Santhali literature booming, but needs help

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People’s language Telling their story.

“Contemporary tribal literature does not get government grants and flourishes on personal and individual enterprise,” Mangal Manjhi said.

His modest ‘Adim (ancient) Book Centre’ which sells Santhali works written in the traditional Ol Chiki script was set up 15 years ago in the tribal-dominated area of Parsudih on the outskirts of the steel city of Jamshedpur.

“It was the lone tribal bookshop in the region and also the first tribal shop to take part in the prestigious Jamshedpur Book Fair in 1994.

His shop is currently one of the two surviving tribal bookshops in Jharkhand. “All the others have downed shutters because of resource crunch over the last five years. A couple of tribal hawkers sell books door-to-door in Ghatshila in East Singhbhum,” he said.

Since 2003, after Santhali — along with Maithili, Bodo and Dogri — was put in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution, contemporary literature has witnessed a spurt of new writers, Manjhi said.

Inclusion in the Eighth Schedule means the government is now under obligation to take measures for the development of the language. A candidate appearing for a public service examination is entitled to answer questions in the language.

“On an average, 50 new Santhali books are published every year. They are books on drama, poetry, novels, historical tales and religious texts,” Manjhi said.

“The number of books can go up two-fold if the government recognises Santhali as an official Indian vernacular language like Bengali, Punjabi and Oriya under Article 345 of the Constitution. Tribal children are not encouraged to study Santhali even in schools because it’s not official.”

The writer-bookseller, who has written two books, Hasur Bera (The Last Fence) and Molong Anol (The Circle of Fate), is now campaigning for it, along with a handful of intellectuals in Jharkhand and West Bengal. “Santhali should be taught in every government school in tribal pockets,” Manjhi said. “We have managed to introduce it in a few schools on personal initiative.” Santhals are the biggest tribal group in the Chhotanagpur region of which Jharkhand is a part — they form nearly 27 percent of the population.

Talking about his shop, Manjhi said, “Classical Santhali literature is still the most popular. Two books of drama by the creator of Ol Chiki script, Raghunath Murmu, titled Kherowar Bir and Bidu Chadan, are still in demand.” Murmu, who was born in 1905, felt the need to create a script because Santhali was written in the Roman script before that. By 1925, Murmu created Ol Chiki, the only tribal script without any compound words. “The creation of Ol Chiki gave birth to Santhali literature,”
Manjhi said.

The dream to sell Santhali books was sown in Manjhi’s mind when he first visited the Jamshedpur Book Fair. “I wanted to buy some Santhali books but I could not get any. It was a disappointment because the state was mine, but it did not have books in our language. I decided to sell my own books. Four years later, I was back at the fair as the lone tribal book shop owner in the region.”

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