March 27, 2018
Jharkhand govt has banned this book claiming misrepresentation of Santhal women.

A ban on this book on Santhals has brought to fore cultural contradictions of the tribe

'THE ADIVASI Will Not Dance', a book of short stories by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, has been banned by the Jharkhand government with claims that it is hostile to the nobility of Santhal ladies. Some additionally affirm that it is obscene.

The characters of the novel are largely Santhali, and this follows from the fact that the writer belongs to the same community. Set on Chotanagpur plateau, the stories portray the agrarian lifestyle of the tribe with each tale having a central human character.

Shortest story of the collection — "November is the Month of Migrations"  — raked up the controversy that cost Shekhar his job and ban on the book.

The intense story of energy and frailty, it recounts a penurious Santhal family on its yearly work-related relocation from Jharkhand to West Bengal. At the railway station, a non-Santhal policeman grasps a bread pakoda and coaxes Talamai, one of the little girls, for sex. Talamai is eager as her family has no sustenance to offer. She eats the pakoda, conceals a Rs 50 note the policeman gives her and comes back to join her family. 


Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar had a bittersweet experience after the publication as the ban also led to his subsequent banishment from the job as the medical officer at a district health centre in Jharkhand. “The disappointment of suspension from the job is there but my co-workers and others at workplace stood by me. I also got an overwhelming response from the Santhali readers who represent the real face of the community,” he said speaking at City Scripts, an event recently held in Delhi. 

I got an overwhelming response from Santhali readers who  represent the real face of the community 

The writer brought the audience face-to-face with the bitter realities of Santhals starting with the Santhal Rebellion of 1855 against the British and Zamindari system and the subsequent Tenancy Acts that bar transfer of land. He traced vulnerability of the Santhals to lack of unity within the tribe.

The Santhal Rebellion was the first assertion of identity by the tribals.Source: Wikipedia

“They never reach on a consensus, may it be festival dates or anything else. A festival called, ‘Bahar’ that signifies the spring festival is largely a village affair since the entire community has not yet been able to decide on a single date to celebrate it. Another festival, ‘Sohrai’ that falls exactly 10 days after Diwali has different context for different people within the community and hence, it is celebrated on two different dates in north and south Jharkhand,” Shekhar said.

The state of Santhali script, ‘Ol chiki’ is another issue. It was included in the VIII schedule of the Indian Constitution in 2003, considered a big achievement for the Santhals. The script is, however, still not commonly used with Roman and Devanagari being the ‘ruling’ scripts widely used and preferred.


“This indicates that even though our desires and ideas may come in Santhali or Hindi, we have been conditioned to think in English over time. One of the major problems is that there are no big publishers in the language that in turn discourages the Santhali-reading public. There is also lack of desire to publish among the Santhal writers,” Shekhar said. 

Lack of unity and openly ignored language of their own are partially the reasons for Santhals not having a strong sense of identity

Lack of unity and openly ignored language of their own are partially the reasons for Santhals not having a strong sense of identity. “They always end up being subordinates. For me, being a Santhali was largely the precursor and motivation to write the book that largely centers around the lifestyle and adversities of my community,” Shekhar pointed out. 

He also brought attention to interaction of Santhals with Tata steel plant, claiming that the industrial group has actually bought loyalties of the adivasis.


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