Revisiting Jharkhand’s Journey to Domicile Policy
Identity politics has been a major issue in the state of Jharkhand for over a century. While the movement for statehood took different trajectories, moving from an agrarian, ethnic and class character to a sub-national one, the question of the definition of “Jharkhandi” remained untouched. It wasn’t until the late 1970s, however, that the idea of ’Jharkhandis’ was floated to incorporate all people living and producing goods in that region, the idea of territoriality had been prevalent ever since the formation days of the Jharkhand Party in 1950.
However, the recent passage of the 1932 cadastre as a marker of ‘local’ identity has again raised the burning question: who is the ‘foreigner’? Whereas Andolankaris who have invested their whole lives in the cause of a separate state are celebrating the significant victory, there are millions who fear losing their identity and potentially emerging hostility. In this context, we return here to how the long-standing demand of the Adivasi-Moolvasis organizations has been shaped. By focusing on a few organizations that were at the forefront of the Domicile movement, we’ll see how state identity politics played out and who were the big players over the past two decades.
First notification of domicile and political consequences
In 2002, just two years after the separation from Jharkhand, Babulal Marandi, then the BJP’s chief minister, submitted a notification notifying that those whose ancestors have names in the 1932 survey would only be considered the domicile of the ‘State. It also restricted Class III and Class IV government jobs to “locals”. Although the notification, as the Marandi government tried to quote, was in line with a notification from the Labor Department of the Government of Bihar in March 1982, the situation got out of control.
Notably, the Bihar government notification said to have reserved the employment of class III and class IV employees for the locals delineated according to the latest land survey. However, the Bihar government never pursued the policy further.
As Marandi’s notification provoked the existing political divides both in government and on the streets, clashes between pro-home and anti-home groups turned violent. On July 24, 2002, at Shyamli chowk in Doranda, serious riots in Ranchi broke out and three Adivasis namely Vinay Tigga, Kailash Kujur and Santosh Kujur were killed. Two anti-domicile agitators also died near Dhurva chowk on the outskirts of the capital.
Political opinion on the issue was also very divided. While the Congress (now a JMM ally and proponent of the home policy) criticized the Marandi government’s decision and called it “diverse”, the BJP was internally divided over the feasibility of the move. However, Marandi was adamant as this was the only possible way for him to stick to his Adivasi-Moolvasi vote bank which included a large portion of the population.
The situation escalated further in August when reports surfaced that during state military police recruitment, a candidate was rejected for not attaching 1932 land documents.
Intervention of Jharkhand HC
At this juncture, Prashant Vidyarthi, a lawyer, filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL-4050) in July with Jharkhand HC challenging the constitutionality of the notification. While hearing the motion, a divisional bench of Chief Justice VK Gupta and Justice Tapan Sen referred it to a constitutional bench which began hearing on August 19.
Delivering its verdict on the contentious issue on November 27, the bench quashed the notification and called it “hostile discrimination of the general public.” Questioning the feasibility of notification, he observed: “How would the concerned authorities determine local people simply on the basis of identification by five local khatiyanis (land surveyors), whose names of ancestors appearing in the registers of rights would have been prepared more than 70 years ago?
Quashing the notifications, he said: “The two impugned notifications, in so far as … subject to the definition of ‘local resident’ in the prescribed procedure are therefore unconstitutional and, as such and to such limited extent, deserve to be cancelled”.
However, the court asked the government to redefine “locals” taking into account the different stages of emigration over the past 50 years to settle the dispute. In its refurbished affidavit, the government included customary, cultural and linguistic attributes as a reference for identifying “locals”. The tribunal did not oppose this and noted that preferences could be given to those “who are familiar with the local language, tradition, custom, etc.”.
Requests for residence: “We are Jharkhandis”
In the context of the court’s verdict, several pro-housing organizations have resumed their struggles. Speaking to Outlook, one of the leaders of Adivasi Jan Parishad, Prem Sahi Munda said: “Each state has its own domiciliary policy. To secure our jobs, business and livelihood, we needed the reservation. Marandi tried to implement it but some ‘bahari‘ People (outside), you can also call them Bihari, opposed it. So, after the court struck it down, the movement grew even stronger. Under the leadership of Bandhu Tirkey, the movement took shape.”
Referring to the implementation of Section 371D in Andhra Pradesh which partially secures the recruitment of locals in different government sectors, he added that such measures should have been taken in Jharkhand as well. While recalling the long struggle his organizations had gone through to achieve this feat, he said, “On September 11, 2022, we decided that this time there would be no turning back. We had to pass the home policy.
When asked what people would do without Khatiyan, he continued, “If they are a genuine resident of Jharkhand, as per government provisions, they would be identified by Gram Sabha and Ward Councill. Otherwise, the government could also check their ration card and other documents.”
In this regard, S Ali, the Chairman of Jharkhand Chhatra Sangh, another organization fighting for the cause, said, “If a person is Jharkhandi, he must know the culture, customs and languages of the region. It is therefore not difficult to identify them. As I live in the old Ranchi, even if I have no papers, the local population will certainly be able to recognize me.
However, he pointed out that the 1932 survey as a marker does not mean that areas developed after that year would not be taken into account. “There are places in Palamu, Santhal Pargana where the last land survey of 1964 would be considered. As the movement was initiated in Ranchi and the last land survey here was conducted in 1932, we focused only on that,” Ali added.
Recalling the heyday of the movement, Jharkhand Dalit Morcha leader Vinay Shankar Nayak told Outlook: “We have renamed the Shymlia Chowk of Mecon Colony as Trimurti Chowk. Every July 24, we remember the Adivasi martyr brothers who gave their lives for the cause.” Referring to pressure on the Soren government to accede to their demands, he said, “In March this year, 52 organizations came together to form Jharkhand Bachao Morcha. JMM MLA Lobern Hembram was elected President. At our September 11 meeting at the Old Legislative Building, we made the final call. We made it clear to him (Soren) that if he didn’t deal with it now, things would slip away from him”.
State political observers, however, take a different view. While speaking to Outlook and asking to hide his identity, one said, “This is Soren’s political ploy to corner the central government. Delhi would never agree to place him in the ninth list. It’s a win-win situation for Soren. Like his predecessor Marandi who brought the notification after losing the by-elections to then JMM leader Shibu Soren, Hemant is using it for political purposes”.
Whatever the future of notification, as Rizwan told me, “At least for now, we are Jharkhandis”.
Even as I noted that identity politics was taking over the state, I encountered two police officers of constable rank. The stretched cracks on their foreheads betrayed their worries. When asked, I was told:Zamin kharid le kucch din pehle. Ghar banana thaa. Bhai, hum wo bech de kya? (We bought some land a few days ago to build a house on it. Should we sell it, brother?). The silence of unfinished conversation, however, was consumed by the din of festive processions.