Mewat’s Meo Muslims – The Core IAS

Mewat’s Meo Muslims

Who are the Meos?

  • The Meos follow syncretic traditions and live in a vast and very backward region whose name derives from the word ‘Meo’: Mewat.
  • It comprises the Nuh, Palwal, Faridabad and Gurgaon districts of Haryana, the Alwar and Bharatpur districts of Rajasthan and a few areas of western UP, including Mathura.
  • The word ‘Meo’ is used to describe those who might have been the aboriginal population from the hills. They also could have had links to the Meena tribal group.

Historians’ viewpoint:

  • Most historians believe that the Meos were initially not Muslims and were gradually converted to Islam during the 12th to 17th centuries by the Sultans of Delhi up to the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb”.
  • But other historians have disagreed, describing a more gradual change. “We use the word ‘conversion’ as a modern concept. There was no such large-scale complete conversion in the time we are talking about, the 14th-15th century; The Meos, she said, did come under the influence of certain Sufi pirs, but continued their traditional practices, which led to a situation of “multi-religiosity”.

What are Meos’ religious practices:

  • As the Meos follow syncretic religious traditions, they appear to be a distinct community. The members of the community even celebrate Hindu festivals like Diwali, Holi and Teej along with festivals of Islam. The Sufi movement, led by the great Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya, also played a role in the community gravitating towards syncretic traditions under Islam.

Why were the Meos categorised as a ‘criminal tribe’ earlier?

  • The Meos took part in what is often termed India’s “First War of Independence” against British colonial rule in 1857. As a result, the entire community was declared a “criminal tribe” under the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871, as “a punishment” for their active participation. 
  • But after this categorisation under the Act, members of such groups would be under surveillance by authorities and presumed to be guilty of committing offences almost automatically. Once labelled as a criminal tribe, they were denied opportunities to progress further, resulting in them turning to crimes for subsistence.

What are the reasons for the backwardness of Mewat?

  • The land of Mewat was not very productive, and the region did not fall under any major trade route. It was, therefore, seen as less desirable by the Delhi Sultans.
  • An educated and influential section of the community shifted to Pakistan during the Partition. A lack of political and administrative focus, in terms of educational, sports and irrigation facilities, contributed to the Mewat region’s backwardness after Indian independence.
  • There appears a spurt in the population of Meos during the past few decades which is attributable to their backwardness. Generally, population growth rates in almost all underdeveloped areas and underprivileged communities tend to be very high.
  • Economic development within a community, along with improved education facilities, is the best solution for tackling backwardness, and it would be the most effective way out in helping preserve and propagate Mewati culture and its syncretic traditions. 
  • By and large, post-independence, there have not been instances of communal tension in the region. He said the recent “attempts to polarise the society on communal lines” are a new development.