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Reading landscapes of violence

As we drove to a hotel in Manesar in the state of Haryana for a meeting with our Governing Board the memory of the massacres against the Mewatis in 1947 returned. The hills in the distance were those to which the Mewatis had fled after their villages were attacked by mobs. Women did not even have the time to put out their hearths – among them were those who would soon give birth in the open, but not those had been abducted by the mobs. The National Archives has a list naming the abducted women – Mewati women comprise the largest single group. The mobs comprised neighbours, not strangers who joined the AJGAR caste alliance of Ahirs, Jats, Gujars, Rajputs. Dalits also participated in the land grab that followed.

The Mewatis sought shelter on the Kala Pahar, the Black Mountain, as the Aravallis are called, but the very next day there was firing from an aircraft sent by the Bharatpur State. Azadi was no freedom but is instead locally called bhaga-bhagi (exodus) and kati (killing) in 1947.

The survivors  sought refuge with their kin in British India or in Delhi’s many camps at Purana Qila, Lal Qila and Basti Nizamuddin. Even though they had not been part of the demand for Pakistan many Mewatis were prepared to now make the journey. It was Gandhi who reversed the tide – his famous speech at Ghasera affirmed the Meos’ right to their homeland. As he put it, they were its spinal cord.

There was phenomenal demographic change at the inaugural moment of the Indian state – organised killing in Mehrauli and in the large number of Mewati villages within Delhi. Mewati villages such as Raisena – one of the nine hills that Delhi is celebrated for – had already been colonised by the imperial city. Neighbourhoods of the city such as Jor Bagh, Nizamuddin, and Chandni Chowk were deeply affected by Partition.

Both the states of India and Pakistan internalised the idea of the perpetually insurgent Mewati from Persian statist histories written in the wake of the formation of the Turko-Afghan Sultanate in the late twelfth century.

In India, a strong concentration of Muslims so close to the new national capital was feared and in rehabilitation policy refugees (from across the border) were given priority over displaced persons. The Meos who wanted their old lands back got only inferior and degraded lands. Their status as a dominant caste was destroyed forever.

In Pakistan, the Meos were seen as a potential source of discontent and hence distributed along the border from Punjab to the Sind so as to defend the border as a “martial race.”

National boundaries created continuous trauma. I visited Pakistan for a lecture tour organised by Meos in Lahore, Islamabad, and Karachi. A young woman from Karachi spoke to me of her Mewati mother who died with the names of her brother and sister on her lips, not those of her children. A young lawyer who gifted his book in Urdu to me recounts in it his visit to India to meet his father’s sister and his visit to the Siva temple, a pilgrimage for Mewatis. For the Mirasis, the poet-musicians and genealogist-historians of the Meos, the journey to Pakistan seemed to have meant a death of poetic memory. None of the Mirasis I met could recite verses from the epics of their traditional repertoire. In their case it was as if the journey to Pakistan was the erasure for some of their cultural memory.

In Gurgaon, Sohna, and Taoru there is now a new world of clubs and resorts with golf courses and villas where precious ground water is harvested that will soon deplete peasant wells and even the single wheat crop will no longer be possible. Mewat (like Gujarvati and Ahirvati) has witnessed massive land transfer.

What is required is a ‘New Peasant Studies’ in both India and China quite different from the ‘Old Peasant Studies’ that developed in the wake of Maoism, as also of (Rural) Urban Studies that will cognize the new Empire of Metropolitan Cities.

Featured image credit: Seven Mewatis, originally published in Delhi. CC0 Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

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