Let’s start with an introduction about the Merasi community and their background. Hailing from the North western region of Rajasthan, India, they are traditional musicians, story tellers, and genealogists, and they carry a unique musical legacy that is more than 800 years old. As an Banyan Impact Fellow, I got an opportunity to work with Lok Kala Sagar Sansthan, an organization that was established by Dr. Sarwar Khan, a renowned musician from the Merasi community, for the upliftment and welfare of the Merasi community.
The idea of the Merasi School was first coined by Dr. Sarwar Khan and was supported by Karen Lukas, an art enthusiast who visited India as part of a project and met Luna Khan there, who is the father of Dr. Sarwar Khan. She got an opportunity to spend some time with the Merasi community, and she learned about their vast history and legacy from Luna Khan & Sarwar Khan. After spending some consistent time with the people of the Merasi community, she learned about their vulnerabilities and was moved by the plight. To uplift the Merasi community and to preserve the community’s intangible history, Dr. Sarwar Khan with FAR intern Caitie Whelan and Karen Lukas decided to start a school for the children of the Merasi community: The Merasi School.
Folk Arts Rajasthan was established by Karen Lukas in the year 2004. Folk Arts Rajasthan and Lok Kala Sagar Sansthan collaborated with a shared vision of a thriving and just future for the Merasi community and their musical culture. Together, they nurtured capable Merasi youth in the face of obstinate hierarchical norms.
The Merasi School was started in 2007 and it offers community-driven classrooms providing elementary tutoring in English, Hindi, Maths, Science and basic computer skills. With basic education in government schools being unavailable for many low caste children and private schools unaffordable, the Merasi School has provided a viable alternative. The school has excellent teachers from the Merasi community itself, who were once students of the Merasi School. Folk Arts Rajasthan provides dedicated volunteers who are committed to having an impact in the Merasi community. Folk Arts Rajasthan along with these dedicated volunteers designed an extraordinary curriculum for the Merasi School that focuses on the overall development of the child.
The school has impacted 600+ children since its start in 2007, and the students eagerly take ownership of their education and workspace maintenance. The school does not only help the students of the Merasi community, it also enables the community members to create solutions for the problems they encounter in the society. The Merasi community reclaims their rightful and dignified identity, the keepers of regional history, and they replaced the derogatory label ‘Manganiyar’ proudly with ‘Merasi’, as a poignant symbol of self-determination.
Images provided by Akaram Khan Merasi and visiting photographer Ralph Gabriner
Khan, Sarwar. Interview. By Sireesha. 2022.