“I had prepared bajre ki roti and chutney but he skipped dinner; he had to attend the jagran at the temple, be there all night, singing to a devi. It was Navratri,” said Kaiku, sitting inside a ran-basera run by Jaisalmer Nagar Parishad. “He put on a cream shirt and salwar, slung his harmonium across his shoulder, and went out. What came back was a dead body with bruises and torn clothes.”
Kaiku’s husband Amad Khan, 52, a Manganiyar folk singer, died on September 27, allegedly lynched by his programme’s three “patrons” in Dantal village, 120 km from the Jaisalmer district headquarters. The patrons were brothers Ramesh Suthar, Tararam and Shyamram. Khan’s family and relatives have worked with Suthars and Rajputs of the village for generations, with both sides describing their relations as “like family”.
“Ramesh took care of the temple. That night, Ramesh and his brothers were drunk and told my brother he didn’t know how to sing. In protest, Amad left the temple,” said Amad’s brother Chugge Khan, 39, on whose complaint the police filed an FIR. “They followed Amad and forced him inside their Scorpio before he could reach home.”
Amad’s cousin Bariyam, who was in another jagran, claims he got a call from Ramesh, asking why Amad came without a troupe, and that Khan couldn’t sing. “He said he had a nangi talwar and would kill my brother,” said Bariyam, 35.
“When I reached home, he was dead inside their car, his clothes torn. They claimed he had had a heart attack,” he said. “Ramesh was demanding a particular song and angry that ‘bad singing’ was preventing the goddess from entering his soul,” said Sawai Khan, a relative.
Khet Singh, whose daughter Guddi Kanwar Bhati is village sarpanch, dismissed the claims as “nonsense”. “Ramesh is an ordinary person, not a priest, and was simply tasked with ensuring the lamps keep running all night for Navratri. And perhaps Amad couldn’t sing well because he was drunk, but Ramesh still requested him to come back since it was an important occasion and they couldn’t do without a singer.” He insists Amad had a heart attack when he started performing again and was rushed to the hospital.
The postmortem report received by Amad’s family Wednesday states the heart was “healthy”. It states that, “In opinion of Medical Board, cause of death is head injury, though viscera preserved.”
“He had injuries all over,” said Amad’s son Saleem, 21, who works for daily wages. “He was teaching me how to play the harmonium and my singing lessons were to start soon.” Amad’s daughter Ruqsana, 19, was married about two months ago; Jalal, 14, and Rabina, 11, have missed school for a fortnight now.
Khan’s family said they didn’t immediately notice the bruises, and assumed the torn clothes may have been from attempts to revive him. “When we realised he had been assaulted, the Suthars started their threats. By morning, everyone in the village knew Ramesh had killed Amad,” Chugge said. Bairiyam showed photographs: “Not a single body part is without an injury.”
The morning after, a panchayat was called. “The Rajputs agreed it was Ramesh’s fault and promised to support Khan’s family,” Chugge said. “They made all sorts of assurances, but said we should first bury him; we took them at their word.”
The Manganiyars allege the Rajputs backtracked on their promise. But Indra Singh, 65, said, “The Manganiyars were seeking Rs 51 lakh and 100 bighas,” and Amed Singh, 59, added, “We said we could at most collect Rs 10 lakh, but they insisted they won’t accept anything below Rs 21 lakh.” And Manganiyar leader Bax Khan Gunsar said: “We waited four days for them to fulfil their promises, then filed an FIR on October 2.”
The FIR at Phalsund police station against the brothers is under IPC sections 302 (murder), 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence), 365 (kidnapping or abducting) and 323 (voluntarily causing hurt). Ramesh was arrested, his brothers are absconding, and Khan’s body was exhumed on October 4.
“They had told us if we filed an FIR, we wouldn’t be allowed in the village,” Chugge said. Kaiku says they left behind their five goats and a mare. “When we said we would file an FIR, they said they wouldn’t even let us drink water and flatten our house with a JCB machine,” Amad’s son Saleem said.
“The Manganiyars wanted the Rajputs to support them in lodging an FIR against members of the Suthar community. The Rajputs said they have good relations with Suthars too, so the Manganiyars left in protest. They claimed to have been threatened by Rajputs, too, if they returned to the village,” Jaisalmer SP Gaurav Yadav said.
Some 20 families with over 100 members moved to neighbouring Balad village, to stay with relatives. The SP deployed four constables at Balad, while urging them to return home. “They killed my husband. Why would I go back? they can kill my children too,” said Kaiku, seeking “support and a roof over my children” from the district administration.
“Barely a month ago, the Suthar brothers had given Rs 50,000 to Amad for his daughter’s wedding,” Khet Singh said. “They perhaps thought they can teach us a lesson as our gatherings will be without colour without their singing,” said Amed Singh.
This weekend, the Manganiyars left Balad too. They protested at the district collectorate, and were temporarily moved to a ran basera on October 9. The district administration mediated talks between Manganiyars and Rajputs. “Rajputs assure us of security, but Manganiyars fear confrontation. We cannot think of moving there until our fears are dispelled by the administration,” Bax said.
“We are trying to convince them to return. They are still fearful. We are doing whatever we can, we have lodged an FIR and arrested the main accused,” district collector Kailash Chand Meena said.
Manganiyars and Rajputs praise each other, until the conversation turns to Amad. The Manganiyars sing at weddings and deaths, and in Rajput temples; “something that is part of our culture”, says Khet Singh.
Amad’s death has now created a division. “They depend on what we give them. They don’t even cook their own food; if half a roti goes to our kids, the other half goes to Manganiyars: the word itself means one who seeks alms,” Singh said, “We have assured them of security but it seems they want to arm-twist the government into allotting them land.”
“The murder is a part of increasing lawlessness in the state…related to brutal aggression by dominant castes and religion,” People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) said in a statement Wednesday, demanding compensation of Rs 25 lakh for Amad’s family.