On November 11, amidst ongoing political turbulence in the state, the Hemant Soren-led Jharkhand government passed a new domicile policy titled “The Jharkhand Definition of Local Persons and for Extending the Consequential Social, Cultural and Other Benefits to such Local Persons Bill, 2022”.

A domicile policy based on the 1932 “khatiyan” or land survey has been a long-standing demand of the Jharkhand’s Adivasis and Mulnivasis, the state’s non-tribal early settlers. “The year 1932 or earlier has been fixed as a baseline, only those whose ancestors’ names are included in these land records will be called locals,” said social activist Shashi Panna.

A long history

The demand has existed since the state’s foundation, encapsulated in the popular slogan, “Jharkhandi ka ek pehchaan, unnees sau battees ka khatiyan”, there is one identity of a Jharkhandi, it is the 1932 land survey. In 2002, at least five people including four Adivasis died fighting for this cause.

In September 2001, the Babulal Marandi-led BJP government had adopted a similar notification to implement a domicile policy based on the last land survey conducted in each district of Jharkhand. In November 2002, the Jharkhand High Court found the policy to be ‘unconstitutional’ and struck it down.

This time the Soren government hopes to have the domicile law included in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution, which protects laws from judicial review to a large extent. The inclusion lies in the hands of the central government. “The central government’s decision will tell us how much they care about Jharkhandis,” said ruling Jharkhand Mukti Morcha spokesperson, Tanuj Khatri.

Contested move

Another BJP-led government had also passed a domicile policy in 2016 which used 1985 as the cut-off year. It included those who had resided in Jharkhand for more than 30 years, those whose ancestors were registered in past land records, those who were born and matriculated in Jharkhand as well as those employed in state and central government institutions and holding constitutional posts.

Both these policies sparked controversy and faced vehement protests in the state when they were introduced.

In 2002 there were clashes between migrants and Adivasis, as the former felt that their status as residents and their jobs would fall at risk, while the latter group was in support of the domicile policy. In 2016, the state’s Adivasi organisations felt that giving the same status of residency to the state’s indigenous people as to migrants who arrived only 30 years ago was a betrayal of the Jharkhand movement and would further snatch away their rights.

Protecting Jharkhandi identity

Founded in the year 2000, the state of Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar after more than six decades of political mobilisation. The key reason behind the demand of separate statehood was protection from the socio-economic and cultural oppression suffered by Jharkhandis at the hands of dominant outsiders from Bihar and Bengal, locally called dikus.

A 1987 memorandum of the Jharkhand Party, an Adivasi-led party that championed the demand for a separate state, to the central government read, “After independence, large scale industrialisation of the region created an unfavourable situation for the Jharkhand identity. Nearly 50 lakhs of outsiders were brought into the region, while the people of the region were evicted in large numbers. Today, the whole of big business, industry and employment are in the hands of the outsiders. The people of Jharkhand are treated like foreigners in their own homeland.”

Further observing how society and culture were also impacted, it noted, “The outsiders grab all the fruits of development, while the Jharkhandis remain in a condition of acute distress. Their wealth, honour, religion, language and literature and music are being systematically looted and destroyed.”

Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader and chief minister Hemant Soren with his party workers. Credit: PTI

‘Internal colonialism’

Scholars and activists of the Jharkhand movement termed this a form of “internal colonialism”. Senior activist and journalist from Jharkhand Dayamani Barla finds that this phenomenon holds true even today. “Internal colonialism continues today in independent India and affects the lives of Adivasis, Dalits and the working class,” she told Scroll.in. “The Adivasi struggle for jal, jangal, jameen [water, forest, land] is a struggle against internal colonialism.”

Experts believe the new domicile policy will help Jharkhand’s natives assert their rights, especially over their land. As a result, it was important to trace this policy back to when this internal colonialism began. “People ask why 1932 and not a later year. It was around that time when industrialisation and mining began in different parts of Jharkhand and outsiders settled here in great numbers,” explained Panna.

Speaking to Scroll.in, he gave several examples of large metal and mining companies and public sector undertakings which were set up on Adivasi land but employed people from other states in large numbers. “This has directly impacted our rights and livelihoods,” Panna added. “In every state it is the natives who get priority in employment. So where are Jharkhandis supposed to go? This bill only intends to benefit Jharkhandis, those who had to migrate to far away states in search of livelihoods will now find jobs here.”

An influx of migrants

This argument finds an echo in the text of the bill too, which makes a note of the influx of migrants into Jharkhand and highlights its “negative impact on the social development, way of life and customs and traditions of the Adivasis and Mulvasis”.

To back this claim, it notes a steady decline in the population of the Scheduled Tribes in the region since the 1941 census. It further says that although other factors have also contributed to the population decline, it becomes necessary to put in place affirmative action policies for the upliftment and development of Adivasis This is because more than 30% of Jharkhand’s population comprises Scheduled Tribes and most of its land falls under the Fifth Schedule which has special provisions for tribal governance and protection of land.

The bill aims to provide social, cultural and educational services to Adivasis and Mulnivasis. These include certain “rights and benefits” over their land, their stake in the development of local resources, the right to avail agricultural loans, the maintenance and protection of land records, and employment in the private and public sector for their social security. “In employment, the policy will be applicable to class III and class IV government jobs, as this is a state level matter according to the Constitution,” said Khatri.

Checks and balances

Some leaders and organisations have expressed concerns over the fact that the 1932 land survey wasn’t uniformly conducted across Jharkhand. Moreover, landless natives will have no records to show for this policy. However, the legislation makes provisions for earlier land records to also be recognised and for local bodies to include the landless.

Unlike the past, there has been little organised protest in opposition to the passing of the new domicile policy by the state Assembly. “In earlier times there had been protests and riots on the streets, but this time I’ve only noticed celebratory marches in public,” said Panna. The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha claims this is due to the fact that the new policy would not harm migrants. “In the past, people deliberately confused Jharkhand’s public,” said JMM spokesperson, Tanuj Khatri. “They were told that their rights would be snatched and they would be driven out of the state. And this is simply not true, this policy is only about the rights of Jharkhand’s natives. Along with the JMM, the Congress and the RJD have also concurred.”

Speaking on November 15, the anniversary of Jharkhand’s foundation day, Barla said, “It’s been 22 years since Jharkhand’s foundation. It’s worth asking if the hopes and dreams of Jharkhand have been fulfilled. The Adivasis here fought wild animals, cleared jungles and made this land inhabitable. We had great leaders like Birsa Munda who fought for this land and its people. This policy will provide an opportunity to attain our moral, economic and cultural rights as indigenous people.”