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Can Demarcation Of Domicile In Jharkhand Through 1932 Land Survey Define Dikus?

The move came two years after the Soren government’ historic decision to pass the Sarna code bill, asking the Centre to provide a separate religion column for Adivasis who do not self-identify as Hindus

Can Demarcation Of Domicile In Jharkhand Through 1932 Land Survey Define Dikus?
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At his ready-made garment shop, Mohd. Faizi, once a firebrand leader of the Jhar­khand movement, recounts how ‘Bih­ari’ policemen had once demolished his small business amid a volley of choicest abuses. “My fat­her’s shop was there for decades and suddenly we got evicted. ‘They’ never learnt our culture. ‘They’ were here to rule. It is our state, not ‘Their’ paternal property,” says Faizi, a former central committee member of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), who is now in his mid-50s.

Rage against the ‘outsider’ has been the ‘in-thing’ in the native Jharkandi ethos. A government not­i­fication, issued on September 14, said that a 1932 land survey will now be used as the ben­chmark for the state domicile policy and only those whose anc­estors find mention in the khata (land records) will be termed as ‘locals’. It has come as a shot in the arm in the sub-nationalist identity politics of the state. The move of the Jharkhand government came around two years after Chief Minister Hem­ant Soren’s historic decision to pass the Sarna code bill, asking the Centre to provide a separate religion column for Adivasis who do not self-identify as Hindus, in 2021 Census. For the Adivasis, Sarna is the religion of sacred groves that connects them to their eternal claims over jal, jangal aur jameen (water, forest and land). While the recognition of Sarna was Sor­en’s first step to promote the separ­ate identity of Adivasis, declaring the 1932 khatiyan as the basis of domicile is being billed as a mas­terstroke to assert the sub-national identity.

Both decisions reflect the politics of identity and the debates on insider-outsider which have been matters of contestation in Jharkhand for centur­ies. Though what sort of exclusion will ensue is not clear from the notification—a throwback to the cha­n­ging meaning of diku (outsiders in the local parlance)—it shows that the idea of outsider in Jha­­­­rkhand has remained immobile. It has its temporal and spatial characteristics that cannot be cag­ed into a Jharkhandi-non-Jhark­h­andi, or for that matter Adivasi-non-Adivasi bin­ary. Through­out the Jharkhand move­ment, it got redefined dep­ending on whom they were fig­h­ting against. Over the centuries, the word ‘diku’ has come to repres­ent British officials, landlords and Christian missionaries. Later, migrant workers, even those from Bihar, a state which Jhark­h­and was once part of, were branded with the same moniker.

Identifying dikus

Sarat Chandra Roy, known as the father of Indian anthropology in his 1912 seminal work, The Mun­das and Their Country, stated that the Mundas were the earliest settlers in the Chota Nagpur reg­ion, and Oraons followed them during 5th cent­ury A.D. Thereafter, different communities set­­tled subsequently. Their kinship-based joint land ownership system, known as khuntkatti, tho­ugh mostly remained unperturbed throughout the medieval period, before the British introduced them to a new world of rents and taxes. The repla­c­ement of tributes—they voluntarily used to offer to the Man­­ki Raja or Pahari Raja—with the coercive and punitive taxation system led to the British colonisers being identifies as the first ‘outsiders’. Follo­w­ing the imposition of Permanent Settlement Act in 1793, the fight against zamindars and British taxation system shaped the politics of the region, with a string of revolts chall­eng­­ing their authority. For instance, Chuar, Dhalbhum, Tilka Manjhi, Pahadia, Tamar, Nayek Hangama and Kol insurr­e­ctions were scripted against this backdrop. In the early days, both British and local non-tribal landlords became the dikus.

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Soren with supporters Photo: Rajesh Kumar

With the advent of Christian missionaries, the region witnessed reformist and revivalist trends. From Birsa Munda to Tana Baghat, the call was for reviving an authentic Adivasi culture. At this stage, Christian missionaries became dikus for their pro­s­elytization mission, the British for their multiple forms of exploitation and other non-Adivasis for their domination of the economy and culture. The meaning of diku, however, oscillated between ‘outsider’ and ‘exploiter’, sometimes meaning both.

Who are the dikus?

In contrast to Birsa’s movement against the Brit­ish, it was Christian Adivasis who gave the call for a broader Adivasi solidarity in early 20th century. The sudden change in attitude could be attributed to political transitions taking place then. The passing of the Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act, 1908, which secured the land rights of the Adivasis, coupled with educational reforms helped change the image of the British to be viewed as standing against the coercive zamindars of the region.

Significantly, prior to Independence the main political outsider for the Mahasabha was not the diku but the Indian National Congress.

In 1915, Chotonagpur Unnati Samaj was founded to communicate the apsirations of the Adivasis, mos­tly Christian, to the British, which wanted “the aboriginals of the Chota Nagpur may be left to the administration of European officers”. After that, the broader call for unity among Adivasis to safeg­uard their culture and land led to the formation of Adivasi Mahasabha in 1937. Significantly, prior to Independence, the main political outsider, if not diku, for the Mahasabha was the Indian National Congress. The Muslim League had formidable int­e­rest in this region, with Mohammed Ali Jinnah wan­ting to carve it out of India to create an Adiv­as­i­­sthan, a corridor between West and East Pakistan. Though it is not clear if Maha­sabha lea­der Jaipal Singh Munda supported the idea, there is hardly any evidence to the contrary.

Though referred to anybody residing in the reg­ion, the cultural connotation of ‘Jharkhandi’ could not expand beyond specific communities. The dem­arcation of ‘Biharis’ as outsiders and economic exploiters started gaining strength.

Outsiders have a new name

Since 1894, when the railway connection was est­a­blished with Jharia coalfield, there have been a ple­thora of mining works across the region. The fou­­ndation of Tata Steel plant in Jamshedpur, Damodar Valley Corporation, fertilizer plant in Sindri and heavy engineering factory in Ranchi, att­racted thousands of workers from different regi­ons, pushing the Adivasis to margins further.

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Set in a frame Stills of the popular Khattiyan movement.

Post-Independence, discrimination in employment has also been a long-standing sore point with the Adivasis. Skilled labourers of other regions were preferred to the native Jharkhandis, who were largely connected to their land and cultivation. After the nationalisation drive in 1971, for ins­tance, around 50,000 Jharkhandis working in mines were replaced mostly by the people from Bhojpur region. Around 30,000 telegrams were sent from Dhanbad alone to Arrah, Balia and Chhapra telling that their jobs were secured.

It is not to say that there was never any cooperation between farmers and workers. But such inst­ances were few and far between. In 1973 and 1974, Jharkhand Diwas was celebrated on Feb­ruary 4. The celebrations witnessed farmer–worker coalition, demanding a separate state of Jharkhand. Bhojpuri workers echoed the call of Jharkhandi farmers,‘Jharkhand is Ours, Go Back Dikus’.  Such alliances were, however, short-lived. For Jharkha­n­dis, dikus became those outside workers who have been taking away their share of bread. From the office bearers to the workers in the industry, one could hardly spot native Jharkhandis. During the 1980s, the major residential areas for the workers in Bokaro Steel City were named like Arrah More, Chhapra More and Balia More, making the demarcation clear. So, the fight was now focused against the ‘Biharis’ who were taking away their livelihoods and resources, and anyone from the northern part of Bihar was now considered a diku.

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If the question of outsider, as we observe, is connected solely to exploitation, how will this demarcation of ‘Jharkhandis’ work?

With the statehood movement reaching its decis­ive phase during the 1990s, the concept further cha­nged. As one of the former JMM Core Com­mi­t­tee members says, “During this period, anyone who used to oppose the demand for Jharkhand was branded a diku.” Throughout the movement, the concept of the outsiders vis-a-vis Jharkhandis was thus never stagnant, as with changing political, social and cultural contexts it shifted its position. What remained mostly constant was the allegation against the exploitation of resources.  If the quest­ion of outsider, as we observe, is connected solely to exploitation, how will this demarcation of ‘Jha­rkhandis’ work? Is it just a tokenism by the Soren government to gain some grounds in a politically charged environment?

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Earlier in 2002 when the then Chief Minister Bab­ulal Marandi notified the domicile policy, it did not survive the judicial scrutiny. Knowing it fully well, Soren has pushed the ball to the BJP’s court. If the Centre gives its nod, the Jharkhand government will ask it to place it under Ninth Schedule to bypass the possibility of judicial intervention.

But the future of millions of Jharkhandis does not lie only in redefinition. Rather it needs empathetic moves to not ‘exclude’ but to restore the idea of what Zubair Ahmed, an andolankari, called ‘Gul­dasta’—a bunch of flowers. Near Dornada kabris­tan, sitting on the fences, unable to avoid the words of the bystanders who lost their loved ones, Zubair says, “The movement was for Jharkhand, not for any specific community.”

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To exclude a few at the cost of others temporally may be a way to provide more jobs, but someday at some point of time a new diku has to be found. Walls of exclusivity will fall without another brick in the wall.

(This appeared in the print edition as "Throwback to the Past")

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