The police in Rajasthan are searching for two men accused of killing a folk singer in Jaisalmer district’s Dantal village on September 27. Amad Khan, 45, was beaten to death after a faith healer claimed that the musician’s performance had been too inadequate to lead him into a state of trance during a temple ritual.
The faith healer, Ramesh Suthar, who belongs to the Bhopa community of priest-singers, has already been arrested.
Khan, who belonged to the lower caste Manganyar community of folk musicians, had been asked to perform a melody called raag parcha at a temple during the Navratra festival. This tune, it was thought, would allow faith healer Ramesh Suthar to get possessed with the spirit of the presiding deity, the police said.
When that did not happen, Suthar blamed Khan for not performing the tune correctly. This resulted in a scuffle in which Khan’s musical instruments were smashed by some villagers.
That evening, three villagers, including Suthar, went to Khan’s house and beat him again. He died shortly after, the police said. “From preliminary investigation it has emerged that Khan was physically assaulted after which he got a cardiac arrest, leading to his death,” said Superintendent of Police, Jaisalmer, Gaurav Yadav.
However, the villagers held a meeting and convinced Khan’s family to claim that he had died of natural causes. They were warned not tell anyone what had really happened. The family apparently agreed and Khan’s body was buried. It was 24 hours before news of Khan’s death reached the local police station, around 40 km away.
When a team led by the Station House Officer visited Dantal to investigate, Yadav said, “the village head and later others collectively claimed Khan had died of a cardiac arrest and the police team returned without initiating any probe”.
Three days later, however, members of the Manganyar community had an argument with some upper-caste residents who allegedly refused to give them water for rituals around Khan’s death. Informed about the tension in the village, the Station House Officer returned with his team, only to be convinced that it was a minor matter, the police said.
Breaking the silence
Later that day, one of Khan’s relatives who was visiting from Jodhpur convinced the family to approach the district administration. The police returned once more to question the villagers and the plot was finally unravelled.
On October 2, the police registered a case of murder and arrested Suthar. However, his two accomplices had fled by then. “Khan’s body was exhumed too and sent for a postmortem examination,” said Yadav.
A few days later, all 20 Manganyar families fled Dantal, initially for a town nearby and eventually for Jaisalmer. “The district administration is trying to convince them to return to their village,” Yadav said. “They can be provided security if they feel intimidated after the Amad Khan incident.”
According to civil rights activist Kavita Srivastava, since Khan’s Manganyar family had broken the social code by going against a member of the Bhopa community – who are de facto priests in small village temples – all other communities in the village, led by the dominant Rajputs, banded together against the Manganyars.
Srivastava added that there was no clear communal or caste subtext to the killing as Khan was from the Dholi caste, which includes Hindus and Muslims.
“It is anger and consolidation of the other communities against them for going to the police led to their exodus,” she explained.