Hierarchy, Dependence, Equality and Democracy

In connection with the discussion on dynastic succession, our reader had helped clarify our thinking by characterizing both traditional monarchy and traditional religion as institutions marked by hierarchical relations between human beings (see Monarchy, Religion, Hierarchy and Modernity). Further, the point was made that in societies ruled by such institutions hierarchical relations were not limited but extended to all social relationships.

The interesting question that followed was “What is wrong with hierarchy itself?” The answer was contained in the alternative that was posited by the reader: The alternative to hierarchy is not necessarily individualism, just equality.

The importance of this distinction ensues from the realization that hierarchies can never really be eliminated—if nothing else, the hierarchy of knowledge is likely to persist. For example, the hierarchy between an expert and a layperson (say a physician and patient, lawyer and client) cannot easily be eliminated. Nor does it need to be as long as it can be ensured that the expert would not able to exploit this dominance by making the client act against his or her personal interests. And this is where political and social equality come in accompanied by access to an independent recourse to justice.

And this leads to an important conclusion: Our struggle is not against hierarchy but for equality, both social and political. The link between hierarchy and dependence needs to be broken. And our commentator was right in suggesting that a monarchy based not on divine right but on a social contract would be moving in this direction.

(It is important to note that the hierarchy of incomes (income inequality) will also persist. But this is not synonymous with social inequality. That it remains the case in South Asia, with important implications, is an issue we will take up in a later discussion.)

For the moment, we elaborate on political equality and its fundamental importance to democratic governance. Tocqueville describes the link as follows: “Equality, which makes men independent of one another, naturally gives them the habit and taste to follow nobody’s will but their own in their private affairs…. This love of independence is the first and most striking feature of the political effects of equality…. As each [individual] sees himself little different from his neighbors, he cannot understand why a rule applicable to one man should not be applied to all the rest… and legislative uniformity strikes him as the first condition of good government.”

Tocqueville is very clear about the relationship of equality and independence to the system of governance: “Since in times of equality no man is obliged to put his powers at the disposal of another, and no one has any claim of right to substantial support from his fellow man, each is both independent and weak… Men’s hatred of privilege increases as privileges become rarer and less important, the flame of democratic passion apparently blazing the brighter the less fuel there is to feed it.” On the other hand, “When conditions are unequal, no inequality, however great, offends the eye.”

As our reader noted: “In a democracy, political officials *represent* or stand in for their people in a particular role and are equal to them in fundamental ways.” Once this equality is compromised, the political system begins to transform itself into a patron-client formulation with all its attendant consequences.

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  • SouthAsian
    Posted at 13:54h, 16 February Reply

    The BBC has provided this description of the caste system. Is it accurate?


    • Vikram
      Posted at 20:18h, 16 February

      “Manusmriti, widely regarded to be the most important and authoritative book on Hindu law and dating back to at least 1,000 years before Christ was born”

      The very first line is false.

      First the easy part, Manusmriti is dated to between 200 BCE and 200 CE, with scholars now leaning towards the later end of that spectrum.


      Second, there is not even one Manusmriti. Various versions have been found which are all inconsistent with each other. Also, although it was influential, there is no evidence that it was treated as law in any Hindu polity.


    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 06:13h, 17 February

      Vikram: Thanks. Is the rest of the write-up accurate in its description of the caste system?

    • Vikram
      Posted at 17:53h, 20 February

      SA, the problem with the article is its insistence on locating caste rigidly within the framework of Hindu religion. In the most extreme case, such a perspective leads to statements like ‘Caste is the soul of Hinduism’.

      It is useful to start by distinguishin varna and jati. Jati is thought of as primordial, or tribal. Varna is dealt with more in the theoretical and theological domain.

      Like any theoretical tool, individuals or more pertinently in India’s case, jatis, can use varna to expedite their political, social or economic goals. Examples have been discussed previously on this blog, jati’s like Jats and Yadavs claiming the Kshatriya varna as they secure political and economic power.

      For various historical and practical reasons, the tendency of jatis is to claim Kshatriya varna. But there are also examples of communities adopting Vaishya varna as a conduit to upward mobility, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arya_Vaishya , and claiming Brahmin varna, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhumihar

      Note that even many Dalit communities claim warrior status as they become upwardly mobile, despite conversion to Buddhism.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 04:52h, 21 February

      Vikram: Thanks for the elaboration. Does the main point of the author hold that discrimination among Hindus exceeds the discrimination of Hindus by non-Hindus? This is useful to argue against the new Trump/Modi politics in which a majority is portrayed as a victim.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 14:48h, 21 February

      Vikram: Do you know anything about Mathura’s Goverdhan Peetham Shankaracharya Adhokshajanand Saraswati?

  • SouthAsian
    Posted at 14:22h, 20 February Reply

    Modi and Trump characterize the new politics – convince the majority that it is victimized:


    Although, as the author observes:

    “There is no doubt that discrimination against Hindus does occur in Uttar Pradesh, and at a large-scale. But this is, by and large, intra-Hindu discrimination, most often on the basis of caste.”

  • Vikram
    Posted at 05:17h, 22 February Reply

    SA, in 1871 Hindus made up 80% of the subcontinent’s population, and were present from Peshawar to Dhaka. In 2011, they made up 62% of the subcontinent’s population, have been nearly wiped out from Pakistan, and are in the process of getting wiped out from Bangladesh as well.

    You are going to have a hard time convincing us that we are not the victims.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 12:23h, 22 February

      Vikram: In that sense you are right. Sad to say, human beings have not been able to evolve a way to live with minorities. There is no doubt that Hindus in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have been victimized as have Muslims in Burma and, for that matter, African-Americans in the USA. It is quite amazing to think that historians believe the best record in this regard belongs to Islamic empires from their golden age which is long past.

      But majorities, like Hindus in India or Whites in the USA, being victimized is a new phenomenon. It takes some chutzpah to make that claim as the victimized Jewish majority in Israel might suggest.

    • Vikram
      Posted at 16:55h, 22 February

      “It is quite amazing to think that historians believe the best record in this regard belongs to Islamic empires from their golden age which is long past.”

      If this is indeed true, one hopes that Muslim countries will learn to look at their past in the correct light.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 05:07h, 23 February

      Vikram: It does sound unbelievable and requires an open mind to absorb. And, No, Muslim countries are, by and large, not able to look at the past in a dispassionate manner. As everywhere else, the past has to serve the present interests of those in power to create the desired future that promotes their interests.

      But do read these two pieces. These are by modern non-South Asian academics who cannot be expected to have some local axes to grind. If they made up such stories they would be exposed in no time by their peers. If they are making this up do explain why they would feel the need to do so.

      A meta history: https://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2014/10/01/middle-east-history-shows-long-legacy-of-religious-tolerance-coexistence

      A local history: https://scroll.in/article/829943/what-aurangzeb-did-to-preserve-hindu-temples-and-protect-non-muslim-religious-leaders

    • Vikram
      Posted at 03:36h, 24 February

      SA, if there is indeed such a long history of tolerance in Islam, why are Muslim secularists and liberals having such a hard time arguing against Muslim conservatives ?

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 13:24h, 25 February

      Vikram: Are the two parts of your comment necessarily connected? If Muslim secularists and liberals are having such a hard time against Muslim conservatives today does it necessarily imply that Islam could not have had a long history of tolerance?

      if a religion has had a history of tolerance does it necessarily imply that it would always remain tolerant? Doesn’t it depend on who comes out on top in the power struggle? The Mongol invasion of the Muslim heartland in the middle of the 13th Century was a turning point in the power dynamic in the Muslim world.

      The conservatives are solidly in power today which is why secularists and liberals are having a hard time.

  • Vikram
    Posted at 18:42h, 22 February Reply

    SA, here is an example of higher castes of religion X, discriminating against lower castes. Note that the fundamental question here is not necessarily religious tradition, but access to land.


    Note that the ‘revolutionary’ AAP has not said a word about these atrocities.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 05:49h, 23 February

      Vikram: The video tells a terrible but not surprising story. However, as you note, this is about land where such is the historical phenomenon – belonging to the same religion is no protection against exploitation whether it was the Enclosure Movement in England, feudalism in Europe or the subcontinent today.

      More worthy of attention is continuing social discrimination where no such conflict is involved. For example, Sikhs of all castes can enter the Golden Temple but equal access and treatment is still an issue under Hinduism.

      As for mainstream political parties, in the subcontinent none have taken the poor seriously. Clearly AAP is no revolutionary party in that sense.

    • Vikram
      Posted at 01:29h, 24 February

      “For example, Sikhs of all castes can enter the Golden Temple but equal access and treatment is still an issue under Hinduism.”

      1) Can you point me to prominent Hindu temples that prevent equal access to Dalits ? It is a crime under Indian law.

      2) SA, in reality, Dalit Sikhs were forbidden to enter the Golden Temple until the 1930s, and the movement to get Dalits entry to the Golden Temple was predated by the Vaikom Satyagraha for getting Dalits entry to major temples in Kerala.

      I quote an EPW article on the matter,
      “Giani Pratap Singh, later the Head Priest at the Golden Temple, noted that the Mazhabis were forbidden to enter the
      Golden Temple for worship; their offering of karah prasad was not accepted and the Sikhs denied them access to public wells and other utilities (Pratap Singh 1933:146-47,
      156-57). When a group of Rahtia Sikhs tried to enter the Temple in the summer of the year 1900, “the manager of the sacred establishment, Sardar Jawala Singh, ordered their arrest. The reformist Sikhs who accompanied them were abused and finally beaten up. . . Because one of the defining characteristics of a sacred precinct, in the eyes of the Sanatan
      Sikhs, was its ritual purity” (cf.Oberoi:1994:107).

      Harjot Oberoi cites from an “authoritative manual” – Khalsa Dharam Sastra of 1914 – which laid down that the members of the untouchable groups (like the Mazhabi, Rahtia and Ramdasia Sikhs) did not have the right to go beyond the fourth step in the Golden Temple and the members of the fourfold varnas including Nai, chippe (sic), Jhivar, (sudra sub castes) were instructed not to mix with persons belonging to the untouchable castes. Those who were guilty of breaking caste rules were classified as patit and shunned by civil society”. (ibid.106-107) The organisation of Khalsa Brotherhood was very active in converting the untouchable castes to Sikhism through ritual baptism. The matters came to a head when a group of newly baptised Sikhs from the low castes went to the Golden Temple to make their offering of karah prasad at the beginning of the Gurdwara Reform Movement in 1920. According to Pratap Singh, thousands of enthusiasts, including professors and students of Khalsa College Amritsar, joined in a clash with the Pujaris (Priests) who had refused to accept the offering, forcing the latter to flee. However, it did not seem to bring any noticeable change. Overall the Singh Sabha Movement devoted more attention to bringing more and more numbers of the low castes into the Khalsa Sikh fold and opening of schools and colleges. “Though removal of untouchability was also a part of this movement, but the amount of attention which was paid to the opening of schools and colleges, was not given to this aspect”
      (Pratap Singh 1933: 145). Thereafter, the engagements relating to the Akali struggle for liberation of Gurdwaras 1920 25, “did not leave the time for removal of untouchability” (Ibid. :151). It was not surprising. For the Jats, who composed 70 percent of the Akalis, and other high castes, caste equality or removal of untouchability was contrary to their disposition for social domination and hierarchy.

      The growth of communal competition and politics in Punjab since the beginning of 20th century made removal of untouchability, and conversion or reconversion (Shuddhi) politically significant to the political classes of each religious community. It facilitated a phenomenal and fast rise in the population of the Sikh community and assertion of distinct identity. However, this became, in fact a masked struggle for protecting and strengthening the special rights and domination of the high castes, both within the community and in the domain of political power in the province (Judge 2002b).”

      Singh, (Giani) Pratap 1933: Jaat Paat ate Chhoot Chhaat Sabandhi Gurmat Sudhar [Gurmat Reform of Casteism and Untouchability] ( Punjabi), Amritsar : SGPC.

      Oberoi, Harjot 1994: The Construction of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity and Diversity in the Sikh Tradition, Delhi : OUP.

      Judge, Paramjit Singh 2002b: Punjabi Samaj Mein Jaati Ki Sanrachana [Caste Structure in Punjabi Society] ( Hindi)
      Dainik Bhaskar, April,12, 2002.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 13:31h, 25 February

      Vikram: Thanks for the well referenced response.

      I was basing my comment on my own experience. In my visit to the Golden Temple I saw no mechanism in place to exclude any one. On the other hand, about temples one reads reports about exclusion on a regular basis. I pulled up these two at random – I hope they are incorrect:


      Of course, such exclusion is against the law otherwise there are no grounds for protests. The fact that such discrimination persists despite the law is what was implied in the original article which raised the issue that most of the discrimination against Hindus was within Hinduism.

    • Vikram
      Posted at 20:53h, 25 February

      SA, since there are far more Hindus and Hindu temples, spread out over a larger area, it is natural that equal access takes longer to spread.

      Note that Mazhabi Sikhs continue to face discrimination on the ground as far as accessing Gurudwaras is concerned,


      The important point here is that regardless of what these religions claimed to have preached originally, the real push for equal access and equal treatment only came after the elites of these religions got exposed to the Enlightenment values.

      Of course, later the elites try and argue that their specific religion always had those values, they were just suppressed or not properly adhered to. But this doesnt change the sequence of events.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 12:43h, 08 March

      Vikram: This is the kind of purely social discrimination that is in the news on a regular basis. It is unrelated to zero-sum conflicts over land. It is hard to believe that the ruling elites who have to lead on such issues are still not exposed to Enlightenment values.


    • Vikram
      Posted at 17:20h, 08 March

      SA, why is unacceptable action X ‘purely social discrimination’ when done by Hindus, but conditioned by politics/economics when done by another group ?

      In the example you have linked to, it is clear that the wealthy village folk want the carcasses gone for cheap using captured labor. They do not want to pay a commensurate salary for sanitation work, if they did, many ‘upper caste’ people would show up to do the job.


    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 06:15h, 09 March

      Vikram: I am just pushing your logic to its conclusion.

      You had mentioned that the old tolerance in some Islamic empires was due to adherence to scripture. You had also stated that the scripture had not changed. Based on that I had asked, given the two statements above, what would explain the intolerance in many Islamic countries today? It has to be something else and the only thing one can think of is context.

      This whole narrative could be wrong and the old tolerance could also be due to context with no relationship to scripture. This makes more sense to me. I do believe that context determines which parts of scripture are mined and exploited in support of contemporary needs and agendas.

      With Hinduism, the logic is different. Caste discrimination has a long history and continuity. If it had not there would have been no need to declare it unlawful in the Constitution in 1951. Despite the law, it still persists though it is decreasing.

      Whatever the issues, whether of intolerance or discrimination, they have to be faced. One can’t pretend they don’t exist or try and find all sorts of external factors to explain them away.

      In the example of social discrimination under discussion you have made it seem as if it is a simple labor market problem:

      “it is clear that the wealthy village folk want the carcasses gone for cheap using captured labor. They do not want to pay a commensurate salary for sanitation work, if they did, many ‘upper caste’ people would show up to do the job.”

      But in a labor market, if someone turns down a job you don’t burn their houses or molest their women or make them sit separately because they are unclean. Such an attitude does not belong to a labor market which operates on the principle of voluntary choice. It reflects a belief that there are unclean people who are required by some divine law to do a certain job without choice and if they don’t do it they are violating the divine law for which they deserve to be punished.

    • Vikram
      Posted at 12:30h, 09 March

      “It reflects a belief that there are unclean people who are required by some divine law to do a certain job without choice and if they don’t do it they are violating the divine law for which they deserve to be punished.”

      Thats quite a jump. How did you conclude that it is specifically ‘divine law’, and not entitlement via socio-political dominance that produces such behavior ?

      I pointed some time ago the pathetic treatment of Iranian Jews by Muslims, do you also attribute that to a belief in a ‘divine law’ that allows persecution of other religions ?

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 03:58h, 13 March

      Vikram: You are correct that Hinduism has no divine law in the way that the Abrahamic religions do (although Sushma Swaraj claims that the present government is very close to declaring the Gita as ‘national scripture’ – http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/sushma-pushes-for-declaring-bhagwad-gita-as-national-scripture/article6670252.ece). Still people attribute a quasi-official status to Vedic texts and the Dharmashastras of which the Manusmriti is one from where caste rules find popular sanction. It is on this basis that one comes across the following types of accounts: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/faithbased/2004/05/caste_aspersions.html

      Regarding Iran, the treatment of the Jews needs strong condemnation but the answer to your question is still in the negative just on the basis of logic alone. If the persecution of other religions was sanctioned by divine law, it would have occurred uniformly across time and space in the entire Muslim world. But it has not. Therefore, one has to look at each local situation to find explanations. And where ever it is found it must be condemned without any apology.

    • Vikram
      Posted at 05:20h, 13 March

      SA, why does a Christian priest from New York get the final word on whether caste rules find sanction in Vedic texts ?

      Vedic texts contain no mention of untouchability, and the Dharmashrastras do not have divine status.

      “If the persecution of other religions was sanctioned by divine law, it would have occurred uniformly across time and space in the entire Muslim world.”

      SA, the punishment for a Muslim leaving Islam or anyone criticizing Islam has been death uniformly across time and space in Muslim entities. As I pointed out earlier, Muslim males had the right to own sexual slaves.

      Perhaps all this is not persecution for you, but it is for a lot of other people.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 05:54h, 13 March

      Vikram: A Christian priest from New York does not get the final word but is just an illustration of popular perception. You are quite right that there is no divine sanction for the practices – people just associate it with tradition or how it has always been.

      You are also right about the slaves. Slavery was the norm at least from Roman times but Americans had legal slavery up to the middle of the 19th Century. What is your opinion about Americans? Do read the keynote address by Ta Nehesi Coates at Harvard: http://harvardmagazine.com/2017/03/a-vast-slave-society. You are probably at one such institution benefiting from the exploitation of slaves.

      Sanctions for leaving Islam definitely fall under persecution and must be condemned.

      The point is to fight unjust and unfair practices that exist at present independent of where they exist and in what religion and whatever the reason for their existence. This is hardest when the problem is at home. The tendency to avoid that by finding fault with other religions or countries is just a form of not facing up to facts.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 06:31h, 13 March
  • Vikram
    Posted at 21:00h, 25 February Reply

    “If Muslim secularists and liberals are having such a hard time against Muslim conservatives today does it necessarily imply that Islam could not have had a long history of tolerance?”

    In fact, I am saying quite the opposite. If Islam has a history of tolerance, Muslim liberals can definitely use that history to argue against conservatives.

    “if a religion has had a history of tolerance does it necessarily imply that it would always remain tolerant? Doesn’t it depend on who comes out on top in the power struggle? The Mongol invasion of the Muslim heartland in the middle of the 13th Century was a turning point in the power dynamic in the Muslim world.”

    SA, I am not sure many scholars would locate the current dominance of conservatives in the core Muslim regions all the way back to Mongol invasions, nor would many argue that conservatism goes that far back. Egypt and Syria are classic examples in this regard. These places had thriving Christian minorities, and a less conservative Islamic practice even 100 years ago.

    “The conservatives are solidly in power today which is why secularists and liberals are having a hard time.”

    But why are the conservatives *solidly* in power ?

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 07:05h, 26 February

      Vikram: This is an interesting article which tries to show why social systems cycle:


      Ibn Khaldun, considered by many as the founder of sociology, had argued more or less the same in his Muqaddimah written in the 12th Century.

      On the Mongol invasion, I agree there is a lack of consensus. But do keep in mind that there are very long lags in social systems. Regimes can keep on functioning in a particular way but lose their intellectual dynamism and become ossified. There is very little Islamic scholarship after the Mongol invasion compared to what is called the golden age prior to that event. In a crisis, Muslims have nothing to fall back on except medieval texts that are frozen in time.

      A much more nuanced analysis was linked on the blog some time back: https://thesouthasianidea.wordpress.com/from-elsewhere/#90

    • Vikram
      Posted at 17:40h, 26 February

      “In a crisis, Muslims have nothing to fall back on except medieval texts that are frozen in time.”

      SA, is it your claim then that Muslim’s have not been able to engage in any substantial intellectual production since the Mongol invasions ?

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 05:17h, 27 February

      Vikram: The link to the article I had mentioned on this subject had changed. I have replaced it now: http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/chaney/files/paper.pdf

      You will note from this very meticulously researched study that the output of Islamic scholarship had declined steeply even before the Mongol invasion – for which the author has a very interesting hypothesis. After the invasion there was a further decline so it is more or less right to say that subsequently there was very little intellectual production in the sciences and philosophical thought. That is also why the earlier period is called the ‘golden age’ in retrospect.

      You will note that all ideological disputes in Islam are attempted to be resolved by reference to medieval texts not more recent scholarship. One might consider Iqbal’s ‘The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam’ to be an example of the latter but it carries no weight in the debates.

    • Vikram
      Posted at 06:41h, 27 February

      SA, I agree that the study is very interesting, but I am not sure that scientific output is the right variable for the goals of our discussion.

      The question is why did Muslim attitudes become more scriptural and less reflective, leading to an increase in sectarian tensions and associated violence. Note that there were, and indeed are, plenty of scientifically and technologically advanced societies that are very repressive and violent towards minorities/marginalized.

      I think the entry of the Turks into the Islamic fold was a turning point in this regard. I feel that the Turkic leaders deployed Islam and its scriptures for purely political/imperial designs, even against existing Muslim kingdoms for an extended period of time. There are a comparatively fewer number of Turkic Muslim polymaths, compared to the large number of Persian and Arab ones, but a much larger set of conquerors.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 04:52h, 28 February

      Vikram: This is a difficult question and I am sure there is material on this that I have not come across. My own sense is that scientific output and reflection are related. Scientific and philosophic output requires curiosity and the freedom to ask questions which is what leads to reflection. When the former declines, the latter does too.

      At the same time reflection does not mean an automatic relationship to liberalism and tolerance as we well know from the history of Europe. So, the episodes of tolerance and intolerance within the Islamic world must have some other proximate causes as well. They cannot just be tied to reflection or its absence.

      I don’t think the Turks were peculiar in the use of religion for political purposes – that has always been how religion has been employed. Nor was the Ottoman Empire particularly intolerant. Jews, when they were thrown out of Spain went to the Ottoman lands.

      The comparison of Turkish polymaths with Persian and Arab ones overlooks the chronology. By the time of the Ottoman Empire Arab and Persian scholarship had also declined to insignificance. That is why Chaney’s chronological study is important to keep in mind.

    • sandeep
      Posted at 02:20h, 28 February

      SouthAsian, if Islam turns more conservative, fixed in old time then it is good for the religion. See that demographics is favoring Islam with increase in population. War in Syria, Lybia will also help in spreading Islam in Europe. I like to know how can current scenario is harmful for Islam in short-term or long -term?

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 05:01h, 28 February

      Sandeep: I don’t see the connection. If the population of Muslims is increasing how do they benefit from being more conservative? How is the spread into Europe helped by being fixed in the old time?

    • sanpatel90
      Posted at 05:52h, 05 March

      Being conservative, patriarchal helps in increase in population. Muslim society is becoming conservative and looking at its past which is golden era for them. On the issue of family planning, they have a number of verses which suggest more procreation and they are getting inspired by them. In a country. ultimately demographics play a big role. Syria, Lybia, Afghanistan are boon for Muslims as with that they will enter Europe and soon will have a huge share in population. To me, it appears that the current phase of events happening in muslim society are good for them. I like to know your views on how they will be beneficial/harmful for muslims.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 11:38h, 05 March

      Sanpatel: There has never been a shortage of demographic scare stories. Reverend Malthus had a theory that the poor would over run the world, consume al the food and bring an end to existence. It didn’t turn out that way.

      In 1909, U N Mukherji of Calcutta published a series of articles in the ‘Bengalee’, later published as a pamphlet, Hindus: A Dying Race in which he predicted, on the basis of the 1901 census, that Hindus would be swallowed up in next 420 years. Swami Shradhanand wrote an influential book about him in 1926 entitled, Hindu Sangsthan: Saviour of Dying Race. We still have some time to go to find out if he was right.

      You may also be right. Muslims may take over Europe as well as India. I have no idea whether that would be beneficial or harmful for anyone.

  • Vikram
    Posted at 06:43h, 27 February Reply

    “One might consider Iqbal’s ‘The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam’ to be an example of the latter but it carries no weight in the debates.”

    Is time the correct variable though ? For example, the thoughts of Maududi are said to have been very influential, especially via his influence on the Iranian revolution leaders.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 04:57h, 28 February

      Vikram: I don’t believe Maududi had any influence on Iranian leaders. He did influence the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. I wouldn’t put Maududi in the same category as the scholars of the golden age. It would be like saying Savarkar was a great scholar because his work influenced the RSS and the BJP.

    • Vikram
      Posted at 18:16h, 28 February

      “Maududi even had a major impact on Shia Iran, where Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini is reputed to have met Maududi as early as 1963 and later translated his works into Persian. “To the present day, Iran’s revolutionary rhetoric often draws on his themes.”[214]”



    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 05:42h, 01 March

      Vikram: Interesting. Thanks for this information.

      The following is useful about the evolution of ideology in Iran:

      “Meanwhile, the Islamic ideology of Maududi and Qutb began creeping into Iran through translations in the early 1970s, but it paled against the modernist, eclectic, and revolutionary Islamic ideology of Ali Shariati (d. 1974).”

    • Vikram
      Posted at 19:12h, 01 March

      SA, I am not sure what argument the author is making. Is he saying that Ali Shariati was the main influence on Ruhollah Khomeini ? Is there any solid evidence for this ?

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 08:08h, 02 March

      Vikram: No, the article did not say that Ali Shariati was the main influence on Khomeini. What it said was that within Iran Shariati’s vision carried more weight than that of Maududi or the Muslim Brotherhood. I would also be interested in knowing who were the main influences on Khomeini. I have a hunch they would turn out to be pretty medieval.

    • Vikram
      Posted at 17:04h, 02 March

      “What it said was that within Iran Shariati’s vision carried more weight than that of Maududi or the Muslim Brotherhood.”

      If this is so, why was the Islamic Revolution, based on Khomeini’s ideas so successful there ?

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 17:49h, 02 March

      Vikram: I don’t know and would also like to find out. It could be that people were fed up with the Shah who was an American puppet and westernising too rapidly against the wishes of the people and Khomeini offered the only real opposition at that time. But this is speculation. This is not an area I have looked at in any depth.

      A parallel to consider might be Turkey where Ataturk westernized by coercion and finally after many decades the Islamic undercurrent resurfaced rallying around first Erbakan and then Erdogan. All along the military was too powerful to allow a Khomeini type figure to take over so the transition was much more drawn out and via the electoral process.

  • Vikram
    Posted at 18:36h, 28 February Reply

    “Scientific and philosophic output requires curiosity and the freedom to ask questions which is what leads to reflection. When the former declines, the latter does too.”

    SA, I would disagree on this matter. Although both scientific and social sciences encourage curiosity, they encourage curiosity about vastly different subjects.

    Science requires curiosity about the inanimate nature, whereas social science/reflection requires curiosity about other human beings and our relation to them. These are vastly different, and to my knowledge, have not shown to be correlated.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 05:42h, 01 March

      Vikram: The way I see it, a person can either be curious or non-curious. Where that curiosity is directed is largely a matter of aptitude, interest and opportunity mixed in with a lot of randomness – the accidents of lives. Once the path is determined the nature of curiosity also adapts to the subject matter.

      These issues were discussed on this blog quite some years ago: https://thesouthasianidea.wordpress.com/2009/11/07/education-humanities-and-science/

      A social system has a great deal to do with either encouraging or discouraging an attitude of curiosity at an early age with the choice of curricula and pedagogy in school. To take a simple example: Is a child rewarded or punished for asking a question? Of course, there can be variations within systems. For example, an upper-caste child in an elite private school may be rewarded while a lower-caste child in a government school might be punished. The results are the kind of elitist societies we see in South Asia.

    • Vikram
      Posted at 19:28h, 01 March

      SA, I am reminded of a famous anecdote from Theo Von Karman’s biography.

      Von Karman meets his former teacher and colleague Ludwig Prandtl (both famous fluid physicists) after WW2. Prandtl had stayed on in Nazi Germany and worked with the Nazi regime. To Von Karman’s utter amazement Prandtl, without a hint of apology, asks whether his future funds for research could come from the US.

      We all like to admire science and scientists, and not without justification. But there is very little evidence that a good scientist is as curious about humans and their lives as he/she is about their subject of research.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 08:04h, 02 March

      Vikram: I am not saying that a curious person would be equally curious about everything in life – that claim can be disproved by everyday experience.

      What I am saying is that one must be curious in order to become a creative person – whether that curiosity is focused on natural sciences or social sciences or humanities is a separate matter. As I wrote “Once the path is determined [partly by interest, partly by personality, partly by accident] the nature of curiosity also adapts to the subject matter.”

    • Vikram
      Posted at 17:09h, 02 March

      One can be curious without necessarily being very creative, and vice versa. I dont think there is any conclusive evidence that these are correlated.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 17:40h, 02 March

      Vikram: I agree to the vice but not to the versa. Put “relationship between curiosity and creativity” into Google and see what comes up.

  • Vikram
    Posted at 07:20h, 06 March Reply

    “It is quite amazing to think that historians believe the best record in this regard belongs to Islamic empires from their golden age which is long past.”

    SA, I wonder how relevant these examples are, especially in a world where the benchmark for tolerance is set by the post-enlightenment societies of Western Europe and their extensions in the New World.

    The change in attitudes in early modern Europe represented a radical break from the past. Enlightenment thinkers like Bacon, Locke and Hobbes did not base their arguments on some authoritative religious text from the past. Even where they did borrow ideas from the past, they engaged with them and didnt uncritically accept them.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 12:03h, 06 March

      Vikram: This is a common mistake that people make very often – evaluating a past era by the values of the present. It makes little sense to apply post-Enlightenment norms of tolerance to a period of a millennium ago. What historians mean when they label Islamic empires of that period tolerant is that they were tolerant relative to other empires that existed during the same period.

      It does seem that the Islamic empires of that time were in fact more tolerant than many Islamic countries today. Given that Islam has remain unchanged, this suggests that the focus ought not to be on religion but specific polities in order to explain the variations in tolerance over time.

      I have already mentioned that Islam has no credible modern scholarship and therefore Muslims have to revert to medieval texts in order to grapple with their modern-day problems.

    • Vikram
      Posted at 06:42h, 07 March

      SA, my intention was not to judge the past by values of the present. It was only to point out that the past in this case might not be of much use in achieving a tolerant present. This is because the tolerance in those Islamic empires was ultimately based on scriptural principles.

      And those scriptural principles, some of which been rendered unacceptable in a post-enlightenment era, cannot be altered from a religious point of view.

      Medieval Christianity had similar scriptural injunctions, but the enlightenment thinkers were able to overrule them. I think there were 2 key factors which enabled this coup:

      1) The emergence of linguistic nation-states, which changed the focus of devotion and submission towards a territory, and a linguistic community, as opposed to monotheistic God.

      2) The presence in the West, especially in England, of an independent class of legal practitioners (lawyers and jurists, this has its roots in the Roman empire: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_legal_profession) who were able to take over the function of providing justice from religious authorities.

      One of these factors is usually missing in Muslim societies. Where there is a strong national feeling due to linguistic/cultural reasons (Iran for example), law remains firmly in the hands of religious authorities. Where there is an independent class of legal professionals due to a colonial legacy (Pakistan for example), strong national feelings are not present, and religion is brought in to solidify bonds, thereby increasing its political importance.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 14:20h, 07 March

      Vikram: Okay, but I am still not convinced by the logic.

      Medieval Islam was tolerant “because the tolerance in those Islamic empires was ultimately based on scriptural principles.”

      “And those scriptural principles… cannot be altered from a religious point of view.”

      So why has modern Islam become intolerant?

      A more convincing narrative is that religious texts are extremely ambiguous – one can find support for any position one wants to favor. Present-day intolerants (of which the most extreme are the Daesh) are looking at exactly the same scriptural texts that guided the Ottomans, for example, but finding in those texts the extreme stipulations that the Ottomans either ignored or interpreted differently.

      The politics of the times determines how the texts are read and interpreted. Even today there are alternative readings but the extremists have more sway for context-specific reasons.

    • Vikram
      Posted at 17:51h, 08 March


      SA, this is a typical example of the kind of analysis one regularly sees from Islamicate ‘liberals’. Virtually everything from Pashtunwali, to British colonial laws, and lo and behold, ‘followers of anti-woman philosophy of Manu’ (aka that religion whose name starts with an H) are blamed for the condition of women in Pakistan.

      There is absolutely no critical examination of the role of religion. In fact, the position seems to be that Islam already had the answers, but they were distorted for 1200 years in a region ruled by Muslim elites, which has been majority Muslim for hundreds of years.

      And now that these ‘liberals’ (having being exposed to Enlightenment values via the British) have realized that the treatment of women was shoddy, they will relentlessly argue that everything except Islam was the reason for this, and that one only needs to go back to the base scripture to find that those Enlightenment values were always there.

      But of course that scripture also allows Muslim men to own slave women from other religions, Muslim men to marry four women, allow Muslim men to ‘strike’ even Muslim women and so on.


    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 06:04h, 09 March

      Vikram: There is a lot of poor analysis floating around. If this article says what you have stated it qualifies as poor analysis.

  • Vikram
    Posted at 17:31h, 08 March Reply

    “It is hard to believe that the ruling elites who have to lead on such issues are still not exposed to Enlightenment values.”

    The right threshold to check whether the bulk population in Gujarat adhere to enlightenment values or not is to examine the laws there, a society where there has been democratic politics for 70 years. If the idea of equality was so starkly at odds with the ‘scriptures’ of the majority population there, and if they adhered to those scriptures blindly claiming some kind of ‘finality’ for them, the laws would have reflected this by now. But on contrary, the laws still favor the marginalized groups, and rightly so.

    17 % of women in Gujarat marry someone outside their caste, with half of them marrying someone of a ‘lower caste’.


    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 06:32h, 09 March

      Vikram: One is not talking about laws but about attitudes. Post-Enlightenment attitudes have changed – there is a real belief in social equality in Europe barring some exceptions. People don’t practice social equality reluctantly because of the fear of law. If the attitudes have not changed one shud stop talking about the Enlightenment.

      In today’s world laws cannot be out of sync with global norms if a country wishes to be accepted in the community of nations. Either that or the country has to be a superpower to defy global norms.

    • Vikram
      Posted at 12:25h, 09 March

      So, are you suggesting that India’s Constitution makers (and later law makers) enshrined social equality and affirmative action to gain acceptance in ‘community of nations’ ?

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 03:46h, 13 March

      Vikram: I am sure the Constitution makers believed in social equality and affirmative action but acceptance in the global community would also have been a factor. Even after the constitutional provision the Indian government is regularly cited for discrimination by the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Big countries cannot afford to be out of line with global norms. Even North Korea has democracy in its official name.


  • Vikram
    Posted at 17:52h, 09 March Reply

    “One is not talking about laws but about attitudes.”

    The claim that laws do not reflect attitudes has little standing in long standing democracies. Think about the laws in the US regarding abortion and gay rights, do you not think that the intense opposition to laws regulating these stems from attitudes ?

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 05:25h, 10 March

      Vikram: Look at the persistence of racism in the US despite all the laws. What does it stem from if not attitudes?

  • Vikram
    Posted at 00:58h, 14 March Reply

    “This is hardest when the problem is at home. The tendency to avoid that by finding fault with other religions or countries is just a form of not facing up to facts.”

    SA, the question being debated here is not whether there are faults, there certainly are, but the reasons for the faults.

    There is an insistence in major sections of the colonial-minded Western and leftist-minded Indian academia that Hindu religion is uniquely culpable of endorsing a regime of inequality. This claim, which originates in colonial scholarship, is adhered to vigorously by these intelligentsia, and they are evasive when questions about its validity are raised. See here for example:


    vague claim[s] “about Indian society offers to solve many a problem in one stroke. The problems created by the anomalous observations on the field are now made characteristic of Indian society itself: Indian society has both endogamy and exogamy. And what made this remarkable grafting of endogamy within an exogamous society possible?: “This isolation among the classes is the work of Brahmanism. The principal steps taken by it were to abrogate the system of intermarriage and interdining that was prevalent among the four Varnas in olden times.” 32 That is, in the absence of proper historical data, such issues are resolved simply by attributing immoral intentions to Brahmins. The supposed antiquity of the process precludes it from any historical investigation. As Samarendra points out, this is how the European writers, in general, used to solve problems in their argument. When difficult questions arose about their characterisation of Indians, the European scholars would give up their historical and factual arguments and recede “into the background and the distinctiveness of the ‘Oriental’ character”.3 “

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 13:31h, 14 March

      Vikram: I agree with you. Let us refocus the discussion on what problems we think exist and what might be the reasons for their existence and persistence.

    • Vikram
      Posted at 20:00h, 21 March

      This exchange is really worth seeing, shows us the depth of Hinduphobia in western academia:


    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 06:49h, 22 March

      Vikram: I watched the video and have the following observations:

      It showed a particularly inept professor who didn’t know how to have a conversation. He obviously disagreed with Rajiv Malhotra. But disagreement with Rajiv Malhotra (whether conducted well or poorly) is not the same thing as Hinduphobia. Also, one can’t generalize from one professor to all of western academia. It would seem bizarre that all these people learn Indian languages, specialize in Indian subjects, devote their lives to teaching about India – all this because they are Hinduphobic. Seems paranoid to me.

    • Vikram
      Posted at 13:23h, 02 April

      SA, Hinduphobia exists and is real, and is endorsed at the very top echelons of the activist and academic world.


    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 04:48h, 03 April

      Vikram: No academic would accept a twitter feed as credible evidence for such a generalization. The question still remains: Why would Western academics devote their lives to something they hate? Asking critical questions is the job of academics. Treating difficult questions as homophobia is a mark of paranoia.

  • Vikram
    Posted at 17:29h, 16 March Reply

    “Let us refocus the discussion on what problems we think exist and what might be the reasons for their existence and persistence.”

    SA, societies thrive when there is both economic and political inclusion in them. It is rare to see a developed country where *both* these indices are not high. The usual trajectory followed is an increasing level of economic inclusion (via urbanization/industrialization), which leads to greater calls for political inclusion, which then enables the next level of economic inclusion and so on.

    I think you would agree that India was a bit of outlier to this trend. We had relatively high levels of political inclusion (for our income peer group), but have sustained low levels of economic inclusion. Economic inclusion relies on political stability, and the presence of entrepreneurial spirit.

    What India’s history over the last 70 years has shown is that political inclusion, in the absence of economic inclusion can severely distort the democratic process. The malignant features of Indian democracy include patronage politics, ethno-centric mobilization, constant demands for reservation by undeserving groups. These stem from the reality that much of the population aspires for an urbanized, industrial life, but feels that capturing state employment/patronage via politics is the only means of achieving this.

    The intellectual energy and vigor of the enterprising people is therefore directed either towards political strategy to control/influence the state, or exit strategy to get out of the country. But for real growth, the energy devoted to the second part should be devoted instead towards creating sites of economic inclusion (businesses, factories).

    Once a tipping point is reached, i.e. the livelihood of the majority of the population relies on non-feudal urban employment (this needs political inclusion, else will be exploitative) rather than feudal agricultural labour, there will be a change in the political equilibrium. The state will now respond to the demands of urban industrial owners, and their workers rather than rural landlords and caste leaders. A genuine push towards better infrastructure, and complex dispute resolution mechanisms (better courts) will be seen. This will increase the faith of investors in the system, and investments to generate more and more complex products and services will be seen. Tax revenues will increase enabling the state to spend more on public services.

    This process must happen in the background of increasing political participation, else we will simply see more and more bitter fights (your caste/religion/party is just evil etc) over the limited surplus generated by a primitive economy.

    • sanpatel90
      Posted at 10:11h, 17 March

      The business class in South asia lacks innovation. Most are petty shopkeeper running the same shop for decades. They just buy from somebody and sell without any value addition and acting as pure middle man. Even big business houses like Reliance, Vedanta, Adani, essar etc are in monopolistic business and not doing R&D. Mukesh ambani invested more than 1 lakh crore to roll out 4G in india but not on R&D in mobile communication. Any reason for such activities?

    • Vikram
      Posted at 14:48h, 17 March

      sanpatel90, research investments are dictated by market sophistication. The Indian market is small and relatively primitive (most people still don’t even own fridge and washing machine), and the competition is mostly on price.

      Investments in research make more sense for well developed and sophisticated markets like the US where households have more surplus to spend on cutting edge products. Also, the US government (esp. defence dept) is a large customer for cutting edge technologies.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 07:20h, 26 March

      Sanpatel: I don’t agree with Vikram’s explanation. It is historically incorrect correct to say that “Investments in research make more sense for well developed and sophisticated markets like the US where households have more surplus to spend on cutting edge products.” Tremendous amount of innovation and research was what launched the Industrial Revolution in England in the 18th Century when the market was nowhere well developed or sophisticated and no one owned fridges or washing machine. In fact, it was that prior innovation that led to fridges and washing machines along with many other things.

      You will be better off studying inheritance systems to figure out why some societies have ended up more innovative than others.

    • Vikram
      Posted at 12:33h, 26 March

      SA, there are various aspects to innovation and research. There is definitely the legal/property rights angle you seem to be pointing to, and undoubtedly the Anglo-American world has been exceptional in this matter.

      But there is also a structural/economic logic, I assumed sanpatel90 asked the question in this context. It doesnt make a whole lot of sense for Reliance to invest in mobile R&D because it is competing on price. Right now India is in a technology absorption phase, profits can be generated by simply implementing existing technology and making it available to more people. The economic incentive to invest in research appears when existing technologies can no longer generate profits.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 05:23h, 27 March

      Vikram: I am not convinced by this logic. If you extend this logic the advanced economies would continue investing in research which, for countries like India, would mean that there would always be ‘existing’ technologies that would generate profits.

      One would have to explain why Japan, Taiwan and South Korea which were far behind Europe and North America at one stage invested in R&D. Why didn’t they continue to generate profits from existing technologies? The same is the case with China now where more R&D is taking place than in India. The existing technologies are the same for both countries.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 08:34h, 23 March

      Vikram: This discussion will become more focused if we have comparable indicators of economic and political inclusion. For example, all countries that are urbanized and industrialized are not equal in economic inclusion. And how is political inclusion different for different income groups? Further, not all factories are sites of economic inclusion – think of sweat-shop factories.

      It is also not clear what sequence you have in mind. It seems we have to wait for urbanization. But many countries achieved political and economic inclusion when they were not fully urbanized.

      Also, India was never feudal. This is the seminal contribution of Professor Harbans Mukhia: http://www.academia.edu/2777599/Was_there_feudalism_in_Indian_history

      Lastly, you have ignored what might be the most important dimension – social inclusion. Recall what Dr. Ambedkar had to say about this when the Constitution was legislated:

      “On the 26th of January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognizing the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which is Assembly has to laboriously built up.”

    • Vikram
      Posted at 20:20h, 24 March

      SA, there is no particular sequence. Societies which today have high indices of political and economic inclusion got there in fits and starts, sometimes even going backwards.

      Take the US for example. It was minimally politically and economically inclusive in the beginning, with an agrarian economy, and political rights restricted to land owning white males. Then came an increase in economic inclusion, starting from the 1820s as the country industrialized and a middle class was established. The Civil War and subsequent political reforms increased political inclusion by granting blacks citizenship, and white males voting rights. Then industrialization, especially in the North accelerated, and by 1930 the US was the richest country in the world. Then white women got the vote, and latest, in 1964, after another economic boom induced by WW2, all citizens could vote.

      “Further, not all factories are sites of economic inclusion – think of sweat-shop factories.”

      This is why the emphasis is on *both* economic and political inclusion. Factories become ‘sweat shop’ because the workers in those factories are unable to exert any political influence. This means low wages and inadequate protections against hazards, absence of safety nets. There are thousands of factories, and millions of factory workers in Germany, but which of those are ‘sweat shop’ ? This is because Germany’s inclusive political culture ensures that there are parties which represent the workers, and are able to protect their interests.

      The importance of political inclusion, even relatively low levels of it can also be seen in the Maternity Bill recently made into law in India. As urban Indian women enter the non-farm workforce (https://www.google.com/publicdata/embed?ds=d5bncppjof8f9_&ctype=l&strail=false&bcs=d&nselm=h&met_y=sl_emp_insv_fe_zs&scale_y=lin&ind_y=false&rdim=region&idim=country:IND&ifdim=region&hl=en_US&dl=en&ind=false), and their families appreciate the higher income this brings, this group has been able to use its clout to ensure that women get enough maternity leave, and the ability to access their children on the site of their work.


    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 07:12h, 26 March

      Vikram: This is alright as generalization but not very useful at an analytical level for comparative purposes. For that we need definitions of the indicators used for economic and political inclusion. We need these, for example, to say anything meaningful about how India and, say, Thailand, compare on the two indicators.

      Everyone has the vote in India. Does that mean there is 100 percent political inclusion? If not, why, and what is the actual level of political inclusion? And, if there is 100 percent political inclusion, does that mean there is 100 percent economic inclusion? If not, why, and what is the actual level of economic inclusion?

      Also, you are still missing social inclusion which is perhaps more fundamental than the other two.

    • Vikram
      Posted at 14:38h, 31 March

      SA, I understand social inclusion is critical, but lets defer the discussion on it a bit.

      You have asked about the indicators for economic and political inclusion. These are actually abundant, but need to be seen in an appropriate context.

      For economic inclusion, important metrics are labor force and income bracket decomposition. Also important is the rate of business creation and destruction.

      Societies with a disproportionate allocation of labor to primary sectors, will not be economically inclusive, no matter how good their social indicators are. Kerala is a classic example. Its income inequality is among the highest in India, despite its brilliant social indicators. This is because its workforce has few options to exercise its good health and education. Upward mobility is essentially a lottery ticket, relying on access to markets abroad via networks of relatives or friends.

      Political inclusion is perhaps more difficult to measure than economic inclusion. Yet, the level of democratic political competition, voter turnout and consumption of news media like newspapers indicate the levels of political inclusion.

      There is no society with 100% economic and political inclusion. But the critical point here is that these feed on each other.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 06:04h, 01 April

      Vikram: This may be very clear in your mind but it is not at all helpful in coming up with indices that can be compared across countries or to have a meaningful discussion. Instead it gets more and more ad hoc. For example, I have no idea what you mean by the “rate of business creation and destruction” and what weight you are assigning it in the index.

      Similarly, I looked up the RBI table you had linked earlier and Kerala does not have the highest inequality in India. However, Kashmir has among the lowest levels. Does that mean Kashmir is very economically inclusive? If not, how is inequality related to the index?

      It would be much more useful if you ranked India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka on economic and political inclusion using scales of 1 to 9 from lowest to highest. This might provide a better basis for discussion because it might become clearer what you have in mind.

  • Vikram
    Posted at 18:27h, 01 April Reply

    “However, Kashmir has among the lowest levels. Does that mean Kashmir is very economically inclusive? ”

    SA, this should come as no surprise. Kashmir underwent a comprehensive land reform program before the unrest started in the late 1980s.

    Please see Table 4 and Table 6 in the paper here: http://www.dphu.org/uploads/attachements/books/books_5999_0.pdf

    Note that 90% of J&K households own land purely for cultivation, as opposed to 60% all India, and 32% in Kerala.

    The index of access to land for cultivation is nearly 1.00 (the most equal value) for all groups in Kashmir, the only state with similar numbers is West Bengal.

    On top of this, Kashmir does not have much of a non-agrarian economy (no major cities, relatively small size bureaucracies and no large Gulf migrant workforce), which would drastically skew the income equality.

    Therefore, J&K has lower income inequality levels than Kerala.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 06:59h, 02 April

      Vikram: I had pointed out that the RBI table shows Kashmir has among the lowest inequality levels. You have gone through a long argument to prove that very same thing: “Therefore, J&K has lower income inequality levels than Kerala.”

      My question was about the relationship between inequality and economic inclusion which you had raised in the case of Kerala (Kerala was low in economic inclusion because income inequality was high). So, my question was is the economic inclusion in Kashmir high because income inequality is low? If not, what exactly is the relationship between the two.

      Economic inclusion in Kashmir cannot be high according to your logic because its economy is largely in the primary sectors. Also, you had mentioned that political inclusion must be high to have economic inclusion and I doubt if it can be argued that political inclusion is high in Kashmir.

      My point is that this kind of ad hoc argumentation in which one keeps adding new phenomena at the margin to explain each particular case is not very useful. Either we come up with clear indicators for economic and political inclusion or we move on to a different approach.

  • Vikram
    Posted at 00:00h, 19 April Reply

    SA, there a few claims in this piece which are actually verifiable, and would significantly advance our understanding of the fate of native traditions in North India once Islamic rule was established.

    “1- The states which have furnished the most number of such documents have invariably been those at the edges of the great Empires- which typically were based in the Indo-Gangetic plains. Yet- surprisingly, such ‘core’ states furnish very few documents. There are a mere 150,000 Hindustani documents in existence, dating merely from the 13th Century onwards and almost invariably from Rajput and Maratha States. This also tallies with the strange fact that we have inordinately few documents in any variant of Suraseni and its derivative languages; one would imagine that Sindh and Punjab never even existed.

    There is a direct correlation between the strength of Islamic domination within a certain region and the lack of written evidence from there. Hindu States- like Orissa, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka- which managed to avoid Islamic domination until fairly recently and threw it off quickly (Orissa was conquered late in the 16th Century and by the 17th Century was already semi-independent again) retained a vast corpus of their literary heritage- compared to those that couldn’t.

    2- The states which have furnished the most number of such documents have traditionally been those where the Palm Leaf retained its prominence in writing long after the introduction of Paper in the 11th Century. Palm Leaf is a much more durable and reliable writing medium than Paper- with the average Palm Leaf book lasting around 500 years in India’s climate. This is counterbalanced by the fact that Palm Leaf writing is a specialised task with only trained scholars being capable of such a feat. In Oriya records, merely creating the Palm Leaf pages required the inputs of four separate castes- one of which is already extinct.

    Nevertheless- it is imperative that such documents be copied within a reasonable amount of time- every 200 to 300 years- in order to avoid the information being lost. In the past, doing such copies in Muslim-occupied areas was all but impossible. Even doing so in British-ruled areas would’ve been a miracle in itself. Considering the near-constant state of warfare and tyranny that plagued India from the 17th Century on wards, it is no surprise that vast numbers of such records simply rotted away.”

    If indeed more manuscripts in Indian languages are found in places like Odisha, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, than places like UP (despite the latters much larger population for most of history), then it is a significant matter. More than anything, it establishes a clear motive for the destruction of temples (there are no major temples constructed prior to the 17th century in UP), destroying them would also mean destroying the temple records, i.e. the native history.

    This would also explain why even educational institutions like a Sanskrit College were not spared: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adhai_Din_Ka_Jhonpra

    Note that no pre-Islamic Persian literature survives.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 06:05h, 21 April

      Vikram: This is an interesting hypothesis and it would be good if some credible historic sources can be cited in support. Wikipedia snippets don’t count.

      To me the argument seems weak till the historical verification is forthcoming. It raises a lot of counterfactual questions. For example, if the sole obsession of Muslim rulers was to destroy temples why did they leave a single one in the areas they ruled. Note that Muslims also ruled for long periods in South India. Then there is research by trained historians that even the charges against an alleged bigot like Aurangzeb are exaggerated. See: https://scroll.in/article/829943/what-aurangzeb-did-to-preserve-hindu-temples-and-protect-non-muslim-religious-leaders. But of course you have an easy way out of this because any academic who doesn’t conform to your beliefs is by definition Hindu-phobic.

      There is ample evidence during Muslim rule of Sanskrit documents being translated into Persian. See http://arshavidya.net/introduction-to-vedanta/dara-shikoh-and-the-upanisads and https://scroll.in/article/758031/how-the-panchatantra-travelled-the-world-thanks-to-persian-and-arabic-narrators. Al-Biruni translated Sanskrit classics into Arabic: See https://www.scribd.com/document/29158504/Majmaul-Bahrain-of-Prince-Dara-Shikoh

      All this follows the same pattern as the translation and preservation of Greek literature during Muslim rule in Spain. One would have to ask why the Muslims did not destroy all non-Islamic literature instead?

      On pre-Islamic Persian literature see http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/iran-viii1-persian-literature-pre-islamic. Also, for pre-Islamic religious literature, which the Muslims should have been even more eager to destroy, see for its existence http://www.sacred-texts.com/zor/

      Let us move on to something more intellectually challenging than trying to paint history in black and white. The modern world is not such a great exemplar of tolerance that we can point fingers at the past. Or let us seek more plausible explanations for the phenomena you have identified instead of dumping it on the hapless Muslims, who like every ruling group had its share of the good, the bad and the ugly.

    • Vikram
      Posted at 20:55h, 25 April

      SA, I am not sure why a more inclusive understanding of India’s history between 1200 – 1800 CE targets ‘hapless’ contemporary Muslims.

      Is every subcontinental Muslim’s safety, identity and sense of religious identity tied to the assessments of these pre-modern kingdoms/empires ? I seriously doubt this. Try asking even the Afghan Muslims, their experience with the Mughals, was not brilliant.

      Yes, there were attempts at translation and accommodation. I did not deny this. The denial is only from the side of those who keep coming up with spurious reasons to ‘explain’ why there is not a single pre-1700 temple in UP, despite the overwhelming majority of its population being Hindu. How is it that far more ancient temples of Himachal, Odisha, Nepal and Khajuraho are still standing ?

      I am not sure why you shared the Avesta link. But its modern recovery happened via Parsi priests in Surat, not in Islamic Iran.

      “In 1771, the French Orientalist A.-H. Anquetil-Duperron (Duchesne-Guillemin 1985)
      published translations of the Avesta and the later Zoroastrian books in Middle Persian
      (language of the Sasanian empire), the ancestor of modern Persian (=Farsi) and the descendant
      of Old Persian (OPers.), the language of the Achaemenid inscriptions, which until then had
      both remained undeciphered.”


    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 12:40h, 26 April

      Vikram: Audrey Trushke has coined a good term for what you are presenting – WhatsApp History.

      You wrote a long post about disappearing literature. I cited evidence for how literature was being translated arguing the point that if the rulers had been hell-bent on destroying literature they would not have been translating it at the same time. To that all you can do is concede reluctantly that “yes, there were ‘attempts’ at translation.” After all the evidence you still want to call them ‘attempts.’

      Then you are back on the temple hobby horse. I said you had an interesting hypothesis but it needed evidence, not just your guess. I posed the question that arises immediately from your hypothesis. If the psyche of the Muslim rulers could only derive satisfaction from destroying temples, why did they let any temple standing in the South which they ruled for over 200 years? That is a long enough time to fulfil their obsession.

      You have not offered any answer to the counter-question. Maybe you are right but an academic would leave room for other explanations. Could there be some other explanations for the same facts assuming you are right about the facts? Could it be that there were much fewer temples in the North to start with? The nature of the temples in the South is very different from those in the North. The rulers of the North were much more inclined towards palaces of which there are very few in the South. Could there have been differences in variants of Hinduism, in the driving motivations of the ruling dynasties, etc? Why should these much more interesting alternatives be explored instead of finding someone to blame?

    • Vikram
      Posted at 15:59h, 27 April

      SA, the point regarding temples is relevant here because temples are where a lot of the palm leaf records were retained, and reproduced. Their destruction damaged Hindu institutions in North India.

      I am not sure why attributing the destruction of temples to the rulers is ‘finding someone to blame’. That is not the objective here. The primary objective is to critically analyze claims like ‘Hindus were mainly oral, and not literal’, ‘Hindu temples of North were not architecturally sound’, ‘Hindus did not have a sense of history’ and so forth.

      The central theme of these claims is that Indian civilization, although complex, was critically lacking in certain dimensions, and this could only be filled by the entry of outsiders like Muslims and later the British. It should be understandable why such a proposition would be resisted by Indians, especially since the entry of both sets of outsiders was forcible.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 07:41h, 29 April

      Vikram: I see where you are going but not convinced by the logic. Since both sets of outsiders were forcible you wish to resist the proposition that they contributed anything to India. You wish to believe that Indian civilization was complete and perfect in all respects before the outsiders arrived. The only reason it can’t be proved is because the outsiders destroyed all the evidence that was preserved on palm leaves.

      Let us accept both your claims and move on. Do you believe Indian civilization can ever recover from the wounds inflicted by the outsiders and reclaim its lost perfection? What does it have to do to achieve the objective?

  • Vikram
    Posted at 21:00h, 25 April Reply

    Let us think about it this way. British rule in India lasted 150 years. Different groups of people, different regions experienced this rule in different ways at different times. If there was a significant Anglo-Indian minority in India, would we keep insisting that poverty in Eastern India, had nothing to do with British policies ?

    It is astounding that a kingdom that spent huge proportions of its revenue, produced mainly by a Hindu population, on lavish projects that had nothing do with the ethos and civilization of the subjects it was ruling. Is there any such kingdom, at any time in history that did such things and is not criticized ?

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 12:54h, 26 April

      Vikram: You seem to have an odd idea about the age of empires and colonialism. No empire ever expanded except to serve its own interest. It’s fine to blame the British but they didn’t come to India to build things compatible with its ethos and civilization. You should thank your stars they didn’t wipe out all the natives as they did in America. Even after that South Asians are the best of friends with the British and don’t go about lynching every Englishman they come across on the street.

      Similar is your comment “Try asking even the Afghan Muslims, their experience with the Mughals, was not brilliant.” First, no Afghan Muslim had any direct experience with the Mughals – you did not have either. Second, the experience of Mughals with Afghan Muslims was not brilliant either – recall Ahmed Shah Abdali. Nor was their experience with Persian Muslims brilliant either – recall Nadir Shah. I can’t understand why you expect the experience to have been brilliant in the first place. The fact that you do means you don’t understand the nature of those times.

      In any case, the fact the experience of Afghan Muslims and Persian Muslims was not brilliant should drive home the point that it was not about religion. Turning the history of that period into a religious binary is quite contrary to facts and belongs to WhatsApp history.

    • Vikram
      Posted at 16:18h, 27 April

      SA, empires may expand to serve their interest or due to individual ambition, but that is not what I am trying to discuss.

      The point is that there is no unified experience of empire (or even modern states) for the people living in such polities. For example, the experience of Punjabis in the British Empire, was vastly different to the Biharis and Bengalis. Similarly, there was a difference in experience during Mughal Empire for Muslim elites, versus Hindus (except for those who served the empire).

      I would agree with you that religion is not always a factor. But in the case of Muslim kingdoms in Hindu India, religion *was* a factor. And the example I gave was the fact that the Muslim rulers were ready to spend lavishly (using Hindu surplus) to create Islamic structures like the Jama Masjid and Taj Mahal. But no such largesse is evident for the endeavors of native traditions.

      Therefore it is natural for many Hindus to be ambivalent towards the period of Muslim rule in North India, even though it is seen as a high point by Muslims and scholars like Truschke. Just like Marathis and Bengalis dont remember the British empire fondly, but Punjabi Muslims might.

      Regarding day to day violence on the streets, I attribute it to the absence of rule of law, lack of formalization of economy, rather than some historical background.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 08:13h, 29 April

      Vikram: The objective on this blog is not to defend anyone – Mughals, British, Hindus, Muslims – but to argue various points based on logic.

      There is never any unified experience of anything. Why are you restricting the differences to religion and ethnicity? Someone subscribing to your logic could just as easily argue that Hindus created grand structures for the upper castes in which the lower castes were not even allowed entry. Ruling classes do what they do for their interest. Religion, ethnicity and caste all play a role. Is any largesse evident for the native traditions of the adivasis in today’s India or do they have to be made to appreciate factories against their will?

      So all those who don’t share in the power have a tendency to feel ambivalent about those in power just as Congress supporters are ambivalent today about Modi raj. That does not mean that there might be no high points about the Modi period that historians like Truschke might identify in the future.

      You are also comparing apples and oranges during the Mughal rule with contrasting the experience of Muslim elites with that of all Hindus (except for those who served the empire). The better comparison would be of elites and non-elites. You might conclude that religion did not have much of a role to play. The elites serving the empire had a good time, those opposed to the empire were punished, and the non-elites suffered. How else would you explain the immense poverty of non-elite Muslims in India after 1,000 years of Muslim rule?

      Once again, you make without evidence a huge generalization that Marathis and Bengalis don’t remember the British empire fondly but Punjabi Muslims might? Why would Punjabi Muslims remember the British fondly? Did Dyer take all the Punjabi Muslims aside before he opened fire in Jallianwala Bagh? And was it a Punjabi Muslim who wrote The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian with the following dedication?

      “To the memory of the British Empire in India,
      Which conferred subjecthood upon us,
      But withheld citizenship.
      To which yet every one of us threw out the challenge:
      “Civis Britannicus sum”
      Because all that was good and living within us
      Was made, shaped and quickened
      By the same British rule.”

      Finally, you immediately ascribe day-to-day violence today to contextual factors but are not willing to do so for the violence of the past which you ascribe unambiguously to religion. Why the difference in perspective?

    • Vikram
      Posted at 15:38h, 01 May

      “Is any largesse evident for the native traditions of the adivasis in today’s India or do they have to be made to appreciate factories against their will ?”

      SA, nice English but you are confounding the lack of ability to enforce just laws with the propensity to make unjust laws.

      For example, Pakistan’s laws on blasphemy, lack of protection for non-Muslim women from religion based atrocities, lack of protection for people who want to change their religion from the state sanctioned one, these are all bad laws. And the reluctance to change these laws shows the violent and supremacist mindset of the population.

      The situation with regards to Adivasis in India is completely different. The Indian Constitution and law explicitly contains provisions protecting marginalized populations. This is done via restrictions on who can buy lands which they inhabit, guaranteed representation in law making and executive bodies, and affirmative action policies in educational and government institutions.

      The undermining of these statutes and protections occurs due to a complex interaction of a weak state, the power of vested interests and conflicts within marginalized communities.

    • Vikram
      Posted at 15:44h, 01 May

      SA, are you denying that Punjabi Muslims benefited disproportionately from imperial policies ? This was through both investment in barren land in Western Punjab, its allocation and imperial army recruitment policies. No such imperial largesse was evident in Bengal and Maharashtra. The Bengalis especially were the worst targeted, no matter what individuals said or did.

      It is also a fact that in general, involvement of populations in Western Punjab and Sindh in resistance against the British regime was less. And this makes sense because these regions (neglected previously) were invested in heavily by the British, and the peasantry was given more protections than elsewhere. This is an element often overlooked in histories of the partition.

  • Vikram
    Posted at 15:51h, 29 April Reply

    “You wish to believe that Indian civilization was complete and perfect in all respects before the outsiders arrived. The only reason it can’t be proved is because the outsiders destroyed all the evidence that was preserved on palm leaves.”

    SA, this is not my position. It seems to be a caricature of my position that can be easily rebutted.

    “Do you believe Indian civilization can ever recover from the wounds inflicted by the outsiders and reclaim its lost perfection? What does it have to do to achieve the objective ?”

    I dont think most Indians care about ‘wounds’ from the past. All civilizations see there ups and downs. Most of us look to the future, and the sensible among us understand that in many ways it is the colonial past that is relevant today rather than the more ancient past. Many do want to see a narrative of the past more locally centred, rather than West centric.

    The nostalgia for the past is more evident among sections who write and believe in stuff like ‘1000 years of Muslim rule’.

  • Vikram
    Posted at 15:20h, 01 May Reply

    “Finally, you immediately ascribe day-to-day violence today to contextual factors but are not willing to do so for the violence of the past which you ascribe unambiguously to religion. Why the difference in perspective?”

    Because of who committed the violence. Cow vigilantes do not get instructions from the Indian state to target people. That is why they are called mobs or vigilantes.

    In the case of Muslim (and Christian) political entities in India, the violence was state directed. The orders to *specifically* destroy temples and other Indian structures came straight from the top, and had imperial sanction. They were systematic, persistent and consistent, not sporadic and temporal.

    “The beautiful temples suffered destruction, the priests were
    banished from the islands of Goa and many a brahmin now accepted the religion of his Portuguese masters for administrative positions and pecuniary gains. The policy of religious persecution also led to the emigration of Hindus, the ‘flight’ of their deities and also direct resistance offered by them through non-payment of taxes and the use of violence.”
    – Kamat, Pratima. “The Tail Wags the Dog?.” Indian Historical Review 30.1-2 (2003): 21-39.

  • Vikram
    Posted at 19:42h, 04 May Reply

    “hapless Muslims”

    SA, I am intrigued by your choice of words here. Do you consider the following actions symptomatic of ‘hapless’ populations around the world ?






    Can you point me to when the Hindu minority in Pakistan has resorted to threatening women, desecrating war memorials, demanded the police hand over a suspect for mob ‘justice’ to protest its oppression in Pakistan ?

  • Vikram
    Posted at 21:33h, 04 May Reply

    Chloe Bryer, who wrote the Slate article you shared earlier, is an Episcopal Chrisitian, which is ultimately a sub branch of Protestantism.

    Here is what the founder of Protestantism had to say about Jews:


    The link between such rhetoric and the ultimate eradication of Jews from Europe is clear.

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