Jharkhand Domicile Policy:
The Question of ‘Local’ versus ‘Outsider’

May 31, 2022 0 By Yatharth

Amita Kumari

Last few months have been unsettling for Jharkhand. There were a series of protests since January for more than three months. The question of ‘local’ versus ‘outsider’ raised its head again and the answer remains, as always, an elusive one. It all started in December last year when the State government announced the inclusion of Bhojpuri, Maithili, Angika and Magahi languages ​​in the list of local languages ​​for district-level third and fourth grade jobs. The tribal and indigenous organizations in Dhanbad, Bokaro, Palamau and Ranchi, strongly opposed it. They argued that these languages ​​belonged to the outsiders, and if they are recognized as languages for competitive exams the locals would stand to lose jobs to the outsiders. This conflict over the question of language soon got entangled with the more serious and complex question of indigeneity.  Several protests, meetings and rallies were organized throughout February and March at various places in Jharkhand. Various tribal and indigenous organizations have now come together on one platform and they are making constant and strong demand for the implementation of a domicile policy based on the khatian (land possession records) of 1932. While this demand is contentious in many ways, it is also a very sensitive one because it is deeply linked with the question of identity. In this paper, we will try to analyze the history of the question of domicile and indigeneity in Jharkhand, the discrepancies associated with it and the possibilities of finding an answer.

Historical Background

The issue of indigeneity in Jharkhand has a history that is older than the very existence of the state itself. It was established in the year 2000 after a long and protracted Jharkhand movement at the center of which lay the issue of historical marginalization of the people of Jharkhand within United Bihar. With the aim of making amends for the age-old neglect of the indigenous people of Jharkhand, the newly formed State government, in the year 2002, announced a domicile policy, based on the 1932 land survey. This announcement exposed the existing social rifts in Jharkhand, which, for now, lay temporarily buried behind the zeal of newly created Jharkhand State. According to this domicile policy, the people of Jharkhand or their ancestors whose names have been recorded in the khatian of the year 1932, will be considered as local residents of Jharkhand, and they will be eligible for third and fourth class government jobs, and for admission in technical educational institutions. With this announcement, there began a stir in the whole of Jharkhand. For almost a month, there were clashes over the question of the identity of ‘moolvasi’ (local) and ‘outsider’. There was serious confrontation between the Jharkhand Moolvasi Janadhikar Manch, and the Jharkhand Upekshit Yuva Manch. Dhanbad, Bokaro, Ranchi and Jamshedpur were their main centers of these clashes. About six people lost their lives and hundreds got injured. The matter reached court, and the Jharkhand High Court ruled against the domicile policy. Due to the growing unpopularity of the then Jharkhand government, Chief Minister Babulal Marandi had to resign.

This policy, introduced by Babulal Marandi in 2002, was actually a modified version of the plan made in 1982 by the then United Bihar government to address the question of the age-old neglect of the local people. In the 1960s and 70s, the process of industrialization accelerated in Jharkhand and coal mining was nationalized. During this period, people of North Bihar started settling in South Bihar (present Jharkhand) for employment. Nirmal Sengupta (2014), who has done an extensive study on migration in Jharkhand, states that before the nationalization of coal mining in 1971, the working conditions in the mines were quite deplorable, and they mostly employed the local people. But, just after nationalization, as soon as there were possibilities for better working conditions, thousands of telegrams were sent from Dhanbad to cities like Ara, Ballia, Chhapra. The people of North Bihar reached these areas of Jharkhand and the local people were evicted. It is believed that around 50,000 local laborers of Jharkhand lost their jobs in coal mining during this period. Sengupta further explains how, in violation of the existing rules, North Biharis caught hold of the third and fourth class posts in educational institutions. It was in this context that, in 1982, the then Bihar government defined ‘local’ at the district level on the basis of last land settlement and decided that the locals, who remained neglected in the process of development would be given priority in low level jobs. However, this policy was never implemented. In 2002 Babulal Marandi tried to implement this policy which was eventually quashed by the court. Subsequent governments refrained from taking up the domicile issue. But in 2016 BJP’s Raghubar Das government announced a new domicile policy which declared 1985 as the cut-off year, i.e. those living in Jharkhand since 1985 shall be counted as the resident/local of Jharkhand. It also proposed six more parameters to qualify as a resident of Jharkhand. This flexible policy intensified the feeling of insecurity among the local community. It was fiercely opposed, and could never get implemented. In the run-up to the 2019 assembly elections, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) party made an election promise to implement the domicile policy, and Shibu Soren, revered as the father of JMM, announced the introduction of a domicile policy based on 1932 khatian. The JMM eventually formed government after the election but Chief Minister Hemant Soren avoided the question of domicile. However, as the language controversy worsened in early 2022, the demand for the implementation of a domicile policy again gained momentum. In the midst of growing anger among the public, Hemant Soren was compelled to put forward government’s standpoint on domicile issue. Although the JMM government has not presented a clear stand on this matter, yet Hemant Soren has definitely pointed out that the year 1932 needs reconsideration. Domicile status based on 1932 khatian comes with several discrepancies. That is why it was quashed by Jharkhand High Court in 2002 and that is why Hemant Soren is wary of 1932 cut-off year. The next section of this article shall attempt at examining these discrepancies.

Discrepancies Related To The Question Of Domicile

Defining the class of ‘local’ or ‘indigenous’ is a complex exercise. Lately, this question has emerged as an immensely knotty one in several states of India, especially the newly formed ones (Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Telangana, etc.). According to experts, in the older states of India which were formed on linguistic basis, the causes of discrimination could be located in the linguistic identity of the people, and thus it was relatively easier to explore solutions. But for the newly formed states the very basis of their establishment was ‘discrimination’, and hence it has been difficult to definitively identify the causes of discrimination and finally locate the answers. And, therefore in states like Jharkhand, solutions are sought within the ‘indigenous-outsider’ paradigm.

There is no doubt that the local and tribal people who lived in the Jharkhand region of United Bihar have endured age-old neglect and exploitation. Sociologists like Stuart Corbridge (1988) point out that the Jharkhand region has always witnessed migration from neighboring areas, but this increased manifold after 1931. We have already discussed the issue of eviction of local communities by outsiders in the preceding section. There is another noteworthy aspect which must be taken into account – the ever-decreasing population of Adivasis in Jharkhand. Arup Maharatna (2004), who studied the population of Jharkhand between 1951 and 1991, points out that in the 1950s, while tribals constituted 36% of the total population of the Jharkhand region, it decreased to 27% in the 1990s. Shockingly, this severe reduction in tribal population in Jharkhand does not match the growth rate of tribals at an all India level. Apart from this, it is indeed unfortunate that this decrease in the population of tribals is happening at a time when urbanization and industrialization is gaining momentum in Jharkhand.

The dwindling tribal population certainly tells the story of marginalization of the tribal community. Experts are of the opinion that there can be two main reasons for this – firstly, the decreasing birth rate and increasing death rate among the tribals, and secondly, the out-migration of tribals from Jharkhand in search of employment.

We know that the state of Jharkhand was not formed as an exclusive State for the tribals; the Jharkhand movement was a joint campaign of tribals and non-tribals. But issues such as homeland for the tribals and tribal marginalization were central to the Jharkhand movement. In this sense, the issue of ‘residence’ and ‘indigeneity’ becomes deeply intertwined with the larger question of Adivasi welfare, and this makes it more sensitive.

There is indeed a historical need to find an answer to the question of domicile in the context of the protracted discrimination of tribals and local people in Jharkhand. But in order to determine the basis of residence, again, the historical circumstances must be taken into account and the associated inconsistencies and questions need to be reconsidered. For example, can the khatian of 1932 be taken as the basis, when we know that in many districts of Jharkhand the last survey-settlements took place before 1932 and in many more after that? The last settlements took place in some districts in 1887, 1894, 1910, 1915, 1920 and in many others till 1964. In Palamau, settlements were completed in 1997. In the light of these facts won’t it be absolutely unviable to apply the year 1932 uniformly to the whole of Jharkhand? Secondly, even if 1932 is made the basis, then in about a hundred years since 1932 till present, a piece of land has been sold several times and undergone numerous divisions. With a vast population like India, where most of the marginalised population is uneducated, where the technical resources are insufficient, and where corruption is rampant, it is impossible to keep a record of all data and complexities related to ownership. Every now and then the Jharkhand newspapers report the irregularities committed during land record digitization by corrupt/incompetent officials. When we consider these facts, fixing a remote year like 1932 as the basis, appears highly impracticable. Thirdly, if land ownership is made the basis of residence, then the landless people emerge as the most disadvantaged lot. Fourthly, the working class who came to Jharkhand after 1932 in search of employment, who have somehow created their homes here and who have invested their labor in the development of Jharkhand, will also become the ‘outsider’.

These questions must be taken into account during the process of determining the basis of residence, or else we will repeat the same historical mistakes for the so-called ‘outsiders’ who once caused the eviction of local communities. And, undeniably, the majority of the ‘outsiders’ who stand the chance of eviction during this process are the proletariat, for whom migration for work is the only alternative left in order to survive. Are the laborers of Jharkhand and Bihar who migrate to states like Maharashtra and Assam in search of employment, not accused of being ‘outsiders’ and snatching jobs of the ‘locals’?

In the present system the determination of locality can be an effective tool in bridging the gap between the marginalised and the privileged, but it is also necessary that the discrepancies associated with it should not be overlooked. And, this discussion does not end here. In the midst of all these arguments, we have to examine some more questions – can the age-old marginalization of the Adivasis and locals be remedied merely by formulating a domicile policy? Is this not an illusory solution, under whose guise the interests of capitalism are being served? We will try to find answers to these questions in the following section.

Conclusion: Towards Finding Solutions

The previous discussion did underline the rationale and need of a domicile policy, but we cannot fully appreciate its significance unless it is linked to existing employment opportunities. We know that determination of residence is required for effective disbursement of government sponsored schemes. But the most potent factor working behind people’s demand for a domicile policy is government jobs. When we take a look at the employment opportunities in Jharkhand, the whole question of domicile loses its significance. According to the data presented in the Legislative Assembly by the Minister of Labor and Employment of Jharkhand himself, a total of 6,45,844 youths are registered in 43 employment offices in 24 districts of Jharkhand, who have neither employment nor unemployment allowance. He further stated that Jharkhand is the most unemployed among the neighboring states and that Jharkhand ranks fourth in unemployment rate across India. If the job opportunities in the state are so meagre, what difference does the very presence or absence of a domicile policy make in the lives of youths?

It has been more than two decades since Jharkhand was formed. The question of historical discrimination that sought a remedy in the creation of a separate State remains unresolved. The history of Jharkhand for the last 22 years is nothing but a story of failure and despair. For political parties and their bourgeois friends, Jharkhand is merely a resource-rich region ready for loot. Forest and mining mafia, big corporate houses like Adani, Jindal, and many others, have been recklessly plundering Jharkhand’s resources. Basic needs, like employment, education and health, figure nowhere in the list of concerns for the politicians and the capitalists. That these concerns remain out of the sight of the masses too, it is necessary that the dichotomy between ‘local’ and ‘outsider’ remain a sore spot. Therefore, no matter how effective the question of ‘domicile’ may seem as a solution to historical discrimination, the politics behind it cannot be denied.

Both the laboring and the middle classes, whether locals or outsiders, are being equally exploited by the present capitalist system. The realities of material existence of both locals and outsiders, of both proletariat and middle class, reveal that they are not mutual adversaries but class brethren. And if they realize this unity of their existence and purpose, and if this binds them together in their struggle, it would ring the bells of death for the capitalist system. Capitalism understands this very well and therefore whenever it finds itself in a crisis, it rakes up divisive issues like locals versus outsiders. Unless the reality of this illusory world, where struggling masses mistake each other as enemies, is not revealed, until the common people, equally stressed under capitalism, do not come together on the basis of their class consciousness, the question of indigeneity and discrimination will never find an answer.[Author is Assistant Professor (History Dept.) at Sido Kanhu Murmu University, Jharkhand]