21 August 2014

Meghs of Himachal Pradesh - हिमाचल प्रदेश के मेघ

Sh. Tararam, via email, shared material on Meghs of Himachal Pradesh, as narrated in The Global Encyclopedia of North Iindian Dalits - Ethnography-


(Dalit community of Himachal Pradesh)

"The Megh or Meg or Mihngh stands for 'weaving.' The etymology is also drived from Megh (cloud) as it is said these people had mystical power to stop or call clouds (rains). According to Ibbetson (1916) and Rose (1919), the Meghs were considered Chamars, but were placed higher in social ranking than leather workers. The people, however, claim Brahmanical descent and like Brahmans perform the kriyakaram on the eleventh day. But the history of origin and migration of the community is not known. The Community has been classified among the Scheduled Caste."

"Demography: Geographical Area-
It perceives it distribution at regional level specially in the bordering areas of Punjab. They are almost confined to the Kangra and Chamba districts in the Himachal Pradesh. The population according to 1981 census of India is 1485. They live in a valley of the Himalayan foothills experiencing a warm and temperate climate. The area is covered with orchards of a variety orange bushes known as kenu. They speak Punjabi and Kangri or a mixture of the two; and write in Devanagari as well as Gurumukhi scripts. Devanagari is presently more in practice than Gurumukhi. Some older men also read and write urdu (Persio-Arabic script)."

Food and Drinks-
hThe Meghs are occasionally non-vegetarian in food habits eating eggs, fish and meat. But in daily routine vegetables and pulses predominant in their food intake. Their staple food is mainly wheat. Rice is eaten about twice a week, and so is maize. Pulses of different types like urad, moong, masur, kulthi, peas, beans and gram are frequently consumed. Various types of seasonal vegetables, roots and tubers are also consumed. The cooking medium is mustered oil or vegetable or desi ghee. Milk and milk products are frequently in use. Fruit intake is moderate, and fruits like kenu, banana, papaya, guava, mango, apple, peach, toot, berry, etc. are commonly eaten during the season. Food taboos exists. The followers of Radhaswami mission do not consume non-vegetarian food and liquor. Similarly such foods are also not eaten during death pollution and on certain socio-religious festivals. Alcoholic drinks are occasionally consumed by some. Men smoke bidi, cigrate, or loose tobacco in hukka. Festive food preparation are kheer and halwa, bhalle, kachauri, puri and bhatura of wheat flour, sag with butter and maize roti, etc."

"Dress and Ornaments-
Their dress is similar to that of other neighbouring people. Men wear a kurta and payajama or pout and women a kurta, salwar and chunni/dupatta. Common ornaments of women are tili/koka or nath, ear rings or stud, golden chain with locket, finger ring and golden bangles."

"Social system-kinship:
Rose (1919) has mentioned Basith as a group of the Megh but having higher social position with respect to other Meghs. But during the present study the community did not speak about any social hierarchical pattern and indicated its groups into different gots (gotra), such as: Khokar, Bogle, Sepahiye, Panjgotre, Mianmandle, etc. though Rose (1919-79) has listed 31 names as the gots of the Megh. These are used as exogamous units to regulate marriages and also suggest ancestry/descent of from a particular lineage. The Brahmanical descent of Megh is not accepted by their neighbours and most of them also do not assert such a status but safely put themselves in the sudra varna of the Hindus locally, they are regarded as at par with the neighbouring Labana, the Arya and the Lohar with whom they exchange food and water."

"Marriage and Divorce-
The Meghs are endogamous and follow the rule of got and village exogamy. Mates are acquired through negotiations and with or without exchange of sisters. Marriages occur in adulthood as in the past puberty age but some decades ago pre-puberty or child marriages were quite frequent. Bride price also existed to some extent in the past but presently they perform Kanyadan and also give some dowry in the form of articles of domestic use, clothes and ornaments. Monogamy is practised but man may acquire another wife in case of guilelessness or no male issue from the first wife. The symbols of marriage are sindur, bangles and nose and ear ornaments. The bride lives patrilocally. Dissolution of marriages is usually not permitted in the community and is considered bad. But it may occur as per the judicial approval if either of spouses proceeds to court on ground of mal-adjustment, cruelty etc. In such cases the father is liable to support the children and pays compensation maintenance and to the woman."

"The divorce remarriage may occur in the community and junior lev-irate is allowed but seldom occurs. Men may marry a junior sororate or any other woman. The main changes in marriage institution are increase in age at marriage and practice of dowry. Incidence of divorce does not show any trend but a liberal attitude for judicial approval has developed."

The family pattern is vertically extended joint system but presently the joint families are breaking down and going way to the nuclear types. Usually the sons do not get separated as long as father is alive or all family members are married. The elder are respected and obeyed by junior members as a tradition. But conflicts do arise at times on matters related to property and due to social conservatism towards the son's wife by her mother in law and nanad and due to unfair or unequal division of labour. The avoidance relationship of the nuh/bahuti exists with her saurah, jeth, nandoi and elderly male of the village community. Joking relationship exists between devar and bhabhi, jija and sali, nanad-bharjai. Parantal property is inherited on male lines as per the rule of male equigenture. At the father's death the eldest sons becomes the successor, though for all practical purposes the mother plays a dominant role."

"Women Status-
The status of women remains lower than that of men and women do not seek any employment or do not participate in money earning activity and also have no role in the mechanism of social control or in political matters. Hence, recently the some women have made mahila mandal which aims to discuss problems of women and provide facilities of common interest to the village. They do all domestic jobs, fetch potable water, participate in agricultural and animal husbandry and collect fuel and fodder. They control family expenditures and have some say in domestic decision making. They also participate in social and religious ceremonies."

"Rites and Rituals- Birth:

The life cycle rituals are performed as per the Hindu tenets by their own community priest. Many birth rituals have lost significance or are being ignored, pre-birth rituals are not observed but the women is asked not to employed but provision do exist..."