IN AUGUST 1924, a local Muslim newspaper in Kohat published a scurrilous poem calculated to wound Hindu sensibilities. A few days later, Jiwan Das, secretary of the town’s Sanatan Dharma Sabha retorted with a similar poem, which was distributed in pamphlets.
Jiwan Das had horribly miscalculated.
Kohat, now in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, comprised a 93 per cent Muslim population back then. Hindus and Sikhs made up the rest.
And then, for three unremitting days beginning September 9, the Muslim community in a macabre manner depopulated Kohat of its Hindu and Sikh constituents as retaliation for the poem. This, even after Jiwan Das had publicly apologised to the Muslims on behalf of the Hindus of Kohat.
Government agencies and all news outlets of the time described the event as the worst anti-Hindu pogrom till then. The Indian Annual Register, 1924 (Volume 2) devoted about 10 pages in small print describing the genocide in graphic detail. The towering historian RC Majumdar in his History of the Freedom Movement (Volume 3), summarised it as follows:
“The scale, intensity, and extent of Muslim mob violence in Kohat was so unprecedented and incomparable to anything that had happened in the past that it shook even the Imperial British Government. The Kohat Deputy Commissioner and Brigade Commander almost gave up citing helplessness against this level of determined mob barbarism.” (Emphasis added)
But the Kohat genocide of Hindus really originated in the so-called Khilafat Movement that had begun three years earlier. Two major offshoots of that movement had indirectly contributed to it: one, the Tanzeem and Tabligh crusades that began in mid-1923; two, a Jamiat-ul-Ulema conference at Kakinada held on December 29, 1923, which declared that the Shuddhi and Sanghatan movements were “detrimental to the cause of Muslim advancement in India.”
The Kohat genocide was preceded by two similar incidents. The first was the largescale rioting and temple destructions by Muslims in Gulbarga on Muharram (April 1924). The second was a public cow slaughter and murders of 12 Hindus in Delhi on Bakrid (July 1924).
The Indian Annual Register shows that Jiwan Das’ poem was—in hindsight—an outburst of the sustained harassment that Hindus had endured for decades, living in a Muslim-majority town. Harassment whose themes are well-known: cow slaughter, wanton provocation, abduction of women and forcible conversions. The aftermath of its grisly climax presented this desolate picture on the Hindu side: burnt homes, plundered business establishments and vandalised temples and gurudwaras.
The Hindus and Sikhs of Kohat never returned. The Hindu civilisation had permanently lost yet another chunk of its sacred geography.
The Kohat Enclave Metro station in Delhi should ideally serve as a grim reminder of this slice of recent history.
Nuh eerily portends to turn into another Kohat in the Bharatvarsha that has survived Partition. There is almost a 1:1 match in the themes and socio-religious phenomena that led to the depopulation of Kohat’s Hindus just 99 years ago. The differences as such are superficial.
But today’s Nuh is a mere strand in an expansive garment of our geographical history. It is part of the vast tract of land known as Mewat, which originally included the entire region spanning Gurugram, Rewari, Tijara, Narnaul, Alwar, Bharatpur and Mathura and covered about 8,000 square kilometres. The Historical Atlas of Islam denotes Mewat as Meos (see map).
This original Mewat is also the site of Hindu civilisational amnesia, a point that deserves separate treatment.
For centuries beginning with the alien Muslim incursions into India, this region was an enduring theatre of Islamic expansionism and Hindu resistance to it. One of the most ferocious warrior clans that offered this resistance was the Meos. Today, even Hindus subconsciously identify the Meos as a subgroup of the Muslim community. This reflects two things. The first is the aforementioned civilisational amnesia, and the second is the selfsame Islamic expansionism that has merely altered its methods in vastly changed circumstances.
THE ANTIQUITY OF the Meos is truly remote. In his 1933 book, Martial Races of India, George MacMunn writes: “Meos are the inhabitants of Mewat, the term for the hill country in the states of Alwar, Bhurtpur and…Delhi, and are probably folk of pre-Aryan origin. They are all Moslems in name…” (emphasis added). Other scholars and historians like KS Lal, Har Bilas Sarda, and various British gazetteers affirm a similar origin. Shail Mayaram’s Resisting Regimes is perhaps the most comprehensive work on the history of Meos.
This is the clear picture that emerges: since time immemorial, the Meos were a first-rate Hindu warrior clan who shared their antiquity with say, the Jats and the Gakhars. They formed the first line of defence in wars repelling alien invaders. The Gakhars, for example, were fabled fort-builders and warriors and after Muhammad Ghori’s incursive waves were converted to Islam. Today, a majority of Gakhars are Muslims and live in Pakistan.
The Meo story is similar. Their ancient folklore and legends tell us that they were Kshatriyas and venerated Rama and Krishna. They were forcibly converted first during Mahmud of Ghazni’s raids, and as the Delhi Sultanate expanded, their fate declined. From being honoured as warriors, they fell into disrepute as bandits, a fate that was forced on them. Till Babar’s invasion, the Meos were the perpetual nightmare of successive Delhi sultans—to the extent that Balban slaughtered one lakh Meos in a single day.
Sadly, the infamy stuck.
Fast forward to the British takeover of India. With the loss of political power, the Ashraf (Muslim elite) in collaboration with the Ulema, seeded a long-term project to recover this power. Accordingly, it attempted to radicalise members of the Ahl-i-Murãd (servile people) or Hindu converts who were Muslims only in name but had retained their devotion to their inherited Hindu customs, worship, pilgrimages, deities, etc. Their roots had to be permanently severed.
Among others, the Meos were a promising harvest.
And thus, a series of Tablighs was initiated around mid-19th century by notables, including Syed Ahmad Barelvi, Titu Mian, Shariatullah, Dudu Mian, and Shah Muhammad Ramzan. All these Tablighs ended as monumental failures because the nominal Muslims offered stiff opposition. Muhammad Ramzan was killed in 1825 by a Bohra for forcing his community to eat beef.
With each succeeding generation, the Meo radicalisation has only escalated. In 2020, a committee headed by former Justice Pawan Kumar, investigating Muslim atrocities in the Mewat region, compared it with Pakistan
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It was the so-called Khilafat Movement that truly revived this project. Scholar Mumtaz Ahmad in The Jamaat-i-Islami and the Tablighi Jamaat of South Asia, observes: “the beneficiary of the Khilafat movement was not only Jinnah [but also]… Maulana Ilyas (the founder of the Tablighi Jamaat).” To this, Sita Ram Goel adds:
“…the most important beneficiary of the Khilafat…[was] the Jamiat-ul-Ulama-i-Hind which really fathered the Tablighi Jamaat and…still supplies most of its leaders to the latter. The Jamiat can also take credit for Islamicizing the Indian National Congress. (Emphasis added)
In 1926, the selfsame Maulana Muhammad Ilyas started the Tablighi Jamaat at Basti Nizamuddin in Delhi and began the Daawa missionary work in Mewat—the place now known as Nuh.
His first target group was the Meos.
Maulana Wahiduddin, a former official at the Jammat-i-Islami who wrote the Tabligh Movement describes the Meos that Ilyas saw:
“These uncouth and illiterate people…in practical life…were far from Islam. They kept their Hindu names, like Nahar Singh and Bhup Singh; they left a lock of hair [chõtî] on top of the shaven head as Hindus do; they worshipped idols, celebrated all the Hindu festivals and made sacrifices to the pre-Islamic gods and goddesses. They could not even recite the…kalimah. So unfamiliar…was the sight of …namaz…that if by chance they came across someone praying, they gathered to enjoy the spectacle, assuming that the person must either be mad or suffering from some ailment due to which he was kneeling and prostrating himself again and again.”
This exactly corresponds with recorded history. Two examples suffice:
-This is from a 1916 article by the ICS officer GC Whitworth: “The Meos…are Muhammadan in name but retain their village gods and employ Brahmans as well as the Kazi.”
-And this is from a scholarly investigation by KS Lal:
“The Meos, like the Hindus, did not marry within the gotra… Meos… continued with their Hindu names or suffixed them with Khan, and celebrated not only Diwali and Dashehra but most important, Janamashtami. Because of geo-historic traditions of proximity to Mathura and Vrindavan, Krishna is integrated into Muslim consciousness at folk level in the Brij and Mewat area…Few Meos…could recite the kalima. (The Legacy of Muslim Rule, last emphasis added)
When Maulana Ilyas died in 1944, he had singlehandedly radicalised one-and-a-half generations of Meos in the Mewat region, especifically in the Haryana belt. From then on, the community permanently lost any memory of its original Hindu moorings. His Tablighi Jamaat had grown into a formidable global force of Islamism.
The full story is narrated in graphic detail in Sita Ram Goel’s masterpiece, The Tabligh Movement or Millions of Bearded Militants on the March.
With each succeeding generation, the Meo radicalisation has only escalated. With predictable consequences for Hindus out there. In 2020, a committee headed by Former Justice Pawan Kumar, investigating Muslim atrocities in the Mewat region, compared it with Pakistan.
Given this, the Nuh eruption was only waiting to happen. As we noted earlier, the situation eerily resembles Kohat, circa 1924. Only a pretext was needed. This time, it was the Jal Abhishek Yatra taken out by devout and peaceful Hindus of Nuh—a far cry from the poem that Jiwan Das had written a century ago.
The same historical trajectory also tells us that Nuh is just the latest harvest of a violent jungle that the Tablighis had planted a century ago. And it won’t be the last.
Perhaps the most tragic aspect of the whole thing is that it is perpetrated by the descendants of an ancient Hindu warrior-clan that had fought and died for protecting Dharma and is now waging a fanatical war against the adherents of Dharma. Swami Vivekananda’s immortal quote comes to mind: “Every man going out of the Hindu pale is not only a man less, but an enemy the more.”
Sandeep Balakrishna is founder and chief editor of The Dharma Dispatch. He is the author of, among other titles, Tipu Sultan: the Tyrant of Mysore and Invaders and Infidels: From Sindh to Delhi: The 500-Year Journey of Islamic Invasions. He has also translated SL Bhyrappa’s Aavarana from Kannada to English