Santhals: Who are the Santhals? The community in spotlight after NDA named Draupadi Murmu as their Presidential pick

The largely discrete Santhal community is back in the spotlight after the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) on Tuesday named Draupadi Murmu as their Presidential candidate for the upcoming election on July 18.

Community leaders termed it as the ‘golden era’ for Santhals in the country. If elected, Draupadi Murmu would become the first tribal woman President of India.

Who are the Santhals?

The Santhali population is distributed in Odisha, Jharkand and West Bengal. Draupadi Murmu’s home district Mayurbhanj, is one of the districts having the largest concentrations of the tribe. In Odisha, Santhals are found in Keonjhar and Balasore, other than Mayurbhanj district. Their literacy rate is very high compared to other tribes in Odisha. If one sees in terms of prosperity in the community

Draupadi Murmu’s political journey

She served as a teacher in a local school and entered public administration first as a councillor and later as vice-president of BJP’s Scheduled Tribes Morcha. She was elected MLA twice on a BJP ticket in 2000 and 2009. Under the BJD-BJP coalition in 2000, she also served as Minister for Commerce and Transport and Fisheries and Animal Husbandry. In 2015, she was appointed as the first Governor of Jharkhand. The 64-year-old suffered several setbacks, losing her two sons and husband between 2009 and 2014.

Other notable Santhal personalities

Besides, Hemant Soren, the Chief Minister of Jharkhand, Girish Chandra Murmu, the first Lieutenant Governor of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, is now Comptroller and Auditor General of India. The 1985 batch IAS officer of Gujarat cadre was a close confidant of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Mayurbhanj Member of Parliament, Biseswar Tudu, a Santhal, is Union Minister for Tribal Affairs and Jal Shakti.

Turning away from agriculture

Research undertaken by the AnSI has pointed to a shift in the socio-economic and cultural life of the Santhals over the past few decades. This shift is especially visible in adjoining areas of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. In West Bengal’s Birbhum district, in six decades the economy of the village has shifted from agriculture to one of menial work. Most of the men from the village now work as daily labourers, rickshaw pullers, gardeners and caretakers at private residences.

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