We are working on finding out the contact details of Inspector Surender Kumar, our Good Samaritan, to help raise funds for this wonderful initiative. Please stay tuned on this article, if you would like to help him out.
The lilting rhythms and throaty choruses of the Manganiyar folk music break the morning air at the Ramsar police station in Barmer, 25 km from the border. Here, more than 200 children practise Manganiyar music, a famed but dying folk art, in the police station that for four years has doubled as a music and elementary education school for children in the region.
Saroof Khan, all of 10, has been attending the ‘Apna School’ since 2008. “My father was a Manganiyar musician, but he travelled a lot and had no time to teach me his music. So I never learnt. Now that I have been learning it for two years, I can appreciate my father’s talent and our tradition better,” says Khan.
The Manganiyar community, traditionally from Barmer, Jaisalmer and other parts of western Rajasthan, has used its music to bridge religious and caste barriers in the state. Muslims by birth, the Manganiyars are called upon to compose and sing songs on different occasions—a wedding, a birth in the family or a festival. Their music, which describes the life of the people of their land, has a touch of Sufism. Over the years, their music has gone global with names like Rukma Devi and Talab Khan travelling across the world showcasing their art.
But back here in Barmer, the artisans say though their music was appreciated, it didn’t do much for their lives once the show and the applause wound up.
“Despite our musical talents and the concerts abroad, we never managed to make a decent living. But now, this school in Ramsar is a godsend for all of us,” says Sakhi Khan, Rukma Devi’s son.
The story of the school began four years ago with a police inspector, Surender Kumar, who had an ear for music and experience in community policing. While on deputation with the UN peacekeeping mission to Bosnia, he says he learned about community policing while dealing with Serbians and Albanians. “On my return, I was posted to Ramsar and decided to emulate that model here,” he says.
Kumar began by rounding up a few children from the village and decided to use the police station as a music school, which is now run on donations from Kumar and celebrated dancer-choreographer Mallika Sarabhai.
Manganiyar teachers were never a problem in Ramsar but Kumar wanted the school to offer more than music. “There are several experienced teachers who could teach the children music, but I soon realised that the children had no elementary and academic education,” says Kumar.
And so, the police station-turned music school became a regular school. Kumar then set out to find a teacher. “We got a teacher from Ramsar to teach children the state syllabus. Now, we have four such teachers,” says Kumar, who now heads the Mahila Thana in Jodhpur.
Shakhar Khan, a Manganiyar who is in charge of ‘Apna School’, is one of the educated few in Ramsar. He believes the school has changed Ramsar. “We are a poor community and the government schools were far away and we could not afford to send our children there,” says Khan.
The classes are held for two hours in the morning and two in the evening—lean hours for the policemen. After Apna School set a precedent and the community realised the value of education, more children wanted to join the school. So another, much smaller, Apna School was set up in Ramsar. “But a majority of the students study in the police station. Now we have 310 students, four music teachers and four regular teachers,” says Khan.
However, Sakhi Khan, Rukma Devi’s son, says Apna School’s very popularity will possibly be its undoing. “It began as an elementary and music school for children from poor families. But news has spread and more and more students join every year. We just do not have the funds to handle them all,” says Khan.
So while Kumar and Sarabhai fund four teachers, including Shakhar Khan, they need at least three more. “We have hired another teacher and I forgo my salary to pay him. However, the number of students increases every year and now it is time for the annual exams and the students find it hard to cope with just four teachers,” says Shakhar Khan.
He says he has been looking for donors in Barmer city, but with little success. “We have come so far and we want to continue this, but it is difficult. Kumarji cannot possibly fund everything,” Khan says.