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VENUE: Graduate Centre in the School of Humanities, Graduate center in the school of Social Sciences and Cultural studies at the University of Sussex

Dates: 21-23 March 2005

On the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the SANTAL HUL in 1855.



Dr.Dhuni Soren,England.


There were no written histories and documents about SANTALS until recent centuries. They have been preserved and passed on through the generations by spoken word in the form of songs and legends. I would like to quote two of them here.





Which translates something like this, we were born in a beautiful place (Hihiri Pipiri) and were sought after by the Almighty in Khoj-Kaman and grew up in Harata and organized our social order in Sasan Beda.





Meaning, the Champa,Badoli and Koenda forts were decorative and ornamental. But alas, we left our dear forts.

They fondly remember these places of their golden age where they lived in peace, harmony and happiness and passed on these memories to their children and grand children forever through spoken word.

Then the Aryan invaders came and Santals were displaced and a long trail of migration and exploitation began and has gone on ever since

They were persecuted and pursued and eventually reached CHOTANAGPUR PLATEAU, RAJ MAHAL HILLS and surrounding areas. They lived there for generations in spite of harassment and exploitation by non-tribal zamindars (landlords), moneylenders and colonial powers.

Then there was a revolt against all these and British rule in 1855 called the SANTAL HUL.This was led by two brothers SIDO MURMU and KANHU MURMU of Bhognadih in the district of old Santal Pargana in Jharkhand. We are gathered here today to celebrate the 150th anniversary of that Hul and sacrifices of the two brothers and many other Santals.

As a result of this HUL a new administrative unit was formed by the British Raj and named after Santals and was called SANTAL PARGANA. This has since been infiltrated and diluted by non-tribal and has been divided into six smaller districts by new rulers losing the name and sanctity of the Santal Pargana and diving the santal community.

A new state of JHARKHAND was carved out of BIHAR in 2000 after years of campaigning by the tribal people to prevent exploitation. DUMKA, the district headquarter of the old SANTAL PARGANA was named as sub capital of the new state. The original district has been further subdivided in to many smaller districts.

But the migration of Santals continued over the centuries either by force or voluntarily due to poverty and lack of job opportunities.

Many Santals were forcibly transported to various parts of north eastern India and far beyond to Bangladesh, Mauritius and Fuji and perhaps many more colonial outposts, working as bonded laborers in tea gardens, sugarcane plantations and other physically demanding works.

The Santals are still migrating to West Bengal, Assam and Meghalaya from their old disam (Santal Pargana) looking for work and are found in Bihar, Orissa, Chattisgarh and neighboring areas, Nepal and Bangladesh

The Santals who came under East Pakistan after partition of India in 1947 and subsequently under Bangladesh are worse off and have been displaced more than twice and some of them are homeless and without country and are still stateless. They moved back to neighboring state of Assam in search of security and better prospects but soon found themselves in the newly created state of Meghalaya. This state is inhabited mainly by the other tribes and Santals were discriminated in all aspects of their lives including education, employment and civil rights and privileges. Some of these Santals are still regarded stateless even by the government of India.

The Santals in Assam are no better off and have not been granted the status of scheduled tribe like their counterpart living in Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal and Orissa. There they are deprived of their rights and privileges in education, employment and all walks of life in spite of living there for generations. There has been recent victimization of Santals by other tribal people through killing and forcing them to go back to mother land (Jharkhand) as refugees.

The migration of santals has continued and will continue in future in the shrinking world and age of globalization. This will be more of educated and professional Santals in search of greener pastures in India and abroad.


There has been a slow but gradual increase in the number of highly educated santals recently in certain parts of santal inhabited areas and naturally they have gone to work successfully in different parts of India and beyond and are doing very well.

Some of them have gone far beyond the borders of the Indian subcontinent to Europe, North America and other countries by their own rights and are successful in their fields of work. Even uneducated and less educated Santal men and women are going to the cities and other states looking for work and better prospects.


The ancestors and fore fathers of Santal who were transported as bonded laborers to various parts of India were wiser and united. They preserved and maintained their language and culture against all odds.

But the new generation of educated santals who are working in big metropolitan towns and cities may find it difficult to preserve their language and culture. This may be due to practical problem of not having enough people around of the same kind and lack of interest, motivation and inferiority complex.

The increasing mobility and globalization and changing social outlooks is likely to lead to mixed marriages which will make it harder to preserve the language and culture in the original form.

There has been very little benefit to the santal community as a whole from the migration of their people as most of the first generation have been busy in self-development and helping their close family members. But they still have love, affection and concern for their own people in contrast to many other communities. This is their strength and will benefit the whole society at the end.

The poor plight of Santals has been exploited by the so-called forward class of people with Marxist, Leninist and leftist leaning who sympathized with their condition. The simple and innocent Santals naturally felt that they were on their side and joined them in insurgency in the early stage of naxalites movements in West Bengal and the northeastern part of India. Some Santals of Assam have recently joined in insurgency to fight against oppression and victimization. The newly created state of Jharkhand is not free from such tendencies either and some tribal people have joined them.

The vast gap between poor and rich and underdevelopment of the tribal areas has fuelled the insurgency and has revived and encouraged the ethnicity, indigeneity and sub-nationalism.

Capitalism with the ideals of free for all favors survival of the fittest and leaves behind the weaker section of the society in a disadvantaged situation and encourages insurgency, as they have no alternative.


I am a Santal myself, one of the largest tribe in India and was born and brought up in a village called BOARIJORE in the district of Godda during the last leg of British Raj. It was a beautiful place by the mountains and hills surrounded by rivers and brooks. But there were no roads, electricity, clean drinking water or health care. We were lucky to have had a primary school in the village. We had Santal and non Santal teachers and were taught in our mother tongue and Hindi. I left India some 40 years ago but I still have fond memories of my native village and the people there and have kept in close contact with them through regular visits.

The traditional Manjhi and Pargana systems were thriving when I was a young boy and in fact my late father was a Manjhi and Pargana of the area. We were happy, contented, united and law abiding in spite of poverty.

However, Santals continued to be exploited by the non-tribal landlords and moneylenders. The yield from their hard work on the lands and paddy fields were not enough to sustain them through out the year and were at the mercy of these people. They lent them rice and money at an exorbitant interest rate and santals were in debt all the time. Their lands were mortgaged unlawfully to the moneylenders and Santals were working as tenants in their own lands.

The British left in 1947 and India became independent and we all celebrated with high hope and expectation by shouting slogans and waving Indian national flags and dancing on dusty village roads.

The independent India introduced Panchayat system at the village level and the traditional Manjhi and Pargana system began to lose power and influence. The Panchayat system ushered in party politics in the village level and the traditional unity amongst the Santal community started to disintegrate.

The developmental plans and works of the local and central governments of the 5-year plans were introduced through Block Development office level, which covered a large area and population. The programmes were good and covered health, education, agriculture, irrigation and building roads, bridges and digging wells for drinking water and small-scale industries.

But the problem was that the most people working in these blocks were non-tribals from outside. They had no understanding of the culture and aspiration and needs of tribal people and did not speak their language and most of the time did not live there.

More than half a century on, after the independence, there are secondary schools for boys and girls in my old village. There is a village bank, police station, referral hospital and sprawling block office complex and a road connecting to the district headquarter and neighboring bazaars. There is also a railway track for goods trains only to take away the coals from the area to another state to run the electricity power plants. But there is no train for the villagers and there is no electricity and clean drinking water for the tribal people even now. All these have unfortunately not helped much the local santals as the staff working in the block office, hospital and schools have no real interest in their hearts for the welfare and development of the tribal people. I have certainly seen some development in the non-tribal inhabitants of my village who have built multistoried houses and flourishing businesses. But santals are still poor and living in the broken and leaking thatched houses and struggling for day-to-day existence.

But I do not despair and have high hope from all our people high and low, rich and poor in India and abroad who have experience and expertise in the various walks of life and still have love and affection for their people and urge them to spare some thought and time for the community who have been left behind in our villages.


1. An article by Mr. Anirban Roy, journalist, Hindustan Times, KOLKATTA.

2. A book by Dr.Timothias Hembrom, KOLKATTA.

3. An unlikely tale of a Santal villager in England by Dr. D. Soren.


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