Meo (ethnic group)

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Meo
Regions with significant populations
India
Languages
MewatiUrdu
Religion
Islam
Related ethnic groups
CheetahMeratQaimkhaniSindhi-SipahiDeshwaliKhanzadaRangharAhir

Meo (pronounced May-o & Mev) (also called Mewati) is a Muslim Rajput from North-Western India, particularly in and around Mewat that includes Mewat district of Haryana and parts of adjacent Alwar and Bharatpur districts in Rajasthan. Meos speak Mewati, a language of the Indo-Aryan language family. The majority is uneducated and is currently classed under Other Backward Castes (OBC).

History and origin[edit]

Meos are inhabitants of Mewat, a region that consists of Mewat district of Haryana and some parts of adjoining Alwar and Bharatpur districts of Rajasthan and western Uttar Pradesh, where the Meos have lived for a millennium. They were Hindu Rajputs who converted to Islam by Moinuddin Chisti's starting from 1192 CE until as late as Aurangzeb's rule but they have maintained their age-old distinctive ethno-cultural identity until today. They have shared this region with a number of other Muslim Rajput communities, such as Khanzada, Qaimkhani and Malkana.[1]

Hindu origins[edit]

According to Robert Vane Russell, Meos called themselves by Hindu names with the exception of Ram, and Singh is a frequent affix, though not so common as Khan.[2]

The Meo represent a blending of Hinduism and Islam. Meo profess the beliefs of Islam but the roots of their ethnic structure are in Hindu caste society. In fact, the neighbouring Hindu Jats,[3] Minas, Ahirs and Rajputs share the same bans.[4] According to some sources, the Meo community may have a common origin with the Meena community.[5][page needed]

Hindu inhabitants of Mewat, although belonging to the same Kshatriya castes to which the Meos belonged before conversion to Islam, are not called Meo. Thus the word "Meo" is both region-specific and religion-specific. Apparently, Meos come from many Hindu castes who converted to Islam and amalgamated as Meo community.[3]

Connection with other Hindus communities in Mewat region[edit]

Many Rajasthani Meos retain mixed Hindu-Muslim names. Names such as Ram Khan or Shankar Khan are not unusual in the Meo tracts in Alwar. The Muslim community of Meos was highly Hinduised before independence. Meos celebrated Diwali and Holi as they celebrated two Eids (Eid ul-Fitr and Eid al-Adha). They do not marry within one's Gotras like Hindus of the north though Islam permits marriage with cousins. Solemnization of marriage among Meos was not complete without both Nikah as in Islam and circling of fire as among Hindus. Meos believe that they are direct descendants of Krishna and Rama even as they claim to be among the unnamed prophets of God referred to in the Quran.[6][page needed]

Cultural aspects[edit]

Marriage and kinship customs[edit]

Meos generally do not follow the Muslim law of inheritance and so among them, as in the sister communities such as Jats and Minas and Ahirs, custom makes a younger brother or a cousin marry the widow of the deceased by a simple Nikah ceremony.[7]

The Meo have been subject to a number of recent ethnographic studies. These books have dealt with issues such as marriage and self-perception of the community. Raymond Jamous studied kinship and rituals among the Meo and wrote a book.[8]

Geography and demography[edit]

The boundary of Mewat region is not precisely defined. The region largely consists of plains but has hills of Aravali range. The inconsistency in Mewat topography is evident from its patches of land with hills and hillock of the Aravali on the one hand and plains on the other. The region is semi-arid with scanty rainfall and this has defined the vocations the Meos follow. They are peasants, agriculturists and cattle breeders.[9]

Meo gotra[edit]

Meo profess the beliefs of Islam but the roots of their ethnic structure are in Hindu caste society. Meos claim high-caste Hindu Rajput descent. This may be true for some of them. However, some of them may be descendants of other castes who might have laid claim to Rajput ancestry after converting to Islam to enhance their social standing (Harris 1901:23; Channing 1882:28). The names of many gots (gotra) or exogamous lineages of Meos are common with other Hindu castes as Meena, Ahir and Gujjar who live in their vicinity. It thus seems likely that the Meos belonged to many different castes and not just to the Rajputs (Aggarwal 1978:338).[3][4][5][page needed]

Meos outside Mewat[edit]

Uttar Pradesh[edit]

In Uttar Pradesh, the Meos are found mainly in the western regions of Rohilkhand and Doab. Unlike those of Mewat, the Uttar Pradesh Meos are dispersed. Their main gotras in the state are the Chhirklot, Dalut, Demrot, Pandelot, Balot, Dawar, Kalesa, Landawat, Rattawat, Dingal and Singhal. The Uttar Pradesh Meos maintain a system of community endogamy, and gotra exogamy. The Meos of UP are a community of small farmers, and urban wage labourers.[10]

The Meo also extend to Meerut District. The Doab Meos now speak Urdu, and have abandoned Mewati.[10]

Separate from the Doab Meo are the Meo of Rohilkhand. Culturally they are now indistinguishable from the neighbouring Muslim communities. They are found mainly in Moradabad, Bareilly, Rampur and Pilibhit districts. These Meo are said to have Mewat in the 18th Century, fleeing the great famine of 1783, and these Meo are generally referred to by the term Mewati. They now speak Khari Boli and Urdu, and no longer maintain a system of gotra exogamy, with now many practicising parallel-cousin marriages.[10]

Delhi[edit]

The Meo in Delhi are found mainly in the neighbourhood of Walled City (Kucha Pandit Lal Kuan, Gali Shahtara Ajmri Gate and Bara Hindu Rao), Azadpur, Hauz Khas, Mehrauli and various outlying villages with names ending in Sarai which have become urbanised. All their villages have been swallowed up by ever-expanding Delhi city. The growth of urban Delhi has led to the abandonment of the Mewati dialect in favour of Hindi, which is now their main language. Similarly, there has been a decline in the power of the caste council (panchayat). The Meos of Delhi have maintained gotra exogamy, very rarely marrying into their own gotra.[11]

References[edit]

  1. ^ People of India Rajasthan Volume XXXVIII Part Two edited by B.K Lavania, D. K Samanta, S K Mandal & N.N Vyas page 986 to 990 Popular Prakashan
  2. ^ R.V. Russell; R.B.H. Lai (1995). The tribes and castes of the central provinces of India. Asian Educational Services. p. 234. ISBN 978-81-206-0833-7. Retrieved 13 May 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c Guru Nanak Dev University. Sociology Dept (1 January 2003). Guru Nanak journal of sociology. Sociology Dept., Guru Nanak Dev University. Retrieved 13 May 2011. 
  4. ^ a b K. S. Singh (1 January 1998). People of India: Rajasthan. Popular Prakashan. pp. 638–. ISBN 978-81-7154-769-2. Retrieved 13 May 2011. 
  5. ^ a b Against History, against state: counterperspectives from the margins by Shail Mayaram.
  6. ^ Resisting Regimes: Myth, Memory and the Shaping of a Muslim Identity by Shail Mayaram.
  7. ^ Hashim Amir Ali; Mohammad Rafiq Khan; Om Prakash Kumar; India. Planning Commission. Research Programmes Committee (1970). The Meos of Mewat: old neighbours of New Delhi. Oxford & IBH Pub. Co. Retrieved 13 May 2011. 
  8. ^ Kinship and Rituals Among the Meo of Northern India : Locating Sibling Relationship/Raymond Jamous. Translated from the French by Nora Scott. New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2003, xiv, 200 p., ills., tables, $31. ISBN 0-19-566459-0.
  9. ^ People of India Rajasthan Volume XXXVIII Part Two edited by B.K Lavania, D. K Samanta, S K Mandal & N.N Vyas page 638 to 640 Popular Prakashan
  10. ^ a b c People of India Uttar Pradesh Volume XLII Part Two edited by A Hasan & J C Das pages 811 to 963 to 967
  11. ^ People of India Delhi Volume XX edited by T Ghosh & S Nath pp. 469−474 Manohar Publications