The status and spread of Santali in different regions of India: A flourishing language hardly in need of being “revived”

Dr. Ivy Hansdak

Santali is not a dead language in the first place so it does not need to be “revived”! I have grown up in Santal Parganas where people speak Santali in their homes, in the marketplace, attend church service in Santali (in the Lutheran churches) and sing hymns in Santali. […]

Finally, the Santals of Santal Parganas speak the purest form of Santali. Other varieties have emerged in other regions but our region has retained most of the language’s original pronunciation and vocabulary.


The People’s Linguistic Survey of India (PLSI), completed recently by GN Devy’ s team has identified many languages as endangered but Santali is not among them. Orient Blackswan has published 50 volumes on the PLSI and their findings are being debated by eminent linguists of India and abroad. I attended a seminar recently on linguistic diversity in South Asia at India International Centre, Delhi, where a speaker from Bangladesh mentioned Santali as one of the languages being taught there.

In India, Santali (Santhali) is one of the two tribal languages that have been recognized as official languages (the other is Boro). But by linking Santali to a particular script (ol chiki), official recognition has also done a great disservice to the larger Santal community. Most of the literary and educational works in Santali prior to this had existed in the Roman script. Skrefsrud’s Horkoren Mare Hapram ko Reak’ Katha (Traditions and Institutions of the Santals), PO Bodding’s A Santal Dictionary: 5 volumes, Santal Folk Tales: 3 Volumes, etc still remain the most valuable works in Santali literature and language. By imposing a little – known script on Santali learners in govt school, this corpus of knowledge is being denied to them.


[I]n India where about 2000 languages are spoken (about 600 of them being oral/tribal languages). Learning the mainstream lingua franca (English/ Hindi/ Bangla/ Assamese) of that region makes for marketable skills and later raises the learner’s economic and social status. And the issue of political identity is then pushed into place to claim special privileges for the speakers of the marginalized language (Santal/Boro/Oraon etc).

Teaching the marginal language at school will not work long – term if the learner later finds himself unable to compete in today’s highly competitive workplace.

This experiment was tried long ago in two Lutheran mission schools of Santal Parganas (Maharo Girls School and Kaerabani Boys School). My father was from Kaerabani (where he learnt Hindi, English and Santali in the classroom) – but while doing the MBBS course at CMC Vellore, Tamil Nadu, he had to work very hard to keep up with his classmates. As a result, he refused to send us to the same schools and chose English – medium boarding schools run by the Roman Catholics (which was frowned upon by the Lutheran missionaries who had sponsored him earlier).

Source: personal messages by Dr. Ivy Hansdak, Assistant Professor, Department of English, Jamia Millia Islamia University New Delhi (21 & 22 January 2017) responding to Two tribal villages in Bengal revive the Santali language >>

Dr. Ivy Imogene Hansdak is Assistant Professor, Department of English, Jamia Millia Islamia University New Delhi

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See also

Audio | Santali Traditional and Fusion Songs: Ghosaldanga Bishnubati Adibasi Trust – West Bengal

Banam (Santal string instrument)
– eBook: Banam Making Workshop at Bishnubati | Daricha Foundation
– Video: Banam Raja | Interview with Nunulal Marndi | Reviving the Huka Banam

eBook | Background guide for education

eBook | Free catalogue: Banam: One of the ancient musical instruments of the Santals

eBook | Free catalogue: Museum of Santal Culture (Bishnubati) – West Bengal

eBook | “Santals Celebrate the Seasons”: Creativity fostered by Ashadullapur Gramin Silpa & Sastha Bidhan Kendra – West Bengal

India’s tribal, folk and devotional music: Secular and ceremonial songs

eJournal | Writing and teaching Santali in different alphabets: A success story calling for a stronger sense of self-confidence

Infusing the Santhali Element in Schooling by Rina Mukherji

Museum collections – India

Museum of Santal Culture Bishnubati

Music album and video by Santal village children and youths (DVD, CD): “Children see world around them differently” – West Bengal & Odisha

Music and dance | Adivasi music and the public stage by Jayasri Banerjee

Puppetry | Santali Chadar Badni / Chadar Bad(o)ni”| Daricha Foundation
– eBook: Cadence-and-counterpoint-documenting-santal-musical-traditions
– Video: Damon Murmu | Sahadev Kisku | Shibdhan Murmu

Santal | Santal creation myth | Santal Parganas | The Santals by Boro Baski

Santal cultural traditions documented on the Daricha Foundation website

Santal flute music: Audio resource by – West Bengal & Jharkhand

Santali language | eBook | A Santali-English dictionary –

Santali script – Ol Chiki

Santal mission | Santali songs recorded in 1931 at Kairabani (Jharkhand)

Santal music | Santal Musical Traditions: National Museum (exhibition catalogue)

Video | Santali video album “Ale Ato” (Our Village)

Video & eLearning | “Cadence and Counterpoint: Documenting Santal Musical Traditions” – A virtual exhibition on Google Cultural Institute

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