Meo (ethnic group)
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|Regions with significant populations|
|Mewati • Haryanvi|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Cheetah • Merat • Qaimkhani • Sindhi-Sipahi • Deshwali • Khanzada• Ranghar•Ahir|
Meo (pronounced May-o & Mev) (also called Mewati) is a Muslim community 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.
History and origin
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. According to one theory, they were Hindu Rajputs who converted to Islam between 12th and 17th century, until as late as Aurangzeb's rule but they have maintained their age-old distinctive cultural identity until today. According to S. L. Sharma and R. N. Srivastava, Mughal persecution had little effect of strengthening their Islamic identity, but it reinforced their resistance to Mughal rule. They have shared this region with a number of other Muslim Rajput communities, such as Khanzada, Qaimkhani and Malkana.
Meo profess the beliefs of Islam but the roots of their ethnic structure are in Hindu caste society. The neighbouring Hindu Jats, Minas, Ahirs and Rajputs share the same mores. According to some sources, the Meo community may have a common origin with the Meena community.[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 clans who converted to Islam and amalgamated as Meo community.
Connection with other Hindus communities in Mewat region
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. 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.[full citation needed]
Marriage and kinship customs
Meos generally do not follow the Muslim law of inheritance and so among them, like various other communities in the region, custom makes a younger brother or a cousin marry the widow of the deceased by a simple Nikah ceremony.
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.
Geography and demography
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.
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 possible that the Meos belonged to many different castes and not just to the Rajputs (Aggarwal 1978:338).[page needed], but this phenomenon is also seen in other Rajput communities and not limited to the Meos, in particular.
Meos outside Mewat
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.
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.
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.
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- 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.
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