A NEW LIFE
aisalmer’s yellow sandstone fort rises above the city, gleaming in the morning light. Dubbed the Sonar Kella (Golden Fort) by Satyajit Ray in his eponymous 1971 book and 1974 film, the fort has become immortalized as a site of adventure and mystery in pop-culture.
At its foot, in a sprawling slum, Dantal’s 109 Manganiyars have dared to begin a new life. But with each passing day, hopelessness seems to be cementing itself in the minds of the community. “I wake up in the morning and spend the day thinking about what I can do to earn money for my family,” says Anwar Khan, who now spends his days listening to songs on his mobile phone, staring at the blue desert sky.
The village temple where Amad Khan was performing on the night of September 27, 2017. (Photo: Nitin Sharma)
This morning he seems to have a hard time finding a ten-rupee note that he is sure is in the pocket of the pants he is wearing. After some desperate searching, he resigns himself to lying down again. Most Manganiyars, like Anwar, have been without work since moving to the city in early October.
Living conditions are meagre and the community squats on the lands of Manganiyar benefactors, getting by on their charity. Local cliques and labour mafias have meant that daily wage labour, the most likely form of employment for the unskilled has been out of reach.
“The Manganiyars had gone and met the District Collector,” explains Sarwar Khan, the lawyer who is fighting Amad’s case. “They asked him for plots of land in Jaisalmer but nothing has been done so far.”
Amad’s brothers Chugge Khan and Bariyam Khan are disgruntled. Amad’s wife Kaiku is still mourning her husband. The entire community is grieving the loss with them as if Amad were their own family.
If we were from a stronger caste like the Bhils or the Meghwals this would not have happened to us. We are living a life devoid of sovereignty.
They claim that Ramesh Suthar was known to perform tantric rituals in the temple, which included being possessed by the temple goddess. The night of the murder, Suthar was angry because Amad had only brought his harmonium— and not a bigger ensemble. A folly, he told Amad, meant the goddess would not be pleased.
What followed was a bone chilling murder – Amad had left the gathering after the argument, he was asked to come back, he was then killed.
“My brother has been killed in that village,” says Bariyam Khan, Amad’s cousin, “I will never even drink the water of that place.”
Others share his conviction. For them, the oppression leading up to the flashpoint of Amad’s killing lies unavenged.
“I miss my husband, I miss my house. If we were from a stronger caste like the Bhils or the Meghwals, this would not have happened to us,” concludes Kaiku, Amad’s widow, as tears run down her cheeks behind the thin red veil of her saree’s dupatta.