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Santhals Road to Better Living
The Santhal community is one of the oldest community in India. They have a culture quite different from the culture of other mainstream communities. Santhals are known for their rich tradition vis--vis their music and mythological tradition.
However, Santhals have remained a backward community cocooning itself from the others. They felt it better to live on their own in order to preserve their rich cultural heritage.
As a result, they became easy prey to exploiters who forced them into doing physical labour and fleeced them like anything. This only increased the Santhals apathy towards the mainstream. With eroding green cover, the Santhals were forced to join the mainstream. But lack of a personal touch on the part of the Government officials and thanks to widespread corruption in diverting funds meant for tribal welfare, made them feel left out amidst the stream of humanity.
A language that they never could relate to made things difficult for most people. As it is that the Santhali language is of oral nature, it had no written letters, and that made things difficult for the Santhali children to study in their mother tongue. Besides, a host of tradition and superstition made them keep away from mainstream education.
So the news that a group of newly educated, young Santhali youths have set up a vocational training centre in the hinterland of Bolpur came as a pleasant surprise. Sona Murmu of Ghosaldanga and Boro Baksi Bishnubati are among the few Santhali boys who had passed school.
Earlier, a handful of those who managed to reach to precincts of college left their villages for greener pastures. Here this duo stayed back in their villages to teach their fellow villagers how to achieve a better living.
The spread awareness about family health, imparted basic education to the juniors, encouraged planting of trees, taught techniques to improve the methods of farming and at the same time encouraged village folks to carry on with their singing and dancing in order to preserve their heritage. Thus, began their relentless struggle to bring their community at par with other mainstream communities.
Boro Baski and his friend Gokul Hansda, planned to do something more for the folks of their community. They started requesting everybody for help. The government agencies proverbial apathy frustrated them. But they carried on their campaign for funds. Help arrived from Germany.
A group of associates of writer Martin Kaempchen, extended help. The Ghoshaldanga Adivasi Seva Sangha was born. This Sangha started a campaign to educate all village folks. The result is that nowadays, almost all kids above the age of five attend school and most of those above the age of 17 years have passed their Madhyamik exams. Boro Baski, the pioneer of this movement took the initiative of transforming the largely oral Alchiki, the Santhali dialect, into a written form.
Achieving all this has never been a cakewalk for the initiators of the programme. The Santhali kids had to work hard to cross the hurdles. The kids had to attend school in the moving and evening and work in the fields in between. In order to be at par with the rest of the world, they worked hard.
Their hard work bore fruit, when they ultimately opened a vocational training school. In order to churn out, technically proficient people in various disciplines, they opened the vocational training school. They understood. That higher education in the general streams would not be fruitful, since given the present unemployment scenario, a course in general education would not be of much help. The residents of Ghoshaldanga and Bishnubati now feel proud at the development.
In another development, the first cassette of Tagore songs rendered in Santhali has just been released. The songs has been translated by Barka Saren, who has trained himself as a musician from Vishva-Bharati.
Really, a giant leap forward for a community that once remained steeped in tradition, has now come out of its shadows. This album of Rabindrasangeet, it is hoped will definitely resurrect the Santhali spirit.
Bengalonthenet.com Subhayu Banerjee
29.4.2002

Post Report  Kathmandu Post
BHADRAPUR, Jan 14- "Talanana, talanana, Ukatem chalakana, Natekyagme Happan Banbu, Sahepakana," the seven-year old Lukhi Murmu reads aloud from her Sattar dialect text-book in the classroom. Translated loosely, it means, in effect, "Dear aunt, Dear aunt, come and look here, doesnt my small brother look a real Sahib?"

Thanks to the pioneering work by Dilip Baskey [Sattar] at Lakhibari, three kilometres south of Garamuni in Jhapa, Murmu has been able to learn in her own mother tongue. This visionary tribal youth left no stone unturned to translate into reality his dream of founding a school that taught the language of his people.

Meanwhile, Budrai Mardi of the Sattar village at Lakhibari is too happy to see his children studying in his own native language and script. Earlier, the only familiar sounds in this village of simple and hardworking people used to be the sounds of sickles and axes.

The Parsi Puha Santhal School, set up two years ago at Garamuni, is the first school of its kind not just in Jhapa but in the country too.

The sixty-year old Budrai, who lives near the school, laments that his generation couldnt even dream of having any formal education. "Even Nepali [government] schools werent there during our timelet alone such as this," he says. "But, I am hopeful now that my children at least will have better learning opportunities."

Budrai is not the only one to be proud of the indigenous school. Every Sattar here is glad that his community has done something. Despite their anxiousness to contribute to the schools progress, they remain helpless because they reel under grinding poverty. The case in point is that the school doesnt have any proper building to accommodate the 31 students studying there.

"It is with much difficulty that I have been running this school,"says the founder-headmaster Dilip. The one-room bamboo hut was built with the financial assistance of Garamuni VDC. However, it is already in shambles - two walls have already crumbled down, and the roof leaks. The pupils use dust-slate to take their lessons.

In the beginning, Dilip - who is also an undergraduate student at Mechi Campus, Bhadrapur, - had planned to conduct adult literacy program too, but the elders found little time to devote after the long and hard days of work.

"One substantial achievement of the school is that the local tribals have at least become aware of the importance of learning," says Dharmendra Mama, a teacher at the nearby Garamuni Secondary School.

"We dont study everyday, but anyway Ive learned how to read books in my native language," says a pupil Hari Mardi. He is excited at having been lucky enough to learn his script but - like Dilip - he is concerned about the new schools future.

Perhaps he doesnt understand that an insignificant voter group like his gets little attention in a parliamentary democracy.

The Garamuni VDC provides Rs One thousand per month as the teachers salary. In addition, every new student is charged fifteen rupees admission fee. Otherwise, the school doesnt have any other source of income.

The governments policy of providing primary education in the mother tongue seems an incomplete task unless it also provides, inter alia, adequate financial assistance and opportunities for their curriculum development.

The Sattars (an offshoot of the Santhal Tribes in India) are one of the most disadvantaged and backward tribes in the entire country. Almost all of them are landless, and generally depend upon the jungle to eke out a living.

The Sattar Guru Pt. Raghunath Murmu of Mayurbhanj district in Bihar, India had in 1936-37 developed the Santhal script Ol Chiki. This script has 30 Adangs [letters]- 24 consonants and 6 vowels.


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