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TRADITIONAL SYSTEMS OF COMMUNICATION AND INFORMATION DISSEMINATION AMONG THE SANTALS

Global Media Journal - Indian Edition
Winter Issue/ December 2010

Arun Ghosh
Professor, Department of Bengali, University of Burdwan
Email :
astorag@yahoo.co.in
Abstract:
The paper tries to give an overview of the traditional systems of communication and different
modes of information dissemination among the Santals, a Munda-speaking tribe of India,
spreading mostly over the states of Bihar, Jharkhand,Orissa and West Bengal distributed
presently in both rural and urban areas. The paper also makes a case for utilization of the
traditional systems of communication in the development of the community under study and
underscores the usefulness of the systems in mobilizing the community in the broader canvas of
national development. Any traditional society can better be mobilized if its traditions and
customs are exploited properly and scientifically. The traditional systems of communication and
mechanisms of information dissemination often play a vital role in mobilizing the people at the
grass root level for community development and in infusing national consciousness among them.
A multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-religious state like India can expect
smooth sailing of its development
programmes
if ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious ethos
of various groups within its fold are honoured and included in its development plans and
programmes. Contending that the traditional communicators, institutions and symbols are the
only source of information in rural areas the present author also tries to impress that these can
be revitalized and upgraded to make those suitable for being included in the present day
programmes. This will surely inbreed a sense of oneness with the 'other' among the Santals and
show inclusive character of the development processes.
Keywords
:
Community development, communication system, development processes, ethnic,
inclusive character, information, mobilization, modern, Munda, participatory democracy, Santal,
tradititional.
Introduction
There is often a misconception over the use of 'tradition' before 'system'. It gives a popular
impression that 'tradition' is always age old, outdated and always at loggerheads with what is
popularly known as 'modern'. It is also conceived as primitive, faulty, unscientific and against the
progress of the society. The age-old traditions and customs, it is popularly believed, always hold
back the society from the path of modernization and confine the community in the dark hole of
cave marking primitive men. Some also believe that the traditional systems of marriage,

communication, entertainment, maintaining interpersonal communication, health care, social
institutions, weapons, musical instruments are none but the remnants of uncivilized society and
maintaining those systems still in the 21
st
century will only push the society further back to the
black hole of backwardness.
Des Wilson (1987) identified the basic fallacies behind such thinking; one, as that of
Gusfield (1973) who pointed out that it is something like “seeing 'existing institutions' and
values, the content of traditional 'as impediments to changes' and 'obstacles to modernization”,
other being the view that traditional is displaced by 'the new changes' and the tradional is always
in conflict with modernity. (Wilson 1987:88) The views are always one sided and often come
from outside. The views replicate the other side of the globe which is always in favour of
changes forgetting the old which nourished it once. The views always deny the views of the
society in question which sustains the traditions for their own well being. Every society
maintains their own systems according to their own need and until and unless the needs are
properly understood tradition can/should not be wished away. It is the people themselves who are
better judge of their own systems. Any outside interference will no doubt create confusion not
only among the policy makers but also among the people themselves. It was also the view of
Jawaharlal Nehru who was in favour of letting the people of the traditional society (here tribals)
grow according to their own genius. Without proper understanding of the tradional ethos of any
society those can/should not be castigated as 'good' or 'bad' or against progress, so to say.
Anybody from outside cannot dismiss the traditional systems which have been sustaining a
society for long in one stroke or according to his/her sweet will. Social institutions emerge at a
given point of time and according to the need of the society and in the passage of time those
become part and parcel of a society and acquire the label of 'tradition'. The views that tradition as
primitive and unscientific and that it is antagonistic to modernity are baseless. Viewing these
arguments from a communication perspective Wilson (1987:89) was rather in favour of looking
at “this traditional/modern communication dichotomy from the point of view of a series of
concentric circles with the folk (or traditional) communication occupying the innermost circle
and mass communication the outermost circle”.
Tradition should therefore be viewed from the stage where the society or community is
situated and not in absolute term. Two communities belonging to different levels of development
can/should not be compared and by doing that one community and the systems therein should
not be labeled as backward and their traditions as primitive or outdated. The systems of
communication evolve out of the societal values and needs. If a society maintains its traditional
communication systems and information media as its ethnic identity markers there is no question
of undermining the same. Rather institutions and symbols should be incorporated in the
developmental processes to make the community feel that their traditional systems are not only
important to them those have potential in the national development too.
Traditional communicative systems also change with the passage of time with the
changing environment and needs of the society. The traditional symbols deriving out of the
environment may also change with the changing environment. Thus a symbol derived out of an
2

of immense importance in forging a sense of oneness with the so-called mainstream among the
Santals and by using the Santal traditional folk media the people can be successfully brought
within the purview
of
development processes which will usher in success to the development
goals.
Santals: Their Distribution Literacy and Settings
Santals are the largest tribal community found mainly in the states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa
and West Bengal. The population of the Santals, according to Census of India, 2001 is more than
6 million
7
. Highest concentration of them is found in Jharkhand with 2,410,509 people which is
34% of the total tribal population and nearly 10% of the total population (26,945,829) of the
state.
8
Closely following are West Bengal with 2,280,540 people which is 51.8% of the total
tribal population (4,406,794) and 5.5% of the total population (80,176,197) of the state
9
, Orissa
with 629,782 people, nearly 7.85% of the tribal population (8,145,081)
10
of the state and Bihar
with 367,612 which is 48.5% of the total tribal population (758,351) and 0.44% of the total
population (82,998,509)
11
of the state. The total figure in these four states comes to 5,658,443,
that is, 93.52% of the total Santal population in India.
12
Other states which provides abode to the
Santals are Assam (2,00,000) and Tripura (2,200).
13
Outside India Santals are
also
distributed in
other South Asian states like Nepal found in the districts of Jhapa, Morang and Sunsari,
Bangladesh in the Chattagram hill tracts and Bhutan where a significant number is found to be
engaged as daily wage labourer. Globally speaking they number some 6.4 million. In another
account
14
their number varies greatly with 96, 05,000, their distribution being 19, 97,222 in West
Bengal, 1039425 in Bihar, 20,67,039 in Jharkhand, 9,29,782 in Orissa, 12,23,032 in Assam and
23,48,500 in Madhya Pradesh. Figures
seemv
exaggerated and defy reality.
Santals like other tribal communities are overwhelmingly rural residing in the hilly
and
forest regions. About 70% of the population still maintains each and every trditional customs and
traditions
and
follow their 'age old' cultural practices. The remaining 30% who are settled outside
their original habitat either in urban areas or in non-tribal areas for occupational necessity and
also for sustenance
come back
try to come back to their native place to participate in religio-
cultural festivals. Those who are not in a position to participate in the cultural festivals in their
native place perform it in their places of residence. But the practices in their new place are not so
elaborate and the ingredients needed are in most casses wanting. Settings are also different.
Examples can be cited of the cultural programmes and organisation of religious programmes in
Santragachi (where there is substantial concentration of the Santals) and Kolkata Police Line in
Alipore in West Bengal, Jamshedpur in Jharkhand and Rourkella in Orissa where the
programmes are organised in urban settings. But the pomp and splendour, vitality and universal
participation characteristic of Santal festivals are lacking here. And they themselves are often
nostalgic about the festivals organised in their natural habitat.
The rate of their literacy varies from state to state, while in West Bengal it is 42.2%, it is
40.5% in Orissa, 23.3% in Bihar and 27.2% in Jharkhand.
15
The scene is very dismal if female
4

There are many college teachers, doctors and engineers in the Santal commnunity. A good
number of Santals is settled in urban areas and big cities. A substantial percentage of the Santals
has embraced christianity. A substantial number of Santals are having higher education. They are
progressing. But going by the rate of literacy which is still 33.3%, their overwhelming rural
settlement and dependence on nature there are many things to do for them. They are to be
brought within the purview of modern developmental processes and that is best possible through
their traditional organisations and institutions, they can best be mobilised through their
traditional instruments and folklores. They can best be mobilised through the symbols they
cheris, people they obey, tunes they love. Incorporation of their traditional systems in planning
will do a miracle to their condition. Any developmental project becomes successful if every
section of the state takes part in it by considering it as their own. By incorporating traditions and
customs of every section of the Santals in development schemes the whole community can be
mobilised. They will feel oneness with the whole state and can be Indian
par excellence.
If the
Santal organisation like their village council is recognised, their different functionaries are
respected, their modes of communication are given importance, if their right to forest and forest
produce are recognized, their traditional instruments are recognized as national instruments a
great ethnic group like the Santals can be part of the nation. This is the main ethos of
participatory democracy.
Notes
:
1.
Bhadu
, a folk goddess, has its origin in the lower strata of the Bengali society and is
sustained by them. Folk songs and folk drama are created on the folklore of Bhadu.
2.
Alkap
is the popular musical folk drama in the Gangetic plains of West Bengal, especially
Maldah.
3.
Song associated with the folk goddess
Tushu
in the southwesternpart of West Bengal.
4.
Song associated with the folk goddess
Bhadu
.
5.
It is a kind of folk song accompanied by dance, a popular form of folk drama, associated
with the life of common people of Radha Bengal.
6.
Folk Song originated in and around Kolkata during hundred years between the death of
Bharatchandra (1760) and the death of Iswar Gupta (1859).
7.
The actual figure according to Census of India 2001 is 6,050,000.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santals
Retrieved on 19.12,2010.
8.
Jharkhand: Data Highlights the Scheduled Tribes, Census of India,2001, Census
Commission of India.
9.
West Bengal: Data Highlights the Scheduled Tribes, Census of India, 2001, Census
Commission of India.
10.
Bihar: Data Highlights the Scheduled Tribes, Census of India, 2001, Census Commission
of India.
11.
Retrieved from
http://wesantals.tripod.com/id45html/
12.
Retrieved from
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santals
on 19.12,2010.
11

13.
Ibid.
14.
Derived from Santali Language.
http://santali.jharkhandi.com
Retrieved on 19.12.2010.
15.
Data derieved from
http://censusindia.govt.in/Tables_Published/SCST/dh_st_westbengal.pd
f
http://censusindia.govt.in/Tables_Published/SCST/dh_st_orissa.pdf
http://censusindia.govt.in/Tables_Published/SCST/dh_st_bihar.pdf
http://censusindia.govt.in/Tables_Published/SCST/dh_st_jharkhand.pdf
16.
Sakrat
is a festival of the Santals observed on the last day of the month Paus, December-
January, at the end of harvesting.
17.
A Santal festival observed in October during Deserrah of north India.
18.
Baha
festival is organised by the Santals during February-March every year. It is the
f
estival of flower, of colour.
19.
It is a festival organised by the Santals to worship domestic animals during October-
November in the districts of Bankura, Medinipur and Purulia, and during December-
January in the district of Birbhum.
20.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santals
21.
Ibid.
22.
Collected by Anup Maji, a PhD student of the Department of Bengali, University of
Burdwan and Assistant Professor, Department of Bengali, Saltora College, Bankura.
23.
Collected by Biswajit Patra, a Part-time teacher of the Department of Bengali, Khatra
Adivasi Mahavidyalaya, Bankura
.
Reference
:
Dissanayake, Wimal. (1977). New Wine in Old Bottles: Can Folk Media Convey Modern
Messages?
Journal of Communication,
Spring. 122-24.
Eapen,K.E. (1976). Specific Problems of Research and Research Training in Asian/African
Countries. In
Communication Research in the Third World: The Need for Training.
18-19
.
See More : http://www.caluniv.ac.in/Global%20mdia%20journal/WINTER%202010%20ARTICLES/Article%201.pdf
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