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LOCATION: India (primarily Rajasthan state)
POPULATION: 5 million (estimate)
LANGUAGE: Various dialects of Rajasthani
RELIGION: Hinduism; some Islamic practices
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 3: People of India


The Minas, also known as the Meos, or Mewati, are a tribe and caste inhabiting parts of western and northern India. Early views of the Minas held that they were among the oldest inhabitants of the region and represented pre- Dravidian elements in the population. More recently, however, it has been suggested that the Minas may have migrated to this region from inner Asia in the 7th century along with various Rajput groups. Some Minas even claim Rajput descent.

According to Mina tradition, the Minas ruled most of what is now eastern Rajasthan, an area they referred to as "mind-esh" (country of the Minas). They subsequently were replaced by Rajput clans, the most recent being the Kachhwaha Rajputs who founded the state of Amber, later known as Jaipur. The last important Mina ruler, the Raja of Naen, was defeated by the Rajputs in the 16th century. However, the Minas continued to play a prominent role in the affairs of the region. Like the Bhils in Mewar (Udaipur) State, it was formerly the custom for a Mina to participate in the tika ceremony, placing a ceremonial mark with his own blood on the forehead of a new ruler of Amber State. Minas held important positions in Amber, guarded the person of the prince at night, and were given charge of the women's quarters.

In the 11th century, when Muslim invaders gained control of northwestern India, some Minas converted from Hinduism to Islam. This branch of the Mina tribe is called the Meos. Further conversions to Islam occurred among the Minas during the 13th and 17th centuries. Despite their conversion, however, Meos continued to follow many of their original Hindu practices, and their culture remains a blend of Hindu and Muslim traits.

Political events since the middle of the 20th century have seen the Meos take on a stronger Muslim identity. British India was partitioned in 1947 and Pakistan was created as a separate country for Muslims. At this time, many Meos migrated from territory that was assigned to the Republic of India to West Pakistan, the western "wing" of the new Islamic state. The Meos who remained in India, a Muslim minority in an overwhelmingly Hindu population, found themselves facing pressures to abandon Hindu traits and conform to traditional Islamic customs.


The Minas, along with their allied groups, number some nearly 5 million people and rank among the largest tribes of South Asia. The current estimate of the Mina population is 4,482,000, of which 3,834,440 are found in Rajasthan. The main concentrations of Minas lie in eastern Rajasthan, in Alwar and Bharatpur Districts, spilling over into the Gurgaon District of Haryana State. This area is known as Mewat, reflecting the prominence of the Meos in the region. The name Mewati, i.e., a resident of Mewat, is sometimes used as a synonym for Mina and Meo. Considerable numbers of Minas are also found in Madhya Pradesh State.

The Minas of Rajasthan identify 12 pals in the state. Pals are historical territorial units settled by Minas who shared a common ancestry and, often, similar cultural and linguistic attributes. Beyond this geographic distinction, there are several divisions among the Minas based on factors such as occupation and status. In addition, all Mina groups are divided into numerous clans (gotras), which are exogamous social units.

The Mers, the hill peoples of central Rajasthan, are also considered to be a branch of the Minas. They trace their descent to Rajput chiefs who married Mina women and are known as Rawat Minas. Like the Rajputs, the Mers are divided into clans. Some Mer clans converted to Islam, while others remained Hindu, but in the past all Mers intermarried. It was only with the introduction of communal representation in British India, and the events leading to independence in 1947, that the two groups began to move apart. Significant numbers of Minas also live in southeastern areas of Rajasthan.

In Rajasthan, Minas are second in number only to the Bhils and are classed as a Scheduled Tribe. Mina populations have spread from their Rajasthani homeland to adjacent states, although there they are less numerous, may not be recognized as a tribal group, and are sometimes called by different names. In Uttar Pradesh, the state lying to the northwest of Rajasthan, for instance, Minas are known as "Pardeshi Rajputs." Th is literally means "Rajputs from a foreign land," and no doubt refers to the claims of Mina groups migrating from Rajasthan to Rajput descent. In Madhya Pradesh, Minas are known as Rawats and are regarded as a Scheduled Caste because they eat meat and consume alcohol. Minas are also found in small numbers in Haryana and Punjab States. The Meos who migrated to Pakistan after partition in 1947 settled in the eastern region of that country's Punjab Province.

The areas of Rajasthan inhabited by the Minas include the Aravalli Range and the semiarid plains lying to the southeast of these hills. The Aravallis are the most prominent relief feature of Rajasthan, a narrow belt of precipitous hills and ridges running northeast–southwest through the center of the state for a distance of over 600 km (approximately 375 mi). Ridges in the north, in Mewat, scarcely reach 400 m (approximately 1,300 ft). In the south, however, the mountains increase in width and elevation, rising to 1,722 m (5,650 ft) at Mount Abu. The Aravalli Range separates the arid lands of the Th ar Desert in northwestern Rajasthan from the slightly more humid regions to the southeast, which are drained by the Banas and Chambal rivers. In the extreme southeast of Rajasthan, rainfall exceeds 80 cm (30 in), but over most of the area it averages around 65 cm (25 in). As is true of all semiarid climates, rainfall is highly variable and the region is prone to frequent droughts and famines. Mean maximum temperatures in May, the hottest month, exceed 40°c (104°f). Natural vegetation, where land has not been cleared for cultivation, is drought-resistant scrub forest.

Minas in Rajasthan are divided into the Mina Zamindar, the landowning Minas, and the Mina Chowkidar. Both groups claim ksatriya status, and the 2001 Census of India puts their number at between 2,800,000 and 3,000,000 (the estimate given above includes natural increase since 2001, Bhil Minas, Meos, and related groups). The Zamindar Minas occupy a higher ritual status in the Hindu caste system than the Chowkidar Minas. The Bhil Mina are said to be descendants of Bhils and Rajputs who fled Muslim domination elsewhere in northern India.


The Mina homeland lies in the "Hindi belt" (the area where Hindi, an Indo-Aryan language descended from Sanskrit, is widely spoken) of northern India. However, linguistic patterns in India are such that people commonly speak the dialect of their immediate locality rather than the "proper" or official form of the regional language. Minas, depending on where they live in Rajasthan, speak various dialects of Rajasthani, which itself is a regional variant of Hindi. The major dialects spoken in the Mina areas are Mewati, Shekhawati, Harauti, Talhati, Dhundari, and Pachwari. Minas living in other states speak the dialect of their local region.


The derivation of the name Mina is uncertain, but some suggest it means "fish." The Minas claim an association with Matsya or Minavatar, the first incarnation of Vishnu in which the Hindu god assumed the form of a fish. According to a legend related in several ancient texts, a ksatriya king named Manu was fishing in a river when he caught a small fish. The fish promised to protect Manu from coming misfortunes if he took it home rather than return it to the river. The king placed the fish in a small earthen vessel, but it started growing and eventually had to be moved to a pond, then to a lake, to the sea, and finally to the ocean. By now, King Manu realized that the fish was an incarnation of a god. The deity warned the king that a devastating flood was coming and that he should build a boat and embark on it with the seeds of all living things. Forewarned, Manu survived the flood. After the waters subsided, Manu performed a sacrifice to the gods. A woman was created from this sacrifice, and the entire human race is descended from the union of this woman and Manu.

The legend of the flood is found in many cultures, but the Mina tradition that they are descendants of King Manu achieves two goals specific to the Indian context. First, it gives a degree of legitimacy to the Mina claim of ksatriya status and, therefore, to an advantageous place in the caste structure of Indian society. Thus, where Mina groups have assumed a caste identity, they rank just below the Brahman caste and above the service castes and hill peoples. Second, identification with Vishnu through his Matsya incarnation confirms the Minas as Hindu, an important goal for tribal groups that may have their origins outside Hindu society. Even today, Minavatar remains a major deity for the Minas.


The Minas are Hindus, and worship at the temples and shrines of Hindu deities is an important part of everyday life. Most Minas are Shaivites, meaning they are followers of the god Shiva. But, like all Hindus, they also worship other gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon. These gods and goddesses include Rama, Sita, Hanuman, and Bhairon. In addition, Minas revere local deities and construct shrines to these lesser gods on the outskirts of their villages. Daily prayers are offered to Balavji, who represents Hanuman and protects the inhabitants of the village. Shitala Mata (the goddess of smallpox), Pipla Mata, and other lesser village goddesses are also worshipped. The Minas pay special attention to the presiding deities of their clans.

Minas are highly superstitious people and place great meaning on omens. For example, the braying of an ass on the left, the hooting of an owl on the left, and the cry of a jackal on the right mean good fortune. Hearing the cry of the Saras crane, or meeting a cat, sheep, or hyena, is unlucky.

The Meos, the Muslim branch of the Minas, follow Muslim practices, such as male circumcision and burial of the dead. They celebrate Muslim festivals, such as Id and Muharram. But in many others aspects, the Meos in India continue to preserve elements of their Hindu past. Meos often worship at the shrines of Hindu gods and goddesses and keep Hindu household deities. Hindu epics, such as the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, are as well-liked as readings from the Quran. Popular given names for both males and females are often Hindu names, with the Muslim title "Khan" added. Sometimes the Hindu name "Singh" is added to a Muslim name, as in "Fateh Singh." Until recently, Meos' dress differed little from their Hindu neighbors. In addition, despite pressures for change, the Meos continue to follow traditional Hindu kinship patterns and marriage rituals. The Meo community is divided into at least 800 exogamous clans, and its clan structure resembles that of the Hindu Minas, Rajputs, Jats, and other Hindu castes. Meos do not follow purdah, the custom of secluding women, which is the practice in Muslim society.


As Hindus, the Minas observe many of the major festivals of the Hindu calendar. The spring festival of Holi is celebrated in typical fashion, with the burning of the demoness Holika and the throwing of colored water and powder. Dasahara is celebrated in October. The Divali festival, the Festival of Lights, occurs in the fall after the summer harvest has been collected. Hundreds of lamps are placed around the houses, which are often newly plastered and decorated with designs. Men indulge in gambling and drinking. Govardhan Puja, a festival dedicated to the welfare of cattle, is celebrated a day or so after Divali. At this time, cattle are bathed in the village pond and decorated with ornaments and colored paint. Women pray to the cattle for wealth and feed the animals special food. Cow dung, a symbol of wealth, is placed on the steps of each house and offerings are made to it.

In addition to these Hindu observances, Minas celebrate certain festivals that are specific to the Mina community. The Minas go to great lengths to appease their ancestors and set aside a special day for ancestor worship. On this day, special foods are cooked in each household, and the village priest is invited to the house to receive an offering. Another day is set aside to honor local village deities.

Two local festivals in Rajasthan—Tej, the Festival of Swings, and Gangaur, which honors the goddess Gauri—are popular events. Fairs held at various religious shrines in eastern Rajas-than are regularly attended by the Minas. The fair of Mata near Rewasa in Sikar district is a Mina fair marked by offerings of liquor and the sacrifice of buffaloes to the Goddess.


As with other Hindus, the first shaving of a male child's head (handukadi) is a major ritual for the Minas. But perhaps the most important Mina ceremony is the funeral feast (nukta). As is the custom in Hindu India, the Minas cremate their dead. At the end of a period of mourning after a death, the bereaved family holds a feast for relatives and the entire community. In the Mina tradition, the nukta is obligatory, and the scale of the feast a mark of a family's economic status. Thus, in addition to its ritual function, the feast fulfills social and economic obligations. However, the heavy expenditure involved in holding this feast has resulted in many Mina families acquiring a lifelong burden of debt. This has become such a problem that some Mina tribal associations have attempted to ban the ceremony in their communities.


The Minas follow the traditions of hospitality that are found throughout rural India. Guests are received cordially and served tea and other refreshments. During events such as marriages and death feasts, however, Minas maintain a social distance between themselves and other non-Mina communities.


Mina villages are usually comprised of the members of one or more clans or gotras, along with service castes essential to an agricultural settlement. The village is generally unplanned,

with a wide, unpaved main street cutting through its center. Houses of both Minas and other castes are constructed along this street. The village temples are often located in this central area. Minas who own land may build their houses on the edges of the village to be close to their property. In some areas, small hamlets (dhani) made up exclusively of the members of one family are scattered around the outskirts of the village. A council or Panchpatel, composed of the headmen (patels) of the various lineages (kutumbs) and settlement groups in the village, looks after community affairs.

The typical Mina house has mud walls and thatched roofs. A thick mud wall with only one entrance encloses a central courtyard around which are found rooms, one for each married male member of the household. These living rooms are used for storing family possessions and food grains and contain a niche for the family deity. On cold winter nights, the men sleep in these rooms, but otherwise they lie in the domain of the women of the household. Kitchen hearths are built under a thatch shed outside each living room. A large room containing a few wooden cots built outside the walls at the entrance to the main courtyard, acts as the men's living quarters. Behind the courtyard, and with a separate entrance, is the cattle shed where animals are kept and fodder and agricultural implements are stored. Fuel, in the form of cow dung cakes, is kept outside the walls of the house near the cattle shed.

Many Mina villages are located off the main communication routes, and transportation in these areas is difficult. A few private buses keep to somewhat unreliable schedules, but even then villagers may have to walk several kilometers to reach a drivable road. Transport is commonly undertaken by bullock cart, camel cart, and bicycle.


The basic family unit among the Minas is the extended family. It may include several brothers, often of advanced age, along with their married and unmarried children. As many as three or four generations of a family may be in residence in a single household. Mina society is patrilocal and married daughters reside with the family of their husbands. Child marriage is the norm among the Minas, who believe that the ideal age for marriage is between 6 and 10 years old. A newly married girl remains with her family until she reaches puberty, when she moves to her husband's home. A typical Mina household may also contain divorced and widowed daughters.

Minas are endogamous and marry within the tribal group. Marriage partners have to be found outside one's own clan and thus often come from another village. Most marriages in Mina society are arranged by the parents of the prospective bride and groom. The girl's father negotiates a bride-price to be paid by the family of the husband. This used to consist of a cash sum or a specific number of cows, bullocks, or camels. More recently, however, marriage negotiations in India have expanded to include consumer goods such as watches, radios, and household appliances. In addition to the bride-price, Mina marriage is accompanied by the exchange of gold and silver ornaments between the two families.

Marriage rites as practiced by the Minas are similar to Hindu marriage rites. Brahman priests are used to fix an auspicious day and to officiate at the marriage rites. The groom travels to the village of the bride, accompanied by some elders of his family. The bridal party receives the hospitality of the bride's family for the one or two days it takes for the marriage rituals to be completed. At the appointed hour, a fire is lit and the bride and groom walk around it in the circumambulation rite. On the following day, the newlywed couple and their party return to the groom's home. Within a few days, the female relatives of the bride visit the groom's family and bring the girl back from her in-laws. The bride stays with her family until she reaches puberty, when she returns to live with her husband permanently.

Widow remarriage is accepted by the Minas. The preferred partner is a deceased husband's brother or paternal cousin. Another type of marriage accepted by Mina society is one in which a woman with a living husband can remarry another man, with the second husband paying compensation to the first husband. Both men and women are allowed to seek divorce on grounds ranging from adultery to the inability to have children.


The dress of the Minas differs little from that of other Hindu groups in eastern Rajasthan. Men wear a dhotī, a single piece of white cloth about 5 m (16 ft) long and 1 m (3–4 ft) wide. About half the length is wrapped around the waist, and the remainder is drawn through the legs and tucked into the waist behind the body. A loose shirt or kurta and a turban complete the outfit. Women wear a skirt, a blouse that leaves the midriff bare, and a long wrap that can cover the head and be pulled across the face if necessary. Young children generally go naked, wearing a type of shirt during the colder winter months.

Meos traditionally wore similar dress until relatively recently, when they adopted Muslim style clothes. These are typically loose pants (salwar), a long tunic (kamiz), and a scarf (dupatta) for women, and a kurta and tahband, a long piece of cloth wrapped around the waist in the manner of a sarong, for men.


Rajasthan lies in that part of India where cereals rather than rice are the main food crops grown, and this is reflected in the food of the Minas. The typical meal consists of unleavened bread (rotī) made from wheat, or millets called jowar and bajra. This is eaten with pulses such as lentils, which provide protein in the diet. Locally grown vegetables include onions, potatoes, spinach, and eggplant. The food is seasoned with chilies and other spices. Milk and curds and clarified butter (ghī) form part of the diet, although the cost of these products limits their use. Mustard oil is used for cooking. Tea is consumed at all times of the day.

Like all Hindus, especially those who aspire to higher caste status, the Minas are vegetarian and do not eat beef. The killing of a cow is considered by most Minas to be a heinous crime and subject to punishment. But some groups such as the Melia Minas or the Dhedia Minas are said to eat beef. The Padihar Minas received their name because of their supposed practice of eating buffalo meat (pada means buffalo calf). Mina groups that eat meat are regarded as socially inferior by other Minas, who will not intermarry with them.


Despite the availability of state-supported schools, illiteracy and lack of education remain problems among many rural communities, including the Minas, in India. Distance, poor transportation facilities, inadequate resources in local primary and secondary schools, and a reluctance among many Minas to send their children to school result in low levels of education among the community. The literacy rate for Rajasthan in 2001 was 60.41%. However, this average masks a tremendous variation in literacy in the state. In the Virat Nagar block of Jaipur District (a rural area), for instance, literacy among girls is only 4.6% (2001). Among the Mina community, literacy is 52.2%, while for females, this figure drops to 31.8%, which is higher than the Bhils and most tribal communities in Rajas-than except for the Dhanka. Some Mina community associations have attempted to impose fines on Minas who do not send their children to school. The high costs of sending a child away for higher education is prohibitive for most Mina parents. But 62% of Mina children between the ages of 5 and 14 years attend school, although only around 5% ever graduate from high school.


The Minas do not have a written literature but share in the regional traditions of Rajasthani folk culture. They participate in local fairs and festivals, and women sing appropriate folksongs at ceremonies, such as weddings. The Minas are fond of social gatherings and celebrate these events with song and dance. Many of the songs and dances of the Minas are considered to be obscene, and modern reformers have tried to ban these activities.


The Minas are primarily agriculturalists, depending on cultivation and animal husbandry for their livelihood. The Minas themselves make distinctions between the Zamindari Minas (agriculturalists) and Chowkidari Minas (watchmen), who in the past made their living as village night watchmen. The Chowkidari Minas have traditionally been associated with theft and robbery. Under the British, they were classified as criminals under the Criminal Tribes Act and required to report to the nearest police station every day. Some reportedly continue to follow a life of crime, but the old distinctions between the two communities are blurring. The Zamindari Minas see themselves as socially superior, and in the past the two groups did not intermarry. Such marriages do occur today.

Some Minas, especially those who have large landholdings, are fairly prosperous. They have accepted agricultural innovations and use modern equipment such as tillers, tractors, and irrigation pumps. Many Minas, however, have small, uneconomic holdings and lack modern equipment. Their agricultural efforts are greatly hampered by the frequent droughts of the region, and they often must supplement their income by working as laborers. It is common for all able-bodied men in a village to work at building roads once their seasonal agricultural activities are completed.

Small numbers of Minas are engaged in service and other occupations, but an overwhelming 75% are recorded as cultivators in 2001 census returns.


There are no sports, in the modern sense of the word, associated with traditional Mina society.


Until recently, many Mina villages lacked electricity, and entertainment and recreation was derived primarily through traditional village festivities. With the development of rural areas and the advent of radio and even satellite television, such entertainment is available to those who can afford it. Urban areas provide access to popular Hindi movies, though again this is a luxury few villagers can afford.


Minas are known for their skill in areas such as basketry, rope-making, embroidery on cloth and leather, and wall-painting. One Mina community living near Agra, in Uttar Pradesh State, makes its living from crafting the brightly colored, embroidered shoes and sandals worn by Rajasthanis. They are known as the Chamaria Minas, the Chamars being the traditional leatherworking castes of India.


The Minas face many problems typical of tribal or conservative rural communities attempting to deal with the modern social and economic environment of India. Until the mid-20th century, the Minas lived under a feudal system that placed little emphasis on the social improvement of the people. Partly due to the indifference of their former rulers and partly due to their own resistance to change, the Minas continue to face problems of illiteracy and lack of education. Alcoholism is a problem among some Minas. Customs such as the paying of the bride-price and the death-feast have resulted in a considerable debt burden for many Minas.

Though they achieved little success, movements for social reform among the Minas date back to the 1920s, when Mina chiefs in Jaipur State founded the Mina Reformist Committee. Since then, many Mina associations aimed at social reform have been started. A summary of the social problems facing the Minas as perceived by the Minas themselves is provided by a list of offenses, to be punished by fines, set out by a Mina association in 1974. These included holding the death feast; distilling, selling, or drinking alcoholic beverages; taking work as a guard; failing to send children to school; and participating in group singing and dancing.

In 1950, when the president of India announced the list of peoples who were to be categorized as "Scheduled Tribes," the Minas were surprised to find they were not on it. However, following representations to the Government of India through the Mina Mahapanchayat and a visit to Mina country by a member of the Backward Caste Commission, the Minas were included on the list, giving them reserved government jobs and places in educational institutions. The Minas have generally made good use of the advantages accorded to them by Scheduled Tribe status and rank among the highest in the state among tribal groups in most socio-economic indicators.

Minas in Rajasthan object to the agitation by Gujars to be reclassified as a Scheduled Tribe (ST), as was promised by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Such agitation was taking place in 2008. Because of caste politics people vote en bloc as a community and they benefit as a bloc. This is what happened when Jats in Rajasthan were granted Other Backward Classes (OBC) status in 1999. Since they are powerful and generally well off, they cornered the benefits of reservations. The Gujars, who also have OBC status had to compete with the Jats, were later promised ST status by the BJP. The community voted and BJP came to power in Rajasthan. The Gujars now want the promise fulfilled. Now, if Gujars get included as an ST then the other ST communities, including the Minas, suffer because someone else will come to share the ST reservation pie. Hence they protest to maintain their benefits. "Meenas in Rajasthan are the only Scheduled Tribe and we would not tolerate any inclusion into our community," the president of Rastriya Meena Mahasabha is supposed to have said. However, even though Minas have cornered most of the reservations for Scheduled Tribes in the state, groups such as the Bhils and Garasias are also classed as Scheduled Tribes in the state.

Rajasthan State has reservation quotas of 49% (16% for Scheduled Castes, 12% for STs, and 21% for OBCs). In June 2008 the state legislature was to meet to consider enacting a 14% job and education quota for the Economically Backward Category (EBC), which would make Rajasthan the first state in the country to have this quota. The Rajasthan government offered a 5% special reservation to the Gujar, Banjara, Gadia Lohar, and Raika communities, bringing an end to a nearly month-old stand-off over the Gujar community's demand for inclusion in the Scheduled Tribes category. If enacted, the additional 5% and 14% would bring the total of reservations in Rajasthan to 68%, one of the highest in the country.

The Gujar-Mina confrontation in Rajasthan, which has turned violent at times, has prompted a nationwide rethink of India's policy of reservations based solely on caste. Yet, this is not just a case of Gujars or Minas wanting to gain more reservation privileges. It is also the story of how politicians are attracted to quotas and reservations as vote banks. Once contemplated as a temporary measure to ensure equality for historically disenfranchised communities, reservations have become a permanent tool for vote-bank politics—and have, in the process, been excessively divisive.


Women among the Mina have a lower status then their men. A woman has no right to inherit property, though she does have an important role in the socio-economic area. She has a strong influence in family decisions, although the final decision is always made by the head of the family, who is invariably male. Women involved themselves in matters like school enrolment (education is seen by most Minas as a means to better oneself), diarrhea management and campaigning for safe drinking water. Where there is no supply of safe drinking water in a village, it is the women who have to sometimes walk miles to get it, carrying the water in pots on their head—a common scene in Rajasthan. And women do important agricultural work in the fields.

The Minas have been strongly influenced by the Hindu groups amongst whom they live, which leaves them open to the usual abuses (occasionally the press reports the death of a Mina woman, though this is clearly more of a problem among caste Hindus). Thus Mina women observe purdah and marriages are arranged, though divorce is rare and usually has to be sanctioned by the local panchayat. A woman's family pays a dowry (which is quite high for a suitable match). A widow or widower may remarry, a junior levirate or junior sororate type of union being considered the most appropriate arrangement. Child marriage, though now technically illegal in India, is traditionalamong Mina groups, who think the ideal age of marriage for a girl is between 6 and 10 years of age.

Tuberculosis and death during delivery is common in the villages, which often lack adequate medical facilities. As income from agriculture is meager, many Mina women suffer the consequences of poverty and illiteracy. Yet they are open to modernization, seeing education and development as a way out of their situation.


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—by D. O. Lodrick.