Tel.: + 7 (812) 328 41 22;
Universitetskaya Nab. 3, 199034 St. Petersburg, Russian Federation;
Full Professor (History) of St. Petersburg State University and the Senior Research
Fellow of the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera) of the Russian
Academy of Sciences.
The article covers a history of the ethno-caste group of the Meo Muslims in North-West India whose status is very much connected with Hindu tradition. Meos claim to be of noble Hindu origin. They trace their roots from the heroes of the Hindu epic poem 'Mahabharata'. Their social status before the conversion was that of petty feudals — the Rajputs of the Khanzada. Their conversion to Islam in Medieval time is mostly the result of forced action by Delhi Sultans after a series of Meo rebellions against the central rule in Delhi as well as their calculative decision to avoid paying special tax on Hindus (the Jiziya). At the same time until present time Meos retain strong memory of their Hindu past Such ambiguity in their status and position between Hindus and Muslims caused a lot of problems for Meos who are now subject of strong Muslim Missionary activity. The missionary activity led the Meos to accept formal norms of Islam. At the same time as Muslims they became subject of anti-pogroms in 1947. As Muslims they also have to unite with their co-religionists in the rest of India. Muslims in rural area at present are the poor part of the population of Indian villages. So being Muslims Meos are loosing part of their former status of Patrons. They also lost part of their land during the partition and land reforms in independent India. Yet the Meos remain important part of the Mewat villages. They patronize dependent groups of Hindu population and indirectly support Hindu temples and participate in Hindu festivals.
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