Santali activists from the state of Odisha, eastern India, have published the first online magazine in santali. Although 7.6 million speakers have already seen other online publications, the magazine Birmali it is the first of its kind.
Birmali was published to celebrate the 116th birthday of Pandit Raghunath Murmu, also known as “Guru Gomke”, inventor of the Santali writing system ol chiki. Before the invention of oI chiki in 1925, Santali was an oral language that was transliterated into Latin, Devanagari, Hate, and Bengali. Santali was added to the eighth timeline of the Indian Constitution, which paved the way for it to become an official language in 2011 in Jharkhand and West Bengal. However, as a language, Santali still faces difficulties. As Shikha Mandi, India's first Santali radio presenter, explains:
(..) The problem is lies in this – everyone tells me that they don't understand when I speak in my mother tongue. If everyone starts making Bangla or Hindi or English their own, even Santhalis themselves will forget their own language. (..)
(..) The problem is that everyone tells me that they don't understand when I speak in my mother tongue. If everything begins to make Bengali, Hindi or English their own, even the Santalis themselves will forget their language. (…)
The santalis constitute one of the more than 700 indigenous communities that lives mainly in India. Santalis abroad live in Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. The total number of 104 million indigenous people constitutes 8.6% of the total population of India, according to the 2011 census.
@Naveen_Odisha First ever #santali e-magazine #birmali launched at https://t.co/LKCQo310uy by @ BaskeyFagu1 @Ramjit_Tudu @ashwanimurmu on 116th Birth anniversary of Pt. Raghunath Murmu pic.twitter.com/V5DLiTuefp
– ᱵᱤᱨᱢᱟᱹᱞᱤ ᱤ-ᱯᱟᱛᱷᱟᱢ (BIRMALI e-Magazine) (@birmaliemagazin) May 8, 2020
Naveen Patnaik, Odisha state chief of staff: Birmali, first magazine in santali, launched at https://birmali.com by Fagu Baskey (editor), Ramjit Tudu (translator and volunteer) and R Ashwani Murmu for 116 years of birth of Raghunath Murmu
Subhashish Panigrahi of Rising Voices contacted the three editors of Birmali magazine on Facebook Messenger — Ashwani Banjan Murmu, Fagu Baskey, and Ramjit Tudu — to find out what they plan for the magazine.
Rising Voices (RV): Tell us more about Birmali. What made you start this online magazine?
Fagu Baskey: Birmali is the first-ever online magazine in Santali. The Santali people have very little access to the Santali literature when they can now access the world's knowledge online. So we started working on bridging this gap. Just like a printed magazine, Birmali includes essays, poetry, stories, book reviews, entertainment news and even a special section for children's literature.
Fagu Baskey: Birmali is the first online magazine in santali. Santalis have very little access to Santali literature when they can access knowledge of the world online. So we started working to close this brecah. As a print magazine, Birmali includes essays, poetry, stories, book reviews, entertainment news, and even a special section on children's literature.
RV: What is the current environment for the Santali language and publications in Santali? How about online publications?
Ramjit Tudu: With official language status and a diaspora spread in India, Bangladesh and Nepal, there are many literary magazines, textbooks that are published in Santali from India. But there are only a few newspapers in print. Santali is poorly represented online. When it comes to web resources, one can find some linguistic resources that have been created by the Center for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) and some content created by Vikaspedia— both maintained by the Indian government. Besides these two, there is a Santali Wikipedia which would probably be the only encyclopaedic resource in Santali online. We also have a Santali edition of publications like Global Voices and StoryWeaver (children's literature). Some of us are involved in an initiative called Olchiki Tech which focuses on promoting Santali on digital and online platforms. There are two online news portals – Sar Sagun Patrika and Santali News – that are currently available.
Ramjit Tudu: With official language status and santalis outside India, Bangladesh and Nepal, there are many literary magazines, textbooks that are published in santali in India. But printed newspapers are few, the santali is poorly represented online. When it comes to web resources, you can find language resources created by the Center for Advanced Computing Development (C-DAC) and some content created by Vikaspedia, both funded by the Indian Government. In addition, there is Santali Wikipedia, which is probably the only online Santali encyclopedic resource. We also have an edition of santali publications like Global Voices and StoryWeaver (children's literature). Some of us participate in an initiative called Olchiki Tech, dedicated to promoting santali on digital and online platforms. Two online news portals are available, Sar Sagun Patrika and Santali News.
SP: How do you plan to bring Birmali to more readers?
Ashwani Murmu: As an online publication gives us the freedom to not have any geographical boundaries, we aim to take Birmali to the Santals who are in India, and also in Bangladesh and Nepal, and even further. We are in contact with the Santali readers and writers outside India. New and emerging as well as well-reckoned writers need a platform to express (themselves). Similarly, readers also need all forms of literature. We hope to provide that platform to Santali readers and authors for free of any charges, and by using social media to reach out to more readers. Our goal is to have our language at par with the majority languages.
Ashwani Murmu: Being an online publication gives us the freedom of having no geographical limits. The goal is to bring Birmali to the santalis that are in India, and also in Bangladesh and Nepal, and further afield. We are in contact with Santalis readers and writers outside India. New and emerging writers as well as other well-known writers need a platform to express themselves. Similarly, readers need all forms of literature. We hope to give this platform readers and authors santalis free of charge, and with social media to reach more readers. Our goal is that our language is on par with majority languages.
Literacy rates among Santalis vary between countries: 48.30% in Nepal to about 55% (55.57% in Odisha state and 54.72% in West Bengal, based on the 2011 census). The low economic level is one of the biggest barriers to access to education.
Birmali has a long way to go to gain popularity with Santali online readers. With close to 300,000 unique monthly page views, Wikipedia on santali shows less mobile readership – which means many mobile users must read or type santali on mobile platforms. A larger user base in santali in South Asia consists predominantly of mobile internet users.