- This work is a deeply personal journey as I write about the struggles and learn this history as a member of the Meos, albeit an American one.
“American Meo: A Tale of Remembering”is a hybrid memoir published by Sputyen Duyvil Publishing (NYC, 2023). The book is a collage of prose, poetry and photographs that begins at the University of Chicago. There I encounter a photograph of my grandfather, Chaudhry Yasin Khan, in “Caste, Religion and Power,” an academic anthropological text. That encounter with his photograph propels me on an odyssey to learn more about him and his role as a community leader of the Meos, a minority Muslim population that resides in north India. Because I begin from a place of ignorance, there is much to learn.
Because the journey is not linear, the text is not either. Rather, it moves between time periods and uses various formats to create an immersive, layered and fractured experience. “American Meo” covers more than a decade of reading, research, travel, language immersion and conversations to uncover a family history.
As the book explores, Mewat has been a contested area for hundreds of years. Meos are an indigenous population that had Hindu-Muslim syncretic practices well into the 20th century through the influence of Sufism. Yasin Khan himself is part of the lineage of the Chistiyya Sufi order. While Mewat spanned as far as Delhi, Meos were subject to conquests by Mughal rulers to British colonialists. In fact, many Meos were lynched in the anti-colonial resistance of the Great Mutiny. Mohandas Gandhi famously Mewat called the rirrh or the backbone of the nation. While Gandhi and Yasin Khan, among other freedom fighters, fought for Meos to remain in India and preserve their land rights, a 1/3 of Meos migrated to Pakistan yet who still retain their identity as belonging to this tribal community.
My grandfather Yasin Khan however, initially gained his status as a Meo leader through his involvement with the 1932 peasant resistance movement against the Raja of Alwar. I had heard a famous couplet about that incident for many years but only truly understood its historical reality when I did my own exploration through conversations with Mirasi folksingers and the archives.
The work is also a deeply personal journey as I write about the struggles to even write and learn this history as a member of the Meos, albeit an American one. Indeed my vantage point as an American-born Meo is also explored as my parents were the very first Meos, literal pioneers, to migrate to the United States when the 1965 immigration law was expanded to recruit talent from non-European countries.
Recently, Mewat has been in the Indian and international news yet again for communal violence. Since the book has been launched, young Meo men and women have been reaching out curious about the book and the possibilities of different kinds of narratives being attached to Meo identity based on deeper understanding of the complex history and politics of this region and people. Read “American Meo” to be part of that conversation.
Anisa Rahim is a writer, photographer and public interest lawyer. Her writing has been published widely including the anthology “New Moons: Contemporary Writing by North American Muslims” edited by Kazim Ali (Red Hen Press). See more of her work at anisarahim.com.