Reconstructing Identity and Contesting History: The Meenas of Jaipur-II
January 22, 2021
Meenas of Jaipur laid claim to political supremacy in the locality in the pre-Rajput period in view of their participation in the long process of Rajput state formation in Eastern Rajasthan. — Prof. Nandini Sinha Kapur
The much maligned image of the Meenas of Rajasthan remained intact till the twentieth century. The image of criminality of the Meenas may have been constructed by the colonial administrators by equating the Meenas with the Meos through the story of the marriage of Darya Khan (Meo) to Sasbadni Meena, but interference into the livelihoods of pastoral and tribal groups was not made by the colonial state for the first time. Mobilization of resources, extension of agriculture, and strategic reasons necessitated interference, however limited, by the pre-colonial states in their regional contexts. Hence, the Meenas were not treated much differently in the pre-colonial period. Whether influenced by Persian chroniclers of economic interests or due to belief in the Meo-Meena equivalence and criminality of these mixed ethnic groups, colonial portrayal of the Meenas did not make any meaningful departure from seventeenth-century royal records of Rajasthan. Lt. Col. Locket, as early as 1831, observed the criminality of the Meenas of Kotputli, Jaipur and Shekhawati. He wrote. The Meenas of Buttress have practiced robbery as a profession from time immemorial, and in skill, dexterity and in their predatory calling, they were considerably inferior to no gang. What Major Powlett records about the Meena (possibly not just Meenas but gangs of mixed ethnic backgrounds) is nothing but acts of plunder arson and looting in the state of Mewat, city of Firozpur and adjacent villages in the British territory. D. Ibbetson in his Census Report of 1881 (paragraph no. 583) observes.
The Meenas are the boldest of our criminal classes. Their headquarters so far as the Punjab is concerned are in the village of Shahjahanpur, attached to the Gurgaon District but surrounded on all sides by Rajputana territory. There they until lately defied our police and even resisted them with armed force. Their enterprises are on a large scale, and they are armed with small bows which do considerable execution They travel great distances to gangs of from twelve to twenty men practising robbery and dacoity even as far as the Deccan.
L. Gov. Sir Donald Macleod refers to the heavy robberies and dacoities (which had) long been rife in Hyderabad and elsewhere in the Deccan (and) almost invariably perpetrated by the Minas of Punjab and Jaipur’ but provides no specific information of crimes committed.
In fact, the 26 per cent decrease in non-bailable offences in Gurgaon district recorded in the Punjab Police Report 1868 questions the very idea of surveillance since the (non-bailable) crimes. Which they (Meenas) are said to be addicted to have not increased’ “ Again, the Bharatpur Police Report 1868, mentions.
We know the probabilities are that before their (Meenas) return (from thieving expedition) some deed of blood or torture will be perpetrated though in justice to them it must be allowed that they rarely shed blood if it can be avoided, yet sooner they fail in the enterprise they are on, no scruple on that score will stop them. Again the reason for their robbery is that it is their profession for the Meenas themselves claimed that God had decreed that their tribe should live by plunder.
The fall in the number of Meenas convicted in Gurgaon was explained by their predatory habit: they rarely committed robberies locally, preferring to travel long distances to perpetrate crimes References also made to complaints received against Meenas from Jaipur, Bharatpur and Berar. Except in the case of Bharatpur, the police records do not detail any significant increase in the activities of Meenas which could be related to the withdrawal of the surveillance measure. The political agent of Jaipur reported that “the increasing depredations of this class have been verbally complained to me during the past season throughout all the northern states of Rajpootana.
The Meenas were finally declared a criminal tribe and covered under the Criminal Tribe Act of 1871. Although scholars suggest that the chaukidari Meenas (dubbed as erstwhile guerrilla fighters’ who possibly assaulted travellers and traders on the highways, in forests and hills and later on were employed as watchmen by the Jaipur state) and not the zamindar (zamindarMeenas were classified as ‘criminal tribos yet the fact is that the Meenas of Jaipur, at least till the fourth decade of the twentieth century persistently complained about the blanket coverage of the entire community by the Criminal Tribe Act of 1871. The caste was seen as unchanging and constant, an entity which was amenable to classification and quantification by the colonial administrators. What we thus see is a colonial classification strategy that reworked the inherited perception of the Meenas while branding them as a ‘criminal tribe In fact, as late as 1911, the Meenas were being categorized as animists and hill tribes along with the Bhils, Bauries and Girasias”s well as cultivators-cum-freebooters.”
The Meenas of the state of Jaipur were no exception to the above portrayal. However, we discuss a narrative in the following section that is dated much earlier than the branding of Meenas as criminal’ of the colonial state between 1831 and 1871. An earlier claim by the Meenas to glorified “history’, however, supports our contention that the pre-colonial perception of the Meenas was not much different from that of the Meos. Hence, the history of the Meenas of Jaipur has to be analysed in the regional context of the state of Jaipur. Their ‘history’ cannot be entirely attributed to colonial ‘inventions’ as in the case of Zimbabwe. Besides, Almost all of the major adivasi jatis of the middle Indian region, stretching from Bengal in the east to Gujarat in the west, have during the past century made such collective efforts to change their established way of life.” Hence, it would be inappropriate to apply Alan Dundes “Theory of Nationalistic Inferiority Complexity to the Meenas. More appropriate would be Eric Hobsbawm’s concept of invention of tradition an ‘invention’ that arose out of a long experience. The context was Rajput state formation in Jaipur locality Known as Dhundhar in ancient times). Therefore, many claims that the Meenas made in the early nineteenth century were definitely the result of their long experience of living in state-society” as well as with intruding state apparatus. But their experience was not necessarily that of territorial loss and deprivation. It was not a mere sense of being ‘exploited that gave rise to narrative history. The sum total of Meena-Kachwaha interaction that seems to have precipitated the construction of a particular self image by at least the Meena chiefs of Jaipur can perhaps be.
Author is a Ph D Programme Coordinator, SOITS, Indira Gandhi National Open University, Delhi