The Meo Muslims of Haryana, who are now facing unprecedented hate speech and violence unleashed by Hindutwa outfits like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal, have had excellent relations with the Hindu majority right through history.

Till recently, the Meos bore Hindu names in recognition of their Hindu origin. They had fought against the British during the 1857 revolt and maintained violence-free communal harmony during the partition of India in 1947 when Punjab and Delhi were subjected to communal carnage.

But tragically now, with parliamentary elections in the offing, the forces of Hindutva, with the connivance of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), are publicly accusing the Meos of being anti-national only to alienate them and consolidate the Hindu vote.

Former Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satyapal Malik, openly said in a recent video interview that the BJP government in Haryana is behind the riots and that India will see “a hundred such riots across the country” in the run up to the 2024 parliamentary elections.

However, Malik is certain that the people of Haryana, including the Mewat region, will not respond to the BJP’s communal call.

“The Mewat region did not see communal riots even during partition. People here get mobilized on farmers’ issues, not on communal issues,” the former BJP veteran said.

There are an estimated 2 million Meos spread across Haryana’s Mewat district and adjoining Alwar and Bharatpur in Rajasthan.

Paramita Ghosh, writing in The Hindustan Times in 2016, noted that there are conflicting theories about the origin of the Meos with some saying that their roots lie in Iran, while others say that they are local Meena tribes converted to Islam in phases between the 15 th and 17 th.Centuries.

What is certain is that the community maintained its cultural links with the Hindus.

“Many families still call their children by Hindu names. Amar Singh, Chand Singh, and Sohrab Singh are Meo names to which surnames like Khan have been added to express their Muslim identity. The Meo phaeta (turban) and non-Meo pagdi are the same. Women do not wear burqa but a light veil over their heads. They do not marry within the same Gotra like Hindus,” Ghosh points out.

She quotes Prof. Hilal Ahmed of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in Delhi, to say that in India’s first census in 1871, the Meos were listed as “Hindus.” But in the 1901 census, they were classified as “Muslims.”

Till about 50 years ago, the ploughs of the Meo farmers would be rested on “Amavasya”. Like the Kuan puja (well-worship) of Hindu women, Meo women did the same but called it  “haqeeka.”

In Meo villages, Jats, Rajputs, Gujjars, Yadavs, and Scheduled Castes have coexisted peacefully for centuries.

Islamization, in the modern sense, began in 1926, when the Tablighi Jama’at entered the community in response to the Arya Samaj’s ‘Shuddhi’ movement in the rest of the undivided Punjab.

In history, the Meos had fought against Muslim invaders from across the North Western frontier. When Babur from Central Asia attacked India in 1527, Hasan Khan Mewati, a Meo ruler, sided with Rana Sangha, a Hindu king. In the 1857 anti-British revolt, more than 6,000 Meos sacrificed their lives. Many were hanged from trees.

Meo folk songs are peppered with the history of their harmonious relations with the Hindus. There are songs about how Hasan Khan Mewati joined hands with Rana Sanga in the battle of Khanua and fought very bravely against Babar till the last. The Meos’ part in the 1857 uprising is also featured in stirring folk songs.

“Teachings of Sufis and saints like Lal Das, Charan Das, Sahjo Bai, Allah Baksh, Shah Chokha and others are preserved in the folk songs. These teachings have a strong context of communal harmony as these saints attracted both Hindus and Muslims,” says Bharat Dogra in an article in The Hindu in 2013, quoting researcher Dr G.D.Gulati.

In 1931 the Meos rose against the oppressive rule of the Raja of Alwar, Jai Singh, who was also seen as a British puppet. The 1931 movement produced the first acknowledged Meo leader in modern times – Chaudhury Mohammed Yasin Khan, who was also the community’s first graduate. Chaudhury Yasin Khan had linked up with Nehru and Gandhi, through the good offices of the Communist leader P.C. Joshi. The anti-Raja movement was not communal at all, though the Raja tried to brand it as a Muslim movement against a Hindu State

According to Paramita Ghosh, in 1947, Mahatma Gandhi, at the behest of Chaudhury Yasin Khan (then with the Unionist Party of Punjab) and other Meo leaders such as Abdul Hayi (a Azad Hind Fauji and a Congressman-turned-Communist post-1947), toured the Mewat region and prevented a mass exodus of Meos to Pakistan. As a result, half the community decided to stay back in India.

Cordiality between the Meos and the Hindus prevailed till the advent of the BJP at the national level in 2014. Cow vigilantism targeting the Meos raised its ugly head. Mewat was described as a “mini Pakistan” in the midst of “Hindu India.” Though only four out of the 90 constituencies in Haryana have a Muslim majority, communal Hindu politicians saw them as a danger.

But the defining moment for the Meos came in 2017 when a dairy farmer of Nuh’s Jaisinghpur village, Pehlu Khan (55) was lynched by a mob of cow-vigilantes in neighboring Rajasthan’s Behror city.

Following the incident, two more men from the region lost their lives in separate incidents of mob violence while many more received injuries. Meos have traditionally been cattle-breeders and some villagers profess to having more than 50 cows with them a few years ago.

“The topography of the area with hillocks and grazing land in the foothills, allow villagers to keep cattle in large numbers,” Ramzan Chaudhary, president of the All India Mewati Samaj, an organization of Meos around the country, told Sabrang India.

Claiming to have a “special” and “emotional” relationship with cows, some Meos say that they would not kill it for food, though they acknowledge at the same time that some members of the community do eat beef.

“Since the matter took a communal tone, village panchayats and religious leaders (maulvis) had declared a ban on eating beef. We have even warned the panchayat heads that they would be punished if a resident of their village was found selling or eating beef,” Ramzan Chaudhary said.

Sabrang India points out that because of poor infrastructure, lack of water and high rate of illiteracy, Nuh is at the bottom of a list of 101 most backward districts of India according to the Government of India agency Niti Ayog.

Added to poverty is a fear psychosis among the Meos resulting in their reluctance to buy cows.  This has hit their livelihood and also the dairy-business of the region. Indeed, the Meos are in a tight spot.