|270,000 ~ 600,000 (1984) Punjab: Sindh:|
|Mewati, Haryanvi, Khariboli, Rajasthani, Urdu|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Cheetah • Merat • Qaimkhani • Sindhi-Sipahi • Deshwali • Bhatti Khanzada • Khanzada • Ranghar • Ahir • Meena|
Meo (pronounced: may-o or mev), is an ethnic group of the Mewat region from north-western India, particularly from the Nuh district (previously Mewat district) in Haryana and parts of adjacent Alwar and Bharatpur districts in Rajasthan. They speak Mewati, a language of the Indo-Aryan language family, although in some areas the language dominance of Urdu and Hindi has seen Meos adopt these languages instead.
Meos are inhabitants of Mewat, a region that consists of the former 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 and Kashtriya who converted to Islam between the 12th and 17th century, until as late as Aurangzeb's rule. Over the centuries, they have maintained their age-old distinctive cultural identity. According to S. L. Sharma and R. N. Srivastava, Mughal persecution had little effect on the strengthening of their Islamic identity, but it reinforced their resistance to Mughal rule. They have shared this region with a number of other Muslim communities, such as Khanzada, Qaimkhani and Malkana.
A British Raj-era theory briefly suggested by the colonial ethnographer and political agent for Alwar State, Major P. W. Powlett, has it that the Meo are related to the Meenas (Minas). In Powlett's 1878 Gazetteer of Ulwur (later spelt Alwar), he comments: "The similarity between the words Meo and Mina suggests that the former may be a contraction of the latter".: 38 He continues by pointing out that several clans in both communities (Singal, Náí, Dúlot, Pimdalot, Dingal, Bálot) have identical names. He mentions the Meo's traditional narrative ballad of Dariyā Khān ("Daria Meo") and the story of his betrothal to Sisbadani, a Mina woman, their separation and reunion, as possibly suggestive of historical intermarriage between the groups.
According to Shail Mayaram, author, and professor of Subaltern Studies at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, this view was likely constructed for political reasons by colonial authorities. In her view, following the 1857 insurrection in which the Meo joined action against the Company Raj, it was helpful to the British if they could conflate the still-resistant Meos with another nearby group whom they had already classified as "criminal", the Minas. While there had been some instances of Minas prosecuted for theft, dacoity, and similar, in the aftermath of the mutiny, there had been almost no Meo involvement in such cases.: 129–130, 139 Mayaram traces the theory of a Meo–Mina intermixing from its relatively tentative genesis with Powlett, through repetitions of varying strength in colonial reports, to its emergence as a fully-fledged "common origin" in Alexander Cunningham's Eastern Rajputana report. Even the traditional epic of Dariyā Khān and Sisbadani was transmuted from the "story" in Powlett to an acknowledged event in the later text.: 129–130, 132
Mewati make up majority of Muslims in Nawabo ka Nimbahera. Historically, the Gorwal Khanzadas of Mewat, Chauhan, Rathore, and Tomar clans of the Meo Rajputs ruled various states of India.
In 1372, Firuz Shah Tughlaq of the Delhi Sultanate granted the Lordship of Mewat to Raja Nahar Khan, Raja Nahar Khan established a hereditary polity in Mewat and proclaimed the title of Wali-e-Mewat. Later his descendants affirmed their own sovereignty in Mewat. They ruled Mewat till 1527. Raja Hasan Khan Mewati represented the Meo Community in Battle of Khanwa in that year.
Nawab Feroz Khan was the first Nawab of Shahabad, Alwar and a Faujdar (commander) in Mughal Army. He was a close confidant and trusted aide of Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah I. He belonged to a Khanzada Muslim Rajput family which ruled the region of Mewat. He was a descendant of Raja Nahar Khan (through his son Malik Alaudin Khan), who was a Rajput ruler of Mewat State in 14th century. Due to his loyal service in Mughal Army, he was granted the Jagir of Simbli (later Shahbad) by Emperor Bahadur Shah I in 1710. In 1710 he led the Mughal counter-offensive against the Sikhs, and defeated the Sikhs at the Battle of Thanesar (1710).
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; his book was published in 2003.
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.[better source needed] According to some sources, the Meo community may have a common origin with the Meena community. Such views were especially prominent in colonial-era ethnographies.[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 the Meo community.
Despite pressure to do so from the regional princely states of Alwar and Bharatpur, ruled by Gorwal Khanzadas, the Meo Rajput community decided not to migrate to Pakistan during the Partition of India. In 1947, Mahatma Gandhi visited Ghasera, a village in present-day Nuh district to urge the Muslims living there not to leave, calling the Meos "Iss desh ki reed ki haddi" or 'the backbone of the country', India. Although on the whole the community did not migrate, there were a number of gotras of the Rajput Meos who, on an individual basis, did decide to relocate to Pakistan during partition. They were mostly settled in Pakistani districts of Sialkot, Lahore, Karachi, Narowal, Dera Ghazi Khan, Sheikhupura, Gujranwala, Multan, Haiderabad and Kasur, among others.
The Meos (Muhammadans) of the eastern Punjab still participate in the observance of the Holi and Diwali festivals. On the latter occasion they paint the horns, hoofs, etc., of their bullocks and join in the general rejoicings.: 174— Excerpt from the Census of India (Punjab Province), 1911 AD
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). Like Hindus of the north, the Meo do not marry within their own gotras although 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.
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;[page needed] this phenomena is also seen in other Rajput communities and is not limited to the Meos.
Rajput Meos were divided into thirteen pals and fifty-two gotras by Rana Kaku Balot Meo in the 13th century.
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 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.
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.
The Meo also extend to Meerut District. The Doab Meos now speak Urdu, and have abandoned Mewati.
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 left 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.
Though Meos claim to be of Rájpút origin, there are grounds for believing that many spring from the same stock as the Mínás. The similarity between the words Meo and Míná suggests that the former may be a contraction of the latter. Several of the respective clans are identical (Singal, Náí, Dúlot, Pimdalot, Dingal, Bálot), and a story of one Daria Meo and his lady love, Sísbadaní Míná, seems to show that they formerly intermarried. In Bolandshahr a caste called Meo Mínás is spoken of in the Settlement Report, which would seem further to connect the two. However, it is probable enough that apostate Rájpúts and bastard sons of Rájpúts founded many of the clans, as the legends tell.