The university was closed for summer vacations. A few students lingered on at juice stalls on the sidewalk and near hostel buildings.

Inside the Tribal and Regional Languages Department of Ranchi University, teachers and research scholars had just concluded a seminar on the Kurukh language spoken by the Oraon tribe, and the conversation turned from language to an animated discussion on politics.

The subject was the new domicile policy unveiled by the Bharatiya Janata Party government on April 7, which will form the basis for affirmative action in Class III and IV category government jobs, and admissions to technical institutes in the state.

One of the provisions of the new policy is that anyone living in the state for 30 years who possesses immovable assets, or their children, will be considered a resident of Jharkhand.

“The government says all outsiders will be allowed in after 30 years,” said Dr KC Tudu, the head of the department and a professor of the Santhali language. “This will undermine local tribals and is not acceptable to any of us.”

To fight against the new policy, the Opposition had called a Jharkhand bandh the previous Saturday, on May 14. The department, which has among its alumni the state’s social welfare minister, Dr Louis Marandi, prominent Jharkhand movement leader Suraj Singh Besra, and former deputy chief minister Sudesh Mahto, too supported the protests.

“Ranchi is a regional hub for education,” said Professor TN Sahu, who teaches Nagpuri. “Merely writing a matriculation examination in Jharkhand cannot be made the basis of being domicile here.”

The scholars pointed out that the Jharkhand movement for carving out a separate state from Bihar was to protect the indigenous identity and rights to resources of both Adivasi (tribals) and Moolvasi (original non-tribal settlers) communities living in present-day Jharkhand. “The moolvasi are closest to tribals in their culture, festivals, lifestyle, not to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar,” said Professor Sahu, who heads Sadaan Manch, a coalition of moolvasi intellectuals.

With the new policy, the BJP government is encouraging new settlers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar by offering them special benefits while diluting the claims of moolvasis, Sahu alleged.

“Will the government next say anyone passing through Jharkhand on a train also enjoys domicile status?” quipped a student. The scholars believe that while the impending competition will be with middle and lower class adivasi and moolvasi communities, Jharkhand’s tribal leadership too is already under threat.

The rumblings of discontent are growing even within the BJP. In a letter to the governor on April 29, four BJP adivasi and moolvasi members of Parliament from the state registered their difference with the government on the new domicile policy.

Decades of discrimination

The Constitution grants every citizen the right to move, reside and work freely anywhere in the country. Those advocating for preferential treatment of local residents in Jharkhand say they accept this principle, but they demand an affirmative policy because of years of discrimination against Jharkhand’s indigenous people.

They point out that the Jharkhand movement did not develop as an isolationist movement. Its leaders like Jaipal Singh Munda accommodated Marwaris and Punjabis in his party. Also, the locals do not describe the state as being for adivasis or Scheduled Tribes alone. They use the term moolvasi, or sadaan to denote original settlers for communities like Mahto and Sahu whose leaders were active in the Jharkhand movement. Some groups also contend that these communities categorised as Scheduled and Other Backward Castes are tribal in culture, but did not get categorised as Scheduled Tribes in the Constitution.

The Jharkhand region holds a third of India’s coal, a quarter of its iron ore, 16% of copper. In-migration steadily increased after coal mines and a Tata Steel plant were set up here in the early 20th century. In a paper in the Economic and Political Weekly, researcher Nirmal Sengupta notes that in the early 19th century, popular movements were directed against Bengali landowners who were contemptuously called diku (outsiders). After the 1950s, in a period of rapid industrialisation, this was directed also against north Bihar immigrants who wielded considerable power over the Jharkhand region.

The tribals and indigenous communities paid a heavy price for the industrial policy, with over 3.34 lakh displaced by mines and industrial projects. In return, they got poor rehabilitation and no jobs.

In an essay, Jharkhand Movement: The Questions of Identity and Sub-nationality, KL Sharma has recorded that when several major industries were built in Jharkhand, instead of employing locals, they hired primarily those from north Bihar. For instance, the Heavy Engineering Corporation at Ranchi had only 335 tribals in its workforce of 4,284 people.

Similarly, AK Singh in a 1994 essay noted how, in a blatant violation of norms, universities in the Jharkhand region recruited only people from north Bihar in Grade III and IV category jobs.

When Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar in 2000, these issues of identity and livelihood occupied centrestage.

Who is a Jharkhandi?

In 2001, the first chief minister of Jharkhand, Babulal Marandi, re-promulgated a 1982 notification of the Bihar government that stated that a person was considered to be a local in a district where his or her family’s name appeared in the record of rights (a land revenue record) linked to the last survey in the area.

Marandi said the landless who did not possess such records were to be identified by the gram sabha.

But in some Jharkhand districts, the last survey was held as far back as 1932, while in areas such as Singhbhum, it dated to 1960s. Large sections of people who moved to Jharkhand during the period of industrialisation became anxious about their status as residents in the new state.

When the Marandi government was in the process of notifying the rules in 2002, clashes broke out between pro- and anti-domicile groups in Ranchi, Jamshedpur, Bokaro, Dhanbad and other urban centres with a sizeable population of migrants. A prominent pro-domicile group, Jharkhand Moolvasi Janadhikar Manch demanded the resignation of six BJP leaders, including the current chief minister Raghubar Das, who was then a minister in the Marandi government.

After a public interest litigation, the Ranchi High Court in 2002 set aside the notification recognising a local resident on the basis of the last land survey alone. However, the court recognised the state government’s authority to frame an employment policy to give preference to persons familiar with local conditions and languages.

States carved out on a linguistic basis have relied on this to promote local employment, but with multiple tribal and regional languages in Jharkhand, Hindi has remained the language for official use, adding to the popular demand for the identification of other criteria to promote local employment.

Marandi’s removal as the chief minister of the first BJP government after a two-year tenure in 2003 was ascribed to the domicile controversy. In the next 13 years, successive governments set up committees to deliberate on the issue but did not venture into policy-making.

Identity and livelihood

It is these questions and emotions that the Raghubar Das-government stirred again with its new domicile policy. Among its provisions, it proposes that those with the names of their ancestors in land records would be considered for domicile status, while the landless will be identified by the gram pradhan.

It recognises those who have been living in and have acquired property in Jharkhand in the last 30 years as local residents. It also places central government officials, their families, as well as those born in Jharkhand and those who have completed Class X from the state also in the same category.

Parliamentary affairs minister Saryu Roy told that the government had drafted this policy as a priority because with this pending there were thousands of posts lying vacant in the state, obstructing governance. Roy said the government had consulted multiple stakeholders, including Opposition parties, for this policy but none had made any suggestions.

Marandi, the former chief minister, a Santhal tribal who has since left the BJP and floated his own Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) party, contested this. He said that since 2003, the state government had, in the absence of an alternative policy, been following the 1982 Bihar notification for regular recruitment of teachers, block officials and police personnel. But despite this, residents from other states had been recruited in a majority of seats in the non-reserved category.

“Beyond the 50% reserved seats (26% Scheduled Tribes, 10% Scheduled Castes, 14% Other Backward Castes), from the remaining 50% seats, nearly two-thirds went to applicants from outside the state when secretariat staff and schools teachers were recruited in 2012,” said Marandi.

He contended that the new policy will make it even harder for people from Jharkhand to compete for jobs in the general category. Marandi added that defining domicile in such broad terms will also encourage more people from neighbouring states to claim this status in Jharkhand, and in the long term, this could reduce reservation levels for tribals whose population had already steadily declined from 36% in 1951 to 30% in 1981, and to 26.2% as per 2011 census.

Jharkhand Mukti Morcha general secretary Supriyo Bhattacharya said the new policy would reinforce existing hierarchies. “Even now, 15% to 20% people who had migrated to the Jharkhand region in the 1960s control the economic opportunities, in jobs, business, as contractors,” he said.

Bhattacharya added that by making tribals feel pressured about their socio-economic position, the BJP may open up a divisive faultline among the state’s adivasi and moolvasi communities.

When people question why the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, which led the Jharkhand movement, failed to frame a new domicile policy while it was in government till 2014, party leaders point to the limitations of having been in coalition with the Congress and Rashtriya Janata Dal at that time.

The domicile policy has led to sharp divisions even within the BJP. While it is expected to help the party consolidate its hold in urban areas – it won 13 of 18 urban assembly seats in 2014 – several party leaders have registered their protest. “A negative message has already reached villages that the BJP is opening the gates for outsiders but closing the door for Jharkhandi villagers,” said a senior BJP leader, who is tribal. “If this policy stays, we will not be able to show our faces in the villages.”

Discontent brewing

Political observers say the Raghubar Das government has rekindled an issue that has the potential to spread like wildfire across the state. While minister Roy described the policy as equitable and consultative, the government’s nervousness was visible when the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha called a state bandh on May 14. More than 1,200 paramilitary personnel and 1,400 policemen were kept on standby in anticipation of an agitation in Bokaro – and this was just one city. The police also took more than 9,000 political workers into preventive detention and made them sign bonds a day before the bandh. A total of 550 people were arrested, including a JMM member of the legislative assembly.

Organisations that were active in the 2002 agitation on the domicile issues say the May 14 bandh only marks the beginning of what may turn into long-drawn protests.

Adding to the dissatisfaction is the perception that Raghubar Das, the first non-tribal chief minister of Jharkhand, is an outsider.

“Raghubar Das came here from Chhattisgarh, Saryu Roy is a Bihari leader,” said Dr Jaleshwar Bhagat, the treasurer of the Adivasi Chhatra Sangh, a student organisation. “If you made five people stand in front of Das, he won’t be able to even tell who is a tribal or not. The same leaders were against Jharkhandis interests even in 2002 when they opposed domicile based on land records.”

Those who see the chief minister as an outsider say that the BJP is interested in only paying lip-service to tribal political representation. They cited the appointment of Tala Marandi, a little-known MLA from Santhal Pargana, as the state BJP chief last month as an example, adding “everything is decided from Delhi.”

Moolvasi political activists too described the domicile policy as betrayal of the Jharkhand movement. “I left my studies during my masters, hundreds of my peers burnt their college degrees publicly saying we will not accept jobs till we get a new state,” said Raju Mahto, who leads the Jharkhand Moolvasi Janadhikar Manch. “We did not sacrifice to form a state where nearly half the people still live below the poverty line in villages, and even Grade III, IV jobs go to children from middle class urban families.”

Dr Birendra Kumar Soy, a post-doctoral researcher in the Mundari language in Ranchi University said that the BJP was looking at its long-term gains in urban pockets but ignoring the discontent brewing. “Sugbugahat ho rahi hai (something is brewing),” said Soy. “It will hit like a storm, then they will not know what hit them.”