Cows, vigilantes and Meo Muslims in Nuh

A cow walks past a shop that was set on fire during the communal violence in Haryana in early August. Kabir Jhangiani / NurPhoto / Getty Images
Elections 2024
03 August, 2023

In my travels to the countryside of Haryana’s Nuh until about six years ago, I would see cows tethered outside almost every house—a common sight across most villages in India. Each evening, the air would cloud up with swirls of cow-dust, raised by large herds returning home after grazing, and resound with the ringing of cow-bells.

But not anymore. Today cows have virtually disappeared from Meo homes across Nuh. 

A region spread over parts of Haryana, Delhi, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, Mewat has been home to the Meo community for decades if not centuries. The Meos are an impoverished pastoral-agricultural community, which follows parts of both Islamic and Hindu customs. The highest concentration of the Meo people is found in the Nuh district—also called Mewat till 2016—where 80 percent of the population is Muslim.

The Meos have historically venerated cows, but in the span of less than five years, cows have been precipitously erased from their pastoral life. Horrific lynchings of Muslims on the suspicion of cow slaughter have led to an environment of terror for Meos. This fear is sustained by constant harassment at the hands of a belligerent Hindu majoritarian administration tied inextricably with civil vigilante gangs, Meos of Nuh explained to me and my colleagues at the Karwan e Mohabbat in conversations spread over the past six months. The result has been that Meos have been giving up rearing cows—losing one of their only viable sources of livelihood and their close bond with the animal.