Bring the Kalash to Ladakh!

This was something that was suggested on Twitter (or emerged out of a discussion on Twitter): why can’t the Kalash have the option of relocating to Ladakh? It’s not that different of an ecosystem, and there would be less cultural pressure to change and/or threat of assimilation.

The Indian government imposes a no-contact policy for the Sentinelese for the sake of their cultural and biological integrity (they would probably die of disease). I’m not proposing this for the Kalash, but at least bringing them to Ladakh would prevent the imminent threat of assimilation, though the individual appeal of Delhi would still be there.

There’s a lot of anger from Hindu nationalists online. Often toward Muslims. I get the reasons. But this is something that is constructive and positive. The Kalash are not a fossil race. But they preserve something that is unique and soon to be lost to the world.


What is in a name?

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Martin Luther was the key figure in the precipitation of the Reformation.

The name Martin:

Martin may either be a surname or given name. Martin is a common given and family name in many languages and cultures. It comes from the Latin name Martinus, which is a late derived form of the name of the Roman god Mars, the protective godhead of the Latins, and therefore the god of war….

And Luther:

As a German surname, Luther is derived from a Germanic personal name compounded from the words liut, “people”, and heri, “army”. As a rare English surname, it means “lute player” (Hanks and Hodges 1988). Luther is also derived from the Greek name Eleutherius. Eleutherius is a cognate of the Greek word eleutheros (έλεύθερος) which means “free.”

I bring this up because it is curious and notable to me that apparently is common for converts to Christianity in India (I’m setting aside traditionally Christian groups such as Nasranis) to take a “Christian name”. One of the arguments is that you shouldn’t have names which refer to a pagan god. Someone should have told Martin Luther. The Anglo-Saxon kings retained the myth of descending from pagan German gods long after their Christianization (they obviously didn’t believe it literally, though they still refused to let go for the prestige).

About ten years ago I read a book about the Islamicization of the core Muslim world. In particular, there was a curious feature of the process that occurred over three centuries in Iran. There was a chart of the form:

The records were clearly from sub-elite individuals. People from whom records remained due to their service or taxes paid. What one sees is that for several centuries the proportion of classical Iranian names drops as the number of local landlords who are non-Muslim drop….and then as the Muslims become overwhelming, there are individuals who are known to be Muslim who are being given classical Iranian names all of a sudden.

The link between being non-Muslim (generally Zoroastrian) in rural Iran among sub-elites and having an Iranian name disappeared when the number of non-Muslims declined to the point where they were not a major community (outside of isolated areas such as Yazd).

In a similar manner, Bangladeshi Muslims often have more ostentatiously Arabic names than Pakistani Muslims, who reflect more Iranian and Central Asian influence. The Bengali  Muslim intelligentsia is a recent creation of late modernity, balancing its sincere religious beliefs with an ethnic identity distinct from the post-Mughal Islamicate culture further up the Gangetic plain and into Punjab (the Muslim elites of Mughal era Bengal did not speak Bengali as their high language, and the early Bengal Rennaissance was due to Hindu gentry). The extremely Arabic names are probably one way to emphasize one’s Muslim bonafide in a cheap manner.

My own children have conventionally Western forenames (though not generic ones). The reasoning is straightforward: they are being raised in a conventional white American milieu. I have no religious attachments obviously, nor am I passionately ethnic, outside of some food preferences. Their South Asian heritage is part of their past through me, but the future is different, and the names reflect that.

Going back to names…it’s ridiculous to say that they don’t indicate deep culture dynamics. The hyper-Muslim people in my family don’t make recourse to Bengali pet names. My father, whose father was an ulem, did not have such a pet name.  As the lineage secularized, with my father, pet names in Bengali reappeared.

Since I am not a believer and am unlikely to passionately convert to some religion, I don’t know the motivations and psychology. And people are free to do what they want. But the idea that conversion to Christianity necessitates a name change seems ridiculous to me. The first Christian king of Sweden was Olof Skötkonung. The first Christian Roman Emperor was named Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus Augustus from birth to death. Could think of a name more Scandinavian or Latin Classical?

Though it is common in the Islamic world to have distinct names rooted back to the Middle East (Indonesian Muslims being an exception), there is far less uniformity in Christianity. And yet many Christians adopt this pattern. Why? Similarly, white converts to Hinduism sometimes adopt Indian names. Why?

The post is not so much an argument for anything. But an observation that opens up a discussion….


BrownCast Podcast episode 27: Zach on why he’s an Islamophobe and why he hates PewDiePie

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsyniTunes, Spotify,  and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at 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…). Would appreciate more positive reviews.

Today Zach and I talk about his evolution in relation to Islam. In particular, why Zach has become vocally and unapologetically Islamophobic recently, and what the difference between Islamophobia and anti-Muslim prejudice is. I also ask Zach what his problem white people, and in particular PewDiePie, is.

And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.

– Genesis 16:12


Raj Koothrapali is a shame on all Brown Men

While I was busy disagreeing with Indthings (the idea that “Pakistan” has a better brand value than India is hilariously untrue) they made a very good point on Raj Koothrapali.

Raj Koothrapali is a shame on all Indian men. I don’t know what Kumail’s character is like on his show but from what I’ve watched on the Big Bang Theory, but Kunal Nayyar does a huge disservice to all Brown People.

I have noticed this trait that Indian (Hindus) men are rather insensitive/unaware of their perception in the wider world but are always keen to stamp Pak/Muslims below them.

I had once read a study (I can’t link on it) that in UP, upper castes were more concerned about their relative ranks than their absolute one (tall poppy syndrome magnified).

I have noticed this with Indian origin Baha’i men. The only time they evidence strong India passions is when I or other Pakistanis around them otherwise they are totally consumed by Persian culture (I may be Turanian online but I’m super Tharoorian offline).

I find it interesting how the discourse is so fixated on Pakistan and Islam when frankly the real damage has been done by colonisation. We’ve been through this before several times but Raj Koothrapali is far more emasculating than Ala’u’ddin Khilji.

Furthermore I can understand why Pakistanis, who are on the outskirts of Brownitude, will swim away if being Brown is being Raj K. It provides an existential question; is it better to be feared (and lusted) as a potential terrorist or mocked as a sexless nerd? That’s probably a very salient question for many Pakistani men in the Diaspora as they tack on identities.

Also I feel this is more acute in the Brahmin centred societies; for instance the Tamils of Sri Lanka are probably one of the ASIest people in South Asia but are very swaggy. They’ve managed to disassociate themselves from the nerdiness of South Asian culture and sort of swim on a much cooler Afram vibe.

This isn’t to somehow absolve Pakistan and Islam; in fact my criticisms of those countries and cultures are much harsher. As Kabir B noted I routinely like to mention casually that Muhammad was a pedophile and was generally rather creepy in his sexual interests (he was busy “marrying” all the daughters of his friends; that’s outright disgusting). It’s an important of normalising that Islam, Quran, Allah and Muhammad are nothing special and are not above criticism in common discourse. “Nothing is Sacred.”

However what I have noticed is that when I condemn Pakistani culture I get praise from the Hinditvas but as soon as I target the shortcomings of Indian men; I’m the archetypal Paki.

One just can’t win and I’m noticing just how male these discussions are. For instance in Majlis when we were giving notions, I proposed

“TH believes that India/Pakistan condones gender violence/rape culture.”

Alot of the backwardness of South Asia is to do with the regressive roles of women. India is undergoing a revolution of sorts hence it will make much more rapid strides than Pakistan, where women are locked in 1950’s mode (in fact in many ways American women in the 50’s are much more progressive than Pakistani women).

One could argue that I’m hypocritical since I don’t target the lens at myself. I don’t believe in insulting individuals but ideology, religion and language are all up for fair game otherwise what’s the point. Furthermore this is “Brown” Pundits not Baha’i or Persian Pundits; IRL I spend a lot of time advocating Brown causes but it would  be hypocritical for me not to criticize the immense failings of Brown Culture and where it could improve.

Just to balance it out:

Criticism of the Bahá’í Faith


Will Indians become white, will India become Western?

I was pondering over this last evening since the rate of Westernisation in India is somewhat mind-boggling. Alia Bhatt’s dress to the filmfare awards is what any Hollywood siren would happily wear.  I can’t imagine a Pakistani actress wearing that in the next decade, for better or for worse.

I know it sounds hideously hypocritical but at the same time I don’t know how much would I want the Turanic triangle (AfPak+Iran) to really transform in a cultural space. While I would like to see Islam’s reform I wouldn’t want to see the base cultures become Western.

I also do not think that IndoPak will ever be a thing again; Pakistan is sailing out of South Asia and Indians have let them do so. It’s a mistake since our natural ties are within the geographic range but it’s not something I especially care about. If the Brits were able to shatter South Asia so easily perhaps it was never a real construct..

This Alia Bhatt-Ranbir Kapoor Filmfare Moment Made Neetu Kapoor 'Forget Stress'

Considering that the West is becoming more pagan and spiritual and India is becoming more Abrahamic (Hindutva is like the Bhakti movement, the Abrahamification of Hinduism).

I notice that Westerners now hold India to the same standards and don’t treat it as some “exotic” part of the world.

Contrast this to the Jewish-American travelloger, Drew Binksy:

He was the same chap who called China and India chaotic and his analogy of India to the EU was interesting.. Continue reading “Will Indians become white, will India become Western?”


How Indian are Pakistanis (vs. non-Indian)

I was sent this link via Twitter, Pakistanis are Arabs:

OK – so clearly that’s nonsense … but while I have your attention ..

Back in 2012, the Aspen Institute held a discussion called “My Middle East” featuring authors from around the “modern Middle East”. This included participants from various Arab countries, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Each author was given an opportunity to provide insight into their unique Middle Eastern experience. The brilliant Daniyal Mueendin was representing Pakistan. When it was his turn to speak, he started rambling about how the question was confusing to him as he was not a Middle-Easterner and so didn’t really know what to say – in other words, he missed the point completely i.e for all practical purposes (and particularly from the perspective of the audience) his cultural experience was Middle Eastern enough. I should add that the participants from Turkey and Afghanistan had no such problems. To me this brought to the fore an issue that’s been bothering me for a while namely a tendency among affluent, liberal Pakistanis to underplay Pakistan’s cultural affiliation with the Greater Middle East and instead fixate eastward, towards India, for such cultural linkages.

To be frank there is no substance I can see to the blog post, just some assertion. After reading this I am more convinced that Pakistanis are South Asian and shouldn’t be included as part of the “Greater Middle East,” because the argument presented is so weak, vacuous and contentless.

Pakistanis, especially the ones who are from Pashtun backgrounds, are more Middle Eastern than other South Asian peoples, even Muslims from Uttar Pradesh. I don’t deny that. But the dominant Punjabi culture of Pakistan is South Asian. Indian if you want to remove the term “Indian” from its current political valence.

Note: It is not surprising that this is the question where some of our local Hindu nationalists agree with Pakistani nationalists. Reality damns them both.


A toxic cocktail of American narcissism and Indian American self-righteousness

Like many of you, I’m monitoring what’s going on in the Indian subcontinent. I’m not saying much because I don’t know much. No value to add.

But then this showed up in my timeline, and I honestly could not believe that the confluence of characteristics we’ve been talking about recently might lead to such bizarre self-obsessed comments:

I see this person’s comments in my timeline way too often. Best case scenario is that she’s some sort of ideological grifter who knows how to push buttons. But this indecent.


Do people in India care about ‘racist’ knitters?

There is a weird controversy about a white knitter who was perceived to be racist against Indians because they were worried about going to India because it was so alien from her experience? At least that’s what I get from the conversation. See the above exchange for some more context.

The mainstream website Vox, published something relating to this, The knitting community is reckoning with racism. The post shows that this is really about Americans more than about Indians. For example:

As someone who is mixed-race Indian, to me, her post (though seemingly well-meaning) was like bingo for every conversation a white person has ever had with me about their “fascination” with my dad’s home country; it was just so colorful and complex and inspiring. It’s not that they were wrong, per se, just that the tone felt like they thought India only existed to be all those things for them.

The author of the piece is a mixed-race American. Her mother is Irish American, and her father an immigrant from India.

My question is simple: what do people in India think about this?


Brown is all, all is brown

There emerged a question in the comments below as to what was “brown” or “desi”?

Ah, the old demarcation problem! Since there is no “Pope of Brownness” we can all offer our opinions. I take a “liberal” and “broad” view.

There are children adopted from India in the United States who are as physically South Asian as anyone. But often they were raised as English-speaking American Christians. Though many attempt to reconnect with “their culture”, the reality is that their family is the family who adopted them. Their culture is the culture in which they grew into adulthood. But, because of the way they look people make assumptions about them. Perhaps people are racist against them as South Asians.

Despite their involuntary cultural alienation from all things South Asian, I have a difficult time thinking that these kids are not brown. Especially if they so want to identify as such.

In contrast, you have the case of people of various races who convert to religions with a South Asian provenance or were raised in those religions. Imagine someone whose parents convert to Hinduism, and raise them in India, but they are half Japanese and English American. They don’t “look” Indian. Brown. Or desi. But if they are raised in India, and practice a form of Hinduism, and speak Indian languages, I have a hard time saying that they don’t have a right to “claim” being desi or brown.

There are obviously many other cases. But I wanted to present these two as opposing and inverted instances, as I think they are the boundary conditions of what desi or brown identity is. People can say what they want about themselves. They could be an Iyer raised in Chennai who claims that they’re really not Indian or desi. Or, someone could be a Russian Karelian who is devoutly Orthodox who claims they Indian. I suspect most of us would think that this is nonsense. To be brown or desi does have boundaries.

But we can make the boundaries crisp and tight. Or broad and loose. For example, to assert that to be desi one has to be a believing and practicing Hindu who is racially South Asian would be a narrow definition.

Or, we can make them broad.

As an American, a broad definition works best for me. My children may not speak a South Asian language, worship Hindu gods, or look particularly “Indian.” But of their eight great-grandparents, four of them were born in British India. They have some claim I think to that heritage and identity, if not as strongly as those genuinely encultured.


The ghost of empire and the origin of all repression

The New York Times published an op-ed, How British Feminism Became Anti-Trans, where India implicitly makes a showing:

It’s also worth noting that the obsession with supposed “biological realities” of people like Ms. Parker are part of a long tradition of British feminism interacting with colonialism and empire. Imperial Britain imposed policies to enforce heterosexuality and the gender binary, while simultaneously constructing the racial “other” as not only fundamentally different, but freighted with sexual menace; from there, it’s not a big leap to see sexual menace in any sort of “other,” and “biological realities” as essential and immutable….

These views are very common on the cultural Left. When progressive social activists make these assertions, and I argue that they are factually wrong, I’ve often encounter surprise and annoyance. There are two things I suspect going on here:

– These people are not genuine propagandists, they actually believe their own fictions. Faced with facts that are novel to them don’t know how to react. They live in a factual bubble where it is taken for granted that the idea of binary gender as a dominant paradigm was introduced by Westerners to South Asians, whose own conceptions were fluid, open, and tolerant.

– The facts of the history of non-Western cultures are fundamentally irrelevant because they exist only to support narratives relevant within Western cultures. Those narratives and the trajectory of Western culture is their true passion. Their fundamental Eurocentrism means that falsehood about non-Western cultures is not particularly of great concern. That is not “their history.” Minor details to be ignored and brushed aside.

Gibbon famously asserted that the Pope, and implicitly the Roman Catholic Church, was the “ghost of the Roman Empire.” A living, breathing, vestige of an institution and society long gone. Much of modern Western Left social progressivism, informed by critical theory and post-colonialism, is a ghost of 19th and 20th-century empire. It is the warped inversion and reflection of Western chauvinism and populism.

It is highly peculiar to me that on the precipice of the 21st Asian age Western intellectuals bask and wallow in the reflected glory of Victorian-era empires as if they are determinative of all the goings on today. Part of this is surely due to the reality that intellectual currents are lagging indicators, and empires always persist longer in memory and self-regard than in reality. And part of it is the human needs for “noble savages” and “pure” Others against which their own sins may be measured and contrasted.