Vigilante Groups are rupturing the Secular Fabric of Mewat
Hardnews spoke to Shail Mayaram, an authority on the Meos, in an attempt to unravel the recent events in Mewat. She has authored two books, Resisting Regimes and Against History, Against State, on the community
The Meos, the Muslim majority in Mewat (Nuh), which is barely 70 km from New Delhi, seem to be living a horrific nightmare. In a span of two months they have witnessed an attack on their dietary habits with the Gau Raksha Aayog, set up by the government of Haryana, going around the town of Nuh checking for ‘beef’ in the local biryani vendors’ offerings. In the words of a local youth: “The entire situation has been driven by the cow, and is economically motivated to hit at our livelihoods.”
The region is also recovering from a brutal double rape and double murder that shook the entire community to the core, which took place on the night of August 24-25. The incident is similar to what has been termed the world over as ‘corrective rape’, when rape is used to correct the behaviour of women who are perceived to be deviant.
Two sisters were raped, then allegedly made to drink urine in front of their family members for consuming beef. According to the victims, when they denied the allegations of eating cow meat, the hooligans retorted by saying that they were doing this to ensure they would never eat cow meat again. After they raped the women, they murdered their uncle and aunt (mama and mami), who had been made to watch the heinous crime, in front of them. Four people have been arrested for the crimes, and the local youths believe that the right-wing groups are behind the murders and rapes, “We have seen the Facebook profiles of those who have been arrested, and they belong to a radical HIndu organisation,” said an angry young man in Mewat. According to him the community is seething. When a few hundred youths took to the street to protest, the district administration in one fell swoop filed over 300 FIRs against them.
The nightmare does not end for the Meos. The community is spread over a large geography that extends to Alwar and Bharatpur in Rajasthan, but also in UP and Madhya Pradesh. The day after Bakr-id, September 18, in Alwar, the Bajrang Dal activists found 12 cow carcasses in a Meo village. In retaliation, they ransacked several houses and even razed one with a JCB they had brought with them. What has spawned this series of bizarre and heinous crimes?
How are these attacks related to the identity of the Meos? Has the region been communally charged in the past? There was no flare-up before even during the recent communal riots.
It is a blatant attack on the Muslim-ness of the Meos; had they not been Muslim, there would not have been a problem. There is a complete non-acceptance of religious differences and the fact that someone can have a different identity.
It also comes down to what you mean by the past. Since the 1980s there have been growing tensions. There are people who have conducted studies on exactly this, like French anthropologist Raymond Jamous, who has actually looked at the build-up. There has been tension, but there has been no flare-up, with the exception of Partition. After Partition, many of them left, and the ethnic composition of the area changed and they lost their demographic dominance. They realise that they have become a minority.
These are all fringe organisations that are visible in the area, an example of this is the Gau Raksha Samaj. However, the VHP has been extremely active in the region since the 1980s, and even the Bajrang Dal.
How has the Tablighi Jama’at reacted to this?
You will have to ask someone in the Tablighi Jama’at. But it is important to distinguish between the Mewatis who are participants in the Tablighi movement and who are from the region, because they are more invested in the area as they would have a greater problem with growing tension and fear. As compared to the Tablighi Jama’at elsewhere in India. So you’ll have to distinguish between different types of players and different types of regions.
How do you situate the attack on the beef biryani vendors in the larger context of Muslim-ness, culture and what does the attack mean?
For me, It is about the right to food, the question of how communities have the right to eat different types of food.
Could this be also put under the narrative of purification? An extension of the Shuddhi Movement?
When you talk about the Meo identity, and the push towards possibly purification and the Shuddhi Movement, which has been there for some time now, we don’t know whether they were Hindus, or what the meaning of that was. While the presence of both these identities is not conflicted or contested, that is our reading of it. For the Meos it is completely reconcilable.
I have even written about this. There is a part of peasant culture which actually protected the cow. The Meos are not only peasants but also cow pastoralists and must’ve been there for many generations. If we imagine the making of Braj culture, which comes into being in the 16th century, you see that over a period of time they have become part of that culture. Krishna is the archetype of that culture – he is a deity of the pastoralists, he is a Yadav or an Ahir – and today’s form of Krishna is a fusion of several Krishnaite identities. The Meos too were part of this culture, steeped in it.
What is your reading of what happened after Bakr-id in Alwar?
The razing of the house was a strong statement of violence, which was building up before Bakr-id. There is a greater presence of vigilante groups in the area, and the beef biryani issue escalated the chorus against the community and it was brought to a boiling point. These groups see this new government as giving them an opportunity to undertake such acts of vigilante justice.
The future impact of this is terrible in terms of polarisation, in terms of the distance between the communities. This has been an area that has had strong inter-ethnic relations, relations between the Mewatis and the Gujars and between the Mewatis and the Jaats. Only during Partition did they break, but on the whole, before Partition and after, there were times when the Mewatis were like any other peasant community. There is a story I am particularly fond of recounting, of the close, intimate friendship between a Meo Chief and a Gujar Chief, their friendship was like ‘Daant Kaati Roti’, they ate the same bread together.
But now these groups are rupturing the fabric of society. This is obviously coming from a place of anger, an anger that is rupturing relations between communities. This anger is ideologically driven. People will tell you extremely divergent stories, it is never possible to arrive at the truth right in the aftermath of an incident. And when it comes to the question of secularism, there are two types. There is a surface secularism, which is the secularism of the state and the Constitution. Then there is ‘deep secularism’, the secularism of practice, which means that everyone should have a right to live and flourish – it’s the idea of humans flourishing. There are hurdles because of pre-existing problems, we have caste and untouchability. Indian society is a hierarchical one, but within the limits of this society you might see coexistence of people together and strong bonds between them.