For Nuh’s Meo Muslims, Gandhi’s assurance of security comes to naught with NRC and CAA

On 18 December this year, thousands of Mewat residents congregated in Ghasera for a public meeting and demonstration against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. Courtesy Mohammad Arif
20 December, 2019

On 19 December 1947, Mohandas Gandhi visited Ghasera village in Mewat amid the tumult of Partition. He assured the Meos, a community of Muslims native to the region, that their security was paramount to him and urged them to reconsider leaving for Pakistan. Many Meos heeded Gandhi’s words and stayed back. Seventy two years later, members of the community feel betrayed by the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and Home Minister Amit Shah’s promise of a pan-India National Register of Citizens. On 18 December this year, thousands of Mewat residents congregated in Ghasera for a public meeting and demonstration against the act.

Ever since the CAA was enacted, on 12 December, there have been small protests in villages and towns across Nuh, the attendees told me. At the meeting in Ghasera, the speakers discussed the dangers of the CAA and the NRC. “We have to see the Citizenship Act and the National Register of Citizens together because it has the potential to do great damage in Mewat,” Salauddin Meo, a lawyer and the president of a local social-activism organisation called Mewat Vikas Sabha, told me. The Haryana chief minister “Manohar Lal Khattar has said that NRC will be implemented” in the state, Salauddin added. “It will be a disaster because a lot of people here are illiterate and don’t have the required documents.” Government figures substantiate this claim—according to the 2011 census, Mewat has an average literacy rate of 54.08 percent.

“If we are declared non-citizens or illegal immigrants, then we will lose all our rights, including our livelihoods and we may be sent to detention camps like what is happening in Assam,” Salauddin told me. “We feel betrayed, our fathers and grandfathers stayed back because this is our country and we love it as much as anyone else, and now we may be asked to prove once again that we are citizens in our own land.”

The region’s link to Gandhi and the freedom struggle also formed a significant part of the speeches at the meeting. “Gandhiji, the father of the nation, came to Mewat along with other leaders and personally gave us an assurance of security and prosperity if we stayed back,” Mohammad Arif, a Mewat-based human-rights activist, told me. “Today we have neither. When they implement the NRC nationwide, only Muslims will be targeted and we will lose our citizenship rights.” Umar Mohammad Padla, a former president of the Mewat Vikas Sabha, told me, “Even in the mutiny of 1857, thousands of Meos fought against the British, as we did in the freedom struggle. We have always been loyal to this country and now we are being again asked to prove our loyalty.” Padla said, “If we are excluded in the NRC we are not going to get our citizenship back.”

The Mewat region spans parts of Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. In 2005, Mewat district was carved out of Gurugram, and it was renamed Nuh in 2016. Two years later, NITI Aayog ranked it the most backward district in India. Around 79 percent of Nuh’s population comprises Muslims, and most of whom are Meo Muslims, whose faith includes a mix of Islamic and Hindu customs.

The feeling of discrimination runs deep in Nuh. “We have been intentionally kept backward because we are Muslims and Nuh is a Muslim-majority district,” Arif told me. “Jamia was targeted because it is a Muslim university. How can the police just enter and fire tear gas, enter girls’ hostels and break students’ hands and legs? They did not even do this at Jawaharlal Nehru University, which they branded as an anti-national hub.”

Mewat and its adjoining areas in Alwar have been the site of anti-Muslim crimes in recent years—most notably, lynchings by cow-protection squads. Pehlu Khan, a dairy farmer from Jaisinghpur village, near Nuh, was beaten to death on 1 April 2017 by a group of cow vigilantes in Alwar. Rakbar Khan was similarly killed in July 2018 by a mob while transporting milch cows from Alwar to his home in Haryana. Nuh has also been witness to several incidents of police encounters. In February 2019, Arshad Khan, a Meo Muslim resident of the district, was allegedly shot dead at point blank range by the police in Bisru village. “In Haryana and Rajasthan, under the BJP governments a lot of police encounters and cow-vigilante goons have targeted Meos purely on the basis of our Muslim identity,” Arif said.

Even economically, the sense of deprivation was prevalent. Arshad Khan, a resident of Bhiwadi district in Alwar, is the proprietor of SK Enterprises, a firm that manufactures steel tie rods. “Mewat is called mini Pakistan by outsiders and there is no development here,” Khan said. “Gurugram is just next door and it is one of India’s most developed cities while we continue to remain a rural backwater.” In 2014, a state-funded study of inter-regional disparities in Haryana noted that the per capita income of Gurugram stood at Rs 3,16,512, and that of Mewat was Rs 27,791.

Khan also narrated an incident that he felt reflected the sentiment towards Muslims in Nuh and in the country. “After the government abolished Article 370, one of my employees and I got into a discussion that veered off into a general conversation about Muslims. He suddenly asked me, ‘Why is it that all rapists are Muslims?’” Khan recounted. “Why is so much poison being spread about Muslims? Along with security, Gandhiji promised us prosperity too. Today we don’t even have this.”