Presidential polls | Golden era of the Santhals in India, say community leaders

Droupadi Murmu has been nominated by the NDA as the first tribal woman for the post of President of India.

June 22, 2022 12:58 pm | Updated June 24, 2022 04:47 pm IST - BHUBANESWAR

Former Jharkhand governor Droupadi Murmu, in Ranchi, who has been chosen as the BJP-led NDA’s candidate for presidential elections in 2022.

Former Jharkhand governor Droupadi Murmu, in Ranchi, who has been chosen as the BJP-led NDA’s candidate for presidential elections in 2022. | Photo Credit: PTI

The humble and largely discrete Santhal community is in the spotlight after the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) nominated one of the community leaders Droupadi Murmu to the highest constitutional position in the country.

With chances of Ms. Murmu becoming the next President of India and first tribal to hold the post appearing bright, Santhal community members appear to be on cloud nine. Santhal is the third largest schedule tribe community in the country after Gond and Bhil.

Also read | PM Modi lauds Droupadi Murmu’s service to society

The population of Santhal is mostly distributed in Odisha, Jharkhand and West Bengal. Her home district, Mayurbhanj, has one of the largest concentrations of the tribe. In Odisha, Santhals are found in Keonjhar and Balasore, other than Mayurbhanj district.

According to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Research and Training Institute (SCSTRTI), Bhubaneswar, the word ‘Santhal’ is derived from two words; ‘santha’ meaning calm and peaceful and ‘ala’ meaning man.

The SCSTRTI says that in the past, the Santhals were leading a nomadic life. Gradually they came to settle down in the Chhotanagpur plateau. Towards the end of the 18th century, they migrated to the Santhal Parganas of Bihar and then they came to Odisha.

Community leaders termed it as golden era for Santhals in the country. If elected, Ms. Murmu would become first tribal woman President of India. Besides, Hemant Soren, a Santhal, is the Chief Minister of Jharkhand. Girish Chandra Murmu, the first Lieutenant Governor of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, is now Comptroller and Auditor General of India. The 1985 batch IAS officer of Gujarat cadre was a close confidant of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Mayurbhanj Member of Parliament, Biseswar Tudu, a Santhal, is Union Minister for Tribal Affairs and Jal Shakti.

‘High literacy rate’

“The Santhal community is huge community and one of the most populous tribal communities in the country. Their literacy rate is very high compared to other tribes in Odisha. If one sees in terms of prosperity in the community, its members going to creamy layers and playing key roles in national and international spheres, Santhals have few parallel,” said SCSTRTI Director A. B. Ota.

“Though they have progressed well in different spheres, they have not forgotten their roots and ethnoreligious practices. They are nature worshipers and pay their obeisance at Jaher (sacred groves) irrespective of the positions they hold,” said Dr. Ota.


Professor Kishore Kumar Basa, Vice-Chancellor of North Odisha University, said “Santhals are agriculturists and eke their livelihood from farming. However, there are very few tribes in India who have taken advantage of the reservation policy and education. From 1960s, members of the tribe had started taking education seriously. Most of them are now established, using education as a ladder.”

Also read | Droupadi Murmu’s nomination, a proud moment for Odisha: Naveen Patnaik

Santhals speak Santhali which has its own script called ‘Ol chiki’ invented by Pundit Raghunath Murmu. Santhali in OI-Chiki script has been included in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution. Ol-Chiki is medium of instructions in many schools across the State. Even Santhal is a subject in post-graduate class.

 Santhal houses called ‘Olah’ are distinct and can be identified from a distance. They are large, neat and attractive with multi-coloured paintings on the outside walls. The bottom of the wall is painted with black soil, the middle portion with white and the upper portion with red.

Of late, the Santhal’s Phuta Katcha pattern saree and dress, sold through e-commerce sites, are widely accepted in the community.

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