India is a country of different groups of people. It is inhabited by a variety of tribes. There are six hundred and thirteen tribes living in this sub-continent. These tribes are the earliest inhabitants of India. Today we find them settled all over India. They live in the remote places of India such as hilly and thick forest regions. Tribes are well known by the name ‘Adivasis’, which was used to mean those original inhabitants of India. These people have their own way of living, customs, traditions, faiths, beliefs and practices. They constitute the groups representing the primitive stage of life and so they are called ‘Aboriginals’. In the Indian constitution they are classified as ‘Seheduled tribes’. Tribes constitute about eight percent of India’s population. This paper is an attempt to study the plight of the Santals, the largest tribal group in India. I will try to explain their identity, their social, economical and religious oppression. I will also deal with the steps taken by the different movements to overcome those oppression and the role of the Church in this situation.

Santals are one of the most important and largest homogenous tribes of India. In India they are found in five states such as Bihar, Orissa. West Bengal, Assam and Tripura. We find the largest number of Santals in Chotonagpur plateau in Bihar, which is regarded as their traditional home. Their population is 3,164,107 consisting of 1,594,714 males and 1,609,393 females.
After the division of Santal parganas, they are not only remembered for their remarkable patriotic role in the war of Independence but also are admired for maintaining a distinct cultural personality.

The Santals are frank, open, honest and gentle and also have a natural love for calm, conscientious and happy life. They believe in social justice, and so any immoral act does not go unpunished. Naturally they are simple at the same time they have a highly respected social code of morality which helps them to maintain their social solidarity, integrity and identity.
One of the most enhancing characteristics that we find in Santals is their community life. It is well organised and may be called a ‘model of corporate living’. It is based on the concept and practice of equality, fraternity and social justice permeated through the idealism of socialism and democracy. The Santals are having a very high level of social cohesion and social identity. The principle of togetherness and the spirit of brotherhood are some of the values which could be attributed to them.

The history of Santals is a history of oppression and alienation. Once they were the original people of the land and today they are an oppressed lot. Once they were a happy group and today they are an alienated group. Once they ruled the jungles but today they are driven out of their lands. In this part of the paper I will try to focus my attention, briefly, to the Social, political, economical , religious and moral life situations of the Santals.

The Santals are agriculturists. Agri-culture is the back bone of their economy. Their life is greatly influenced by the forests, on which they depend for their supply of food, firewood, building materials and materials for tools and machines. Today they are displaced from their lands. The lands are taken forcefully for the establishment of various industries in Jamshedpur, Bokaro, Dhanabad and other places and thousands of Adibasis gave their land for national interest.
Many Santals are employed in the factories, only as collectors and carriers of coal in the lowers. Many poor Santals are exported as brick field labourers, with minimum salary. They are hired to work in the railway tracts and the national highways by the government employers. In private houses and convents Santal girls are being employed to sweep and wipe the house, washing the clothes, vessels and clean the toilets, though their qualification is high. These people are terribly discriminated. In the tribal belt there is 90% production of electricity in Bihar, but it is pity to hear that non of the tribals enjoy the fruit of electricity. Mr.Sibu Soren the president of Jharkhand Party is right in saying “Though most of the coal, iron, copper, alluminium and hundreds of other minerals including uranium come from tribal belt, we (Adivasis) never had any control over our wealth, while the rest of the country benefits by using our resources.”
Another reason for their socio-economic oppression is that they are made foreigners in their own land. Santals have lended money from Non-Santals and Mahajans. They could not return it back in time as a result their lands are taken away forcefully by the money lenders. The Santals are continued to be under the thump of Mahajans and Zamindars. It is interesting to note that the connotation of Zamindars has changed from time to time. Originally it used to mean non tribals. Later it was meant for upper caste people. At present it is used to mean ‘the people of North Bihar’, who earn their living here and send them out to their own homes in North Bihar. As a result hunger and poverty has become normal life of the Santals.

The majority of Santals are illiterate. Parents do not have any interest to educate the children. The children have to take care of the animals for crazing and have to go to school with empty stomach. The education system itself is oriented towards upliftment of the rich dikus. The teachers are never bothered about the tribal children. There are many S.T.(Seheduled Tribes) schools but they do not have a single S.T. teacher .
S.T. boardings illegally admit the non Santals by change of name. Therefore Santal children lose the chance of admission. The central problem is syllabus. Each school has got its own syllabus and books. The Santals are not able to meet the heavy expenses of books and school fees. In most of the hostels and schools Santals girls are ill treated and used for manual works. Above all the interference of politics in school administration corrupt the mind of the Santal boys and girls.

Values are internalised during the process of socialisation. Parents and other primary care takers as well as other members of society play an important role in this process. Santals are more religious and are very particular about the need of their children to learn religious ways, principles and values.
They worship the spirits. The Spirits are calm and helpful, if they are pleased with the sacrifice. They are harmful, if they are displeased . This is the common belief of the Santals. There are two traditions of belief about their religion.
(a) Thakurji is the Supreme God. He has a court of super natural spirits called “Bongas” to help him. The court consists of a hundred and seventy Bongas, and these bongas are grouped into three major categories.
i. The spirit of the dead ancestors ii. The house hold and tutelary spirits iii. The spirits known as village deities
(b) The Supreme God of the Santals is said to be ‘Sing Bonga’ and his entire court is divided into 6 categories of bongas.
The bongas occupy the central place in the religious consciousness of the Santals. They believe that only by coming to terms with bongas can they be happy and free from diseases and disasters.
Beliefs in bongas are horrible form of oppression. The poor Santals could not satisfy the demands of the Ojha Nacke (priest) and Jan Guru (high priest). So they became worse in sickness and loose all their wealth. Now they are fed up of offering sacrifices to the bongas. They long for a total liberation. They want to get away from the oppression of bongas. Therefore thousands of Santals embraced Christianity as the true religion and as hope of transformation and salvation.

The Political life of the Santals were intimately connected to the different political movements, such as Jharkhand Party, Seva Dal etc. The Santals had taken refuge in their own home land at different periods of history and lived in comparative isolation for a long time. In the history of Santals we find that their blood were shed and lands were usurped by money lenders for many decades. When almost all the land were taken away and when they found nothing in their hand, they started to protect themselves and their lands. They were in need of an organization. Thus the Jharkhand Movement came into existence.
The movement was started already during the time of the British. When the British government captured Chotonagpur in 1857 this movement was known by different names such as, the Gepoy Meeting, Military Pensioners’ Movement, Headmen villagers Movement, Mass Movement and so on.

It will be difficult to support the theory that the disturbances were only sporadic and there was no organised movement among the Santals as a whole. Among the Santals a movement spread far and wide and was deeply supported from the different sections of the population. The Santals, the cultivators, the ex-military pensioners, the headmen, and the landed proprietors had all joined the movement. At the same time there is also a presumption that the movement may have been started by a section of the military.
It was true that the movement had not been publicised or declared openly due to fear. This movement remained only in the heart level. Actually it did not bring any change in the society or among the exploited communities.

Unnathi Samaj was organised on 1928 by a few educated tribal Christians for the upliftment of the tribals. Latter it was renamed as the adibasi sabha. It was decided at the annual conference of May 1938 that the adibasi sabha would serve as the only political party to represent tribal interests. As we know the farmers were the majority community in chotonagpur and Santal Parganas. The proposition of welfare work for the adibasi was neglected in comparison to the income from mineral wealth and forest produce of the area. The adibasis were loosing their identity, as primary education was being imparted through the medium of Hindi which was for them, only a market language. In fact in the population of Bihar, the Adibasis were a minority. It was not given prime consideration. As a result adibasis demadnded a separate Jharkhand province which comprises of Chotonagpur and Santal parganas.
After the independence a democratic form of government was estabilished. It brought new tendencies towards group solidarity. In 1591 the adibasi sabha took the name of Jharkhand Party and organised as a full political party under the leadership if Jaipal Singh. He succeeded in bringing together Christians and non-Christians, urban and rural people under its common interest. The movement did not limit only in Bihar but spread beyond Chotonagpur and Santal Parganas to the tea garden labourers in North Bengal, who were immigrants from this are.
Meanwhile block development programmes came out with new vision. It also could not satisfy the basic needs of tribals. The reason was that the blocks were staffed by non tribals. Many new small scale and large scale industries came out in this region within a short time. A large number of tribals were displaced due to the occupation of substantial areas of land. Adibasis face the problem of alienation and frustration in their homeland due to employment problems. This was the main problem which made Jharkhand leaders to think and as a result adibasis were united and they have been fighting for the separate Jharkhand State.

The Seve Dal was organised at the suggestion of Jaipal Singh in 1965. In the beginning this Seva Dal advocated the cause of the adibasi students and workers. They dealt with cases of delay in the payment of scholarships, difficulties in admission to the post graduate classes and so on. When ever they came to know the cases of employment of adibasi candidates had been suppressed, they brought it to the notice of the higher authorities and sought justice. When the communal riots broke out in Ranchi on 22
nd August 1987 the Seva Dal organised a ‘peace dal’ which went round convincing the adibasis that they should not get mixed up in that communal riot. In this incident many people suffered, both tribals as well as muslims. Therefore Muslims too joined this movement and they had supplied money to the seva dal and thus the adibasi maha sabha was organised by a section of the Jharkhandis.

The Church has identified herself with the tribal communities, by participating in their struggles and problems. Majority of the tribals, lived in utter poverty. When the Missionaries came they opened schools in various places and educated them. Missionaries respected their human dignity. Education coupled with training in human values opened their eyes. They demanded their rights. They stopped working in the landlord’s fields. The human resources development and education among the tribal communities has been a great shock to the power centres of the State.
Today the landlords are well aware that the Missionaries educate the tribals, both Christians and non Christians. Missionaries through quality education boost up the moral of tribal communities. This atmosphere helps the tribals to build up their identity.
Through education tribals become aware of their rich culture and deep human values. They were like lifeless bones. The work of the missionaries brought life into them and today they stand as a powerful front of human persons, which is a sign of danger to the communal politicians. They found out the way that is to create enemity among different groups. They use this communal card very cleverly, dividing tribal Christians and tribal non Christians for their electoral success. Moreover the missionaries will be accused as the trouble makers.
As members of the society missionaries work along with many other like minded secular groups to unite the tribals. Such work goes against the designs of the B.J.P and in their anger missionaries are called ‘criminals’. Though their accusations are not based on valid reasons but based on hunger for power and inhuman emotions.
The Christian missionaries are doing a lot of works for the tribals by opening schools and hospitals. The politicians divide the human community work systematically for their end. As a result Sr.Rani Maria gave her life in M.P., Fr. T.A. Thomas remained united with the tribals of Hazaribagh, in Bihar. In Gumla, two fathers and a brother payed a price for justice through giving their lives. Fr.Chritudass was paraded naked on the streets of Dumka and the authorities sat tight on his complaint. The reason was that they organised the bonded labourers against the local money lenders. These missionaries are the modern day prophets who denounced the injustices and oppressions perpetrated by the landlords on those hapless tribals.

In this paper we have come to know the life situations of Santals. Santals have given their lands in the name of national interest. They are put down in various ways. What is to be done to change this unjust and dehumanising situation existing in Santal society?. The challenge before us is to build a new society based on a new vision of man. For the construction of such a society, it is essential that we help the Santals to realise their power through unity, co-operation and organisation. They must transform their self- image into one of free authentic human beings. A transformed self-image and people’s power are the bases for the creation of a new society.
The transformation of self image is possible only through the creation of a new culture. The new culture that is to be developed must be founded on equality, justice and righteousness and supported by self - dignity and freedom.
Let me conclude with the saying of Martin Luther King, “Can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits"” . In this way each one can fully realise his or her authentic humanity.
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