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Meo Resistance: A Neglected Story


Nonica Datta

AGAINST HISTORY, AGAINST STATE: COUNTERPERSPECTIVES FROM THE MARGINS
By Shail Mayaram
Permanent Black, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 316, Rs. 695.00

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 2 February 2005

The study of historical communities has acquired a radically new significance in recent works of scholarship. For long, historians merely appropriated the notion of a community trapped in a colonial ethnographer’s record. But recent research has established that there is no single way of understanding a community and its identity. This is not all. It shows that a community is not a mere religious entity, nor a political category of numerical enumeration. Shaped and defined by multiple factors, communities are constantly in the making. And with the aid of useful archival, oral and literary sources, recent works have thus introduced us to the hitherto unknown world of subordinate and marginalized groups, as well as to the rich social histories of the localities.   Shail Mayaram, whose earlier work on Meos is well-known, offers yet another perspective on a community and its identity. She once again focuses on the Meos, one of the largest Muslim communities in the subcontinent, who have inhabited for at least the past seven centuries the region called Mewat. This time her range is wider. Covering their history between the thirteenth and nineteenth centuries, she explores Meo resistance to the Sultanate, Mughal and British empires, as well as to the Rajput and Jat regional kingdoms. On the strength of the Meo oral tradition, she shows how they have been systematically marginalized and demonized in Indo-Persian and British historiography, as well as stigmatized and undermined by successive states. Their resistance, as the title of the book suggests, is against state and history. Their agency emerges, as Shail Mayaram argues, in the context of resistance. Significantly, the author maintains that the story of Meo resistance would have been lost had there been no oral tradition.   The author details Meos’ displacement from the Doab in the first half of the eleventh century, their expulsion from Delhi by Turk and Afghan conquerors, and their suppression by early Mongol invasions. The establishment of the Sultanate led to the appropriation of Meo land and their subsequent settlement in Mewat, which became the ‘heartland of Meo resistance’. It was here that the Meos carved out their autonomous settlements and independent forms of self-governance. It was here that the Meos countered the state systems through their oral tradition.   The transformation of the Meos from a self-governing, autonomous group to a mere peasant-pastoral status demonstrates their gradual loss of power. In addition, the Mughal empire, with ...


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