Monday, Jul 29, 2002
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THE ORDER ISSUED by the Jharkhand Government giving preference (in recruitments to its various departments) to the kin of those who settled in the region prior to 1932 might appear to be an affirmative action. But then the context in which the Chief Minister, Babulal Marandi, went about this (depriving all those who settled in the Jharkhand region after 1932 of their domicile status), raises questions. Mr. Marandi's order, particularly the mechanism to establish the domicile status on the basis of 1932 land ownership records is the major problem in this context. The state in which the revenue records are maintained and the extent to which such records have been manipulated (over the ages) by the elite is a fact that hardly needs elaboration. Proof of this could be found in the numerous title suits pending at various levels of the civil judiciary across the country (some of them dating back to period a couple of hundred years ago). Such matters of land ownership get far more complicated when it involves a society with a substantial tribal population. A combination of these factors is behind the violence that has engulfed the region in the past few days. The issue and the violent incidents will have to be seen in the context of the long history of consolidation among the tribals and the processes culminating in the formation of the Jharkhand State.
While the history of organised resistance by the tribals in Jharkhand is rooted in the militant revolt led by the legendary Birsa Munda (when the tribals were integrated so well into the nationalist mainstream), the years after Independence saw the movement being appropriated by a new class of leaders who managed to reduce the legacy to a slogan for self-preservation. The leadership of the Jharkhand movement thus came to be captured by sections from within the Backward Castes (the Kurmis in particular) to whom the aspirations of the tribal people were only a means to promoting their own agenda. The demand for a separate Jharkhand State (consisting in the initial days of several districts from West Bengal, Bihar and Orissa) too was distorted and the various factions of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) did not hesitate to accept a truncated Jharkhand (with only the tribal districts in Bihar) in November 2000. The new crop of leaders (now heading the various JMM groups) was only interested in carving out a space for itself in the political establishment and it was in this context that the JMM groups began losing out to the BJP in the region. Thus, in the last couple of decades, the political discourse in Jharkhand came to be dominated by a cross-section of the non-tribal elite who managed to capture the leadership of all the dominant political platforms. Beneath the veneer of speaking for the tribals, these leaders had their own interests.
Take for instance the declining trend noticed over the years in the proportion of tribals in the Jharkhand region. From 37 per cent of the population in 1951, it fell to 25 per cent in 1991. This points so clearly to the migration of the tribals from the region in search of jobs. That such a migration was taking place even while the scope for labour in Jharkhand itself was expanding (the growth of industries and mining activities there during this period) clearly suggests the marginalisation of the tribal population from the modern set-up. This was when the mainstream parties in the region the JMM, the BJP and the Congress were competing with each other to establish their credentials as custodians of the tribals and their interests. The order passed by the Babulal Marandi Government is yet another instance of this competition. The grant of domicile status to only those in a position to establish land ownership titles (as in 1932) may seem to be a measure favouring the tribals. But then, in reality, such a measure could only be a means to promote the social elite. Experience in this regard has been that the elite (the Kurmi peasantry in particular insofar as the Jharkhand region is concerned) will be in a better position to manipulate the revenue records than the tribals. For this very reason, the order on domicile status may well alienate the tribals further.
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