India’s most prestigious literary prize, the Sahitya Akademi Award, has just been given to Bhogla Soren for his latest published work, a play about the Santhali and Birhor peoples.
The Sahitya Akademi, India’s National Academy of Letters, awards a plaque and a cash prize each year to the outstanding literary work in each of the nation’s 24 major languages. The purpose of the awards is to recognize new trends in literature and excellence in writing.
The award-winning play by Soren, Rahin Rawa Kana, published in 2008, is set in a couple villages in the East Singhbhum District of Jharkhand State. The plot revolves around a Santhali boy, Charan, and a Birhor girl, Hinsi. As Soren describes the play, “Rahin Rawa Kana has two parallel story lines—one on love and the other on culture. The lifestyle of Santhals, who have taken to farming, and Birhors, who have stuck to their age-old traditions, forms the backdrop of the stories.”
The 52-year old author did not complete his university education since he dropped out to work as a sub-divisional engineer with Bharat Sanchar Nignam Ltd, an Indian telecommunications company. He has written five plays, some essays, and short stories. He expressed the hope that the award would help the morale of other Indian writers from tribal communities. He advocates teaching the tribal languages, such as Santhali, in the schools as a way of keeping indigenous peoples connected to their traditions.
The award will certainly help the rest of the country appreciate Santhali literature, a language spoken by six million people in eastern India. If the play becomes more popular as a result of the prize, perhaps it will also help Indians understand the traditional culture of the Birhor.