Santhal community in the country is considered to be in its Golden era now. They are in the national spotlight, for one of its leaders; Draupadi Murmu has been elected as the 15th president on 25 July 2022. She became the first tribal women President of India. Read here to know more about them.
According to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Research and Training Institute (SCSTRTI), the word Santhal is derived from two words: ‘Santha’ means calm and peaceful; ‘ala’ means man.
Santhal is mainly agricultural people and is the third largest Scheduled Tribe Community in the country after Gond and Bhil. The Santhal population is mostly distributed in Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, and West Bengal. Their literacy rate is very high compared to other tribal groups in those states.
Santhali is the language spoken by Santhals and has its own script called Ol Chiki is included in the Eighth Schedule to the constitution. Ol-Chiki is the medium of instruction in many schools across the State.
Elite positions held by Santhals
- Hemant Soren – CM of Jharkhand.
- Girish Chandra Murmu – first Lieutenant-Governor of J&K, Present Comptroller and Auditor General of India.
The history of the Santhal tribes can be traced back to ancient times, with their roots deeply embedded in the regions of Jharkhand, West Bengal, Bihar, and Odisha. The Santhals are considered to be an Adivasi or indigenous community, and their history is marked by resilience, resistance, and a harmonious connection with nature.
- They are believed to have come from the Champa Kingdom of northern Cambodia. In the past, they had led a nomadic life. Eventually, they settled down in Chhotanagpur Plateau. Towards the end of the 18th century, they migrated to the Santhal Parganas of Bihar, and then they came to Odisha.
- Their migration was driven by various factors, including socio-economic conditions, a search for fertile land, and a desire for self-governance.
The Santhal culture is vibrant, expressed through their music, dance, art, and oral traditions. Santhal folk music and dance, especially during festivals, are integral to their identity. The “Baha” dance and “Soor Diul” festival are notable cultural expressions that showcase their close connection with nature and agricultural practices.
Traditionally, the Santhals have been an agrarian community, practicing shifting cultivation and subsistence farming. Their economy revolves around agriculture, forestry, and traditional handicrafts. The community is known for its expertise in making musical instruments, pottery, and traditional Santhal paintings.
Santhal Rebellion (1855-1856)
Santhal tribes are known for their bravery. They were great fighters since the British regime in India. Peasant revolts take an important place in modern Indian history. The Santhal rebellion was the first of its kind which began as a reaction to the introduction of the Permanent Land Settlement of 1793.
- The company imposed high taxes on their land, which they had to borrow to pay it off.
- Moneylenders demanded high interest rates which in turn added a burden on Santhals to pay their debts and eventually claimed their lands.
- When they became landless, they were forced to work as bonded laborers on their land which turned havoc on Santhal’s way of life.
To fight against all these oppressions, the Santhals formed an army made up of peasants.
Main leaders:- Sidhu, Kanhu, Chand, and Bhairav Murmu (brothers).
Impact of the Santhal Rebellion
- Around 15,000 tribesmen were killed and tens of villages were destroyed. British officers suppressed the rebellion.
- One of the main impacts is that it was responsible for the creation of the present state of Jharkhand.
- The region between Bhagalpur and Rajmahal hills in Singhbhum district was separated and named Santhal Pargana. It is declared a non-regulation district.
- It provided a greater influence on future tribal movements.
It happened in present-day Jharkhand (Rajmahal area), then part of the Bengal presidency.
Present day status of Santhals
The Santhal tribes, one of the largest indigenous communities in India, have a rich history and cultural heritage that extends through centuries. Spread across several states in eastern India, the Santhals have significantly contributed to the country’s cultural mosaic.
Challenges and Struggles
Throughout history, the Santhal tribes have faced challenges, including displacement, exploitation, and socio-economic disparities. The community has often been at the forefront of movements advocating for land rights, forest rights, and social justice. The Santhal Rebellion of 1855-56, led by tribal leaders Sidhu and Kanhu, is a historic example of their resistance against oppressive policies.
Legal Recognition and Rights
In contemporary times, efforts have been made to address the rights and welfare of the Santhal tribes. Constitutional provisions, such as the Fifth and Sixth Schedules, recognize the rights of scheduled tribes, providing protection and safeguards. Additionally, the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA), empowers tribal communities, including the Santhals, with self-governance rights.
Education and Development
While there have been initiatives to improve education and healthcare among the Santhals, challenges such as limited access to quality education and healthcare persist. Organizations and NGOs are working towards bridging these gaps and empowering the community through skill development and awareness programs.
Cultural Revival and Identity
Efforts are being made to revive and preserve the Santhal cultural heritage. Cultural festivals, language preservation, and documentation of traditional knowledge contribute to the community’s identity and resilience.
The Santhal tribes, with their rich history and cultural diversity, are an integral part of India’s social fabric. While the community has faced historical challenges, its resilience, cultural pride, and contributions to India’s cultural landscape remain undeniable. Efforts toward legal recognition, social inclusion, and economic empowerment continue to shape the present and future of the Santhal tribes, highlighting the importance of preserving and celebrating the diversity of India’s indigenous communities.
Previous Year UPSC question
After the Santhal uprising subsided, what was/were the measure/measures taken by the colonial government? (Prelims 2018)
- The territories called ‘Santhal Paraganas’ were created.
- It became illegal for a Santhal to transfer land to a non-Santhal.
Select the correct answer using the code given below:
- (a) 1 only
- (b) 2 only
- (c) Both 1 and 2
- (d) Neither 1 nor 2.
Article written by: Krishnapriya JR