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Domiciled in Jharkhand

By Vasudha Dhagamwar

While many of those with rightful claims would be denied, if will not prevent the exploiters from making the grade... the real answer lies in education.

THE JHARKHAND Chief Minister, Babulal Marandi, has created trouble by going in for a domicile policy. With it comes reservation in higher education and in Government service.

Mr. Marandi has zeroed in on the year 1932 as the cut-off date and the settlement of that year as proof of domicile. Settlement might have been over for Chhota Nagpur but in the Santal Parganas it went on till 1935.

The idea seems to be to secure a share in the class three and class four Government jobs for the Adivasis. With their current level of education they are not aspiring for gazetted jobs. Nor are they aspiring to replace the businessmen or traders. In some ways the demand is very similar to the one made by the Shiva Sena in Mumbai. But there the demand was for also class two jobs.

This writer is a Dhanbadi, although by current standards she would not be domiciled in Jharkhand; her father only went there in the early 1940s.

One has somewhat more sympathy for the Adivasi of Jharkhand. All mineral wealth is in the south yet all development took place in the north. There has never been a Chief Minister from south Bihar. The coal, rail and business capital was in Kolkata. Now Jharkhand is a potentially rich State and outsiders will come flooding in for jobs and opportunities.

But now it also has more than 50 per cent non-Adivasi residents. Even Mr. Marandi admitted that all of them were not outsiders. Therefore he is applying the 1932 test. But that can be counter-productive. 1) Settlement is about land. It does not record landless people; 2) all original inhabitants are not free of the taint of exploitation; 3) many original inhabitants of Jharkhand will fall through this net because they have been deprived of their lands since many decades.

The Pahadiyas of the Rajmahal Hills and the tribes of Palamau are a glaring example. The Pahadiyas are a dying tribe. They own no land. They survive on small loans from mahajans (moneylenders). Would their forefathers have been shown in the 1932 settlement? I doubt it. What about the Dalits who normally hold no land? As a woman, I must also ask if women have the right to domicile? Or, will it go in the male line as in Jammu and Kashmir?

It has been proved again and again that the acquiring of Adivasi lands by non-Adivasis has been an ongoing process for decades. Adivasi populations and also other poor peasants have routinely lost land for decades throughout India. This has been well documented. Jharkhand is no exception.

Land became a saleable commodity under the British. Just let us look at the Santal Parganas. In Jharkhand too land laws apply. The Chhota Nagpur Tenancy Act (CNTA) and the Santal Parganas Settlement and Survey Act 1872 (SPSSA) for instance. The latter applies to the six districts carved out of the old Santal Parganas: Dumka, Deoghar, Godda, Jamtara, Pakur and Sahibganj.

The SPSSA made land transferable by sale, gift or against a debt. Within ten years of the first settlement there were as many as 10,000 court sales and 40,000 private sales of raiyati lands. The annual district report for 1882 showed that the bazaar traders of Dumka had absorbed all Santal settlements in the vicinity. David Gantzer who conducted the settlement in 1922-1935 in the Santal Parganas admitted that land transfers were very much a common practice.

The Santal Parganas was a non-regulation tract for long decades. Land settlement was completely outside the jurisdiction of the civil courts. It was entirely at the discretion of the Settlement Officers. The timetable for hearing objections and for appeals was short. Appeals went to the Commissioner. Once the settlement was over the record was fixed forever. It could never be challenged. This speedy process created a problem for the Adivasis. Moneylenders and others used the settlement rules skilfully to take away Adivasi lands. On the other hand, claims for debts were a matter for the civil courts. The torturous and lengthy procedure was even worse. Moneylenders used them against the Adivasis very successfully to recover debts or to take away their lands. Every way the Adivasi lost his hard-won land.

In the early 1980s, I was in Dumka as a Senior Research Fellow of the Indian Council for Social Science Research. The first settlement after Independence had already begun. The lone Santal lawyer in the Dumka bar let drop a small remark. There were hundreds of Santals in jail, he said. All put inside by powerful non-Adivasis so that the real owners could not challenge the false claimants within the few months allowed for objections and appeals. In the owner's absence their neighbours would not dare speak up.

Even the Santal might not be able to secure the domicile of the new State for which he fought so hard and for so long. The answer to the question who is original depends on how far back one goes. The Saura Pahadiyas and the Maler Pahadiyas of the Rajmahal Hills are the oldest inhabitants of the Santal Parganas. They dominated the densely forested lands and even the region around the river Ganga, and were much feared by medieval princes. The British subdued them at the end of the 18th century. The Pahadiyas were unwilling to contribute revenue to the East India Company by changing over from slash and burn cultivation to settled agriculture. That is why quite deliberately, in the 1790s, the Santals were imported to the Santal Parganas. If we go as far back as 1932, then why not 1790?

While many of those with rightful claims would be denied, it will not prevent the exploiters from making the grade. The people of the plains were certainly in residence; they exploited the Pahadiyas, quite mercilessly and even brutally. Yet, they were definitely the original inhabitants and are entitled to domicile. We shall also run into trouble over the definition of who is a local. Is a Dhanbadi to be preferred over a man from Dumka for a job in a coal mine? And is the man in Giridih to have monopoly over the mica industry?

We cannot put the country into little boxes. Jharkhand cannot accommodate all Jharkhandis or their aspirations. With every sympathy for the Adivasis who fear more exploitation in the future, one still has to say that the real answer lies in education. Promote universal education with a will and give the children a tool with which they can move out into the fray.

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