Santali, a language spoken by about six million people in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan, is a language in the Santali subfamily of Austro-Asiatic, related to Ho and Mundari. The literacy rate in Santali speaking regions is very low, just around 20-30%. It is basically spoken by the tribal people of India. The tribe that speaks this language is quite backward as far as the standard of living is concerned. Most of them work in the coal mines or the steel factories of Asansol and Jamshedpur. The tribe that speaks this language is known as Santhal. There is not a very regular distribution of people who speak the Santhali language. States like Jharkhand, Assam, Bihar, Orissa, Tripura and West Bengal are some of the place where one can easily find the speakers of this language. This language is actually a dialect of the Munda language.
Even though the language is not much in use these days, some educated Santhals still use it to write books and other literary pieces. This language was written in the Roman script during the British rule. But now, Santhali is written in the Devanagari script. Due to its similarities with the Bengali language, many educated Santhali writers prefer writing it in Bengali. The reason for doing so is because of its similarities in the use of phonetics. It is estimated that the Santali language is older than the Aryan languages. The Santhal script is a relatively current advancement. Until the twentieth century, Santhali did not have a written language and it used Latin or Roman, Devanagari and Bangla writing systems.
Contribution of Pandit Raghunath Murmu
A need for the separate script was felt by some visionary Santhals, as none of the existing scripts was sufficient to communicate the Santali language phonetically. This further resulted in the invention of new script called Ol Chiki. This script was invented by Pandit Raghunath Murmu in 1925. Raghunath Murmu is popularly known as Guru Gomke among the Santals, a title awarded to him by the Mayurbhanj Adibasi Mahasabh. The alphabets of the language are known as Ol Chiki, though people are not very well versed in it. Pandit Raghunath Murmu is respected among Santhals for his noble deed, action and contribution of the script Ol Chiki for the Santhal society. For uplifting the Santhal community, he contributed a lot through his pen and writings. He wrote over 150 books covering a wide range of subjects. It includes works such as grammar, novels, drama, poetry, and short stories in Santali using Ol Chiki as part of his extensive programme. Among the most acclaimed of his works are Darege Dhan, Sidhu-Kanhu, Bidu Chandan and Kherwal Bir Pandit.