How to avoid offending people?

Please watch the last three minutes of:

How to avoid very unexpectedly offending people when we don’t want to? How to have dialogue with people, ask them questions and get feedback from others without suddenly massively angering them?

This has nothing to do with Saira Roa’s actual opinions or high resolution fully integrated philosophy of philosophies. She seems to be a sweet loving person. Her perspective is unique and I would have loved to better understand it.

I have met many people from childhood who are suddenly and very unexpectedly massively triggered and angered. Often they will start accusing others of nazism, fascism, racism, bigotry, prejudice, sectarianism or some other related charge. In many cases immediately walk away. Many junior high school, high school, undergraduate and graduate level teachers at institutions I attended were this way. Some students were also this way, but truth be told teachers were far more likely to exhibit these symptoms than students. And a lot of the time, I and many others didn’t understand why this happened. Saira Roa is very middle of the road representative of very large numbers of people I have met (teachers and non teacher adults), (in the west or in India) and I am not picking on her. Rather I am asking how to avoid causing a massive firestorm when we don’t want to create one. In this case, Sargon didn’t want to anger her, but rather was very curious to better understand what she believes and why she believes what she believes.

This particular unexpected firestorm was set off when Sargon says to Saira Roa that some blacks were complicit in the slavery of other blacks. My questions about this is two fold:

  • Is there some way Sargon could have made a similar point without massively angering Saira Roa and causing her to end the interview?
  • Why did this statement elicit this reaction in the first place?

Saira Roa has a Hindu name. When the east (and large parts of Europe for that matter) was (were) conquered by Islamists (note that most muslims are not Islamists and today’s muslims are in no way responsible for the actions of their great ancestors), almost all eastern universities, libraries, temples, spiritual centers, scientific institutions etc. were destroyed. Much of the non muslim population was converted into slaves. Because of this, many Asian nonmuslims get emotional when the subject of slavery is mentioned. Could this be where part of Saira Roa’s feelings come from?

Most Asians (Indians included) and Africans initially welcomed Europeans as a way to drive Islamists out. Europeans as a quid pro quo of sorts banned slavery across Asia and Africa. This was deeply popular among nonmuslims and seen as sectarian Islamaphobia by many Islamists. [Obviously after this initial period, Africans and Asians wanted European colonizers to let them to be independent.] Perhaps Saira Rao thinks that the people who owned slaves on the African continent and sold them to South America, Central America, Mexico, Caribbean, North America, North Africa, East Africa, Europe, Asia were not really Africans but Islamist occupiers? Perhaps her definition of “African” or “black” is only nonmuslims with substantial sub-saharan African DNA haploid admixture? Therefore, “blacks” by her definition were not complicit in the slavery of other blacks and the exporting of black slaves around the world? I am not saying this is true. But rather could this be what she believes?

[Obviously some historians might posit the hypothesis that even if the large majority or vast majority of people who owned African slaves were muslim, at least some African slaves were owned by nonmuslims with substantial sub-saharan African DNA haploid admixture too. But perhaps Saira Roa disagrees with this.]

Are there other possible reasons for why she was so offended?

Can everyone reading please explain this to me in the comment section below? What advise does everyone have for how to avoid deeply angering or offending people in general? Thanks to everyone in advance.

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Forgetting the past

How could the Indo-Aryans have been from somewhere else if it is not recorded in their traditions? This is a common question that comes form many Indians. It is an entirely Indo-centric perspective. This is a description, not a critique. After all, the Indo-European Greeks have no lore of migration in the Hesiod. Many, such as the Athenians, consider themselves autochthonous. The Egyptians have no lore of migration. In contrast, the Sumerians seem to have had legends of migration from the “south” (perhaps marshland to the south of Mesopotamia proper). And the oldest Sumerian city does happen to be the most southern one (Eridu). The Norse have no history of migration from elsewhere, but it is almost certainly a fact that the Nordic Bronze Age cultures came out of the post-Bell Beaker and Corded Ware societies after 2000 BC, whose roots lay ultimately to the south and east.

Finally, as I have written elsewhere, in the space of less than 200 years the Celtic Britons of what became England abandoned their native language and cultural memory and replaced it with that of pagan Germans. We know from both fine-scale modern genetic analysis of the British Isles, as well as ancient DNA, that the majority of the ancestry of the modern English dates to the period before the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons. And yet pre-Germanic language and cultural folkways had only a trivial impact on the English. Even royal houses, such as those of Wessex, who were likely of native British origin (the earlier rulers in the genealogy have Celtic forenames!) “retconned” their origin to be from the Germanic god Wotan.

If, as I believe, the Indo-Aryans are rooted primarily in the Sintashta culture which flourished around ~2000 BC, and the Vedic culture flourished in South Asia by ~1500 BC, that allows for only five centuries to “forget.” Your mileage may vary, but 20 generations seems a bit short to forget this when these people were punctilious in matters of antique ritual.

To answer this conundrum, I propose something entirely conjectural and hypothetical, but not impossible: the Brahmin caste emerged as a fusion of Indo-Aryan ritualists and pre-Aryan priests. In terms of total ancestral contribution, the latter is actually more preponderant than the former. Though the language of the former is dominant, most people accept that the Vedic culture was somehow synthetic. A hybrid. Perhaps the pre-Aryan priesthood was culturally more dominant than we may suppose, and as its roots were deeply indigenous, they promoted the ideology that their hybrid caste was in India in toto immemorial?

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Are Haryana Jats the closest living descendents of our Vedic forefathers ?

Recently, there was a paper on some communities of Northwestern India such as Rors, Jats, Kambojs, Gujjars & Khatris. The primary focus of the paper was the community of cattle herders from Haryana known as Rors.

This is part 1 of my review of the paper. In part 2 I shall focus on whether the evidence furnished in the paper proves a steppe migration into South Asia.

Let me first quote the abstract in full :-

The Indus Valley has been the backdrop for several historic and prehistoric population movements between South Asia and West Eurasia. However, the genetic structure of present-day populations from Northwest India is poorly characterized. Here we report new genomewide genotype data for 45 modern individuals from four Northwest Indian populations, including the Ror, whose long-term occupation of the region can be traced back to the early Vedic scriptures. Our results suggest that although the genetic architecture of most Northwest Indian populations fits well on the broader North-South Indian genetic cline, culturally distinct groups such as the Ror stand out by being genetically more akin to populations living west of India; such populations include prehistorical and early historical ancient individuals from the Swat Valley near the Indus Valley. We argue that this affinity is more likely a result of genetic continuity since the Bronze Age migrations from the Steppe Belt than a result of recent admixture. The observed patterns of genetic relationships both with modern and ancient West Eurasians suggest that the Ror can be used as a proxy for a population descended from the Ancestral North Indian (ANI) population. Collectively, our results show that the Indus Valley populations are characterized by considerable genetic heterogeneity that has persisted over thousands of years.

Pay attention to the bolded part. As per the pre-print by Narasimhan et al, the ANI is the likely population that spread Steppe ancestry and hence Indo-Aryan ancestry among South Asians by mixing with  the ASI group. Now this paper on Rors says that Rors (by corollary the Jats) are the population most identical to this hypothetical ANI population. Please note – It is not Brahmins but a herder group from Haryana, which is the vert heartland of Vedic India. This is very significant because it clearly establishes the veracity of our Vedic tradition.

Let us look at this in more detail.

The ancestors of Rors and Jats from Haryana spread the Vedic civilization

As many of you here might be aware, the Vedic homeland was situated on the banks of the river Saraswati in a region which encompassed today’s Haryana and Western UP from where it eventually spread further into Northern India, principally in the Gangetic plains and beyond.

In terms of genetics therefore, one may argue that if there is a genetic signature of the Vedic people, it should be found most strongly in the original Vedic homeland and gradually reduce as one moves away from this homeland. Ofcourse, the caveat would be, that unless the modern people residing in the Vedic homeland had come to completely replace the original inhabitants of Haryana  who spread the Vedic culture.

The ancient DNA research has now shown that in terms of autosomal ancestry, there is link between the modern presence of Indo-European speakers across Eurasia and the ‘steppe’ ancestry component.

In South Asia it is argued, that the ‘steppe’ component is highest among the Brahmins and decreases as one moves down the caste heirarchy and this is said to be one of the principal evidences of movement of steppe people into South Asia having spread the Indo-European language and culture. Infact, the recent Narasimhan et al paper, even went so far as to suggest,

Although the enrichment for Steppe ancestry is not found in the southern Indian groups, the Steppe enrichment in the northern groups is striking as Brahmins and Bhumihars are among the traditional custodians of texts written in early Sanskrit. A possible explanation is that the influx of Steppe_MLBA ancestry into South Asia in the mid-2nd millennium BCE created a meta-population of groups with different proportions of Steppe ancestry, with ones having relatively more Steppe ancestry having a central role in spreading early Vedic culture.

However, it has already been known since many years that the population having the highest ‘steppe’ ancestry in South Asia are not the Brahmins but the Jats, more specifically, the Haryanvi Jats. This was also noted by Razib in one of his earlier blogs.

The present study focuses on this elevated steppe related component in Jats and more specifically in a related group from Haryana known as the Rors. It is titled, ” The Genetic Ancestry of Modern Indus Valley Populations from Northwest India “.  This study has the advantage that it incorporates the aDNA data from the Narasimhan et al and other recent papers.

The following is the admixture graph from the study,

As can be seen in the selected enlarged portion of the graph, the ‘steppe’ like light blue component, which is highest in some of the Northern European groups closest to the steppe, like the Latvians, Lithuanians, Russians etc., is far higher in Rors than it is in the Brahmins or any other South Asian group.

As per the authors themselves,

Outgroup f3 analysis in the form of (PNWI, X; Yoruba) showed that the Ror (and Jat) have distinct, high genetic similarity to modern Europeans (Figures 1C, 1D, and S5), far higher than the similarity observed in other NWI populations, such as the Gujjar (Figures 1D and S5). Among an extended set of South Asians, this pattern was repeated only in the Pathan population from Pakistan (Figure S5).

And,

Refined IBD analysis highlights the general trend whereby the sharing of IBD segments declines as one moves along the cline from PNWI and NI_IE toward Dravidian and Indian Austroasiatic (IN_AA) groups (Figure 2A). Strikingly, among all PNWI groups studied, the Ror demonstrate the highest number of IBD segments shared with Europeans and Central Asians, whereas the Gujjar share a higher number of IBD segments with local Indian Indo-Europeans and Dravidians than do other PNWI groups (Figure 2A).

In CHROMOPAINTER analysis, as expected, the Ror (and Jat) exhibited a significantly higher number of chunks received from Europeans than do other NWI populations studied (t test, p value < 0.01).

They also state further,

A higher level of European ancestry in the Ror and Jat compared to other South Asians (Figures 1, 2, S2, S5, and S13 and Tables S5–S8) makes these two populations outliers within the broader Northwest South Asian landscape. This could be indicative of either a possible recent gene flow from a population related to Europe or to ancient West-Eurasian-related influx, which would agree with previous studies on adaptation, wherein the Ror and Jat have stood out for their high frequency of the lactase persistence allele (LCT-13910T) and the light-skin-color gene variant (SLC24A5).

The Rors and Jats also have higher frequencies of Lactase persistence and light skin color gene variant which makes the case of their more recent ancestry sharing, compared to other South Asians, with Northern Europeans or steppe groups stronger.

Also,

We also report that, relative to other South Asians, the Ror group has high shared drift with the EHG and Steppe_EMBA groups, higher allele sharing with the Steppe_MLBA group, and higher affinity with the Iron Age (prehistorical) and early historical first South Asian ancient sources (Figures S6A, S6B, S7, S8A, S8D, and S9 and Tables S9 and S16).

Finally the authors argue that the Rors are the best proxy for the ANI ancestry in South Asians,

In summary, we demonstrate a higher proportion of genomic sharing between PNWI populations and ancient EHG and Steppe-related populations than we observe in other South Asians.We report that the Ror are the modern population that is closest to the first prehistorical and early historical South Asian ancient samples near the Indus Valley, and they also harbor the highest Steppe-related, EHG, and Neolithic Anatolian ancestry. However, compared to other adjoining groups, the Ror show less affinity with the Neolithic Iranians. The Ror population can plausibly be used as an alternative proxy for ANI in future demographic modeling of South Asian populations.

The bar graph below explains it very well, where it can be seen that the proportion of the steppe orange component is higher among Rors and Jats than either the Pathans, the Brahmins or any other South Asian group.

The admixture proportions as per the qpAdm given in the Supplementary Table 11 and it is instructive to observe that the steppe_emba proportion for Rors is estimated at 57 % of total ancestry while for Jats it is 61 %. The same proportions for Brahmins from UP, Gujarat & Bengal are 46 %, 45 % & 44 % respectively. Even for Pashtuns from Afghanistan it is 52 % and for Kalash it is 58 %. Only the Yaghnobis and Pamiris from Central Asia are estimated to have a higher proportion of steppe_EMBA at 62 % & 67 % respectively.

Before moving forward it is necessary to point out that the light blue component observed in the admixture graph which is highest among the Northern Europeans is not the same as the steppe_EMBA or steppe_MLBA ancestry. Steppe_EMBA & Steppe_MLBA are an amalgation of the light blue, the dark blue (Anatolian-Farmer related) and the light green (Iran_N/CHG) components you see in the admixture graphs. So while the light blue component which peaks in Northern Europe is significantly less among South Asians, the light green component which correlates well with Iran Neolithic type ancestry, peaks in South Asia but it present at a lot less proportion among the northern Europeans.

Infact, the authors even stress that,

The Ror and Jat peoples stand out for having the highest proportion of Steppe_ MLBA ancestry (- 63%). The proportion of Steppe ancestry in the Ror is similar to that observed in present day Northern Europeans

Therefore, the predominance of the light blue component in Northern Europeans is not alone an indication that their ‘steppe’ ancestry is far higher than among South Asians.


Now, if steppe-related ancestry correlates with presence and spread of Indo-European languages, the above data clearly implies that the highest steppe-related and therefore IE ancestry among South Asians is among the Jats  & Rors, significantly higher than in other NW groups as well as Brahmins and Kshatriyas. Jats and Rors sampled for the study, live in Haryana & Western UP, which is the Vedic homeland.

It therefore supports the ancient Indian tradition according to which the region of Haryana & Western UP was the homeland of the Vedic people from where they spread out across Northern India. It can therefore be argued perfectly well, that the Brahmins and Kshatriyas in other regions have higher proportion of ‘steppe’ ancestry than the lower classes around them precisely because they have greater percentage of their ancestry derived from the ‘steppe’ rich people from the Vedic homeland. It has long been an argument that the ‘steppe’ ancestry in higher among the Brahmins and Kshatriyas than the lower castes across all regions of India  and that this was evidence of IE culture spreading in South Asia with the ‘steppe’ ancestry. But the example of Jats and Rors in Haryana puts to doubt all such claims. Instead, we can argue that the higher ‘steppe’ related ancestry in Upper Castes across India is a function of them having a greater portion of their ancestry from their Vedic forefathers who lived in Haryana & Western UP, just as is suggested by the Vedic tradition.


I may finally add that there is a closely related group based on close fst distances and similar admixture proportions that likely descends from the core group that was responsible for the spread of this ancestry into the Caucasus and the steppe. This group consists of Rors, Jats, Kalash, Pashtun, Pathan, Tajik & Pamiri. They have broadly similar levels of Iran_N (15 to 30 %), Steppe_EMBA (49 to 67 %) & Onge (15 to 25 %) as per the qpAdm modelling in table S11. Fst distances also indicate that they are quite closely related. For example, the Fst distance between Rors and Pamiris (0.0069), Pashtuns (0.0057) & Tajiks (0.0058) is similar to Fst distances of Rors with neighbouring groups like Kamboj (0.0088), Gujjar (0.0064), Khatri (0.0056), Brahmins (0.0052) & Kshatriyas (0.0062). Considering the fact that Rors (& perhaps Jats) haven’t probably admixed with Pamiris, Tajiks or Pashtuns since millenia, their Fst distances would have been even less initially. The other Indus Valley modern populations are also not very far off in terms of Fst distances with each other but the above groups seem to form a subset among them.

https://i.imgur.com/TrNPI1r.jpg

It is conceivable that an ancestral group related to these populations with similar levels of ancestry proportions as exhibited by them (but perhaps with lowel levels of AASI – since BMAC has only 5 % in comparison to Pamiris who have 15 %), spread out from North India to Central Asia and those from Central Asia venturing further towards Caucasus and from there onto the steppe.

 

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Some thoughts on Ain-i Akbari

I have been going through the Ain-i Akbari recently, the name traditionally given to the third volume of the Akbarnama, commissioned by the Emperor Akbar of the Moghal dynasty and written by his Grand Vizier, Abu’l Fadl Allami by around ~1600 CE. The third volume is by far the most personal account of India, its geography, culture and people by Abu’l Fadl – himself born and brought up in Agra in an immigrant family of Yemeni Arab origin.

There are two extracts from the Ain that I wanted to write about. One related to linguistics, esp. the interesting reaction of an erudite aristocrat of Yemeni Arab extraction when he first encounters saMskRta. And the second description of the movement of the cArvAka-s[*], the free-thinking atheistic strand of Indic culture that was ridiculed and suppressed even as similar movements arose in the West (esp Britain) just under a century later.

Abu’l Fadl pwnage is quite obvious from the above extract, and in fact it is the mark of a truly great man to acknowledge it for posterity. Fadl clearly admits the effort to grasp the complexity of Sanskrit phonetics, morphology, syntax and grammar. However, what’s interesting is that while his account of his intellectual labours is in first-person, he switches to the third when concluding that his prior view of Arabic grammar being peerless is now under question. It is almost as if he stopped short of personally admitting to the pwnage – a little bit of hurt pride maybe – and yet couldn’t stop himself from remarking on the sheer formalism of what he’d just been introduced to. Of course, anyone who knows anything about linguistics would readily admit that pANini‘s Classical Sanskrit grammar, which Fadl describes a mere sliver of above, remained the tour de force in Linguistics from around ~500 BCE to the late 19th century until Saussure.

This brings me to the second extract from the Ain in question, namely the description of the cArvAka-s or nAstika school. To me this passage more than anything else contains the germ of the eventual Moghal ruin. It is amazing and ironic how a fairly erudite gentleman, maybe one of the best educated of his times, could dismiss some of the core ideals of what became known as the European Enlightenment as “unenlightened”. Of course, as it turned out, Isaac Newton, born a mere 50 years after this was written, published the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica in the same decade as the English Bill of Rights was passed by the Parliament. A process directly leading to three centuries of unprecedented economic and political growth of Western Europe and to the utter humiliation of the descendants of these same Moghal aristocrats at their hands.

Edit: Since sarpamaugdheya (as “snake charmer” will be known by me henceforth) below questioned whether the original Farsi by Abu’l Fadl speaks of his update of priors in third person, I looked into the original text. And here it is in all its majesty, where the underscored portion states:

پیشتر از آنکه بدین زبان لخت آشنا شود چنان می دانست که ضابطه لغت عرب بیهمتا باشد

Note the third-person verb in “midânest keh zabt-e lughat-e arabi bihamta bâshid”, i.e. he knew/considered the system of grammar of arabic as peerless.

[*] The word literally means sweet (cAri) talker (vAka, cf. Latin vocem).

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Aasia Bibi case comes full circle (part 3)

Shahab Ahmed began the first chapter of his book ‘What is Islam?’ with these words,
” I am seeking to say the word “Islam” in a manner that expresses the historical and human phenomenon that is Islam in its plenitude and complexity of meaning. In conceptualizing Islam as a human and historical phenomenon, I am precisely not seeking to tell the reader what Islam is as a matter of Divine Command, and thus am not seeking to prescribe how Islam should be followed as the means to existential salvation. Rather, I seek to tell the reader what Islam has actually been as a matter of human fact in history, and thus am suggesting how Islam should be conceptualized as a means to a more meaningful understanding both of Islam in the human experience, and thus of the human experience at large.”

The difference between ‘literal’ Islam (something I had been taught all my life-till that point) and ‘human experience’ of Islam (as theorized by Shahab Ahmed in the lines above) became acutely aware to me in the days and months following ST’s assassination. Where did the theory end and practice start? Does believing in something and doing things contrary to those beliefs hypocrisy or just the way things work? Are the five ‘essentials’ (Tauhid, Namaz, Roza, Hajj, Zakat) of Islam necessary to be performed if you just gain brownie points with God by killing infidels/blasphemers? I was also growing up in an environment of Islamist terror. Militants who professed to be better Muslims than us mere mortals (who performed the aforementioned ‘essentials’) were killing innocent people in Lahore, in Karachi, in Swat, in KP. How does a practicing Muslim reconcile his faith with the Islam professed by the militants? How does an ordinary Pakistani Muslim view the history of Islam? (a pol sci-major friend of mine recently said something very interesting on this topic. According to him, “actual” history doesn’t really matter to people. History in the public imagination is whatever the elites/mil-establishment want it to be )

Following my basic introductions to political theory and rudimentary economics(at IPSS and beyond), I began to think about the intersection of religion and politics. I probed some fundamental concepts regarding political Islam and how accurate they were, like the concept of Muslim Ummah and the statement that ‘Islam is a complete code of life’. While I was pondering over these questions, I was still living in the same social milieu that had existed around me.

I remember debating some 9/11 ‘truthers’ among my medical school classmates. They refused to entertain the notion that it could have been an Al-Qaeda operation, done by fellow Muslims. One day, I got into an argument with a burly, 6 ft 4 in guy in m class about the ‘complete code of life’ theory. I had probably mentioned it on my Facebook wall or in some Facebook group that I didn’t believe in the veracity of this claim because it was a newer (19th/20th century) addition to Islamic teachings. That tall, muscular guy approached me in the lecture hall the next day and said that he didn’t like my comment and that he was offended by it. I tried to reason with him but he got agitated and asked me to shut it because I was questioning religion which made him angry. I switched gears and changed the topic to save my skinny ass. A few days later, I was talking to a classmate who was among the very few friends I had and she said, Please do not get killed for your ideals.

For me, the public reaction to ST’s assassination was an eye-opening experience. There was a notion of a ‘silent majority’ in Pakistan, people who didn’t like mixing religion and politics (this theory was bogus and had no basis in fact). Fasi Zaka, a very intelligent commentator and writer on Pakistani society wrote, “After Salmaan Taseer’s death, Pakistan’s ‘silent majority’ finally spoke up. They liked it.”I heard someone in the ‘liberal’ (secular liberal or group B) circle say that ST’s death closed the door on critical discussion of blasphemy laws in the near future. It was a battle that we (secular-liberals) lost. We were grossly outnumbered and there was a very remote chance that we could incrementally chip at the edifice of blasphemy laws, for example by changing/improving the law of evidence or publicizing the historical consensus among Sunni Ulema that blasphemy is not punishable by death.

Instead, we have Khadim Rizvi and Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP), a ragtag group that can publicly mock the most powerful people in Pakistan and get away with it. ST’s death and Qadri’s hanging opened an avenue for these peddlers of hate to come out of their cubbyholes and wreak havoc on the “silent majority”(pun intended). Mohammad Hanif wrote about the aftermath of ST’s murder for The Guardian (full piece here), an excerpt of which is relevant to what I’m saying.

“So who are these people who lionize the cold-blooded murderer? Your regular kids, really. Some Pakistani bloggers have tried to get these fan pages banned for inciting hate. But as soon as one shuts down, another five crop up. Those who have trawled the profiles of these supporters have said that they have MBA degrees, they follow Premier League football, they love the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Miley Cyrus figures on lots of these pages.”

Qadri’s name became a brand (see here and here) that became synonymous with love for the prophet and the whole blasphemy debate. One could argue that in a country that was premised on the idea of a separate homeland for a particular religion, that religion would become the yardstick by which you proved your nationalism and patriotism.  As for me, I moved out. It became apparent a few years after the ST murder that things weren’t getting any better in my homeland. I could either suck it up and keep living or leave and start afresh. It was very hard to choose one of the routes but I chose the way out.

What about the few liberal spaces left in Pakistan? They are constantly shrinking. IPSS blew out of steam (and funding), NGO-funded youth groups and ‘Countering Violent Extremism’ (CVE) forums ran out of money after the US decided to decrease its footprint in Af-Pak. I was on an exchange visit (a misnomer, really, since no one ever visited Pakistan in return) to the US in 2012 and everyone at the policy level was talking about a post-2014 withdrawal scenario. There are still some valiant people working on secular ideas in Pakistan. Social media has helped but only a little bit. It has gotten the proverbial 72 seculars in Pakistan together on Facebook but it has also fueled the rise of a neo-Islamist political class that takes part in TLP protests and roadblocks. There are also certain bubbles in which you can dare criticize the state narrative such as LitFests and English newspaper op-eds. I remember talking to a pharmacy student whom I knew from a former workplace at Lahore Literary Festival and asking him what he was doing there since most of the conversation on stage there is in English (by decree or by choice). He replied that he was there just as a spectator to see how the ‘1%’ live in Pakistan and had not understood anything that was being discussed. The most important pockets of secular space consist of indigenous movements and organizations that work with people in their own language. I worked with two such organizations that communicated with people in their languages (Punjabi, Urdu, Sindhi etc).

Social media also helped tremendously in the information warfare raged by Milestablishment, turning former Musharraf-lovers into Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) followers. There is a lot of talk about a ‘youth bulge’ in Pakistan but policymakers and commentators rarely talk about the dangers of having a majority of poorly-educated young people who are taught actively and passively that they are victims of some unknown ‘agenda’ and that if they were given the right set of circumstances, they would conquer the world. I used to teach at private medical schools in two different cities of Punjab and I saw the moral and mental confusion that young people had about their lives and their futures. Youth and Naivete go hand in hand, however constant ideological propaganda about Islam’s greatness and Pakistan’s underdog status is a terrible fertilizer for young minds.

ST was not the first victim of this madness. Sabeen Mehmood was killed in cold blood on the streets of Karachi, Raza Rumi was attacked and his driver was killed, Mashal Khan was lynched to death. Each of these individuals tried to talk about secular values in society. What would become of the society? I don’t know. I don’t make predictions. Omar Ali asked me in November 2015 (in Lahore) about my thoughts on Pakistan’s future and I told him that things were doing downhill every passing day. I standby my pessimism.

 

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Forbidden Fruit. Military in Politics in Pakistan

From Dr Hamid Hussain. An old article (from 2003).

Forbidden Fruit – Military & Politics

Hamid Hussain

2003

Introduction

Politics and profession of soldiering has nothing in common. They are totally different but essential elements of any society. Politicians and soldiers have an interesting relationship in all societies. In societies where civilians are in control, military officers act in accepted boundaries though ready to defend their turf against civilian encroachment. In societies where political institutions are weak and there is lack of consensus on legitimate course of succession, soldiers gradually expand their area of influence. They gradually restrict the role of civilians in various areas and sometimes directly take over the state replacing the civilians. This generally accepted model does not mean that military as an institution has no relevance to the important policy decisions. Even in countries where the tradition of civilian supremacy is well established, military has a political role relating to national security, albeit a different one. One commentator has correctly pointed that “the military’s political role is a question not of whether but of how much and what kind”. [1]

This article will evaluate soldier’s attitude towards political activity and how it develops. This will be followed by the details of Pakistani experience of politicization of officer’s corps and how repeated and prolonged military rules have militarized the politics. In the end, the complex relationship between soldiers and politicians will be summarized.

Soldiers & Politics

Soldier’s disdain for politics and politicians is universal. Soldiers by nature of their training and job requirement place high value on discipline, recognized chain of command and espirit de corps. These values are essential for any professional army. Soldiers generalize these values and attitudes to the whole society without appreciating the difficulties and various conflicting demands by interest groups in a modern nation state. In under-developed countries, the problems are compounded by host of other negative social and economic factors. Discussion, debate and arguments about different points of view are essential ingredients of politics in every society. The nature of political activity is more chaotic on surface. Soldier’s concept of political order is based on the model of discipline, which he has learned in his barracks and daily life. “Institutions that permit disorder are condemned. The men who purposefully encourage disorder, as well as those whose inactions inadvertently allow for disorder, are dangerous”.[2] This is how soldier sees the political activity of his society. Political activity is seen as undermining of the discipline of society and politicians as opportunists and self-seeking demagogues. This thought process is at the root of how a military first withdraws respect and later support of any civilian government which is followed by kicking the quarrelling politicians out of the corridors of power. The chaos and instability caused by the weak civilian institutions is blamed for paving the way for military to take over the state. This is the universal justification used by all military rulers. Once the politicians are condemned as useless bunch, the question arises then who is competent to run the state? Now the self-righteous attitude of officer corps comes into play. In under-developed countries, military sees itself as the most modern institution of the society. In addition, being a member of a well organized and disciplined force and overdose of patriotic and nationalistic symbols reinforces the notion that soldiers are more competent than civilians. In countries where military is the dominant institution, the military leadership considers itself as ‘final arbiters of political process, final judges as to whether a particular turn of events is acceptable from their standpoint as the guardians of national integrity’. [3] Continue reading “Forbidden Fruit. Military in Politics in Pakistan”

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Sex and the British-Indian Army

From Dr Hamid Hussain.

Some have asked questions about sexuality during the Raj as related to the army.  Enjoy.

Hamid

When British arrived in India, India was sexually more liberal than Europe. Heterosexual and homosexual relations were common, open and celebrated in poetry and paintings.  Concubines were a common phenomenon practiced by all religious and ethnic groups.  In contrast, there was quite strict sexual repression in Victorian England.  There are two aspects of sexual relations; one relating to British soldiers and second British officers. In eighteenth and nineteenth century India, prostitution was legal and well-regulated in British controlled India.  In 1850s, there were seventy five military districts and in every district prostitution was supervised by authorities.  Doctors of Indian Medical Service (IMS) were responsible for regulating brothels.  All prostitutes were registered, minimum age for prostitutes was fifteen and women were provided with their own living quarters or tents that were regularly inspected.  Some establishments were quite large and brothel in Lucknow had fifty five rooms.  Prostitutes infected with sexually transmitted diseases were removed and not allowed to practice their trade until recovered.  Both native and European soldiers used these bazaars; however sepoys were discouraged to visit those prostitutes preferred by European soldiers.  Most British soldiers were from lower strata of the society and were not held to the standard of a British officer.  British soldiers visited prostitutes more often than sepoys.  One reason was that British soldiers were not married while sepoys were usually married men.   These bazaars were called ‘lal bazaars’ (red streets).  Both heterosexual and homosexual relations were common.  British regiments spent several years in India and many a times children were born of such relationships.  Special houses and schools were assigned as early as eighteenth century for these children.  Continue reading “Sex and the British-Indian Army”

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Major General Akbar Khan

From Dr Hamid Hussain. A short note on Major General Akbar Khan (of Kashmir Jihad and Rawalpindi conspiracy fame)

Akbar Khan (1912-1994) was a Pathan from Charsadda area of Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa.  He was from the pareech khel clan of Muhammadzai tribe that inhabits the village of Utmanzai.  Akbar was from the last batch of Indian officers commissioned from Royal Military College Sandhurst in February 1934.  Lieutenant General B.M. Kaul ‘Bijji’ was his course mate at Sandhurst and they became friends during their service.  Officers commissioned from Sandhurst were called King Commissioned Indian Officers (KCIOs).  Akbar joined 6/13 Frontier Force Rifles (FFRif.).  This battalion is now One Frontier Force (FF) Regiment of Pakistan army.  He fought Second World War with 14/13 FFRif. (now15 FF).  This was a new war time battalion raised in April 1941, at Jhansi.  In new war time raised battalions, officers and men were posted from different battalions, usually from the same regimental group.  Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Felix-Williams, DSO, MC of 1/13 FFRis. was the first Commanding Officer (CO).  There were fourteen officers in the battalion and Akbar at the rank of Major was the senior most of the four Indian officers of the battalion.   Lieutenants H. H. Khan, Fazl-e-Wahid Khan and A.K. Akram were other Indian officers (Wahid won MC).  Battalion was part of 100th Brigade (other battalions of the brigade included 2 Borderers and 4/10 Gurkha Rifles) of 20th Division commanded by Major General Douglas Gracey.  Continue reading “Major General Akbar Khan”

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Notes the emergence of “Indic civilization”

Note: This post is a supplement to the podcast below.

People get hung up on particular words a lot. This post is to clarify some terminology from my own perspective. It needs to make clear here that I am a semantic instrumentalist. Words don’t have power or meaning in and of themselves but point to particular concepts and patterns. If we disagree on words while agreeing on the concepts and patterns, the disagreement is semantic.

To give an illustration about the “power of words,” I have read works on “Western history” which begin the narrative in Egypt and Sumeria. As the centuries proceed, the focus moves north and west, and eventually, the Near East is excluded from the West. Clearly, most people can agree that the Near East is, and became, very distinct from what we term “the West,” but if our history is to deal with Northwestern Europe, it will start with the Roman period, and its roots clearly owe something to the earlier Near East. The reality is that the West that the histories outline developed much later (arguably after the fall of the Western Roman Empire), but its roots are diverse and broad, inclusive of Near East antiquity.

When I use the world “Indic,” please keep in mind that I am focused in particular on the civilization which had crystallized by the Gupta period across South Asia. The civilization which gave rise to concepts which form the basis of the Dharmic family of religions. Moving forward, and moving backward, this is the reference cluster of characteristics.

Continue reading “Notes the emergence of “Indic civilization””

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When myth becomes reality


Netflix now has Arjun: The Warrior Prince on its stream. I watched most of it to get a feel for some of the details of the story. I know the general outline of the Mahabharata, but I know the Bible or the Iliad far better (in case you can’t be bothered to follow the link, it’s only a small part of Arjun’s early life).

Depending on the sources you trust, the events of the Mahabharata date to around ~1000 BC. They were probably refined at a later date, perhaps around 500 years later.

I watched a fair amount of Arjun: The Warrior Prince. In some ways, it reminded me a lot of the Iliad and the Odyssey. These two works are a melange of influences and time periods, synthesizing true recollections of the large polities with highly stratified social systems and literacy of the Bronze Age, with the simple chiefdoms of the Dark Age Greece. The issue is disentangling the different periods.

One assumes the same is true of the Mahabharata and Ramayana.

The “wild card” here is that the most recent work has now likely confirmed the arrival of agro-pastoralists from the steppe in the period between 1500 and 1000 BC. By the time the historical analogs of the Pandavas were settled in the Gangetic plain, they’d likely been there for many centuries.

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