Bengal tribal politics heats up after Ol Chiki figures in PM ‘Mann Ki Baat’

Tudu, who belongs to the Santhal tribe, is the professor of the Santhali language in Sidho-Kanho-Birsha University in Bengal’s Purulia. He said that he was “very happy” that the PM has praised his work for him, adding that he is “proud” of his Santhal community.

“When I read the Constitution of India, I realized that every person of this country should know about our Constitution. The Constitution has many provisions which we do not know. To know it, the Santhali people should read the Constitution. So, I translated the Constitution into the Santhali language so that people from the community can easily read and understand it,” Tudu told The Indian Express.

The Ol Chiki script for the Santhali language was developed by Pandit Raghunath Murmu, a renowned Santhali writer, eight decades ago following which this script started gaining currency within the tribal community. The Jyoti Basu-led Left Front government in Bengal first recognized the Santhali language on July 5, 1979, but Ol Chiki reportedly began to be taught in the state’s government schools only about a decade ago.

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Tudu, who is now working on the history of the Santhali literature, said, “The tribal community is known for social awareness. I think the Santhali community’s political awareness would benefit after studying the Indian Constitution in their own language.”

Tribal politics in the Trinamool Congress (TMC)-ruled West Bengal, however, seems to have heated up in the wake of PM Modi’s bid to appreciate Tudu’s efforts.

The secretary of the All India Santhali Writers Association’s Bengal chapter, Dijapada Hansda, said, “Santhali is a very important language in India. In Eastern India, a vast community in Jharkhand, West Bengal, Odisha, and Assam and other Northeastern states speak and write in Santhali. So, Sripati’s work is a very important work as the Constitution will be easily accessible to the community with its translation in Ol Chiki.”

Hansda then said, “But this is not the first time that the Constitution has been translated into the Santhali language in Ol Chiki script. Earlier, Digambar Hansda from Jharkhand has also done a similar work. As Sripati’s work regards him, not many people were aware of it too. Now, of course, after Prime Minister’s mention of him, there is talk about it.”

He also went on to say, “All political parties try to take advantage of tribals. It is not new in Indian politics.”

The working president of the International Santhali Council, Naresh Murmu, said, “Tudu’s work is undoubtedly commendable and worthy of praise. But we should also keep in mind how Narendra Modi and his BJP party have been functioning in the country.

In the 2019 Lok Sobha elections, the BJP won 18 of the total 42 seats in Bengal. Many of these seats the party snagged are from predominantly Dalit and tribal belts such as the Jangal Mahal region in western Bengal and some northern districts of the state. Subsequently, however, the saffron party started losing ground in these areas that was reflected in the TMC’s landslide victory in the 2021 state Assembly polls. That process accelerated afterwards, with several tribal leaders maintaining that the BJP is now keenly trying to retrieve its lost support base among Dalits and tribals in the state.

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The BJP MP from the Jhargram constituency, Kunar Hembram, however, said, “By praising Tudu’s work, Prime Minister Modi ji recognized those Santhali personalities who are doing commendable work in their fields. Earlier, the Santhali community did not get such recognition. When Atal Bihari Vajpayee ji was Prime Minister, in 2003, the Constitution was amended to include Santhali among the recognized official languages. So, everything should not be politicized.”

Hitting back, the TMC MLA from Bandwan, Rajib Lochan Soren, said, “If BJP indulges in politics over it, then it will not be fair to Sripati. They are doing politics. There are plenty of works done by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for the tribal community of Bengal. She made university, colleges, schools for Santalis. She also declared a pension for elders of the Santhal community. She also gave official recognition to the Santhali language in 2013.”

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