Who are Santhals, the community which Droupadi Murmu belongs to? | India News

Santhal, also spelt as Santal, literally means a calm, peaceful man. Santha means calm, and ala means man in the Santhali (also spelt as Santali) language. Santhals are the third largest scheduled tribe community in India after Gonds and Bhils. The Santhali population is mostly distributed in Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal. The BJP’s presidential election candidate Droupadi Murmu’s home district, Mayurbhanj, is one of the districts having dense concentration of the Santhali people.
The Odisha government’s website for Bhubaneswar-based Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Research and Training Institute (SCSTRTI) gives a detailed account of the life of the Santhali people, from prehistoric times.

The Santhals were a nomadic stock before they chose to settle in the Chotanagpur plateau. By the end of the 18th century, they had concentrated in the Santhal Parganas of Jharkhand (earlier Bihar). From there, they migrated to Odisha and West Bengal.
Tribal communities, outside the Northeast, generally have lower levels of literacy but the Santhals have higher – a result of a pro-school education awareness since at least the 1960s – literacy rate compared to other tribes in Odisha, Jharkhand and West Bengal. Many of the community have entered the creamy layer of Indian society.
For example, Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren is a Santhal. The incumbent Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAGI) Girsh Chandra Murmu, who was the first Lt Governor of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, is also a Santhal. The current Union Jal Shakti Minister Biseswar Tudu – the Lok Sabha MP from Droupadi Murmu’s home district Mayurbhanj – is from the Santhal community. Some news reports quoted their community leaders terming the nomination of Droupadi Murmu as the ruling party’s presidential election candidate as “a golden era for Santhals” in the country.

Despite their social upliftment, the Santhals are usually connected to their roots. They are nature worshippers and could be seen paying obeisance at Jaher (sacred groves) in their villages.
Their traditional dress includes dhoti and gamuchha for men and a short-check saree, usually blue and green, for women, who generally put on tattoos. Various forms of marriage are accepted in the Santhal society – including elopement, widow remarriage, levirate, forced (rare) and the one in which a man is made to marry the woman he has impregnated.
Divorce is not a taboo in the Santhal society. Either of the couple could divorce the other. A man can divorce his wife if she is proven to be a witch or does not obey his command or goes to her parents’ home frequently disregarding his interests.
A woman can divorce her husband if he fails to provide for her or if she wants to marry another man. In the latter case, the man who marries the woman must pay the bride price and other expenses to her former husband. If a man divorces his wife, the village council fixes a compensation that he must pay to his wife.
There are certain unique rules that expecting Santhal parents have to follow. The husband does not kill an animal or takes part in a funeral when the wife is pregnant. The wife does not go out into the forest unaided by somebody, and does not mourn or weep the death of anybody during her pregnancy.
Santhals are fond of their folk song and dance that they perform at all community events and celebrations. They play musical instruments like kamak, dhol, sarangi and flutes.
Most Santhals are agriculturists, depending on their farmlands or forests. Their homes, called Olah, have a particular three-colour pattern on the outer walls. The bottom portion is painted with black soil, the middle with white and the upper with red.
River Damodar holds a special place in the religious life cycle of a Santhal. When a Santhal dies, his or her ashes and bones are immersed in the Damodar for a peaceful afterlife.
Their tribal language is called Santhali, which is written in a script called Ol chiki, developed by Santhal scholar Pandit Raghunath Murmu. Santhali language belongs to the Munda group. Santhali written in OI-Chiki script is recognised as one of the scheduled languages in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution.

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