By Saurav Raj
(Graduate of Campus Law Centre, University of Delhi – Batch 2018-21)
For more than a century, identity politics has been a source of intense conflict in the state of Jharkhand. While the statehood movement changed course, becoming less agrarian, ethnic, and class-based and more sub-national, the issue of what constitutes “Jharkhandi” has not been resolved. However, the concept of “Jharkhandis”—the people who live and work in this region—was not introduced until the late 1970s; the notion of territoriality had existed since the 1950s when the Jharkhand Party was founded.
In 2022, the Jharkhand Cabinet adopted the proposed “Local Resident of Jharkhand Bill” on Wednesday, 14th September. The legislation keeps 1932 as the benchmark year for “evidence of land records” when determining who qualifies as a local. The state government will introduce a bill in the Assembly, and once it is passed, send it to the center (apart from the governor) with a request for an amendment that would place the law in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution to avoid judicial scrutiny.
The BJP Chief Minister at the time, Babulal Marandi, issued a notification in 2002, barely two years after Jharkhand was divided, stating that only those persons whose ancestors were listed in the 1932 Land Survey would be regarded as state residents. Additionally, it was reserved for “Locals” employment in classes III and IV of the government. The issue went out of hand even though the notification was in line with a Bihar Government Labor Department’s Notification from March 1982, as the Marandi Government attempted to claim. Notably, according to the latest land survey, the Bihar Government’s notification claimed to have reserved class III and class IV employment for the locals who had been designated, locals. The Bihar government, however, never went any farther with the strategy.
The notice of Marandi exacerbated the political divisions that existed inside the Government and on the streets. This led to violent fights between pro- and anti-domicile factions, demanding to increase the cut-off from 1932 to 1950-60. Marandi was adamant, so he had to resign. Upon the Resignation of Babulal Marandi, the next chief minister of Jharkhand, Arjun Munda, constituted a three-member committee to report on the domicile/ resident policy issue. However, no report has come up since then, and nothing much has happened. So after that, the problem got suspended.
Meanwhile, Prashant Vidyarthi, an advocate, filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL- 4050) to the Jharkhand High Court in July to contest the legitimacy of the notification at this point. A constitutional bench began hearing the petition on August 19 after being referred to it by a division bench composed of Chief Justice V K Gupta and Justice Tapan Sen.
The bench issued its ruling on the controversial matter on November 27. It declared the notification invalid and referred to it as “hostile discrimination of the public at large.” “How would concerned authorities determine local persons simply based on identification by five local khatiyanis (land surveyors), whose ancestors’ names appear in the records of rights are stated to have been prepared more than 70 years ago,” questioning the feasibility of the notification the court asked.
The observation made by the bench was: “If otherwise qualified, a non-resident or outsider may submit an application for consideration for appointment to any Class III or Class lV office within the State of Jharkhand. This constitutes hostile discrimination against the general population.” The statement said, “In our opinion, the impugned notices are unconstitutional insofar as… the subject of defining ‘resident’ to the procedure established, and on this reason and to this limited extent deserve to be struck down.”
The court authorised the government to redefine “local persons” in accordance with the ruling and the observations while striking out the “definition” and the “guidelines.” Additionally, it has given the State permission to “represcribe the guidelines for determination of local persons taking into account the pertinent history of the State, such as reorganisation as taken from time to time, emigration of persons as has occurred over the past 50 years, and settlement of refugees.” Even individuals who are familiar with the regional language and customs would be entitled to preferential treatment, according to an affidavit the government had submitted that modified its definition of residents. The government nevertheless preserved the land survey settlement as one of the most crucial elements in determining what constitutes a local resident. The court offered additional recommendations to the State government regarding how to redefine local residents. However, it affirmed the choice to provide individuals “who have an understanding of the local language, tradition, custom, etc.” preferential treatment.
In the year 2014, Raghubar Das became the chief minister of Jharkhand. Further, in the year 2016, during his tenure, he came up with a new domicile/resident policy with a cut-off year to be 1985. As a result, the pre-domicile protestor in support of the year 1932 again started protesting to declare the year 1932 as a cut-off year. Moreover, several MLAs from the opposition party raised issues in the houses. As a result, the demand for a Resident policy with 1932 as a cut-off year came into the picture.
Let us focus on the issue of what Khatiyaan is and why it is so symbolic. Khatiyaan is the record of documents in which land records and ownership is maintained, and it also defines or declares the land owner. It also further categorises how much land one has or how much their forefather had in the past. 1932 Khatiyaan was prepared by the Britishers, and it is also called a correct and original document of land ownership.
The reason for taking the year 1932 as a cut-off year was due to the demand from the mass population of Jharkhand, especially the tribal population demanded from the very first day of the creation of Jharkhand. And the whole struggle that led to the formation of the state of Jharkhand after being carved out from Bihar was led by the Tribal leader only, and the fundamental reason was the welfare of the tribals and the protection of the resources of the tribals. And Domicile policy with the year 1932 is in line with the same. So the fundamental reason for taking the year 1932 as a cut-off year is to protect the rights and interests of the original inhabitants of Jharkhand in their state. People from outside the state are coming with a considerable sum of money, investing here, settling their industry, extracting all the raw materials, borrowing their land too on the lease, and in return giving them a nominal amount of money; as a result, the original inhabitants of the state is being exploited.
Keeping all this in view and experiencing all these things in day-to-day life, many tribals elected members of the state also raised the issue in the house in the current Soren government. And always said that the persons having a name in the 1932 Khatiyaan records are only the original inhabitants of the Jharkhand, and we must protect their interest.
1932 was important because many migrations occurred in Jharkhand (then in Bihar). So since then, many other communities have started residing here apart from its original inhabitants, tribals and nomads. So, lifestyle, living standards, cultural values, rituals, and social development have negatively affected them. Moreover, Adivasis have its own culture, way of living, and traditional values. Still, these values have been drastically affected because of the immigration from the different parts of the country and especially neighbouring states, i.e. Bihar and West Bengal. So the demand for 1932 Khatiyaan was such a severe issue.
Apart from this, it can be seen that after the 1941 census, there was a sharp decline in the position of the original inhabitants of Jharkhand and other unspecified tribals. Further, a positive step should come for ST/SC and other original inhabitants of Jharkhand, as if their development is not hampered. Government should frame its policies, be it social welfare policy or some other, so effectively that it reaches the last unprivileged section of society. And also, further, all societal and cultural values must be protected.
However, political watchers hold a different perspective. One of them stated his views with a commitment not to disclose his identity, “It is Soren’s political tactic to corner Central Government. Delhi wouldn’t consent to bring it in the ninth schedule. For Soren, everything works out. Hemant is utilising it for political gain, similar to his predecessor. Marandi brought the notification after losing by-elections to the then-JMM Chief Shibu Soren. And again, it is the common man of Jharkhand, the moolvasis, whose identity is at stake.
Some of the Benefits or highlights of the original inhabitants/Adivasis of Jharkhand due to the 1932 Khatiyaan:
- Land rights will increase; further, it will lead to an increase in their employment.
- As soon as the domicile policy is enacted, all the opportunities and benefits of all other policies will also increase, like reservation benefits in government jobs, etc.
- More importance/ priority will be given to the natural resources in their area, like fisheries, ponds, etc.
Further, it will help protect the community’s regional and cultural values of the community.