Who’s a Jharkhandi: New domicile policy and old questions of identity

Even as a formal notification is awaited within the next few days, the “all-inclusive” definition of a “Jharkhandi” could well lead to another round of debates and a political war of words.

Written by Prashant Pandey | Ranchi | Published: April 13, 2016 2:56 am

On April 7, the Raghubar Das Cabinet in Jharkhand decided on the definition of a local (sthaniya) resident of the state, closing an issue that has rocked the state and its politics since inception in 2000. Even as a formal notification is awaited within the next few days, the “all-inclusive” definition of a “Jharkhandi” could well lead to another round of debates and a political war of words.

What did the Cabinet decide?

It came out with a list of criteria to define who could be called a sthaniya niwasi or local resident of Jharkhand, as a step towards finalising a detailed domicile policy for the state. The six criteria were:

Those who have their or their ancestors’ names in land records as per the last survey. Although the official statement does not say so, the last survey is understood to be one that the British conducted back in 1932.

The gram pradhan (village head) can identify the landless as a local resident on the basis of his language, cultural practices and traditions.

Those living in Jharkhand for the past 30 years for reasons of business, jobs, etc., and have acquired immovable properties, and their children, would be considered locals.

Employees of the Jharkhand government, or government-aided institutions, organisations etc. — and their spouses and children — would be considered locals. Same for central government employees living in Jharkhand, and their spouses and children.

Those holding constitutional posts, their spouses and children.

Those who were born in Jharkhand, and have completed their education till matriculation.

How did the government arrive at these criteria?

The government says the criteria were decided after wideranging consultations with all stakeholders, including political parties and social organisations. But no specific committee or body of experts was constituted for this. Earlier Jharkhand governments had set up more than half-a-dozen such committees, but the purpose of identifying local residents was never achieved.

But what has been the problem in defining the term?

The problem is rooted in the history of Jharkhand.

Since the days of the Raj, the area that is now Jharkhand has witnessed the influx of people from outside, as industries and mines were set up in the hills and jungles to tap into the rich mineral wealth of the region. This process intensified after Independence, especially after coal mines were nationalised, more industries like steel and heavy engineering were set up in hubs like Bokaro, Ranchi and nearby areas, and a large number hydroelectric power projects were commissioned.

As the influx of outsiders increased, the indigenous population was displaced in large numbers. The tribals were gullible, simple-minded, and unskilled in the requirements of the modern urban life — and the outsiders soon rose to positions of strength, both financially and politically. From being over two-thirds of the state’s population in 1951, tribals now constitute only a little over a quarter. This has been also due to migration of tribals in large numbers outside the state in search of livelihoods.

Over time, a fertile space was created for the emergence of identity-based politics — pitting the moolvasi (original residents) against the outsiders. For well over a decade prior to its creation, Jharkhand witnessed an intense movement for a separate state on the basis of its indigenous culture, tradition and language. It was envisioned as a space where the tribals could preserve their traditions and prosper financially and politically, while having complete control over their jal, jangal and zameen.

So, are the champions of the moolvasis likely to object to the definition cleared by the Cabinet?

The regional outfits, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik), etc., identify themselves as champions of the moolvasis, while the BJP, despite paying lip service to tribal interests, eyes urban voters who are mostly non-tribals. However, the regional and the national parties have worked out various alliances over the years, none of which could last. Opposition to the criteria has already begun. The JMM, JVM(P) and Congress have attacked the policy, and even the All Jharkhand Students’ Union (AJSU), a BJP ally, has sought “certain modifications”.

Have any of them tried to get the issue sorted in the past?

The first Chief Minister of Jharkhand, Babulal Marandi, had tried to fix the domicile policy in 2002, picking the 1932 British survey of land records as the criteria for being considered a moolvasi. But this triggered widespread agitation and violence at many places, including Ranchi, following which the proposal was withdrawn. Marandi resigned subsequently. Later, there were proposals to change the cut-off date to the 1951 census or the 1952 electoral rolls, but continuous political instability ensured nothing came out of them.

What are the opposition parties arguing?

Mainly that the government cannot put at par people living in the state for “the past 300 years” with those who have been in Jharkhand for just 10-14 years (having been born and completed matriculation in Jharkhand); and that there are no safeguards for moolvasis in jobs at the local level because they have been reserved for “locals” who may not necessarily be moolvasis. Ultimately, the domicile policy is a tool to allow all outsiders to hog jobs and other financial gains in the state, they say.

And what is the government’s defence?

That it has tried to cater to all sections in an “all-inclusive” manner, and that denying the rights of those who have settled here for the last many decades was not fair. The interests of the indigenous people have been protected, it claims — for example, at least seven tribal languages, Ho, Khortha, Panchpargania, Santhali, Nagpuri, Kudukh and Mundari, have been allowed in examinations conducted by the Jharkhand Public Service Commission and Staff Selection Commission. It has also reserved 100 per cent seats for locals, which will include moolvasis, in Group C and D jobs.

How is this issue likely to pan out in the near future?

For the time being, Chief Minister Das can bask in the glory of his “historic” initiative, through which he is seen to have sent out the right message to the BJP’s core urban base. But the JMM and JVM(P) have already announced dates for finalising further strategy, and threatened intense agitation.

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