has a Car (how did I forget about the CAR)                                                                 (Make your own list #####)

Whereas an eligible spinster is:

  • Good looking — Highly comparative
  • Homely ? or Earning …….. (depends on who is looking)
  • Sanskari – (even in families where their daughters are offered considerable freedom expectations from a daughter in law are stricter- though things are rapidly changing)

As one might note, society-created a criterion for eligibility of women are changing as feminism percolates slowly in our deeply patriarchal society. It’s more difficult to have a stereotype of the ideal spinster than that of her counterpart.

Many individuals (especially closeted homosexuals) are forced into an early and unhappy marriage especially when they’re the elder siblings. If and when homosexuality is accepted in our society, the change from that to the current rules of selection will be even more interesting. A flippant joke on the matter

Son: “Mother , I am going to marry Rajesh, I love him and now Gay marriage is legal in India too”.

Mother: “Naa beta … You cant marry him …”

Son : “Why ?”

Mother : “He isnt from our caste son. Find a gay from our caste.”

Image for post

Bushmen from Kalahari desert (San people)

But ironically none of the above-stated qualities are essentially needed to pass on the genes as a Kalahari Bushmen would know. These qualities might make the individual a stable and bankable partner but they can’t be assumed as gospel blindly. The men today (even women to a growing extend today) spend their lives being overwhelmingly stressed to meet firstly the needs of their respective spouses in the future, their parents, and on a larger scale, their society. Exposure to such high levels of stress has resulted in low fertility (men and women)and erectile dysfunction in the millennials. One might even relate the above 5 eligibility points to have a linearly negative effect (above a certain threshold) on the overall physical state, thus hampering (re)-productivity. Is the battle for sex leading the individual away from sex?

India has not been the land of true innovation since the colonial experience like some of the western countries. We are good at jugaad and thus produce good engineers shy of true brilliance. Apart from the educational system and other “systems”, considerable blame can be put on the social system. An early marriage not only casts doubts on any aspirations a woman might have but also restrains the man from venturing further in his dreams. If the risk-taking scientist/ innovator is not assured of any respect from society, his task becomes doubly challenging. Not only is he expected to get married at 26–30 but he is also expected to prepare for it since 22. The problem is that families don’t choose risk-takers over boring / stable. Truly passionate people can take such rejections in their stride and move on. But when the whole societies fervently impose judgments and expectations on these to-be-innovators many of these innovators can bundle and pack-up. A man or woman above 30/-35 being single becomes a topic of gossip and doubts. Many times the clutches of sexual policing lead people to marriage where they would’ve otherwise stayed single whilst indulging in sex uninhibited. Deciding to spend your life with someone because you love them is one thing, doing it because you are lonely and needy is another. But being expected to marry someone because your family and society want it to happen is something totally different.

If we take away the societal pressure from the institution of marriage and keep the social networks of marriage active, individuals who wish to settle down will still get access to an efficient system to find mates while. But eccentric geniuses and renegades will not be forced to conform. Incidentally, that seems to be the place where Indian society appears to be heading IMO.

Post Script:

I am a supporter of a liberal Arranged Dating + Marriage which is picking up steam in Liberal India in the 21st century. I would love to see some research done on the stability of arranged marriages (the liberal Arranged Dating + Marriage ones – where individuals have a choice and veto) versus love marriages. I can see As I married quite early (in my peer group) at the age of 27, a lot of this argument might appear hypocritical.

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On Indians in East Africa

By srikanth 31 Comments

The Indian diaspora is said to be over 30 million. While the popular tendency is usually to talk of the diaspora in the West (which is recent in formation), Indians have played a far more important role in East Africa if we take a long historical view of the past 150 years

Thomas Sowell’s very fine book “Migrations and Cultures” is an eye-opener in this respect as it sheds a great deal of light on the Indian engagement in Africa since the middle of 19th century. This short post dwells briefly on the Indian contributions in East Africa (particularly Uganda / Tanzania / Kenya) drawn mainly from Sowell’s work.

Let’s take the Tanzanian island outpost of Zanzibar off the African east coast. While the Indian presence in Zanzibar today is not much to write home about, this island was one of the first African territories to be settled by Indians. There was a phase in history when Zanzibar was practically run by Indians. In 1860, a report mentioned – “All the shopkeepers and artisans at Zanzibar are natives of India”!

The numbers of Indians in Zanzibar weren’t great. Only about 5000 in the 1860s. But nearly all foreign trade was conducted by them. As of 1872, an American trader owed Indian financiers in the Island $2MM and a French firm owed these financiers at least $4MM.

While in mid 19th century, Indian presence was largely in Zanzibar and some coastal areas of East Africa, the interior was opened up when the British constructed the great railroad that connected Mombasa port in Kenya to Lake Victoria in Uganda in late 19th century. 16000 laborers were involved in the construction of this great pioneer Railway project. Of which 15000 were Indians.

What’s interesting is that these coolies were pretty expensive compared to the indigenous African labor. Yet the expensive indentured Indian labor from thousands of miles away was preferred as they were more valuable and productive than locally available African labor. The railroad construction proved the trigger for much of the Indian migration to the African mainland – particularly Kenya and Uganda. Much of the migration was from Gujarat.

The Indian settlements in these parts were a momentous event in Africa’s long history. In Sowell’s words, the Indian shops in East Africa were the first commercial retail establishments ever encountered by these African villages in their entire history. The Indians in East Africa were the first to import / sell cereal. Sowell credits them for “transforming East Africa from a subsistence and barter economy into a money economy” in the late 19th / early 20th century.

As an example Taxes in Uganda until late 19th century were paid in kind. Starting in 20th century they were paid in money and the currency was rupees!

In 1905, a report in Kenya declared – “80% of the present capital and business energy in the country is Indian”. In 1948, Indians owned over 90% of all cotton gins in Uganda. In the 1960s, when the Indian population peaked in Uganda, their share of the population was about 1%. But as per some estimates the “Asian” contribution (mostly Indian) to the national GDP ranged from 35% to 50%.

In 1952, there were twice as many African traders as Indian traders in Uganda, but the Indian traders did 3 times as much business as the Africans! Despite Govt regulations which hampered Indians from setting up shops (again as per Sowell).

Resentment against Indian dominance eventually got a lease of life when most of the East African countries became independent in the 60s and 70s. The dictator Idi Amin’s expulsion of most Ugandan Indians in the early 70s was a notorious episode at the time when the Asian population in Uganda dropped from 96K in 1968 to ~1000 in 1972.

The case in Kenya was not very different from Uganda. Indians dominated the Kenyan economy. Yet post Kenyan Independence, the pressures to “africanize” meant that the Asian (mostly Indian) numbers in Kenya dropped from 176K in 1962 to 25K in 1975.

Today Indians play a more marginal role in the region than they once did. .While we tend to diss imperialism a lot, we sometimes forget that imperialism was also a driver of such unlikely inter-continental migrations which brought commercial culture to hitherto unexplored regions.

Political independence to the region did not work out very well for the enterprising Indian diaspora. The Indian businessman who had played a large role in building these economies was driven out of it, with little gratitude.

The story of Indians in East Africa is a much unheralded one, that ought to be celebrated more in India, and must be taught in Indian textbooks. This was not a political colonization driven by kings. This was a mission undertaken by hard working ordinary Indians who shone with their probity, enterprise and sweat.

All the more reason to celebrate and commemorate it.

The author tweets @shrikanth_krish

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