Discord over domicile

Published : Jun 20, 2003 00:00 IST

At Bariatu Road in Ranchi on May 27, during a bandh organised to protest against a recruitment examination conducted by the government. - AT A GLANCE

At Bariatu Road in Ranchi on May 27, during a bandh organised to protest against a recruitment examination conducted by the government. - AT A GLANCE

Agitations in Jharkhand over the domicile issue and the reservation policy intensify following a recent recruitment drive, which witnessed much violence.

FOR the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition government in Jharkhand, the most pressing task at hand seems to be finding a solution to the domicile and reservation issue, which has frequently triggered violence between the tribal and non-tribal people of the State. The latest occasion for such violence was a bandh called on May 27 and 28 to denounce a recruitment examination for nearly 10,000 primary school teachers. Candidates from other States, especially Bihar and Orissa, had poured into Ranchi and some other towns in Jharkhand to attend the examination. Pro-domicile groups in Jharkhand, who have been carrying on a campaign for job reservation right from November 2000 when the State was formed, soon came out to stop the examination. They called for a 48-hour bandh, organised demonstrations and went on the rampage at some examination centres. In the subsequent violence and police firing three people, including a woman and a child, died.

The situation in Ranchi became tense following the arrest of Shibu Soren, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) chief and Member of Parliament from Dumka. Soren, along with 50 supporters, had on May 28 demonstrated in front of the Governor's House, protesting against the police firing. Meanwhile the State administration has indicated to crack down on leaders of the anti-domicile lobby too, which has decided to organise bandhs and demonstrations to protest against the violence unleashed at the examination centres by pro-domicile activists.

The pro-domicile groups, who have rallied under the banner of the Adivasi Moolvasi Janadhikar Manch (AMJM), have decided to continue their agitation until the State government comes out with a policy before holding any recruitment examination. Chief Minister Arjun Munda has rejected the AMJM's demand. "Jharkhand is very much within the constitutional framework of the country and the demand of the AMJM that jobs be given only to local people is outrageous. There is only one domicile in the country and that is one's identity as an Indian,'' he said.

In July last year, the domicile policy proposed by Babulal Marandi, the then Chief Minister of the BJP-led government in the State, triggered widespread violence between tribal and non-tribal people. Violent pro- and anti-domicile demonstrations in Ranchi, Dhanbad, Bokaro, Jamshedpur and other parts of the State, and clashes with the police had become the order of the day. Back-to-back bandhs called by pro- and anti-domicile groups paralysed the State. Ten persons were killed and numerous others injured during a bandh on July 24 called by 58 organisations supporting Marandi's policy. Pro-domicile groups welcomed Marandi's policy decision to earmark 1932 as the base year in the records for domicile-related rights under the policy. The policy labelled as `outsiders' those who came to the State after 1932.

However, the Jharkhand High Court's rejection of the notification on the domicile policy gave a big blow to the Marandi government's move to give "locals" special preference in jobs over "outside settlers". Setting aside the notification regarding "essential criteria" for appointment to Class III and Class IV posts and admissions to technical institutions in the infant State, the High Court, in its verdict of November 27, termed the government policy a "hostile discrimination of the public at large".

Disapproving the government's policy stipulating that persons whose names or those of their forefathers figured in the 1932 survey settlement of land records would be deemed as domiciled in Jharkhand, the court observed: "How would concerned authority 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?"

STATE intelligence sources said the unrest over the domicile and reservation issues was now confined to urban or industrialised pockets such as Ranchi, Dhanbad, Jamshedpur, Bokaro, Chaibasa and Chakradharpur, which had a substantial presence of "migrant" population. "We are keeping our fingers crossed. If pro- and anti-domicile protests spread to rural areas, things could go out of hand and violence would become the order of the day, as had happened during the Ahom movement in Assam in the 1980s. The matter is political but all sides are trying to cash in on it to the maximum,'' an intelligence officer said.

Informed sources in the ruling BJP said the party was acutely divided over the issue. "The foundation of the party in this region was laid by people who are now being described as outsiders. The same outsiders have been the moneybags of the BJP here. Triggering divisions on the basis of place of residence will jeopardise the party's prospects in the State beyond repair,'' one of them said. It appears that tribal members in the previous Marandi government united themselves against the non-tribal ones, and kept the latter out of important decision-making.

The government's failure to evolve a mechanism to identify the `original residents' of Jharkhand has added to the confusion. "A substantial percentage of the tribal people and other original inhabitants are landless. Their names are not in the land records. The government does not know how to identify them and where to place them on the domicile spectrum. The agitation will only end up creating an insider-outsider divide that would spell doom for the State,'' said a senior government official.

Apart from the agitations over the domicile issue, trouble has been brewing in Jharkhand since its inception with organisations of the Scheduled Tribes, the Scheduled Castes and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) fighting for enhanced reservation for their respective communities in government jobs and in panchayati raj institutions. All these groups are on the warpath and they have separate programmes of action. The S.Ts and the S.Cs, who once fought unitedly for the realisation of the Jharkhand State, are now divided as both groups wants their quotas increased. Their claims and counter-claims have made it difficult for the government to reach a decision. The six-member Cabinet sub-committee formed to study the legal aspects of the reservation policy has remained inconclusive and has sought several extensions.

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