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Dr.Dhuni Soren

Presented at 5th International Santal Conference-2010. Birendra Sabhagrih, Biratnagar, Nepal.

On 23-24th April 2010

Even in the twentieth century, the Santal people of the Indian sub-continent are poor, deprived, marginalised and exploited. They are simple, honest, trusting and hardworking but majority of them are illiterate and are easy victims of injustice and human rights violation.

Some facts and figures about them would be useful to appreciate the enormity of their problems and the extent of negligence of the authorities of the countries of the sub-continent.

1. The population of Adivasi in India is 8% of the total population of more than billion people (1027015247).

2. Out of them Santal is the most populous and are estimated to be 10 million which is 1% of the total Adivasi population.

3. Apart from these there are 65000 Santal in Bangla Desh out of total population of 150448340 and 55000 in Nepal out of the total population of 27.1 million according to their National Census but are believed to be much more.

4. There is a smaller number in Bhutan and other smaller countries of the South East Asia.

5. So, the Santal people forms a sizeable part of the world Adivasi population.

Some achievements of Santal people are worth mentioning here in spite of several odds including poverty, suppression, subjugation and exploitation.

1. Preservation of their spoken language (mother Tongue) SANTALI and is still spoken by the majority of Santal people.

2. Most developed written language and literature amongst the tribal people in spite of late start.

3. Have developed own script OLCHIKI by Late Pandit Raghunath Murmu Thakur in late 1940s.But Roman, Devnagri, Bengali and Oriya scripts still used in some parts of India and neighbouring countries.

4. Privilege and distinction of being included in the scheduled 8 of the Constitution of India and joining rightful place amongst 22 other major languages of the country.

5. Preservation and practicing of customs, traditions, system of age old village governance and rich heritage.

Non Achievements of Santal people over the generations have been rather traumatic and disappointing and have kept them far behind the rest of the communities. This is so in spite of long history of struggle against injustice, exploitation and subjugation of foreign rule.

· Santal people fought against injustice and exploitation by the British Colonialists, land lords and money lenders under the leadership of famous brothers Sido, Kanhu, Chand and Bhairab during SANTAL HUL in 1855-56 and more than 10000 people sacrificed their lives. They won home land of their own called SANTAL PARGANA with certain safe guards and protection of their lands, customs, traditions and system of their village governance.

· They joined the rest of the country in the fight against British Raj and won the Independence of India 63 years ago.

· They campaigned for separate state of Jharkhand for many years to protect themselves from exploitation from the so called upper and ruling class of Bihar and internal colonialists. The new state of Jharkhand was created 10 years ago which turned out to be a great disappointment in spite of its mineral and industrial richness due to lack of foresight, vision, incompetence and corruption of political leaders.

All these years of struggles have been futile and the Adivasi people, in particular Santal have not really benefited over the years.

1. They are still beset with hunger and poverty and majority of them live below B P L.

2. They have poor health and shorter longevity due to lack of access to health care and prevention of diseases and clean drinking water.

3. High infant and maternal mortality due to lack of dedication and sincerity of health care and other workers and poor implementation of the government policies.

4. Low literacy and education amongst Adivasi.

5. Lack of aspiration and diversification of income generation methods and livelihood.

6. Simple life styles with easily met needs.

7. As a society, Adivasi people like to live in isolation amongst themselves and depriving themselves of the benefit of learning from other communities.

8. Even the government’s policies are segregating in nature like separate hostels in schools and colleges for Adivasi pupils depriving them of the opportunities to learn from association from the pupils of different background and abilities.

9. Lack of empowerment and development due to non-communication of the field workers who are generally from outside the areas and do not understand and speak local tribal languages.

10. Beset with some social ills and practices, ignorance and prejudices e.g. use or miss use of traditional alcohol in all rituals including worship, treatment during illness, wedding and funerals. And calling some women as witch or DAIN and even killing them.

11. Lack of pride in their language and identity.

Sadly, these non- achievements have taken place despite the efforts of governments and civil societies.

Diminishing population of Santals, an irony?

According to the past census of various countries, the population of Adivasi is supposed to be declining and declining rapidly in a time when there is an explosion of the world population. This is so either by design or default in the state of Jharkhand in India. According to 2001 census the population of Adivasi in Jharkhand has declined to 7087068 (26.3%) of the total of 2, 9405829. Out of 30 tribes, Santal is the most populous and are 2,410509 in number. Some of the possible causes of this decline are supposed to be the following;

1. The traditional migration of tribal work force after the harvest season to look for works outside the state.

2. Educated tribal including Santal moving to towns and metropolitan cities for better job opportunities and life style.

3. Lack of classified religious coding of tribal people for census resulting in defective data collection. In 1951 census, vague and unclassifiable entries, such as Sarna, adi dharam, ho. Munda, Tanti, kabirpanthi etc. have been shown under “other Religions-tribal” or non-tribal but has since been omitted..

4. Conversion in to different faiths and beliefs.

5. Inter caste and inter racial matrimony due to globalisation and mobility of work force.

Threats to Santal Society are two folds;

A. From within and

B. From without

From within A. The greatest threat is from Santal themselves and in particular from educated people who have moved to towns and metropolitan cities and beyond.

1. They do not pass on the language, customs and traditions to their making various pretences.

2. Lack of readily available books of customs, traditions and religious practices for new generation of Santal growing up in new and alien environments.

3. Lack of self-respect and pride in their own identity.

From without B.

1. Inaccurate data collection during Census by design or default.

2. Lack of commonly acceptable name of the Religion by the Adivasi people and documentation of their beliefs.

3. Easily being poached by other faiths due to poverty, illiteracy and ignorance.

Possible solutions may lie closer to them;

1. Once again they need to stand together and united but with open eyes and ears.

2. This will come and come only with the education and empowerment of their people.

3. Once educated, they can see and recognise their rights and privileges and speak up for themselves.

4. Once empowered they will be listened to and development and progress will follow and they will have self-respect, confidence, dignity and pride in their language, customs, traditions, culture and heritage and can walk with their heads held high and shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the communities. And

5. Can also remedy some of the social ills of the society like alcohol abuse and prejudices.

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