Jharkhand's New Domicile Policy: Another 'Outsider' In The Wall 

Adivasi-Mulvasis In Jharkhand: Will the demarcation of locals by the 1932 Land Survey be able to demarcate Dikus? Hemant Soren government's move to accept the long-standing demand of Adivasi-Mulvasis once again leads to a familiar question - who is ‘the outsider’?

A win for the Adivasi Moolvasi movement in Jharkhand

Sitting at the small ready-made garment shop, just a few meters away from Anjuman Plaza building that holds in it the office of the historic Anjuman Islamia, a Muslim collectivity founded by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad during his days of internment in Ranchi (1916-1919), Mohd Faizi told me, “Us din me soch liya thaa in diku logo ko idhar se hatake rahunga (That day I made my mind that I would make these Dikus leave)”.

In his mid-50s, the former central committee member of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and a firebrand leader of Jharkhand movement was recounting how the ‘Bihari’ police officers demolished his small shop and abused him with ‘Ma behen ki gali’ (Cuss words). “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”. 

These words of Faizi bhai came to my mind again as I saw waves of people pouring into the streets of Ranchi in immeasurable joy. There was hardly any street that was not holding any ‘julus’. As if Hemant Soren’s acceptance of the1932 land survey (Khatiyan) as the measure to demarcate ‘Jharkhandis’ gave them back the moment of pride they were waiting for - to some, it was ‘third independence after 22 years (Jharkhand was separated from Bihar in 2000 and several locals call it the second independence).’ 

Amidst the roaring crowd that covered the streets, there were a few scattered questions - embossed in some tensed foreheads, lied unanswered. Who are these ‘They’? Have they always been the same people from the same region or has the meaning of 'them' seen constant evolution? Will the privileging of Jharkhandis end up in a social conflict with the Dikus being marked? Will it further promote a social cleavage or resolve it? 

To look into the dynamic and changing concept of Dikus, we will take a journey through the phases of the Jharkhand movement. ‘Dikus’ have specific political, spatial and temporal values. It is neither an immutable concept nor an aberration in the land of Jharkhand. This is the cleavage that takes different names and shapes in different movements across contexts.

Only the question remains the same - who is ‘the outsider’? 

Early Days of Agrarian and Ethnic Movements- Who were the 'Outsiders'? 

Sarat Chandra Roy, known as parent of Indian Anthropology in his 1912 book ‘The Mundas and their Country’ mentioned that the first settlers in the Chotanagpur region were Mundas. They were joined by Oraons during 5th century A.D. Thereafter different communities settled in this region over time and shared more or less dimilar social systems. Manki was the king of Mundas, Pahari Raja was the leader of the Oraons. Until the medieval period, there was no land-renting system. The leaders though used to receive voluntary tributes, there was no coercion. 

After a small expedition by Sher Shah, it was Jahangir for the first time, as the Ranchi district Gazetteer of 1917 notes, who got lured away by diamonds worth lakhs of rupees and called then the Bihar Governor Ibrahim Khan to ‘invade the district and drive away the unknown petty Raja’. The legend goes that being unsatisfied with the number of gathered diamonds, Khan arrested the Raja and presented him to Jahangir. After short-term detention, the Raja was released only after he showcased his talent to authenticate diamond. Since then, consecutive Rajas maintained nominal relations with the Imperial power. Except for sending a few tributes, nothing was as such imposed on them. However, with the intervention of the outside forces came the foreign ideas of ‘jaigirs’ and ‘thikadars’. When Raja gave ‘jaigir’ of villages to the ‘thikadars’, the people of Chotanagpur for the first time felt a sense of alienation. This sense of alienation nevertheless became their strength and the major contention. 

It was the imposition of the Permanent Settlement Act, 1793 that tested their tolerance. Not only huge tax was imposed on the lands, the customary law and order practices as maintained by pykes or ghatwals got replaced by the British. This became the trigger for consecutive agrarian and ethnic movements throughout the eighteenth and 19th century. The Chuar Rebellion, Dhalbhum rebellion, Tilka Manjhi’s War, Pahadia Revolt, First Tamar Rebellion, Second Chuar Rebellion, Nayek Hangama, Second Tamar Rebellion, and Kol Insurrection movement were scripted against this grain. 

In these movements, they fought against the outsider Zamindars who had been illegally given lands by the Britishers. Their struggle was against the imposition of outsider rules and legal mechanisms. For them, the Dikus were those British officers who imposed taxes - the landlords who enforced the laws and the Siphais (Soldiers/Peyadas)- who coerced them to pay. 

This shape of movement however changed with time as the spread of Christianity in this region bolstered cultural revivalism. The traits of ethnicity-based movements that wanted to revive the cultural authenticity of tribal cultures could be found in Santhal Rebellion, Kherwar movement, Birsha movement and significantly in Tana Baghat uprise. Birsha Munda’s call to create a purified, precisely modified Adivasi culture; Tana Bhagat’s demand for a purely vegetarian diet and no alcohol consumption shaped the early twentieth century’s discourse of ethnic purity. 

At this juncture, the Christian missionaries for their proselytization mission; the Britishers for their coercion and other non-Adivasi forces for their domination in the economy and cultural sphere became the ‘Dikus’. The ethnic turn in the Jharkhand movement thus came with the new definition of the outsider. Whereas it was only Zamindars and exploiters of outside origin who were fought against during agrarian revolts, during the ethnic calls non-Adivasis and even non-compliant Adivasis were assigned the role of outsider. 

Formal Political Organizations and the New ‘Dikus’ 

Interestingly, during the early days of twentieth century it was mostly Christian Adivasis who called for the preservation of Adivasi identity and called for broader solidarity among different Adivasi groups. In 1915, Chotonagpur Unnati Samaj (CUS) was founded as an organization to communicate the demands of the Adivasis (mostly Christian) to the Britishers. In a statement that we found in K S Singh’s 1983 seminal work Tribal Movement In India, the Samaj noted, “Whatever may be done in the way of reform elsewhere, the aboriginals of the Chotanagpur may be left to the administration of European officers”. It was though definitely evident that after the passing of Chotonagpur Tenancy Act (CNT), 1908 that ensured land rights for the Adivasis, there was a tilt in favor of Britishers, the certain transition in perception is ironic. 


However, the broader call for unity among Adivasis to safeguard their culture and land resulted into the formation of Adivasi Mahasabha in 1937. Mahasabha’s relational attributes toward the Britishers were nevertheless similar to its early avatars. Marnag Gomke and the undisputed leader of Mahasabha Jaipal Singh Munda even helped the Britishers to recruit Army from Adivasis during WWII. Actually, the formation of Mahasabha could be attributed to the drubbing of all the smaller Chotanagpur parties during 1937 provincial election. The defeat brought them under a single umbrella and Mahasabha was born. 

Significantly, prior to independence the main political competitor, if not directly Diku for Mahasabha was the National Congress. Muslim League had formidable interest in this region as Jinnah expected to carve it out from India to create an ‘Adivasisthan’, precisely a corridor between West and East Pakistan. Though it is not clear whether Munda supported this vision, there is hardly any evidence to support the contrary. At this juncture, Congress leaders became the outsiders who came from other regions to rule over the people of the Chotanagpur. The support of the local feudal lords to the Congress also strengthened such perceptions. 


However, this political expediency didn’t go well as in the 1946 elections, Mahasabha failed to translate its ground supports into ballots. With the independence and the weakening of Muslim league it was also prudent for Mahasabha to call for broader Adivasi-Non-Adivasi unity. Soon, in 1950 Jharkhand Party (JP) was floated and the name of ‘Jharkhand’ came up in the discourse of the movement. 

Addressing the concerns of Adivasis, Moolvasis and Sadans, JP rode to political victory in 1952 where they won 32 seats out of 53 in this region. Though they performed well in 1957 elections, their failure to convince the State Reorganization Commission (SRC) regarding the separate Jharkhand state made them fall from the grace. In 1962, Jaipal Singh Munda merged his party with the Congress ending decades of hostility and political contestation. 


The Industrial Development and Competitive Resource: Outsiders Have a New Name

Since 1894, when the railway connection was established with Jharia coalfield there was a boom in mining works across the Jharkhand region. The foundation of Tata Steel plant in Jamshedpur, Damodar Valley Corporation, Fertilizer Plant in Sindri, Heavy Engineering Factory in Ranchi attracted thousands of workers from different regions to work here. The competition for Adivasis to enter the booming market increased immediately. 

Not only that, the skilled laborers of other regions were openly preferred to the mostly agricultural-based Jharkhandi people. After the nationalization drive in 1971 around 50,000 Jharkhandi workers lost their jobs in mines. They were replaced mostly by the people of Bhojpur region. Around 30,000 telegrams were sent from only Dhanbad region to Arrah-Balia-Chhapra saying that their jobs were secured. 


This discrimination in the job sector was propelled further by the fact that Jharkhandis were connected to their lands and cultivation. It is not to say that there was never any cooperation between farmers and workers but the occasion was rare. In 1973 and 1974, Jharkhand Diwas was celebrated on 4th February. Both the years witnessed farmer-worker coalition demanding separate state of Jharkhand. Bhojpuri workers echoed the calls of Jharkhandi farmers- ‘Jharkhand is Ours, Go Back Dikus’. 

However, such alliances couldn’t survive for long. The new Diku for the Jharkhndis were these outsider workers who have been taking away their shares of breads. Not only they were earning from this region, but they were also sending it back to their hometowns making it nothing less than blatant theft. From the office bearers to the workers in the industry, one could hardly spot Jharkhandis. The fact that during the 1980s, the major residential areas for the workers in Bokaro Steel City were named like Arrah More, Chhapra More, Balia More, etc makes it further clear. So, the fight was now focused against the ‘Biharis’  who were taking away their resources. Anyone from the northern part of Bihar now was considered as Diku. 


With the movement reaching its final stage during the 1990s the idea further changed. As several leaders told me, ‘During this period, anyone who used to oppose the demands of Jharkhand was termed Diku’. So, throughout the movement the concept was never immobile- with the political, social and cultural context it shifted its positions. What remained mostly constant was the allegation against the exploitation of resources.  

However, the question of taking away the resources is yet not solved; nor is it clear how the Adivasi-Moolvasis could be accommodated and represented in different sectors. Will the consideration of 1932 land survey as the marker of the domicile be a step in this direction? Whom will it mark Dikus now? Even if marked, how will the created social cleavage could be resolved? 


With all the unanswered questions the hopes of Jharkhandis are still tied to a dream what Faizi bhai once told me, ‘We will not let them rule over us’.