18 August 2014

Meghs in Global Encyclopedia of the North Indian Dalits- Ethnography

(This post is contributed by Sh. Tararam)

'Global Encyclopedia of the North Indian Dalits- Ethnography' में उत्तर भारत विशेषकर जम्मू-कश्मीर आदि क्षेत्रों में बसे मेघों के बारे में निम्नलिखित विवरण है-

"The megh claim an ancient origin and they seem to be the original inhabitants of the Jammu region and the owners of land in this tract. They are distributed in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, HimachalPrades, Chandigarh and punjab...They are predominantly found in Rural Areas. Their major concentration is in Jammu, Rabisinghpura, and Akhnoor tehsil of Jammu. They are also concentrated in Ambala, Kurukshetra, Rohtak and Hissar in Haryana. They are also found in all districts of Punjab but their major concentration is in the district of Gurdaspur and Ferojpur. The Megh in Himachal Pradesh are mostly confined to lower hill ranges of Kangra, adjoining Punjab and to some extent to the Chamba district."

"The Meghs are inhabitants of the plains and hills between the Ravi and Chenab rivers, except Akhnur which lies to the west of the latter river. Over 60% of them live in the fertile plain irrigated by canals and kuhis (water ducts), whereas 20% of inhabit the high forest covered tract to north and northeast of Jammu. They are found distributed over the dry kandiliaa also. Inspite of difference of natural environment, there is practically no difference in their life pattern."
Dress Ornament:
"The members of community do not wear any distinctive dress or marker but like general Hindu Classes-----------.The state government has now accorded them constitutional status of a Scheduled Caste and they have been enjoying special benifit and privileges under the provisions-------------"

Food and Drinks:
"The Megh, except their sub caste Basith, used to eat flesh of dead animals, but by a contract or decision signed in 1879 through the influence of their Guru of Keran in Jammu tehsil, who had been religious head of the Megh community, they pledged total abestation from it. A breach of this agreement made a man liable to pay Rs.25/ to the government, Rs.5/- to the head of village and a some fixed according to the means of offender, as a penalty to the biradari. In default of payment, he was liable to be excluded from the Megh community. With this change, the Meghs are becoming vegetarian like other Hindu communities. Their womenfolk usually, and men on certain occasions avoid taking non-vegetarian diet. Rice and wheat and makkie (Maize) from their staple food, pulses, particularly mah and masur and all type of vegetables are now available to them in villages. They have no particular liking for alcoholic drinks, but occasionally indulge in it publicly on festive occasions, as such birth of son, marriage, fairs and festivals. They used country made alcoholic drinks and did not have any prejudice against preparing at home. Now the spread of modern ideas in community and as result of constitutional benefits the community has come out of much of its backwardness and adopted food habits as in all the other Hindu Communities of the state."

History of origin-
"They believe to have migrated from Jammu to which they originally belonged four to five hundred years ago. Due to change in ruler, they migrated to different neighbouring areas. It is said that Raja Barar of Akhnoor gave them land but, owing to attacks during Sikh rule they migrated to the hills, west Punjab, Rajasthan, Punjab and Harysna. Those who stayed back became Muslims and are known as Dindaur. The local chronicles of Jammu support this view and they are stated to be the original occupants of Jammu territory before migrating Jamwal ruling clans ousted them from power and subjugated them. This according to the Jamwal Vanshavali, happened much before the Christian Era. In some details, the Megh traditions support their close connection with Jammu region since a hoary past."

Social System: Kinship-
"The community is divided into different clans like Bakarwal, Gandhi, Tindu, Chopre, Batten, Kale, Kunmunde, Gotre, Tilar, Gidar, Tilchate, Bhardwaj, Pachada, Malhotra, Singotra. They are further divided into Hindu Megh and Sikh Megh. The basis of differentiation is religious and the chief function of this class or gotras is to regulate marriage alliances. They consider themselves equal to Julaha or Kabirpanthis and superior to Chura, Chamar, Deha and other S/Cs. They are inferior to Brahman, Rajput and other caste Hindu. They are aware of the Varna System and recognize their place in it as Shudra. Others also consider them of low status as that of Julaha. Many consider them Julaha only."

Marriage and Divorce-
"They are endogamous at community level and exogamous at village, and at gotra level. The village exogamy is not strictly observed now. Earlier four gotras were avoided like that of self, mother's, paternal and maternal grandmother. But now only the self gotra is avoided. Marriages are negotiated by the elders, when the boy attains the age of around eighteen years and the girl is around sixteen years. Monogamous form of marriage are prevalent. Sindur, bindi and bangles are the symbols of marriage. Kanyadan exists and dowry is given in the form of household articles and some cash. Rule of residence is patrilocal."

"The Divorce is traditionally not allowed. The young widow and widower are allowed to remarry in case of willing and young individuals. Junior levirate and junior sororate are permissible. There is no proper marriage in this regard and is called Bethana. Change of marriage rule is observed in leaving self gotra only, increase in marriage age and non observance of marriage symbols strictly. The marriage symbols are observed only during fairs, festivals, marriages and joyous occasions and family gatherings."
"Widow marriage is permitted. But the chance is limited to the deceased's elder or younger brother, failing which, she can, with the consent of her guardian, marry any belonging to the gotra of her husband, the man must bear all the experiences of marriage, or he must give his sister or daughter or any other near relative to some male member of the widow's household in exchange. When a widow declines to remarry, provision for the necessities of her life is arranged out of contributions made by biradari of the village and she is held in high esteem.

"The megh family is patrilocal in which proper reverence and respect and affiliations are observed according to the status of all members."

Occupational Activities-
"The Meghs are primarily an agricultural community. Formerly, they were owners of the land in this tract but, because of high handedness and oppressions of the ruling tribes, most of them have been deprived of large tract of agricultural land. Till recently, the Megh families were petty landholders, but majority of them had been rendered landless, though they still stuck to the agriculture occupation and mostly work as tillers and agriculture workers. However, recent agrarian reforms in the state and also as constitutional benefits, there has been much amelioration in their economic condition. Most of their families have received small agricultural lands and have purchased additional tracts."
"The land in the Megh family is owned, as in case of other Hindu communities of the area, by the eldest male of family, and is equally shared by all the sons after the death of their father or elder. In addition to working on their own fields, they work as farm labourers and tiller of the land. They receive wages both in cash and kind according to the nature of job or agriculture operations and in rearing cattles. They mostly work in their own or nearby villages, and there is limited mobility among them. Children and women help their manfolk in agriculture operations and in rearing cattle. Children of 14 or 15 years and above are sent out to earn wages. Previously the Megh men and women worked in the houses of the village zamidars and money landers against repayment of their own or ancestral debts. A limited type of bondage labour was prevalent in this region too. But since independence, conditions have undergone much changes and this has disappeared from this region."
"By profession the Megh are largly weavers and they profess to have learnt this craft from Kabir, the bhagat. The members of community are, therefore, sometimes addressed as Bhagat and some among them write Bhagat as caste with their names. They practised this craft as a part time work, in addition to agriculture and the older among them, when weakened by age, mostly confined their activities to weaving, but, of late, they have given up this craft as the Khadi is little in demand in the villages. Now the craft is revived and power driven handloom have replaced the older, out of date manual Khaddies. Being primarily a rural community, their economic activities are conditioned by the conditions prevailing in their respective villages."

(Reference:- "Global Encyclopedia of the North Indian Dalits- Ethnography---" Volume-1, pages- 445; 446; 448)