Behera, Santosh Kumar

    In the early stages of development every society has its own system of administration on the basis of its social, religious, customs, traditions and modes of behaviour. The Santal as an oldest inhabitant of India, possesses well organised socio-political structure to ensure discipline towards the whole community. The political structure of the Santal community is based purely on democracy. The Santal society has three tier administrative structures. The British administrators were highly influenced by their well behaved and peace loving nature as well as by their organised social system. 

    The first tier, smallest and lowest in political structure of Santal administration is Panchayat (Council) or the village level – is most important which consist office bearers where all internal disputes are referred and finally settled. The Panchayat consists of village elders. The function of Panchayat is to solve any problem or dispute that may arise amongst the villagers. If it fails all the villagers assemble together at a place called Manjhisthan. Any problem is decided and solved by the decision of the majority. If the dispute arise among the two villages, the Panchayats of the concerned villages take initiative to finalise the dispute. The Panchayat has every right to punish the accused person who breaks traditional laws through imposition of fines. In general a full fledged Panchayat has the following seven officials:-

(The leadership and Administrative Structure of Santal) 

    The Manjhi is counted as the headman of the village. He is the all powerful leader of the village. In the early stages he had to look after the development and progress of the community. His duty was to collect rents from their own community on behalf of the Zamindar. As recognition of his post and duty he was given a rent free land known as “Manland”. His presence and permission is necessary in every social and religious activity like negotiation, marriage, divorce, initiation and so on. In birth or death, in marriage or rituals, nothing can be done without his instruction. He can settle any outsider in the village if felt necessary. In case of every marriage in the village which remained under his control, he was offered Rs. 1/- as taken of his prestige as village leader known as “Marocha”, and in return he had to offer one jar of “Handia” (a kind of rice liquor) to the wedding party. At present the “Manjhi” does not get any rent free land and does not collect rents from the villagers. But still his position and prestige is the same as before and he is counted as the headman of the village.

    Paramanik is counted as an assistant of headman of the village and he does all the works in the absence of “Manjhi”. If the “Manjhi” resigns or dies, and if he does not have any successor then the “Paramanik” gets the post of the “Manjhi”. In the past he had to look after the agricultural interest of the Santal people living in his village, he was to look after the interest of the new settlers, he was to divide all the fertile lands equally among the villagers so as to equal facilities to all, he had also the duty to entertain the guests of the village collecting contribution from the villagers. Like the “Manjhi”, the “Paramanik” also received some “Manland” as his prestige. Now his position, responsibility and prestige as assistant headman of the village still remains, though the benefit of “Manland” is withdrawn. Due to changing social system the duty of distribution of land is also not practiced at present.

    Jog- manjhi has an interesting role among the Santal. He leads the youths of the village. His duty is to look after the moral sides of the youths especially of the unmarried ones. He also looks after the discipline, ethics, social custom etc. carried out by the young villagers. He conducts all the dances during the festivals. Without his instructions the youths do not take part in the dance programme.

    Jog-paramanik is an assistant to the “Jog -manjhi” and in some cases work as an executive officer. When “Jog- manjhi” remains absent in the village it is the “Jog-paramanik”, who performs his duty.

    Naeke is the priest of the Santal community. He discharges the function of worshipping the national deities on the occasion of annual festivals. There is two annual festivals i.e., Sarhul and Moi Muri.

Kudum Naeke:
    He is the assistant of the “Naeke” ( Priest), and the worshipper of forests and nature.Who is also propitiate the local spirits supposed to be living in jungles and hills. If necessary, he sacrifices his own blood, so that evil spirits can not harm the villagers. He is also the worshipper of Pargana, Bonga and Seema Bonga for a successful hunting.

    He is the messenger of “Manjhi”. His function is to discharge the function of a peon. When a meeting is to be held his duty is to inform all on behalf of the “Panchayat”. In certain places in past, he also worked as the servant of the “Zamindar”. He plays an important role during the festivals and rituals.

Among the above mentioned seven categories of officials the most important ones are Manjhi, Paramanik, Naeke, Jog-manjhi and Godet who must have been in every Panchayat. All the Panchayat officials are elected at the time of the foundation of a village and from that time and onwards these posts are counted as hereditary. But when people think some officials not suitable to the post, they have every right to change him and elect a new man to that post. That indicates how much they abide the principles of democracy. The Panchayat meetings are held under a tree in the center of the village. If the Manjhi of the village can not solve any problem, he invites the Pargana.

Pargana is the second tier administration level of Santal community. A Pargana is made up of 10-12 villages. Head of this organisation is called Parganait. He is the custodian of all social functions of the village and his area. Parganait is selected by several village heads and he is at liberty to tell the post till his death. Each Manjhi of the village is present in the session of Pargana. The assistant of Pargana is called Desh Manjhi. He keeps all the information about the Pargana.

LO- BIR (Sikhar Parishad )
    It is the third tier administration level of Santal community. It is the Supreme Court or the highest law-court of the Santals. Where every one have equal right and are bound to obey the decision of Lo-bir. This session starts at the time of annual hunting. Dihri is the conductor and the judge of this session. Any decision made by the Manjhi, if unacceptable, can be solved in this session. Nobody disobeys the rules of the village organisation. If any body behaves unsocially or breaks social laws, he can be made an out caste i.e., Bitlaha. It is the greatest punishment executed by the council. It is also the highest social institution where crucial and disputed unsolved problems are raised.

    It should be noted very carefully that women are not allowed to participate in Panchayat functions, although, it is found in every sphere of life both men and women are equal share of participation for the development of community or nation.

    Even today, upto some extent, it is general trend of the Santal community to solve any problem through the total participation of their community. It is also evident that, long before the existing communist concept, the Santals had a complete democratic society with an ideal administrative system. The most surprising fact is that, the Santals had been following the dictums of these ultra-modern communist laws religiously from time immemorial. Today the Santal administrative system has gone through a drastic change under the pressure of administration within the jurisdiction of Indian constitution. The Santals also come under the government rule as they are the citizens of India. There is an elected Panchayat which is local government having revenue and judicial power. People are no more bound to abide by this traditional village council. So the traditional Santal administrative system has become ineffective.

References :

  • Risley Herbert 1969, “ The People of India”, 2nd Edt., Munshi ram Manoharlal Publication, New Delhi.
  • Sahu Chaturbhuj 1998, “ Problems of Ageing among the Indian Tribes”,Sarup & Sons, New Delhi.
  • Baskey D. Nath 2002, “ The Tribes of West Bengal” Published by Anita Baskey, Kolkata.
  • Dutta Majumdar, N 1955, “ The Santal, A study in Culture Change”, The Manager of Publications,New Delhi.
  • O' Malley, L.S.S 1938, “ Santal Parganas”, 2nd. edt. Patna.
  • Vidyarthi,L.P. and Rai, B.K. 1985, “ The Tribal Culture of India”, Concept Publishing Company, New Dehli.
  • Bandyopadhyay,P.K. 1999, “Tribal Situation in Eastern India”,Published by Subarnarekha,kolkata. 
  • Bhowmik, K. L. 1986, “ Tribal India A Profile in Indian Ethnilogy” World Press, Kolkata.

ISSN: 2249 3433


The word tribe is variously used in literature to denote a community on the basis of homogeneity. Originally many autochthonous communities who were identified by similar culture, social organisation and governance, living away from the main stream life of a country, were mentioned as tribe by their colonial rulers and Western scholars. Many such communities have moved towards the mainstream lifestyle so that they may no longer be identified as secluded, underdeveloped people with queer customs. This has happened to all areas of the world where tribal communities live. Still, many tribal communities lead their lives in very primitive ways devoid of the techno-economic glamour of contemporary civilization. These communities are labeled as "Primitive Tribal Groups". Indian Government has identified such tribal groups to give special attention to their development, whereas in the Indian Constitution all the tribal groups are recognized as "scheduled tribes".


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