On the fateful afternoon of Feb. 14, 2023, Junaid Khan and his nephew Nasir Khan left behind the familiarity of their humble village, bound for a family function, their laughter echoing through the narrow lanes as they waved goodbye. But as night descended, so did a shroud of unease.
By the time the sun had dipped below the horizon in Ghatmeeka, a remote village nestled in the heart of India’s northwestern state of Rajasthan, the men’s family members were gripped with anxiety. Junaid and Nasir had not returned.
Two agonizing days later, the horrifying truth was revealed. The charred remnants of a vehicle lay abandoned in the village of Loharu, 111 miles from their home. Inside this twisted metal tomb lay the lifeless bodies of Junaid and Nasir. Members of a far-right extremist group had allegedly abducted, tortured, and killed them on suspicion of smuggling cows — animals that are considered sacred by Hindus, India’s majority community.
The incident shook not only the victims’ families but also the country’s Muslim minority more broadly. A hundred and thirty miles away from Loharu, in Pinan village, Jumme Khan Mewati was frightened and disappointed enough to express the community’s collective grief and anger through his words and music.
Khan is a Muslim Jogi (also sometimes spelled “yogi” but not to be confused with Hindu yoga practitioners). Muslim Jogis are folk artists who sing spiritual and devotional songs and also comment on political and social issues through their music. Traditionally, Jogis are syncretic — while they are Muslim, they borrow from multiple faiths and traditions for their art, fusing Muslim and Hindu myths and sounds. Now with the growing communal violence and ethnic tension in India, the Jogis worry about the extinction of their craft and their community, while continuing to voice their concerns through song.
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“I wrote a song about communalism – ‘Haalat gajab dunya ke’ (The state of the world is astonishing),” Khan said one hot afternoon in September, as the golden rays of the sun bathed his humble home in intense light. The artist was seated on a worn-out charpoy, wearing simple attire — a grey kurta and a well-worn dhoti. In his hand, he held a notebook while his spectacles perched precariously on the bridge of his nose as he carefully scanned the words he had penned down earlier. “I wrote it because I was disappointed, but nobody listens anymore.”