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Undercurrent of conflict between folk singers and patrons in Rajasthan villages

The Manganiyars are a 25,000 to 30,000-strong Muslim community of hereditary professional singers who have lived for centuries in western Rajasthan’s Thar Desert region

india Updated: Oct 16, 2017 07:11 IST
Manoj Ahuja
Manoj Ahuja
Hindustan Times, Jaisalmer
Manganiyars,Rajasthan,Folk artists
Manganiyar artists under the aegis of Federation Of Rajasthan Event Managers , stage a musical protest against the alleged murder of artist Ahmad Khan and recent attack on other artists at Amar Jawan Jyoti in Jaipur.(HT File Photo)

For generations the Manganiyar community of folk artists has lived peacefully with their upper-caste Hindu patrons, but the recent exodus of 20 families from a Jaisalmer village has exposed the under currents of conflict that has been brewing in the remote villages of Rajasthan.

The Manganiyars are a 25,000 to 30,000-strong Muslim community of hereditary professional singers who have lived for centuries in western Rajasthan’s Thar Desert region, primarily in Barmer and Jaisalmer districts.

The nomadic tribespeople eke out a living by performing at social functions and religious gatherings of upper caste landowners and many among them also work as farm workers.

Almost every family is associated with a patron or jajman in the village--most of whom are Rajputs-- who gives them food and money and allow them to build huts on their agriculture land.

However, the equations between the new generation of Manganiyars and the upper caste families are no longer the same.

The barter system that used to take care of their basic needs is no longer sufficient and the impoverished youngsters of the community are being forced to look for other occupations.

“After singing for hours at functions and religious gathering they get ₹ 11 or ₹ 25 as reward if the hosts are happy with their performance,” said Baksh Khan, a social worker working with the displaced families at a government-run shelter home in Jaisalmer.

“If the performance does not satisfy the host, they are not paid and treated rudely,” he told HT.

Experts say that behaviour of a patron with the community members depends on individuals, but agree that equations are changing.

The community is encouraging its younger generation to study, and the youngsters are no longer interested to take up traditional of folk music as a profession, said Kuldeep Kothari of Jodhpur-based Rupayan Sansthan, an institute that promotes Rajasthani art and culture.

“The barter system under which the Jajmans (patrons) used to give grain, cattle and other goods to the Mangniyar has worked in the past, but now the aspirations of the youth have changed,” he said.

“They need money to buy gadgets like mobiles and other such things.”

While a few community members, including Gazi Khan and Mame Khan have become famous, other performers who have not been able to find a platform, have no regular income.

The younger generation is not too interested in taking up ancestral occupation, said Shaukat, son of a folk singer, who studies in high school in Dantal, is one among those who have left the village.

“I have seen my father perform for hours and earn a pittance. I would rather focus on my studies and land a job,” he said.

The awareness about getting a decent education is on the rise among our community members, said renowned folk singer Gazi Khan Barna, who has given performances across the globe.

Dantal village where folk singer Amad Khan was allegedly beaten to death by a faith healer (bhopa) and two of his brothers on September 27, is dominated by Rajputs.

The faith healer, Ramesh Suthar had asked Amad Khan to sing a specific Raga so that spirit of the temple goddess entered his body and allowed him to solve local problems.

Amad Khan’s family and other members of the community, who subsequently fled the village, are too scared to return despite assurances from the district administration.

“I will commit suicide rather than return to the village,” Amad Khan’s widow, Kemku told HT.

“We are not safe there,” she said.

Khet Singh, father of Dantal village sarpanch, said there was no such problem in the village.

“We have been taking care of them (Manganiyars) for generations. I have told them that they are free to return whenever they want, but they are more interested in getting government land near Jaisalmer,” he told HT.

First Published: Oct 16, 2017 07:11 IST