On Twitter I ran into a peculiar argument about vegetarianism and Brahmanism:
This is just factually wrong from what I know. The standard narrative I was taught is that the shift toward vegetarianism was driven by non-Brahmin-led religious movements, in particular the Sramanic sects like Jainism and Buddhism (that seem to have had a Kshatriya and Vaishya “class” base). Rather, post-Vedic Brahmanic ritualism was changed by the influence of these movements, with the Brahmin caste becoming followers and expositors. This probably aligns with the idea that much of late Indian Buddhism was actually incorporated into Advaita, so the idea that Buddhism is a “daughter” religion of Hinduism is actually not correct.
Now, it is totally true that today militant vegetarianism is often correlated with upper castes and is instrumentalized in an exclusionary manner. But that is the endpoint and operationalization of vegetarianism, not its root. The original commenter was making a political and rhetorical point, so truth was pretty irrelevant. But those of us who value truth need to periodically bring up pedantic aspects because otherwise the lie becomes truth, and that is true perversion.
A Hindu friend clued me into the fact that this was Lord Rama’s birthday. Since I’m not Hindu or from a Hindu background I had no clue (to be fair, Google calendar is how I know when Ramadan starts). I don’t know much about Rama as I have not read the Ramayana (after all these years I’m only 2/3rd of the way through an English translation of the Mahabharata), but, I’m pretty sure I know which Y haplogroup he was, so much respect!
The figure to the right is from a Substack post I wrote last year, Stark Truth About Aryans: a story of India. In it, I posted about the different streams of ancestry that led to the variation in the modern Indian subcontinent. In short, there are three primary threads:
1) Steppe Indo-Aryans who are identical to the Sintashta Culture of the upper Volga ~4,000 and gave rise to the Andronovo Horizon
2) “Ancient Ancestral South Indians,” who have more affinity to the peoples to the east of Eurasia, and are distantly related to a clade of humans that brackets the Negritos of Southeast Asia, the Andamanese, and the people of Australia (this clade diversified between 35 and 45 thousand years ago, so these are not close connections). Though the modern Andamanese are often used as a substitute for AASI, the reality is that they diverged more than 30,000 years earlier and these tribal populations probably derive from modern Burma, rather than India (the Andaman Islands are an extension of the Burmese geological formation).
3) Lastly, there is a component that has been termed by some as “eastern Iranian,” but really defines a little-understood population that represents the easternmost extension of the Zagrosian farmer stock. These eastern people that extended likely into the northwest of the subcontinent are distinctive in that they lack any admixture from Anatolian farmers, which is ubiquitous to the west of Dasht-e-Kavir. Not only do these people not have any Anatolian admixture, but they also have enrichment for Paleo-Siberian ancestry, likely mediated along the pastoralist fringe of Central Asia
The vast majority of subcontinental populations have some thread of ancestry from these three groups. The major difference is proportions. You can see this in an admixture graph I ran a few years ago (yes, I need to update it). In the graph AHG = AASI, while steppe is pretty straightforward. But, the Indus_Periphery group is a mix of “eastern Iranian” and “AASI.” Concretely, I simply picked the highest quality and least AASI samples to capture as much eastern Iranian ancestry as I could. But I would estimate that 10% AASI is still a rational lower-bound (probably not higher than 20%) estimate for my Indus_Periphery construct. This means even the Kalash of Pakistan, who are ~0% AHG in my model, do have AASI ancestry, it’s just mediated through their 70% Indus_Periphery.
In regards to the steppe ancestry, the reality is that it is present across the vast majority of groups. The exceptions are a very few South India tribal and most Munda populations. Groups like Reddys and Nadars will clock in at 5-10% steppe ancestry. This makes sense when you note that Y chromosome R1a1a-Z93 is found in even tribal groups with the exception of the Mundas. There are other details that are curious. Many groups in the Sindh/Gujurat region are very enriched for Indus_Periphery but have very low AHG proportions and less steppe. In contrast, some Gangetic populations have far more steppe than these, but far more AHG.
This brings me to the point of the post: when people say that Dalits or Adivasis are the indigenous people of the subcontinent, I think it does not necessarily have as strong of a human demographic basis as one might think. That is because to a great extent Dalits and almost all Adivasis are made from the same threads as other subcontinental populations, even if the proportions may differ.
Let’s walk it back and understand the ethnogenesis of the subcontinent.
First, it is quite possible that the AASI are not indigenous to the portion of the subcontinent to the north and west of the Thar desert. Their natural ecological locus was likely in the east and the south. Biogeographically the northwest of the subcontinent is somewhat different than the south, center, and east, which resemble Southeast Asia more (albeit at a remove). During the peak of the Last Glacial Maximum, the Thar Desert was drier and larger, serving as a boundary zone between southwest Eurasia and southeast Eurasia.
The ancient DNA from the Swat valley as well as the genetic character of modern Punjabi populations compared to the ancient samples from the IVC make a strong case that AASI ancestry is intrusive to the northwest. By this, I don’t mean that AASI tribes migrated in that direction, rather, as the IVC expanded it clearly mixed with AASI populations to its south and east, and as the IVC was an integrated cultural zone, mixed individuals moved north and west over time.
The Swat transect shows a decrease in IVC proportions between 1000 BC and 0 AD, and increased steppe and AASI ancestry. This is part of what I call the “integration phase” of Indian civilization, as gene flow occurred not just from the northwest with Indo-Aryan expansion, but Indo-Aryan reflux migration must have occurred into the west. These eastern Indo-Aryans mixed extensively with indigenous people in the Gangetic valley, explaining why Brahmin populations in this region have noticeable more steppe ancestry than groups like Sindhis, but also far more AASI ancestry. Indo-Aryan tribes all mixed with IVC people when they arrived in the subcontinent (while there are populations that are ~0 steppe, and others that are ~0 AHG, there are no populations in the subcontinent that are ~0 Indus), but a subset moved east and south fast so that they arrived with a higher steppe fraction when they settled down to mix with indigenous tribes.
Second, even outside of the northwest, it is not entirely clear that the AASI is not a recent early Holocene migration from Southeast Asia. Genetically they are part of the continuum with the indigenous Negrito people of Southeast Asia. I think it is less likely that there was massive Southeast Asia migration during the Holocene, but for most of the Pleistocene, Southeast Asia had many more humans than India because India was far drier.
Finally, outside of exceptional groups like the Munda, whose language and mythology seem derived from the 20-30% of their ancestry than is Austro-Asiatic Southeast Asian (and all-male), almost all subcontinental populations come out of the cultural matrix whereby Indo-Aryans synthesized with indigenous populations (much, but not all of whom, were Dravidian-speaking). The earliest Tamil has a clear Indo-Aryan influence, while the retroflex in Sanskrit is indicative of Indic influence very early on.
Where am I going with this? Genetically a Jat from Haryana is very different from a Dalit from Tamil Nadu. A Jat is 10-20% AASI (aggregating the AHG estimate with the AASH fraction in the Indus_Periphery), and 25-30% steppe. The Dalit is 75% or so AASI (again, aggregate), and only a few percent steppe. This is a massive genetic difference. But culturally it is clear that both come out of an Indian milieu that was shaped in the period between 1500 BC and 500 BC, as the Indus Valley Civilization collapsed, and its remnants were transmuted by Indo-Aryans. The tribes in the north that continued their Indo-Aryan language were clearly transformed, but the Dravidian-speaking polities of the south were also imprinted by the Indo-Aryans. It was reciprocal.
Both light-skinned northern Indians who like to claim “actually” they are “Iranian” and dark-skinned South Indians who claim to be “indigenous” emerge out of this process, this dynamic. And they share equally within it. India came out of the mixing of many disparate elements which then disaggregated in various ways, but all went through the same sieve.
In the comments below there’s a lot of discussion on colorism among brown subcontinentals as well as a fixation on particular facial features. Since I’m an American coconut I don’t really understand many of the nuances, though I’m curious from an anthropological perspective. Much of it obviously seems ludicrous for American browns. What’s the point in commenting on whether one sibling is lighter-skinned than another when you live in America and most of the population is far whiter than even “light-skinned” Indians could aspire to? (ironically, or not, the ‘black-fishing’ swarthy Kardashians look like a lot of light-skinned Indian celebrities to Americans)
But about half of the readership of this weblog now readers from India. Cultural values differ, and so does offense. For example, for Americans asking how much money you make is a very offensive question. For people in other societies, it is not. Why is it so offensive to Americans? Because money is really all we care about! The trigger tells you something deep about our values.
Recently I’ve been meeting many more Indians (from India) on Clubhouse, and I’ve been trying to interrogate differences in values. And one thing that I’ve encountered is a strong aversion to being called “kaala.” Even the most well-off and Westernized Indians seem to wince at the term, and will privately tell me to stop using it the way I am (addressed to people). I ask what the problem is, and they won’t want to get explicit, sometimes saying the connotation is negative. That’s obvious literally true, but how are you going to ever change the connotation unless you change practice?
This is obviously a form of cultural imperialism. Though blackness is not always positively connoted in the US, as a term it doesn’t have the same strongly negative valence as it does in Asia. During the summers I get very kaala in my exposed body parts because I don’t avoid the sun. When my mother asks how I’m doing I say I’m fine, but also I tell her next time she’ll see me I’m “kalo” (Bengali). She gets mad but is used to me talking in this way because being kalo is not really bad substantively (it isn’t). Americans care about whether you are fat or not. Though I don’t condome being mean to fat people, being fat is associated with lots of health ill-effects, and just the way you move is often unnatural (those of us who gain and lose weight can attest to the biomechanical variation). In contrast, being dark or light doesn’t matter too much now since most people don’t need to work outside.
Even in India (and Pakistan and Bangladesh) there will come to be a time when the generation of aunties who grew up in the 20th century will pass on. At that point, the generations who grew up when kaala was a term of opprobrium used by older generations should perhaps rethink their conditioning. I’m not judging, but it’s not really “natural,” it’s conditioning.
Guest Post from Professor Ali Minai.
Now that the “bad drama in Slamabad” is over (temporarily, I’m sure), some reflections.
The opposition’s decision to move no-confidence at this time made no political sense. After all, why rescue an opponent drowning in a vortex of circumstances and incompetence? Imran Khan could have been left to flail around on his own until elections in 2023. The reason that the opposition went for him now must have been something they feared would happen between now and next year that would entrench PTI in power. Imagination suggests options, but it hardly matters now.
During the whole no-confidence saga, the opposition unwittingly gave Imran Khan at least three opportunities for winning the larger game. The best one came early when he first lost his majority in the Parliament. He could have resigned gracefully as PM – showing commitment to democratic values – taken on the role of leader of the opposition, and held the feet of his opponents to the fire until the elections next year. After all, the opposition has no magic bullet for solving the problems of the country in a year, and is likely to fall into squabbling soon. That opportunity was missed because Imran’s ego overcame his reason – a familiar pattern.
The next, somewhat less attractive, opportunity came when the vote on the no-confidence resolution was called. Imran could have resigned then or let the vote pass, left with democratic credentials intact, and begun a popular campaign for the next elections in the streets. Instead, his well-known self-belief bordering on self-delusion led him to try a blatantly unconstitutional gimmick that united the opposition and backfired in court.
The third opportunity occurred after the Supreme Court’s verdict on April 7. By then, a lot of the benefit had already been squandered, but resigning with some dignity was still possible. The narrative of American interference had also begun to take root. But in his arrogance – apparently at the behest of a few very close advisers and against the advice of most others – Imran Khan decided to take a much worse tack, drawing out the vote, creating all sorts of uncertainty, and considering extremely radical last-minute moves. Eventually, faced with signals from the courts and the ever-present “Establishment”, he had to go out like a petulant infant deprived of his favorite toy.
Diehard supporters, of course, are in the grip of shock and anger, lashing out at every available institution in the language taught to them by their champion. But terminal failure is really hard in Pakistan’s politics. Imran Khan can now join the long list of zombies who haunt Pakistan’s political landscape, waiting for events or a patron to bring them back to life for a season or two. But all bets are off for now if he has indeed alienated powerful forces in the country as some news sources have reported. In that case, the Captain’s ship is going down. We’ll know when the rats start swimming away.
Meanwhile, a new play is about to start in Pakistan’s political theater. Some of the dramatis personae are known but ghosts and demiurges still lurk in the shadows. It is also not clear whether the play will be a comedy, a tragedy, or just history repeating itself as farce. The writer is known to be versatile, with a vicious pen and a dark sense of humor. The curtain rises….
Patrick Wyman interviewing a specialist on the IVC. Pretty interesting, though I’m mildly skeptical of the idea of what seems like a pre-state primitive democracy being the political system in the IVC.
It’s Mob Rule in Sri Lanka. For its supporters it is a color revolution a la Ukraine Maidan in 2014 (more on that later). There are calls to hang and quarter President Gotabya Rajapakse. who was democratically elected by an overwhelming majority These are not sentiments of rural folk. It’s the call from Western leaning, educated urban affluent folk, plus those comfortably living in western countries. These are the types whose platitudes are about rule of law, democracy, guilty until proven and other trope.
But then the fruit does not fall from the tree does it. The tree been that beacon of democracy, the US. Just a few weeks ago there were calls for regime change, including assassination of a world leader, not just by some nonentity but by the leader of the “free” world and one of his senior member in the government.
Then of course there is the history, much to do with oil
Eg 1: Overthrow Assassination of the democratically elected Iranian PM Mosaddegh and the Shah being installed. When there was a popular revolution and a democratic government kept getting elected under theocratic oversight (no much different from UK monarchy) sanctions against were done done with the hope of regime change.
Eg 2 : Venezuela. Conspiracy theories of Chavez being murdered. However, very clear the US has continued using sanctions to attempt regime change and install a client Guido (is he from South Jersey). Note: Venezuela and Iran have been able to live with US sanctions because they are energy independent.
Eg 3: Korea the first division a la a possible Ukraine Vietnam, Kosovo, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria almost all still occupied by the US/NATO
In Sri Lanka this is a class struggle, which the west oriented urban elite hope to regain power by other means That is not by democratic vote. The small vocal (in English) is extremely against the current regime. Not just against, a visceral hatred of the rural types, (godayas or bumpkins), much like visceral hatred of Russia or the rural Evangelicals and deplorables who support Trump. It is very evident in the language used against them, extremely discourteous to say the least. The Rajapakses have continued the pro rural people, socialist policies started by the Bandaranaike in 1956..The rural people (80 % of SL) are not happy. Who likes power cuts and shortages of diesel. But not to the extent of doing protest. They just need to cut firewood to cook.
The whole do a little protests and then go for sushi meal sums up the depth of these protests. Urban, affluent and no depth or “deep hunger” for change, so no real staying power or commitment. Much like Occupy Wall Street it will fizzle out.
Now the US connection: It’s no coincidence Victoria Nuland the architect of the Ukraine Maidan revolution visited Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan trying to drum up support for US sanctions against Russia. India said it was neutral and continued to import Russian crude. Same with Pakistan and Sri Lanka commenting they were neutral. Lo and behold a few weeks later a no confidence motion against Imran Khan the Pakistan PM, with rumors his party MP’s were bribed. The hope was that the pro US Pakistan army (they get lots of goodies from the US) would takeover. In Sri Lanka so called grassroots protests by the urban affluent for which none of the opposition parties claim responsibility.
So why the economic crisis in Sri Lanka. Lanka is being hit by a perfect storm.
a) The consequences of 2019 Easter bombing by Islamics and loss of tourism for three years (20% FX)
b) Economic shut down by a 1+ year lockdown because of Covid (30% FX, eg Garments)
c) Loss of mid east remittance for 2 years, as workers were sent back because of COVID fear. (30% FX)
d) And now having to pay for refined fuels and diesel shortages. Our only refinery Sapugaskanda built by the Iranians is to process Iranian crude or Russian crude.
In my opinion, fuel shortages are the biggest problem. 10 hour power cuts in urban areas. Lines to get diesel, petrol, kerosene and LPG if available. Again not too bad in rural areas. i.e. use firewood. I just built an outdoor fireplace.
Mid east workers started going back starting around Dec 2021. About 40 have left so far from the village.
Tourism had picked up in March. I was getting about 2 visitors a week, about a USD 200 income. Pre easter bombing in 2019 it was USD 600+. The rioting and power cuts are going to kill that goose.
Anyway this is democratically elected govt. Mob rule regardless of how urbane or affluent (and NOT representative of greater Sri Lnka) should not be allowed to stage coup or color revolution.
I just finished Edward Rutherford’s “China, the novel” and enjoyed it. Capsule review:
This author writes sweeping sagas about particular places (London, New York) and clearly researches a lot before he writes. This one covers China from the first opium war to the end of the Qing dynasty. As usual, he has created characters (a British opium trader, a missionary, a Chinese mandarin, a Chinese rebel, a eunuch in the Manchu court, etc) that cover all important events (opium wars, Taiping rebellion, court intrigues, empress Cixi, etc). The book is a fun read and the history is well researched. While you can read many books about the history of the era, this one fills in the social mores, family dynamics etc in ways that a history text cannot. Well worth a read.
And happened to finish the overly long serial “Ruyi, Royal Love in the Palace” on Amazon Prime at the same time. This is a (very fictional) account of Ruyi, the Ula Nara empress in the reign of the Qianlong emperor. The details are ALL fictional, but the serial is lavishly produced and seems to capture the atmosphere of the harem (or what i imagine to be the atmosphere of the harem) very well. The novelist seems to have had some moral purpose in view, so the evil nature of the whole arrangement is perhaps a bit overdone (but it is also possible that in actual practice it was even more evil than this), and the serial is TOO long, going on for 87 episodes where 20 would have been more than enough. And some of the plot devices are also unrealistic (everyone is plotting, plots get discovered all the time, but the emperor never seems to take precautions against them; on the other hand, he too may be constrained the nature of the institution). But slowly but surely it does capture the terrible nature of this institution. Worth skimming through if you don’t have the time for a long soap opera.
The headline is obviously a bit much. The casting of dark-skinned actresses of Indian-origin really isn’t going to change the norms of the Indian subcontinent, or the whole of Asia. But it’s an interesting window on aesthetic standards and cultural creation. Indians who I bring up this issue with routinely suggest “well, you don’t have ugly people in American films.” The implication for many people of subcontinental origin is that dark skin is ipso facto ugly (and in Asia more generally). This seems the ground truth and the rest is just commentary.