Detritus of Partition: How Meo Muslims came back from Pakistan and are creating a mini Pakistan in Mewat

In 1999 I was travelling from Delhi to Jaipur by road with my brother-in-law (a Jat). An hour out of Delhi, we entered Haryana’s Mewat – a 75 percent Muslim majority district. It’s a rough, scary and even dystopian place. The people look noticeably unfriendly and the youth stare grimly at the vehicular traffic as if the passing cars and buses are intruders. Mewat is the stronghold/ghetto of the Meo Muslims, an increasingly radical group that in 1927 gave the world the Tablighi Jamaat (the fundamentalist group that notoriously spat on doctors, nurses and police during Covid-19 lockdown).

Mewat has nearly 100 criminal gangs. “Earlier they used to be simple cattle catchers or bike thieves. Now, they have become more organised and indulge not only in robbing trucks on the highways, but also demand ransom from the families after kidnapping the drivers,” said Rajinder Singh, assistant commissioner of police (ACP), operations, (South District) who dealt with Mewati gangs for years. In some cases, the gang members negotiate with victims after stealing vehicles that they offer to return on half the original cost, he said.

Before the arrest of suspected al Qaeda operative Abdul Sami from Mewat in January 2016, in July 2014 Delhi Police arrested a suspected top Lashkar-e-Taiba operative and Mewat resident Abdul Subhan for involvement in influencing youths.

A few months ago, Mohammad Shahid and Qari Rashid, both local Imams and residents of Mewat, were also arrested for alleged terror links. Though none of these three have been convicted so far, concern over Mewat’s ‘terror’ connection was raised.

Clad in jeans and T-shirts, perhaps to hide their rural identity, and armed with stones and firearms, the confident criminals – aged mostly between 16-21 years – can break any police intercept in their way. “If some police party stops them, they would attack it with stones and firearms,” said Virender Jain, station house officer, Vasant Kunj (South) who was instrumental in arresting an accused in the 2010 Dhaula Kuan gangrape case from Mewat.

As we drove through Mewat, my brother in law commented: “On numerous occasions these Meos have rioted and cut off Delhi from Rajasthan. After the Babri Masjid demolition, the entire district rose in revolt. If tomorrow there’s war they can potentially block the Army’s movement to the Pakistan border. Or at the very least they can conduct sabotage operations.”

So how did this unlikely enclave of Islamists form in a Hindu majority state, especially when nearly all Muslims from the border states migrated to Pakistan. The credit for this goes to Mohandas Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Vinobha Bhave. But first the back story.

The Meos were originally a branch of the Chauhans at the north eastern corner of the Aravallis, stretching across south western (British) Gurgaon and the (then) princely states of Alwar and Bharatpur. The Meo Muslims were Muslims nominally, till the 1880s, when the Anjuman tried to radicalise them. However, their efforts didn’t bear much fruit and till the 1920s, they remained mostly indifferent to Islamic preachers. Then the Arya Samaj and the Tabligh entered the scene, with the former trying to turn them into Hindus and the latter making them observant Wahhabi Muslims.

There was too much Hindu resistance from other castes that didn’t want them back and consequently, the Tablighis won out. Further, in 1932, there began a peasant revolt that took on a very Islamic character, and the Meos turned more radical. The riots began in both Gurgaon and the kingdoms of Alwar and Bharatpur, leading to much violence and there were widespread attacks against Hindu temples and shops. From then onwards, the relation between Hindus and Muslims in the region became highly strained. The Meos not only began to adopt rigorous Islamic practices and join the wider pan-Indian and pan-Islamic Muslim agenda, but also began to change their dress and appearance to conform to the Islamic codes.

In 1946, incited by Maulana Abdul Kaddus – a demagogue associated with the Muslim League – the Meos rebelled against Alwar and Bharatpur. And when it appeared that Punjab and Bengal would be given in their entirety to Pakistan, the Meos began to agitate for Meostan that would merge with Pakistan.

Partition happened at a time when the Meos were in the process of adopting an assertive Muslim identity and the relation between them and the Hindus were highly strained. Unlike the Muslims of Malerkotla, who were protected by the Sikhs, the Meo Muslims could hardly count upon the goodwill of their Hindu neighbours. There was fierce rioting between the Hindus and Meos in Gurgaon, Alwar and Bharatpur. 

On August 21, 1947, the Khaksars (a fanatic Muslim brown shirt militia) started anti-Hindu riots in Delhi. They had organised and equipped the local Muslim community with automatic weapons with the aim of slaughtering Hindus and thereby creating chaos that would favour Pakistan. Simultaneously, tens of thousands of Meo Muslims marched on Delhi with a plan to massacre Hindus. While army troops from Pune and Madras were yet to reach Delhi, a combination of Hindu groups from Haryana and Rajasthan chased out the Meos from all over the region and about 45,000 were forcibly converted to Hinduism.

Many Meos relocated to Pakistan, but around 80,000 were accommodated in camps in Gurgaon district. These were “waiting camps” where people would stay till they were able to cross over to Pakistan. Everyone wanted the Meos to go to Pakistan. According to a local Meo man, the rulers of Alwar and Bharatpur, the Hindu Mahasabha, and even the Congress wanted them out of India (because Pakistan was created for them so why stay back). So who stopped them?

On November 17, 1947, R.C. Hadow, of the British embassy in Delhi, was visiting Alwar when he reported seeing a convoy of 80,000 Meos on their way to Pakistan. Subsequently, Congress politician Mridula Sarabhai visited Gurgaon on December 2-4. And eventually, on December 19, 1947, Gandhi, at the behest of Chaudhury Yasin (then with the Unionist Party) and other Meo leaders such as Abdul Hayi (a Congressman turned Communist post 1947), arrived and addressed a Meo gathering in Ghasera village, 45 km southwest of Gurgaon.

Accompanied by two women, Gandhi addressed the Meos as the “backbone of India”, and asked them not to go to Pakistan. The majority of the Meo mob stayed back relying on Gandhi’s assurances. Worse, many Meos who had gone to Pakistan were brought back by Nehru.

After Gandhi’s death in January 1948, Nehru invited Vinoba Bhave to Delhi to help with the relief and rehabilitation work for the refugees who had been ousted from Pakistan. Nehru wanted to help the Meo Muslims of Gurgaon get back their land which had been occupied by Hindu and Sikh refugees when the Meo community had migrated to Pakistan. Since Nehru had brought them back to India himself, he was now in a dilemma about how to get the land vacated without inviting the ire of the Hindus and Sikhs. The sermons of Vinoba, coupled with the unsympathetic attitude of the Nehru government, succeeded in ousting the Hindu and Sikh refugees.

Back in 1947, Indian bureaucrats were wary of the returning Meos due to the pro-Pakistan sentiments openly exhibited by these Muslims. Some bureaucrats wanted the Meos to be resettled in other parts of India rather than in Haryana or Rajasthan due to these being sensitive border states. However, Nehru and his cronies insisted that the Meos be given back their lands. 

Source: Centre for Policy Studies

Today, Mewat is a demographic time bomb. According to the Census of 2011, Muslims form 87 percent of the population of Punahana and 85 percent of Ferozepur Jhirka tehsils of this district. They have a share of more than 76 percent of the population in Nuh that adjoins Punahana and Ferozepur Jhirka on the north, and around 73 percent in Pahari that adjoins these two on the south.

There are about 91 lakh Muslims in these 4 tehsils that lie at the core of Mewat, and they form more than 81 percent of the population of this core. The Centre for Policy Studies observes: “The share of Muslims in these tehsils has been rising very rapidly. In the last decade alone, the Muslims in this core part of Mewat have grown by 45 percent compared to the rate of growth of just about 16 percent for the rest of the population. The number of Muslims here has increased from 6.3 lakhs in 2001 to 9.1 lakhs in 2011, while the rest of the population has increased from 1.8 to 2.1 lakhs. This core part of Mewat seems on the way to becoming an exclusive Muslim pocket in the near future.”

Muslim Population in Core of Mewat
Source: Centre for Policy Studies

Says the Centre for Policy Studies: “In Mewat district of Haryana, the number of children percent of the population is as high as 24.6 for the Muslims compared to 15.9 for the Hindus. And female literacy among Muslims is as low as 29.3 percent compared to 61.8 percent for the Hindus. The difference in the demographic profiles of the two communities in Mewat district in 2011 is clearly visible in the age-pyramids below. The base of the Muslim pyramid is much wider and indicates a population that shall continue to grow faster than the Hindus for several decades.”

Source: Centre for Policy Studies


Featured representative image sourced from internet

Rakesh Krishnan Simha