History / 31.10.2009

By Anjum Altaf  Bruised and battered as Indian women might be (psychologically, not physically as the poll on this blog suggests), there is another side to Indian femininity reflected in the myths of powerful goddesses. I came across an interesting perspective on this in David Shulman’s review (A Passion for Hindu Myths, NYRB, Nov. 19, 2009) of the new book by Wendy Doniger, The Hindus: An Alternative History: Sometimes the history of India looks like a story about endless waves of virile invaders from the north-northwest – Scythians, White Huns, Afghans, Turks, and, most recently, the British – who slowly grow soft and decadent under the insidious influence of the dreamy, langorous, mystically inclined Hindus…. [But according to Doniger] India’s astonishing talent for absorbing and transforming the peoples pouring in from outside, seen through a Hindu lens, has nothing to do with any softening or melting down of a hard, preexisting monolithic culture; it is, rather an active process of selection and pragmatic recycling, with the female principle – mare, queen, dancing girl, or goddess – driving the rather helpless (often foreign) male.
Development / 31.05.2009

By Anjum Altaf Have you ever wondered why there have been so many traitors in the Indian subcontinent? We can start with the most well known of them all, Mir Jafar, known as Ghaddaar-e-Hind, whose name has become synonymous with treason. In the critical Battle of Plassey between Robert Clive and Sirajuddaulah in 1757, Siraj had the advantage but at the critical moment Mir Jafar failed to move his troops because he had sold out to the British. Thus began the British domination of India. The history of the Mughal period is full of incidents of betrayal. In his book The Forgotten Mughals: A History of the Later Emperors of the House of Babar, GS Cheema documents “the readiness with which great nobles switched sides, often in the midst of battle.” These facts are well known. What triggered this thought again in my mind was reading Khushwant Singh’s A...

Law / 29.05.2009

By Anjum Altaf Picking up on the speculation about the causes of poverty of Indian Muslims, I did some more reading on the subject. The bottom line is that the variations in the laws of inheritance matter in very interesting ways. Let me outline some of basic contours here and hope we can discuss the details in the comments. Where the principal form of property was land, a law favoring equal division amongst all heirs would lead to fragmented holdings while a law decreeing transfer to one heir only would avoid fragmentation.

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