At The Crossroads Of Discontent: Revisiting Jharkhand's Journey Toward Domicile Policy

Jharkhand government’s decision to approve 1932 land records (khatiyan) as the benchmark for domicile policy didn’t come up in a day. It has a long history of political expediency and honest sacrifices.

History of the 1932 Khatiyan movement

Identity politics has been a major contention in the state of Jharkhand for more than a century. While the statehood movement took different trajectories shifting its character from being agrarian, ethnic, and class-based to sub-national, the question of defining ‘Jharkhandi’ has remained intact. It was only during the late 1970s, however, that the idea of ‘Jharkhandis’ was floated to incorporate all the people living and producing goods in this region, the idea of territoriality was prevalent from the formative days of the Jharkhand Party in 1950.  

However, the recent passage of the 1932 land survey as the marker of ‘local’ identity has again evoked the boiling question - Who is the 'outsider'? While Andolankaris who have invested their whole lives in the cause of a separate state are celebrating the significant victory, there are millions who fear losing their identity and the potentially emerging hostility. In this context, we here look back at how the long-standing demand of Adivasi-Moolvasis organizations have been shaped. Focusing on a few organizations that were on the frontline of the domicile movement, we will see how the state identity politics have played out and who have been the big players throughout the past two decades. 

First Notification of Domicile And Political Consequences 

In 2002, just two years after the separation of Jharkhand, Babulal Marandi, then the BJP Chief Minister brought in a notification notifying that those whose forefathers have names in the land survey of 1932 would only be considered as the domicile of the state. It also reserved the class III and class IV government employment for the ‘Locals’. Though the notification, as Marandi Government tried to cite, was in accordance to a Bihar Government Labor Department’s Notification of March 1982, the situation went out of control. 

Notably, the notification of the Bihar Government said to have reserved the employment of class III and class IV employees for the demarcated locals as per the latest land survey. However, the Bihar Government never pursued the policy further. 

As the notification of Marandi provoked the existing political divides both within the Government and on the streets, the clashes of pro-domicile and anti-domicile groups turned violent. On July 24, 2002, at Shyamli chowk in Doranda, Ranchi severe riots broke out, and three Adivasis namely Vinay Tigga, Kailash Kujur and Santosh Kujur were killed. Two anti-domicile agitators also died near Dhurva chowk on the outskirts of the capital city. 

The political opinion on the issue was also sharply divided. While the Congress (now a JMM ally and supporter of domicile policy) criticised the decision of the Marandi Government and termed it as ‘divisive’, the BJP was internally divided on the feasibility of the move. However, Marandi was adamant as it was only possible way for him to stick to his Adivasi-Moolvasi vote bank that comprised a large chunk of the population. 

The situation further turned worse in August as reports came that in the state military police recruitment, a candidate’s application had been turned down for not attaching the 1932 land documents. 

Intervention of the Jharkhand HC

At this juncture, Prashant Vidyarthi, an advocate filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL- 4050) in July to the Jharkhand HC challenging the constitutionality of the notification. While hearing the petition a division bench of Chief Justice V K Gupta and Justice Tapan Sen referred it to a constitutional bench which started its hearing from August 19. 

Delivering its verdict on the contentious issue on November 27, the bench set aside the notification and termed it “hostile discrimination of public at large”. Questioning the feasibility of the notification it observed, “How would concerned authorities determine local persons merely on the basis of identification by five local khatiyanis (land surveyors), whose ancestors' names appearing in the records of rights are stated to have been prepared more than 70 years ago?”

Striking down the notifications it said, “The two impugned notifications, insofar as... the subject of defining `local resident' to the procedure prescribed therefore are unconstitutional and, on this ground, and to this limited extent deserve to be struck down”. 

However, the court asked the Government to redefine the ‘locals’ taking in consideration different stages of emigration in last 50 years for settling the dispute. In its refurnished affidavit the Government included customary, cultural and lingual attributes as the benchmark for identifying ‘locals’. The court didn’t object to it and noted that preferences could be given to those “who have knowledge of the local language, tradition, custom, etc.”

Demands for Domicile: "We are Jharkhandis"

In the backdrop of the court verdict, several pro-domicile organisations started their struggles afresh. While speaking to the Outlook, one of the leaders of Adivasi Jan Parishad, Prem Sahi Munda said, “Every state has their own domicile policy. For securing our employments, business and livelihood we needed the reservation. Marandi tried to implement it but a few ‘bahari’ (outsider) people, you can term them Bihari as well, opposed it. So, after the court struck it down, the movement became further strengthened. Under the leadership of Bandhu Tirkey, the movement took further shape”. 

In reference to the implementation of Article 371D in Andhra Pradesh which partially secures the recruitment of the locals in different government sectors, he added that such measures should have also been taken in Jharkhand. While remembering the long struggle that his organisations had gone through for achieving this feat, he told, “On September 11, 2022, we fixed it that this time there would be no turning back. We had to get the domicile policy passed”. 

On being asked what the people without Khatiyan would do, he continued, “If they are a true resident of Jharkhand, as per the Government provisions they would be identified through Gram Sabha and Ward Councill. Otherwise, Government could check their Ration card and other documents as well”. 

In this regard, S Ali, the President of Jharkhand Chhatra Sangh, another organisation that has been fighting for the cause said, “If a person is Jharkhandi, she must know the culture, customs, and languages of the region. So, it is not a difficult task to identify them. As I live in old Ranchi, even if I don’t have documents, the local people will definitely be able to recognise me.” 


However, he pointed out that the 1932 land survey as a marker doesn’t mean that areas developed after that year would not be considered. “There are places in Palamu, Santhal Pargana where the latest land survey of 1964 would be taken into consideration. As the movement was initiated in Ranchi and the last land survey here was conducted in 1932, we focused on that only”, Ali added. 

Recalling the high days of the movement, Jharkhand Dalit Mukti Morcha leader Vijay Shankar Nayak told Outlook, “We renamed the Shymlia Chowk of Mecon Colony as Trimurti Chowk. Every 24th July we remember the Adivasi martyr brothers who gave their lives for the cause”. Referring to the pressures on Soren Government to accede to their demands he said, “In March this year, 52 organisations came together to form Jharkhand Bachao Morcha. JMM MLA Lobern Hembram was elected the President. In our meeting on September 11 at the old legislative building we gave the final call. We made him (Soren) understand that if he doesn’t take it up now, things would be out of his hand”. 


Political observers in the state, however, are of a different opinion. While talking to Outlook and requesting to hide his identity, one of them said, “It is Soren’s political ploy to corner Central Government. Delhi would never agree to place it within the ninth schedule. It’s a win-win situation for Soren. Like his predecessor Marandi who brought the notification after he lost by-elections to the then JMM Chief Shibu Soren, Hemant is using it for political gains”. 

Whatever the future of the notification may be, as Rizwan told me, “At least for now, we are Jharkhandis”. 

Even as I noted the politics of identity taking hold over the state, I encountered two constable-rank police officers. The tensed cracks in their foreheads betrayed their concerns. On being asked, I was told, “Zamin kharide the kucch din pehle. Ghar banana thaa. Bhai, hum wo bech de kya? (We bought land a few days ago to make a house. Should we sell it, brother?). The silence of the unfinished conversation, however, was consumed by the din of the celebratory processions.