ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Invisible, Unheard, Unrepresented

Locating Women in Santal Traditional Political Space

The general idea that “politics is for males and the private for females” applies to Santal society as well. The political space in Santal traditional society is male-dominated with little room for women’s issues and interests. This paper explores the different layers of male hegemony in the structure and functioning of traditional village institutions. It also assesses the changing role of these institutions in recent times when the Santal socio-economic space is getting more integrated with the mainstream. As Santal community life gradually disintegrates, there is an erosion of faith in, and the strength of, Santal traditional institutions. The already vulnerable Santal woman, living under the shadow of patriarchal customary laws, emerges as the most disadvantaged in these times.


This paper is an extract from the project report submitted to the Indian Association of Women’s Studies, which supported and funded the study in 2018. The author extends her gratitude to the IAWS and its members for their constant support and encouragement. She would also like to thank the anonymous reviewer for the insightful comments that were extremely helpful in refining the arguments of her paper.

Studies conducted in the last few decades have amply demonstrated that, unlike our earlier assumptions, most Adivasi societies are essentially patriarchal. The stereotypical belief that women occupy a position of high prestige in tribal society and enjoy an unfettered life has been successfully debunked (Nongbri 2003; Nathan and Kelkar 1991; Rao 2008; Kishwar 1987; Sinha 2011). An aspect of traditional Adivasi life that best exhibits male hegemony is the political arena—in many Adivasi societies, women largely ­remain non-participants in community institutions. While several studies have shown the deep linkages between women’s presence in politics and decision-making processes on the one hand and women’s empowerment and the evolution of a just, equitable society on the other (Kabeer 2005; Fadia 2014), there is a serious dearth of studies on the lack of Adivasi women in the political sphere. This paper seeks to help fill that gap in res­earch by highlighting the maleness of traditional Santal1 village institutions and by examining how a Santal woman is positioned within this male-centric, male-dominated political space.

The first part of the paper provides a brief outline of the traditional social set-up of the Santals. It discusses asymmetrical, female-only taboos and gender discriminatory rights prevalent in Santal society. After establishing the context, the second part of this paper draws a picture of a Santal village ­assembly and highlights the customary rules governing its composition and functioning. The practical working of such assemblies, and their responsiveness to ­women’s issues and interests, are also examined. The third and ­final part of the paper assesses how village assemblies have fared against new forces that have gradually made inroads into Santal socio-economic spaces—market and cor­porate ­elements and state institutions. Finally, it also evaluates the extent to which village assemblies have been able to ­protect the interests of women amidst the vulnerability of new times.

Dear Reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here


To gain instant access to this article (download).

Pay INR 200.00

(Readers in India)

Pay $ 12.00

(Readers outside India)

Updated On : 22nd Jun, 2021
Back to Top