ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Muslim Sub-Caste of North India

Problems of Cultural Integration

For nearly five centuries the Meos, a dominant land-owning sub-caste of Mewat in Rajasthan, enjoyed the privileges available to both Hindus and Muslims. By continuing to follow their original Hindu tradition they maintained their dominant land-owning position in the Hindu caste structure. At the same time they protected themselves from the wrath of powerful Muslim rulers by nominal adoption of Islam.

In recent years, however, gradual break-up of the Jajmani arrangements and a tendency of the subcastes towards wider integration has made it necessary for the Meos also to change. 

Because partition stiffened the attitude of Hindus towards them, the Meos were virtually forced into greater Islamization in order to participate in the widening contacts. 

ON the border of Rajasthan and the Punjab there is an area of some 3500 square miles popularly called Mewat. It is not a separate administrative division but is considered by the inhabitants to be distinct because of the Meos who are the dominant landowning subcaste (or jati) in the area. Although the Meos actually constitute only about 30 percent of the 1,181,089 population of Mewat, they are by far the most populous single group. A large number of other Hindu and Muslim subcastes are represented in the area. There are over two thousand villages in Mewat ranging in population from 250 to 5000. In most of the villages the Meos owned the land. At the time of the partition of India in 1947, 25 to 30 per cent of the Meos migrated to Pakistan. Since then the situation has changed somewhat. The land abandoned by the emigrant Meos was allotted to Punjabi refugees, but recently some of them have sold their land to the Meos and have left because they discovered that the land was not very productive.

From the point of view of social and economic organization, a Mewati village resembles other villages in North India. In each village a number of other subcastes are represented which provide economic and ritual services to the landowning Meos. The Meos compensate them in return with certain payments of grain at each harvest and certain gifts at the time of festivals and lifecycle rites. The subcastes are ranked with regard to each other, with the untouchable Bhangi (ie sweepers) at the bottom of the heir archy.

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