“When Hindu women in the United States wear the bindi, people love to make fun of them. I have heard a countless number of jokes about the bindi. If you watch “Family Guy,” and even if you don’t, you’ve probably seen the scene where Peter Griffin asks his neighbor whether he uses the “red button” on his wife’s forehead as a remote control to shut her up. When people in the Western countries, such as America, see an actual Indian woman wearing the bindi, she is coined as a fob, a backwards and old-fashioned person who does not know how to embrace the American culture.”—Why “Bindis” Should Not Be a Fashion Trend
Pakistan has the largest number of people of African descent in South Asia. It has been estimated that at least a quarter of the total population living on the Makran coast are of African ancestry—that is, at least 250,000 men and women can claim East African descent on the southern coast of Pakistan and in the easternmost part of southern Iran. In Pakistan, African descendants are called Sheedi (Siddi.) Many are also called Makrani, whether or not they live in Makran.
In 1837, Persian was replaced by English as the language of governance in India. To secure a high-paying job, Indians had to know English. And to study English, an Indian had to be from those “classes of the people who have the means of pursuing higher studies.” In the nineteenth century, Indians began to debate among themselves whether they wanted such an education for themselves or for their children, but that is another story.
Being the “culturally sensitive” rulers that they were, the British decided that they should be able speak to their Indian subordinates in their own language. So they came up with grammar books and dictionaries to teach themselves how to say “Get me my shoes” and “Hurry up!” to their Indian servants. These books made it possible for the British to standardize and index terminology for official use. Persian was also replaced at the lower levels of judicial and revenue administration, but here, it was replaced by Indian vernacular languages like Urdu.
Since the British saw Indians as groups of “Hindus” and “Muslims,” they also began to describe religion as a marker of linguistic difference, which is part of the reason why a shared north Indian language ended up getting divided into Hindi (for Hindus) and Urdu (for Muslims). Sometimes, when the British were in a bit of a Victorian mood, they tried to get Urdu poets to stop composing “obscene” poems about wine and women and write about sledding at Christmas instead.
A class divide quickly emerged between vernacular-educated Indians and the English-speaking elites. An English-speaking Indian elite was desirable for officials like Macaulay, who needed “a class of persons Indian in blood and color, but English in taste and manners” as a buffer between themselves and the masses. A hundred years or so later, this stratagem backfired when new generations of this class of Indians began clamoring for their rights, and talking back to the English, in English. South Asians eventually won their independence from British rule — but only after paying a hefty price in the partition of India along religious lines for the first time in history, a division that cost millions of lives and would scar the region forever. Pakistan inherited the messy frontiers of the old imperial order.
Imagine if we were’t colonized by the British Empire. We’ve been robbed.