Anglosphere Media’s India and Modi Problem Part 1: An Introduction

Nonsensical Nemo’s Note: I am very grateful to the folks at Brown Pundits for allowing me to publish this. I have followed this blog for many, many years and learnt a lot reading it. If you guys enjoy my writing, you can subscribe to my Substack. Just one note, the piece was written before the 2024 Indian General Election Results came out on June 4. 

That the Occident has been more or less wrong about India from the very beginning is evident from the fact that its most storied traveller, the so-called discoverer of the New World, Christopher Columbus, rolled up to the Bahamas and thought he had discovered India.  It’s a tradition of blunders – sometimes perniciously mendacious and sometimes completely ignorant – that the Anglosphere (particularly its press) proudly continues to this day. Simply put, mendacity is the norm whenever there’s any report in any ‘esteemed’ Anglosphere publications about India. Most reports would fail to pass a basic smell – let alone a copy editor’s – test.

Suppose I was a foreigner and learned about India solely from American, British, Australian, or other Anglosphere news outlets’ coverage. In that case, I’d surmise that India is a genocidal hellhole where the living conditions were similar to, or worse than, sub-Saharan Africa, with a Wakanda-level technological might to run an Orwellian surveillance state, and whose streets are patrolled by saffron-hued Stormtroopers carrying tridents.

Every news report, opinion piece, editorial, and analysis appears to be a regurgitative exercise of the same set of phrases – “democracy backsliding”, “rising intolerance,” or “snarling hypermasculine Hindu beasts” – repeated ad nauseam.

While the WENA (Western Europe and Northern America) has always been suspicious of a rising India, the rabid foaming has only increased since 2014 when Narendra Modi, a man they detest for various reasons, came to power.

As a consequence, most of the reportage about India, including its diaspora, in recent years – from its elections to a citizenship law for vulnerable minorities in its neighbourhood to an Oscar-winning film like RRR – portends to “rising Hindutva fascism.” 

RRR – a troubling tote of Hindutva propaganda 

The latter is particularly hilarious, like this Slate piece that refers to a fantastical action sequence (the protagonist takes out Brit forces with his bow and arrows in a manner that wouldn’t be out of place in a Marvel movie), and claims that it’s an “apt representation for a country that employed authoritarian tactics to empower violent Hindu nationalism”.

Imagine this: You see a long-haired man shooting arrows at actors portraying Britishers with a bow borrowed from a Lord Rama statue and your instant thought is: “This is what it must be like for minorities in India.”

The aforementioned piece also takes great umbrage to the protagonist’s sartorial choice of saffron robes, which, in reality, was the choice of the attire of the original freedom fighter that the character was based on.

An interview with the director practically accused him of being a shill of the current dispensation without a shred of evidence.

One piece by Aatish Taseer titled Can Bollywood Survive Modi? in the Atlantic, claimed Rhea Chakraborty, had been arrested for abetting suicide, where the actual arrest was on drug-related charges.

For the uninitiated, Rhea Chakraborty is a Bollywood actor who was dating Sushant Singh Rajput, another actor, who committed suicide. His death became a cesspool of conspiracy theories that made the Indian mainstream media completely lose their marbles (at one point an Indian media anchor thought the text “Imma bounce” referred to a bounced cheque!).

The same piece in The Atlantic claimed that Karan Johar (one of Bollywood’s top directors) was targeted for showing gay themes in his movies, which is supercilious, and without any evidence to back it. In fact, close Bollywood watchers would tell you that Karan Johar’s movies have always been criticised for stereotyping the LGBTQI community, and in the KJo universe one’s position on the Kinsey Scale is determined by the angle of flaccidity in one’s wrist position. Johar, for his part, has even been spotted in selfies with Narendra Modi, and some could even argue that much of Johar’s filmography actually pushed the concept of the Hindu joint family long before BJP was a political force.

That’s not to argue that the current regime (Modi’s BJP) is any more LGBT-friendly when seen from the WENA lens. Still, it must be noted that while they did oppose same-sex marriage, the current regime didn’t oppose the decriminalisation of Sec 377, a law that was continually opposed by numerous “progressive” Congress-led governments.

Even the installation of a statue of one of India’s greatest freedom fighters, Subhash Chandra Bose was deemed by Financial Times’ Edward Luce, to be an “exhibit of Modi’s fascist ideology.” The closest one comes to this delinquency in the West is the way that America’s founding fathers are targeted for their past behaviour that might be considered deplorable now but was once the norm like keeping slaves. And without slave traders funding scholarships, our Rajya Sabha (India’s House of Lords/Senate to draw a crude analogy) would be far poorer intellectually and vocally.

Farm Bills: 250 million protesting in the streets?

A less laughable example is the coverage of the Indian government’s Farm Bills – a set of 3 laws that sought to democratise the marketplace for poorer farmers and end unlimited subsidies for rich ones.

Simply put, these laws aimed to change how agricultural produce is sold across the country by opening up sales outside of the state-run APMC mandis (marketplaces), remove barriers to inter-state trade, and also included a framework for electronic trading.

One of the laws, The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, of 2020, prohibited the state governments from levying any additional fees on the farmers if they sold in an outside-trade area, and aimed at breaking the monopoly of the government-regulated mandis, allowing the farmers to sell directly to buyers. Another one had a framework, including a legal one, around contract farming to help small and marginal farmers transfer the risk of market predictability from the grower to the sponsor and realize better prices. The Essential Commodities Act was largely around the deregulation of ECA 1955, to not only help farmers with surplus harvests but also to encourage private and foreign direct investments in the sector to help build a robust supply chain infrastructure for the agricultural sector across the country, enabling both domestic and export markets. While these laws do need more work along the lines of price assurance and educating small and marginal farmers about the laws themselves, the coverage seemed to suggest that the government was forcing poor farmers to hand over their products to big, bad corporations.

If you’d read the coverage – with in-depth insights and inputs from Rupi Kaur, Mia Khalifa, and Rihanna – you would’ve believed that the Modi government was trying to destroy agriculture in India and that the mob was modern-day freedom fighters taking on tyrants.

One of the more fictitious claims about the farm laws protests – that bordered on magic realism and where both math and logic took a hit – was that 250 million farmers were protesting all at once, a number cited by BBC and repeated by CNN. For the arithmetically inclined (or disinclined), that’s roughly 75% of the entire US population (but a mere 17% of the Indian population) allegedly hitting the streets in protest at the same time. It’s fair to say that if that many people hit the streets, everything would come to a grinding halt. What’s more interesting is that these preposterous claims still haven’t been corrected on websites of legacy media outlets that go around accusing every group that doesn’t belong to their particular political persuasion of being “fake news”.

The revolt was largely led by, as Anil Padmanabhan explained in an explainer in Mint, rich farmers/middlemen of Punjab and Haryana, two states with massive agricultural infrastructure that had become used to government doles (starting as far back as the Green Revolution era) who also hold a lot of political clout. The legislation on the other hand sought to empower the poorer farmers, to replace the current trading system controlled by a few which is out of reach for 75% cultivators in India.

For a detailed take on the Farm Bill, here’s a thread with the most cogent pieces on its pros and cons.

Abrogation of Article 370

The abrogation of Article 370 – a temporary provision that allowed extra-constitutional rights to the denizens of the state of Jammu and Kashmir – which was discriminatory against women, minorities, lower-caste folks, and the LGBT community – was also a classic example of a bad-faith argument. The abrogation of Article 370 also led to the abolishment of Article 35A, which defined “permanent residents” that discriminated against women and non-Kashmiris. For example, under Article 35A, women who married non-Kashmiris could no longer inherit property in Jammu and Kashmir. Similarly, any changes in Indian law, like the Goods and Services Tax (GST) or the decriminalising of homosexuality (striking down Article 377) would not be allowed in Jammu and Kashmir. Article 370 was always meant to be a temporary provision but became an albatross around New Delhi’s neck that defined its entire foreign policy for decades.

As a corollary, for non-Indian readers, imagine that there exists a state in the USA (let’s call it Texas) where women aren’t allowed to inherit property, US citizens who have settled there aren’t allowed to vote, and LGBT folks can be arrested for liking JK Rowling. Would removing said provisions be considered a step forward or backward?

Aadhaar – A State Surveillance Tool?


Amongst all these, the one that is probably most ludicrous is the coverage of Aadhaar. An identification document technology that has helped the Indian state reach its most vulnerable – which the World Bank believes could help India meet its poverty alleviation target – is coloured as a tool of mass surveillance.

The Aadhaar is similar to the Social Security Number (SSN) in the US, which was originally created to track accounts, and eventually morphed into an identifier. Do we deign to call SSN a mass surveillance tool?

One of the problems the Indian state has often faced is corruption, facilitated by the middleman. In the 1980s, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi noted that for every rupee the state spent, only 15 paise (15% of the amount) reached its intended beneficiary. On the other hand, with a combination of Direct Bank Transfer (DBT) and JAM, the Modi regime claims will help every rupee reach its intended target.

The JAM trinity refers to:

1) Jan Dhan (People’s Money) – bank accounts that provide access to financial services for people in the lower income strata for the first time

2) Aadhaar – a digital financial address

3) Mobile – Mobile phones armed with cheap data (thanks to Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Jio lowering the rates on mobile internet data packs)

Combined, the three have reshaped India’s financial landscape and broadened its access. The Economic Survey 2023 says that 318 central schemes are included under the Aadhaar Act 2016 that facilitate these transfers.

Aadhaar also played a critical role during COVID-19, when it became the backbone of COWIN (Covid Vaccine Intelligence Network), which helped India give 2.2 billion doses of vaccines and also helped create a digital certificate. As India’s outgoing Foreign Minister S Jaishankar shared in a delightful anecdote, when he went to have a meal in America, his son, an American citizen, took out a piece of paper to show his certificate while Jaishankar just showed his digital certificate on the COWIN platform.

CAA for Vulnerable Minorities

The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which sought to help out the most vulnerable minorities from neighboring states, was painted as a bill to disenfranchise and strip the citizenship of India’s Muslim population. For the uninitiated, the Citizenship Amendment Act’s raison d’etre was to give fast-track citizenships to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Christians, Parsis or Christians from India’s immediate neighbourhood: Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. It’s a matter of public record how non-Muslims are targeted in these countries and that their numbers have been dwindling significantly. However, the bill was gravely misrepresented in most of the Anglosphere outlets that claimed that the bill would be used to strip Muslims in India of their citizenship.

Similar to the Farm Laws, misinformation about the CAA ran riot, with mobs clashing with police across India that led to at least 69 deaths.

Claims were made that the CAA could be used to even deport illegal immigrants. The fact remains that irrespective of the CAA, any illegal immigrant would be deported under the Foreigners Act 1946 and Citizenship Act 1955.

As Harish Salve, one of the finest legal minds of this generation,  who also happens to be the King’s Counsel in England and Wales,  pointed out in a column: “I fail to understand how a law which is designed to confer the benefit of an identified class of persons, and which identification is based on a rational criterion, can be condemned as being discriminatory on the ground that the legislation could have created a wider class, arrived at by applying a broader criterion for identifying the class of those who would benefit from the legislation. The principle of equality does not mean that every law must have universal application. The principle of equality doesn’t take away from the state the power of making classifications.”

Salve also points out that there’s nothing “unconstitutional” about classification based on religion and that the Indian Constitution confers special rights upon members of religious minorities in India.

The Prophet Row

In May 2022, comments by Nupur Sharma, a former BJP spokesperson, about the Prophet Muhammad on a TV show were presented without context in media across the world. For the uninitiated, during a debate, a cleric was making incendiary remarks about a Hindu deity when an enraged Sharma quoted Hadiths that sparked worldwide condemnation.

The issue and the subsequent outrage were widely covered in the Anglosphere press. However, none of the pieces sought to mention that the comment was in response to an Islamic cleric mocking Hindu deities. Even the reportage afterward about several beheadings and large-scale riots by the Islamist fundamentalists laid the blame at the feet of the former BJP spokesperson, which is akin to blaming The Beatles for the Charles Manson murders. Much like Salman Rushdie, the spokesperson now lives in near isolation, in fear that she will one day be targeted by some Islamist fanatic for her remarks. Ironically, even Aatish Taseer, whose father was a former Punjab governor and lawyer, Salman Taseer, was shot dead in Pakistan for supporting a blasphemy accused in Pakistan, appeared to enjoy Nupur Sharma’s misery.

A BBC report on the beheading of Kanhaiya Lal – a Hindu tailor who had expressed support on social media for Nupur Sharma – by Muslim extremists had the lead image of angry protesters in saffron that would give the impression that the beheading was carried out by the Hindu fundamentalists. Time magazine even went as far as to publish an article titled ‘Hindu Lives Matter’ Emerges as Dangerous Slogan After Horrific Killing in India right after the murder of Kanhaiya Lal, burnishing the point that Hindu lives didn’t matter. In its own way, it was reminiscent of the gaslighting of Jews that seems to be now rampant in American universities, where the victim is blamed for, well, being the victim.

Also, the quantum of crimes, depending on the religion of the culprit and victim, is often gravely misrepresented in the media.

In fact, WENA outlets have been shoehorning the term “Hindu fascists” into every international conflict, including the Israel-Hamas war, where they claimed internet Hindus were accused of sowing disinformation. The Atlantic carried a piece whose entire edifice was based on the claims of a propagandist masquerading as a fact checker, who has been at the forefront of amplifying Hamas propaganda.


Along with demonising Indians, there also seems to be a growing liberal consensus around Saffronphobia – which states that any news that involves a Hindu anywhere in the world has to be blamed on “rising Hindu Nationalism,” whether it’s a fake caste war in California, America or violence in Leicester, UK. The latter was blamed on “Hindu nationalism” with the heading (with an image of Lord Rama in the main picture) before grudgingly admitting that it “wasn’t one-sided” and that some Hindu religious symbols “might have been” desecrated.

Along with false reportage that put folks at risk, a Henry Jackson Society report stated: “False allegations of RSS terrorists and Hindutva extremists organisations active in the UK has put the wider Hindu community at risk from hate, vandalism, and assault.”

This is even more pernicious since those who are quick to blame Hinduism or its caste system for almost all of the world’s evils are the first ones who go to great pains to explain why Islamist fundamentalism has nothing to do with terrorism.

Tum Ghulam Log…

More recently, the focus has shifted to New Delhi’s foreign policy, which should’ve been expected, because if there’s one thing that irks imperialists who love the imaginary rules-based international order (RBIO), it’s countries that refuse to toe their line or accept the global liberal worldview as their own.

This results in the so-called powers-that-be getting extremely agitated about everything an administration does, even if it’s simply taking care of a law-and-order situation involving students or farmers. Meanwhile, the upholders of the so-called RBIO have no issue treating pro-Palestine protesters on Ivy League campuses like hardened criminals (I’m not sure I get this, it was quite the opposite) or socially and financially ostracising anyone who supports protesting truckers.  GoFundMe even withheld millions of dollars donated to the truckers.  

A lot of outrage in the last six months has been about India’s so-called death squads that make it sound like there are actual Indian operatives who are actually capable of spy-like skulduggery that would gladden George Smiley’s heart. One claim that would’ve really made Smiley smile involved a jihadi shooting down another jihadi in Pakistan with the promise that the agent would then help him join ISIS. A report notes: “Muhammad Abdullah allegedly told Pakistani investigators he was promised he would be sent to Afghanistan to fight for IS if he passed the test of killing an “infidel” in Pakistan, with Ahmed presented as the target. Abdullah shot and killed Ahmed during early morning prayers at a mosque in Rawalkot, but was later arrested by Pakistani authorities.”

One such incident involved the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada. Coverage about Nijjar, who was described as everything from a plumber to a priest, did not mention the fact that he received training in Pakistan from that country’s notorious external intelligence agency ISI and that he literally ran a terror cell in Canada.

Justin Trudeau, in particular, went to town after Nijjar’s killing, blaming New Delhi, and his viral tweet about the rule of law became quite a popular meme.

Perhaps he was still smarting from the lack of cameras on him during the G20 Summit in Delhi, where he was also force-fed a millet-based diet. That Trudeau or his government was unable to provide any definitive evidence of the allegations doesn’t bother the outlets that have moved on to the next piece of misinformation.

Of course, in their alacrity to show New Delhi as the great big evil on par with Moscow, they forget to mind their Ps and Qs, like this error-ridden The Guardian article that announced Gurpatwant Singh Pannun’s departure for the Elysian Fields even though he continues to live and breathe and threaten Indians from America soil. It’s fair to say that if a Pannun was to do the same about America – perhaps threatening a RyanAir flight standing in New Delhi – he’d be neutralised faster than you can sing the chorus to Mundiya to bach ke rahi.

And finally, the reportage has entered its peak feeding frenzy to coincide with the Indian General Election 2024, in which critics of the current dispensation have to live with the harsh reality that this might be Narendra Modi’s third term, making him the only Prime Minister after Jawaharlal Nehru – whose pre-disposition to be an Englishman (his words not mine) – was far more palatable to the Anglosphere than the incumbent.

The election coverage has gotten increasingly more ludicrous with time. Among other things, Modi has been accused of building too many highways, attempting to create a messianic cult bigger than Gandhi, metamorphosing the Ashoka lions (India’s national emblem) that are referred to as “snarling hypermasculine Hindu beasts”, forcing the BBC to split its Indian operations to follow the newly-introduced foreign investment rules, and accused of election rigging without a shed of proof.

Meanwhile, the Opposition has been systematically lionised and beatified beyond their actual political standing or ability to elicit a response from the electorate.

The Obama Delusion Syndrome

It has become the norm for Anglosphere outlets to valorise individuals beyond their actual political clout, building them up much like Barack Obama, the patron saint of liberals across the globe (who conveniently forget his drone strike rate). They have done it with numerous Opposition figures including Congress’ de-facto leader Rahul Gandhi, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray (whose father was a staunch BJP ally and hardcore Hindutva leader), West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, former Lok Sabha MP Mahua Moitra, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and, where there are no politicians around, even Bollywood megastar Shah Rukh Khan. In fact, a large population actually argued that the success of Shah Rukh Khan’s film Jawan was a vindication of the Modi government’s targeting of Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan Khan in a drug-related case.

Nowhere is this Obama Delusion Syndrome epitomised than the coverage afforded to ex-TMC MP Mahua Moitra, whose profile fits that of the urban and sophisticated anglophile.

A New York Times piece written by Moitra read: ‘I Know What It Takes to Defeat Narendra Modi’, referring to the TMC’s (a regional party from the state of West Bengal) defeat of Narendra Modi’s BJP in the state elections in 2022. The piece obviously glossed over the excesses of violence that are part and parcel of the state of West Bengal, which was once ruled by the Communist Party of India (Marxists) that was renowned for its thuggery and has to its credit India’s biggest massacre of Dalits who came to India as refugees from Bangladesh. For the uninitiated, the term ‘Dalit’ refers to a socially and economically demographic at the very bottom of the social hierarchy.

Their vanquisher and subsequent successor is equally accused by critics of unleashing a reign of terror in the state against political opponents. In fact, in Bengal, to support BJP is to literally risk life and limb. This has often seen BJP legislators, like singer Babul Supriyo (whose car was attacked by goons), switch to TMC (on the other hand, several TMC legislators flipped to BJP ostensibly after pressure from various federal agencies like the Enforcement Directorate).

However, none of the pieces that valorise Moitra mention the serious charges against her (including sharing privileged Parliamentary access with a business rival of Gautam Adani. Instead, Mahua’s disqualification from parliament was labelled a misogynist witch hunt without even referring to the case that caused her to be disqualified.

More recently, when Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was released after being arrested for repeatedly ignoring summons by authorities, FT claimed that Modi would face a “shake-up” after the release of a rival without knowing how to recognise the rival’s face. The picture in the frame is that of Sanjay Singh, a legislator of the Aam Aadmi Party, not Arvind Kejriwal.

Now this is not an exhaustive list and if I were to list every single mendacious claim masquerading as a fact in Anglosphere publications, this piece would become longer than Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time).

But it’s a fair example of the mendacity masquerading as facts in the English publications from the Anglosphere that they will go out of their way not to publish the perspective of the BJP or its ideologues, nor try and understand why a majority of Indians have voted for Narendra Modi in the last two general elections. There is no attempt to understand why Modi is so popular, or why his politics (Hindutva) cuts through caste. There’s barely any mention of the social welfare benefits that are at the heart of the development project with the slogan: Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas (Everyone Together, Everyone’s Development). In fact, foreign observers would be shocked to learn that Modi’s harshest critics on the right-wing side of the aisle often accuse him of being too soft on Islamists, labelling him Maulana Modi and would prefer a more hard-lined approach claiming that minorities got more benefits under Modi than previous governments.

There’s also no mention of how popular Modi – himself from a backward caste – is actually with so-called marginalised groups – either tribals or those from backward castes. There’s no mention that Modi’s regime has chosen Presidents – the Presidentship in India might be ceremonial but is highly symbolic –from a member of a backward caste as well as from a backward tribe as Presidents during its tenure. The latter was the first instance of a member of the backward tribe becoming a President.

The fact is that they don’t even want to know the BJP’s side of the story or why almost 230 million people (still fewer than BBC’s imaginary 250 million farmers protesting) voted for the party in the 2019 Lok Sabha Election. There’s no attempt to understand what it means for the millions who got their first bank account, gas stove, or toilet in the house. There’s no desire to comprehend why Hindus might clamour for a temple at Ayodhya, the abode of their most beloved deity, a temple destroyed by a Mughal ruler and replaced by a mosque.

That there’s a desire for constant obfuscation about India is evidenced by the experience of Swapan Dasgupta, a veteran journalist who went from being a Trotskite to a Thatcherite, who has also served as a member of the Upper House of Indian parliament. Dasgupta, who has long been associated with the BJP and its ideology, was commissioned by an editor of The New York Times to write an essay explaining the BJP’s perspective, but the idea was later killed for editorial reasons.

While the misrepresentation of what’s happening in India is not new and certainly not only for Modi and his government, but the misinformation has certainly magnified in recent times.

It would appear that the Anglosphere outlets would rather live in a state of cerebral inertia than try to understand how a party with two Parliamentary seats in 1984 has now won two national elections with overwhelming majorities and looks set to win the third.

A day ahead of the 2024 Election results, The Guardian summed up the mood best when it wrote that it was depressed in a statement that can only be read as deeply dismissive of Indian voters and their right to choose a candidate who might not appeal to the ivory tower philistines:

“In India, poor people often see politicians as gods delivering relief to numb the pain of reality. By claiming to be divine, Mr Modi is making devotees of voters, encouraging a belief that it is God’s purpose to target minorities, outlaw dissent, and ride roughshod over constitutional protections. It is depressing to think that Mr Modi will win a third election victory. There is small comfort in believing the BJP probably won’t achieve Mr Modi’s goal of winning nearly three-quarters of the country’s 543 parliamentary seats. Foreign investors are pulling out their cash from India’s stock market, citing uncertainty about the results.”

Evolutionary biologists believe that the “depression” gene is imperative for human survival, simply because it allows people to not seek out the company of others which helped them survive epidemics that ravaged tribes. So perhaps, a little depression isn’t the worst thing.

All of this brings us to the second part of the essay, which I hope to cover in Part 2, which will hopefully be published before I leave for the Elysian Fields:

Why is there so much misinformation about India in the Anglosphere?

Also Read:

1) Why I love RRR Part 1: An Absurdist Deconstruction

2) RRR Part 2: Why SS Rajamouli’s masterpiece triggers Hinduphobes

3) When are we going to talk about Hinduphobia?

4) America’s Fake Caste War

5)Kashmir Checkmate: Amit Shah planned intricate political chess…

6) A revolt of the rich peasants of Punjab, Haryana
7) Why women vote for Modi

8) Where did the BJP get its votes from in 2019?

9) CAA is necessary: Why the many arguments about its being unconstitutional don’t hold water

10) Hindu-Muslim civil unrest in Leicester: “Hindutva” and the creation of a false narrative


The creation of Homo General Category

This Politic piece on caste in America is pretty balanced. But one thing that this “Indian Americans are so casteist” discourse misses is that 85% of Indian American Hindus are “General Category”, with a few percent being Dalits or Scheduled Tribes (the remainder are OBC). There aren’t many low caste people to discriminate against, but secondarily, America is a caste shredder.

The latest surveys suggest that for Indian Americans born in the USA, 30% of their spouses are non-Indian, 30% of their spouses are US-born Indians, and 40% of their spouses are Indian-born Indians. I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of the the 30% who marry other US-born Indians are marrying outside of their jati-varna. I suspect that perhaps a majority of the remaining 40% who have Indian-born Indian spouses are jati-varna endogamous because of arranged marriages, but I know a substantial number of US-born Indian Americans, men and women, who met and married Indian-born Indian immigrants, usually meeting them through work or social contexts. I am pretty sure that the majority of US-born Indians are marrying outside of their jati, often outside of their region.

You can test this proposition at the high socioeconomic status groups by looking at the NY Times Wedding Announcements.

Look under some very distinctive names, and look who they are marrying.

– Mukerhjee
– Iyer
– Sen
– Mehta
– Patel
– Arora
– Reddy
– Singh
– Deshmukh
– Kulkarni

People of lower castes have bad personalities

Making the Elite: Top Jobs, Disparities, and Solutions:

How do socioeconomically unequal screening practices impact access to elite firms and what policies might reduce inequality? Using personnel data from elite U.S. and European multinational corporations recruiting from an elite Indian college, I show that caste disparities in hiring do not arise in many job search stages, including: applications, application reading, written aptitude tests, large group debates that assess socio-emotional skills, and job choices. Rather, disparities arise in the final round, comprising non-technical personal interviews that screen on family background, neighborhood, and “cultural fit.” These characteristics are plausibly weakly correlated with productivity (at the interview round) but strongly correlated with caste. Employer willingness to pay for an advantaged caste is as large as that for a full standard deviation increase in college GPA. A hiring subsidy that eliminates the caste penalty would be more cost-effective in diversifying elite hiring than equalizing the caste distribution of pre-college test scores or enforcing hiring quotas.

No big surprise.

Caste in the Indian subcontinent: the wages of Manu

A new post on caste at my Substack. I don’t think I have much more to say on this topic on the high level; the DNA data is now what it is. More details will come in, but we have the general outline.

It is now up to social historians to make sense of it.

(also, a new phrase for Pakistanis: “Allah in the streets, Manu in the sheets”)

A vision for solving India’s caste social crises

My personal belief is that jati-varna was one of the major reasons that India did not Islamicize more than it did. These sub-elite solidities “absorbed” external shocks and mediated individual relationships with the world. Collective entities like this are common across the world, but the genetic distinctiveness of these groups is like nothing you see elsewhere (with the possible exception of endogamous isolation like premodern Ashkenazim). I also believe that the jati in particular predates the arrival of the Aryans 3,500 years ago. Varna-like concepts exist in other Indo-European societies, but only jati exists in India, and I believe that genetics will uncover jati-like stratification in the IVC over time. Jati may be one reason that the IVC seems archaeologically to be an “anarchistic” society in terms of governance and politics insofar as they can infer anything from material remains (there seem to be no grand public buildings as in Mesopatamia or Egypt).

But, today, in 2022, the jati-varna system is a problem for India. In particular, I think the reservation system is socially toxic and economically inefficient. Because I have libertarian conservative viewpoints, I have always opposed caste-based reservations, just as I oppose affirmative action in the USA. This has little to do with empirical or utilitarian calculus and everything to do with deontological principles. But, from a utilitarian perspective, I believe that reservations result in the misallocation of talent, as well as emigration.

How to fix this problem? The genetics indicates endogamy rates of 99% or less for possibly a thousand years or more. Today, the jati-varna endogamy rate is lower. Perhaps 95% is the high bound from the estimates I’ve seen. This means within several centuries jati-varna as we understand it will not be viable.  The rate of genetic/social/cultural exchange will be too high to maintain traditional solidities. This will not mean that all castes will disappear; some will likely persist, but many societies have endogamous minorities. The way India is unique is that it is a whole civilization that is built around endogamous minorities. This does not scale as well to a modern economy and unitary society, and it is cannot persist if current social trends continue.

This problem will “naturally” take care of itself in both India and Pakistan (two countries where endogamous communities are ubiquitous), but, there are possible social and cultural movements that can accelerate or retard this process. The transformation of Hinduism into a more cohesive and confessional religion will probably be part of this. Like jati-varna, Hinduism’s strength was its fractious decentralization, as it absorbed and flexed in various directions to maintain its integrity in the face of proselytization. But in the world of 2022, the strategies of survival and persistence in the face of five hundred years of Muslim domination (in North India) are not appropriate; cultural involution and retreat simply invite defeat. The extremely diverse and almost contradictory nature of Hinduism allowed it to be a catchall system that integrated many jati groups with idiosyncratic beliefs and customs. The two reinforced each other as parallel institutions. Arguably, the weakness of jati will be the weakness of Hinduism unless the latter evolves and changes. One primary reason that non-Hindus never convert to the religion is that conversion still puts one outside of the jati-varna social networks of other Hindus while ostracizing oneself from one’s birth community.

Of course, some Hindus like the system the way it is. Some of these go by the term “trads,” but these types simply say out loud what the revealed preference shows is the majority viewpoint of most Hindus in India. What do they worry about? Higher-status groups do not want to become lower-status. Also, some high-caste Hindus believe they are more beautiful (lighter-skinned) and intelligent than lower-caste Hindus, and they do not want to dilute their human capital advantage. Objectively, it seems clear that many high-caste Hindus are indeed lighter-skinned and have facial features considered more beautiful than that of other Indian castes (I’m talking about Indian preferences on the whole). Additionally, whatever you may think about the heritability of intelligence, this is also certainly a possibility for differences between the groups.

But there doesn’t need to be such a great concern. Most societies have intelligent and beautiful subgroups, but they are not restricted to a particular social or political element. Restricting these traits to a particular social and political group causes problems, as you can see in India. The reality is there are beautiful/handsome and intelligent Dalits, so why not marry them if you are a Brahmin? These characteristics will persist, and the upside is that the social divisions between the jatis will diminish, and India can have a cultural matrix that’s more amenable to economic growth and individual liberty.

As someone with a conservative bent, there are natural hierarchies and status differences in any society. This is normal, and total leveling will never be possible, nor should we even aspire to it. Difference is worth appreciating. But the system of jati-varna in India as it is operationalized today is not conducive to human flourishing because it retards the development of broader social and cultural institutions that allow for national collective action. This is not abstract. China is a perfect example of a society with class status, but never has it had jati-like endogamy. Radically different dialect groups, like Hakka and Cantonese, freely intermarry with minimal conflict or controversy, so long as socioeconomic status is this. This is the future. You can delay it or ride the tiger.

The the origins of the false moral panic about caste in the USA

Caste discrimination in the US, again…Brown University bans caste discrimination throughout campus in a first for the Ivy League.

These stories are strange and silly on some level. But they are serious on another level. Multiple young brown American men have told me that they have been asked about their caste by white colleagues, usually social justice-oriented women. More recently, I was having beers with a friend who works at Google, and he mentioned offhand “I heard caste discrimination is a big problem in American tech.” Context on him: he’s American-born, his father is from China, his mother is a white New Englander, and he’s not religious, but he’s center-right politically.

Very few people in America know anything about caste. So they rely on a small group of activists to inform them. Additionally, the American elite is very worried about structural oppression, and jati-varna certainly fits that bill. So they are attracted to regulating and eliminating it.

The problems:

– Most Indian Americans don’t care about caste, and 1.5 and 2nd generation are very fuzzy on it

– Most Indian Americans who are 1.5 and 2nd generation do marry other Indian Americans, but they seem to marry outside of their caste

– Very few Indian American Hindus, about 1%, are Dalit. About 20% would be “OBC” in India, and 80% are “upper caste.” So there aren’t many “low caste” people to discriminate against

– Very few Indian Americans exist in a predominantly Indian milieu, so caste as a discriminatory framework can never operationalize

The final issue is that of course, the ancestors of Indian Americans on the whole did benefit from literal structural privilege in a broad sense, even if they came from a poor or uneducated background. Usually, on a relative scale, the people who arrived in America had resources or skills compared to the average Indian. In agreement with Greg Clark, I think this human capital persists; Indian Americans are not regressing back to a very lower socioeconomic median. Instead, they are becoming part of the American overclass.

I believe that the new salience about caste in America has less to do with caste and more to do with grappling with a dark-skinned nonwhite population that clearly has high levels of persistent and structural human capital advantage. American elites, and especially white American elites, have a very difficult time intellectually conceiving of the idea that nonwhite people can overcome discrimination and succeed because of the privilege of high endogenous human capital.

Caste and California: the lawsuits are in!

Cal State banned caste discrimination. Two Hindu professors sued:

Two Hindu professors are suing the head of their university system to oppose the addition of caste to an anti-discrimination policy amid a broader battle over whether colleges should explicitly call out caste-based bias.

The California State University System professors argue that naming caste as a protected characteristic unfairly targets Hindus and wrongly suggests that oppression and discrimination are among Hinduism’s core tenets. Sunil Kumar and Praveen Sinha contend in the complaint, filed Monday, that Hinduism is about compassion and equanimity — principles directly opposed to a discriminatory caste system.

Here are some things I believe

– This law is impractical and wrongheaded. There are very few Dalits in the US, so there is by definition very little discrimination against Dalits (even if you grant that individual Dalits experience pervasive discrimination, which I honestly do not grant). Additionally, most Americans cannot tell different types of brown people apart, so its impact is not religious-cultural but racial.

– Hinduism has a strong connection with the caste system because Hinduism, as it exists today, developed out of the indigenous religious systems of the Indian subcontinent, and those religious systems are inextricably connected to Indian culture, which is riven with caste.

– Caste consciousness also seems pretty pervasive among many Christians and Muslims in the subcontinent.

– If you view religion as a bundle of characteristics that change over time, there’s nothing fundamental to Hinduism, or any other religion. This is my personal belief. For most of its history, Islam and slavery were closely connected because slavery is addressed in the sharia. That ended in the 20th century for historically contingent reasons. Though some level of varna awareness seems to exist in Bali and among the Chams of Vietnam, the elaborate jati system does not. Probably because here Hinduism is unmoored from its Indian matrix.

Some interesting quotes…

 But Sundaram said many younger Hindus have formed alliances with other affinity groups, such as Black Lives Matter, and are more inclined to call out caste discrimination.

Young American Hindus are the least likely to care, or even know, much about caste. But they are the ones worried about it and engaging in activism. This is performative because they are progressives searching for a problem that is fading and diminishing before their eyes.

Most importantly, she said, she disagrees with the Hindu American Foundation’s argument that caste is not foundational to Hinduism.

“You absolutely can acknowledge this as part of the tradition and fight back against it, but to argue that it doesn’t exist in the tradition, it’s just false,” Sundaram said. “There’s just no way to really make that case.”

Foundational and traditional are distinct. Is the reporter engaging in manipulation, or did the activist professor consciously misunderstand?

Varna is Indo-European and jati is Indian

A casual comment…most Indo-European societies seem to have originally had some sort of occupational caste system. I’m talking here of Dumezil’s trifunctional hypothesis, warrior, priest and commoner. But only the Indian subcontinent has jati.

I was thinking about it when reflecting on work to come out soon from David Reich’s lab on ancient Pontic steppe ancestry in Bronze Age Greece. There is no stratification by class when it comes to steppe ancestry. From the talk:

In the Balkans, we reveal a patchwork of Bronze Age populations with diverse proportions of steppe ancestry in the aftermath of the ~3000 BCE Yamnaya migrations, paralleling the linguistic diversity of Paleo-Balkan speakers. We provide insights into the Mycenaean period of the Aegean by documenting variation in the proportion of steppe ancestry (including some individuals who lack it altogether), and finding no evidence for systematic differences in steppe ancestry among social strata, such as those of the elite buried at the Palace of Nestor in Pylos.

So why is India so different? One hypothesis that some make is that the Indo-Aryans were racially so different from the indigenous people. But I do not that that is the issue. Instead of bringing strict endogamy to the subcontinent, the Indo-Aryans adopted indigenous forms. There’s genetic differences indicating strong endogamy across South India among non-Brahmin groups. There is also a ‘mystery’ in terms of how the IVC was organized sociopolitically. I think I have a possibility: jati obviated the need for central political authority.

If you have a hammer, everything is a nail

The reaction to my piece on caste by the Indian and Indian American Left has been interesting, and fraught with confusion.

First, the reaction by this Indian (now in America) Leftist is to accuse me of being an upper-caste Muslim. This is not that far from how Hindu nationalists react to me, which illustrates that certain mentalities are general, and the specific instantiations simply flavors on top of the common base. Most Indians are “identitarian” in such a deep way, whatever their ideology, that Americans would have to be impressed (if they are cultural liberals and racialists). If you scratch an Indian Leftist they aren’t that different from a Indian Hindu nationalist in their cultural presuppositions.

I am not an upper-caste Muslim in a literal sense, because a quick scan of my genome will show I’m a generic eastern Bengali, and more concretely caste is not a thing in Bangladesh anymore. I do have ancestors who are Hindu, as all people of subcontinental Muslim background do, and all I know is that most were Kayastha (on my mom’s side) and my paternal grandmother’s father was from a lineal Bengal Brahmin family (her father was very young when his father converted the family from what I recall, so he did not remember being a Hindu, though he did pass on some Hindu customs to my grandmother like the utilization of separate dishes). My paternal lineage, from where I get “Khan,” were landholders in their region of Bengal for a long time, and traditionally provided the ulema for the villages in the locality. We also funded the construction of many of the oldest extant masjids in the area.

It’s hard to deny that I have class privilege, given that my family was present in the professions or owned land for centuries. This, despite the fact that partible inheritance means that my “ancestral desh” (which I have never physically been to, I was born in Dhaka, and my mother’s ancestral village was far closer) is populated by many poor relatives who barely have any land-holdings to speak of left. People in my family who are economically advantaged all migrated to Dhaka in the 20th century. This migration was enabled by privileges accrued from the past, as we were literate, and had some assets that we could presumably turn into cash to finance a move to Dhaka. But once we got to Dhaka no one cared we were big shit in rural Comilla. Arguably, to a mild extent, we were second-class citizens, being migrants from a rural area, though this is the norm in Dhaka so I don’t think it was a big deal.

The migration to Dhaka from rural Comilla anticipates later migrations, as branches of my family on both my maternal and paternal side reside in the US, UK, Japan, Northern Europe, and the Middle East (with sojourns in Latin America; hi cousin Pablo!). The reason we were able to make these journeys was due to a combination of financial means and educational qualifications. These emerge from our class background. But once in the US, UK, let alone the Middle East, no one gave a shit that we were “Khans.” I am socioeconomically an upper-middle-class American, but that’s not because anyone gave me privileges because I was an “upper-caste Muslim.” Most of the people who were in a position to advance me happen to be white, and to them, I was just another brown person. Perhaps it was even a demerit that I was an “upper-caste Muslim,” since that just meant I was a brown person.

This truth is generalizable. 99% of Americans do not care at all if you are an Iyer or a Mehta or a Reddy. They don’t even know what that means. You are just a brown person to them. Suhag Shukla once told me that when she went to Congress in the 2000’s to lobby for Hindu American rights, hill staff asked if they were “Sunni or Shia.” This is to illustrate that Americans don’t give a shit about what your background is and barely understand it. Malcolm X’s quip about a black man with a Ph.D. isn’t totally applicable, as America isn’t that racist anymore, but it gets to the heart of the fact that in America brown is brown, caste no consideration.

Second, there is the issue that people who are brown in America often do benefit from caste privileges and hierarchy ancestrally. This is a problem and confusion, because it seems obvious, but it gets conflated with the situation in America. The American immigration system is not caste-conscious because Americans barely understand this, but 80% of Hindu Indian Americans are from the 25% of Hindu Indians who are upper-caste. I personally get annoyed with Indian Americans whose families were elite back in India who bring up their stories of discrimination and penury in the US, because their experience is distinct from the social, cultural and human capital they inherit to various degrees from their families. On some level, caste does matter who gets to America, but that is not because the US is caste-conscious, but because Indians are. The US immigration system values particular education and skills that are not equitably distributed among Indians. There are also “push” factors like reservations that mean some upper-caste professionals have far better opportunities abroad, so they leave (this is, for example, a much bigger dynamic in medicine than software engineering, from what I have heard).

Third, the trend now is to argue that Indian caste dynamics are replicating themselves in the US. I don’t think this is true, and I explained why in the UnHerd piece. The minority of Indian Americans raised in the US barely understand what caste is beyond an abstraction. One of the contributors to this weblog proudly asserts their “sudra” status half-seriously, but Indians have told me that usage of that term is somewhat taboo in the subcontinent. The difference here is context, as varna categories are mostly academic, and outside of a few communities (Jats and perhaps, some Patels) jati doesn’t really exist as lived experience. Caste isn’t really a serious matter in America, so who cares if you are a sudra? No one else really does who matters.

It might be somewhat different for the majority of Indians who migrated to the US in the last few decades, as they grew up in a country where caste does matter, and some of their attitudes do replicate. I do assume that most of these people are prejudiced against Muslims and “lower castes” to some degree like the Leftists Indian Americans say (who are usually upper-caste Hindu by background, and so are aware of what things are said “behind the veil”), but these people rarely operationalize their biases because the American racial and social context is totally different from India. When I go to buy alcohol at Indian-owned mini-marts sometimes I get mild third-degree from the owners when they see my last name on the ID, and sometimes it gets to the point I have to tell them I’m an atheist and stop bothering me (this seems a problem during Ramadan in particular, but I often don’t know when it’s Ramadan so don’t blame me). But this is only an inconvenience, and guess what, I can buy alcohol from places without overly curious Indian aunties minding the counter.

Finally, there is the issue of caste discrimination in Silicon Valley, the one place where people argue Indian cultural dynamics are replicating due to the critical mass of immigrants from the subcontinent. People bring up the Cisco case as is if it’s case-closed, but it’s a single case, and the reality is that we don’t really know everything about the dynamics of the case and there’s been no verdict. Believe it or not, not all allegations of discrimination are found to be valid.

But many non-Indians (white people) now routinely tell me there is caste-discrimination in Silicon Valley, this is just a “truth” that is “known.” I’ll be candid that I think some prejudices naturally imbibed from high school, where the caste system is widely taught as constitute to Indians, along with Leftist media narratives about Indian American caste discrimination, are coloring peoples’ perceptions. The reason I wrote the UnHerd piece is that this is becoming the standard narrative and accepted truth for third parties who don’t have any biases or priors on the issue.

For example, when people say there is pervasive discrimination against Dalits in the Valley, I have to ask, what Dalits? Dalits are 15% of Indians, but 1% of Hindu Indian Americans. It could be possible that this 1% is suffering pervasive discrimination from the non-Dalit majority, 25% of whom are Brahmin and 80% as a whole are upper-caste, but there are opportunities in the US to work for non-Indians who won’t care or know. Indian American society, when it is caste conscious, is overwhelmingly upper-caste and privileged, so they’d have to discriminate against each other!

Yes, there is a level of nepotism and clannishness among Indian Americans, but this is not unique to them. Mark Zuckerburg famously recruited from his dorm and Harvard, and if you are not part of particular elite educational or professional circles you are on the “outside” in the startup world. The same seems true of Indian American entrepreneurs, but their particular ingroup preferences are always reified as “caste.” Though I”ve heard of the “Telugu mafia,” this seems to be the exception, not the rule. And, it is not uncommon for Indian Americans to have some affinity for each other (the majority born and raised in the US still marry Indians), but often this cross-cuts region and caste, rather than reinforcing them.

Additionally, what caste consciousness there is going to be transient. If you are an Indian immigrant to the US, and you are raising children here, there is a 50% chance your grandchildren will have non-Indian ancestry. There is a far lower chance that all four of their grandparents will be from the same jati-varna, in large part because a lot of Indian immigrants themselves are couples in “mixed” marriages (I put the quotations there because in the US Census the marriage of a Tamil Brahmin and a Punjabi Khatri is endogamous).

I will end with an exhortation: the US is a country where you can be reborn anew. Do not buy into the regnant narrative and recreate yourself as a victim. Grasp the world with both hands and make of yourself what you want to be. Some Leftists are trying to replicate Indian dynamics with oppressive upper-castes and oppressed lower-castes in a racial and ethnic context where it’s irrelevant. But some upper-caste Indians are also embracing victim status, whether because they were persecuted in Tamil Nadu (Brahmins), or because they were subject to racial discrimination in the US. I know it’s easy. But I don’t believe it’s the path of honor. Sometimes you do the right thing, even if it’s the harder thing, the socially less acceptable thing. Whatever your caste, religious or regional background, you’re American now. You are now part of a different, great, national project. Make your own narrative, don’t recycle old ones or adopt new ones.

Reactions to caste piece in UnHerd

It’s out, America’s fake caste war.

Quick thoughts

– The piece is illustrated with a photo of Aziz Ansari, an atheist from a Tamil Muslim background. This shows you that caste-in-the-West is a racial issue, and non-subcontinental people will view it as such.

– Some people of Caribbean and other Diasporic backgrounds are complaining that I ignored them. Yes, I did. This is focused on the overwhelming majority of Indian-origin people in the US, who are mostly immigrants from India.

– Some Indians are complaining I don’t talk about caste in India. Yes, I don’t talk about it except as a baseline or starting-off point because this is about Indians in America.

– Some upper-caste people are complaining that I make them seem privileged and submitting that there are poor temple priests who are Brahmin. These sorts of objections disabuse me of the notion that upper-caste people are more intelligent because this is a stupid point. Upper caste people who complain about their persecution in India and how “actually they’re underprivileged” get tiresome for a whole host of reasons, and I wish you people wouldn’t engage in the oppression Olympics, but I guess it’s just too tempting. Do some math. There are even good Indian statisticians.

– Some people are complaining that Indian Americans who are immigrants are often conscious of caste, and they care. I don’t disagree with that, though it varies (guess what, someone who is an extremely caste-conscious Hindu is probably less likely on the whole to immigrate to a whole new country where beef is the luxury meat of choice). My point is that the structural institutions and norms that allow for the salience of caste identity and privilege are just not operative in the US. To a great extent, this is true in places like Guayana too, and there the Indian-origin population is more than an order of magnitude larger than in the US. Gujarati Patels might have enough critical mass to create a marriage market that’s endogamous, but few other groups do.

– Some people are saying I’m totally denying discrimination. I’m not. I’m just pointing out that anti-Dalit discrimination is rate-limited in the US because there are hardly any Dalits here. The 1% of Indian Americans who are Dalits are more likely to interact with Indians than the average person, but there are many (most) situations where they’ll interact with non-Indians who don’t know/care.

– Finally, over time the native-born Indian population is going to get much larger. This will change the balance of cultural power within the community, and so the saliency of caste will decline even further. I know several people who are even in mixed religious (Muslim/Hindu) marriages who are raising their children “spiritual.” This sort of thing in America is much rarer in India, but “communal” identities in the US that are salient are white, black, etc., not the particular religious ones.

Brown Pundits