Language-Domicile Protest In Jharkhand
Parts of Jharkhand are witnessing social unrest which may turn into a law and order problem if not handled swiftly, after the state government in December last year granted a second state language status to Bhojpuri, Magahi and Angika to be used as a mode of examination for recruitment for government jobs in the state. All these three languages are predominantly spoken by people from Bihar who are settled in large numbers in Dhanbad, Bokaro and Giridih district of the tribal state. This has led to a confrontational situation between pro-Bihari dialect and anti-Bihari dialect speaking people which has assumed political overtones on the lines of “insider-outsider” after education minister Jagannath Mahto called Biharis as “intruders” in the state of Jharkhand. Hundreds of protesters, including women, have been marching with placards, raising slogans against the government mainly in the east-central districts of Bokaro and Dhanbad, but also in Giridih and Ranchi. The protests have gathered momentum since the last week of January, and some very large gatherings have been seen in the last few days. Thousands protested in the Silli area of Ranchi district, and in Bagodar in Giridih district.
On December 24, the Jharkhand Personnel, Administrative Reforms, and Rajbhasha Department issued a notification to include Magahi, Bhojpuri, and Angika among others as regional languages in the district-level selection process through exams conducted by the Jharkhand Staff Selection Commission (JSSC). The notification triggered resentment in a section of people especially in Bokaro and Dhanbad, who saw the inclusion of Bhojpuri and Magahi as an “infringement” on the rights of Adivasis and Moolvasis. The protesters argue that the “low population” of Magahi and Bhojpuri speakers in these two districts did not “warrant” the inclusion of these languages in the job selection process. Anecdotal evidence suggests there is a relatively small number of Magahi- and Bhojpuri-speaking people in these districts; however, no precise data are available.
Even though there was no data on how many people converse in the language, anecdotal evidence suggested that the population speaking the languages in question was considerably low. The Jharkhandi Bhasha Sangharsha Samiti, an 'apolitical' organization of Adivasis and Moolvasis, has organized more than 50 protest gatherings in the last few days. They are also demanding that 1932 be made the cut-off date while taking into account proof of land records for the state’s domicile policy. This has long been contentious. Following the creation of Jharkhand in 2000, the first Chief Minister, Babulal Marandi, thought it was necessary to define a ‘Jharkhandi’ in order to provide benefits including government jobs to local people. In 2016, the Raghubar Das government came out with a “relaxed domicile policy” that included criteria such as employment for the last 30 years, and essentially made 1985 the cut-off year. After coming to power in 2019, the Hemant Soren government set up a cabinet sub-committee to re-define domicile.
Author and human rights activist Gladson Dungdung said the protest on the language issue is “full of contradictions”. According to Dungdung, some MLAs have been “directly involved in crowd-gathering”, “so the claim that this movement is apolitical is not true”. Placards and banners displayed at the protests say “Bahri bhasa Jharkhand mein nai chaltu. (Languages from outside Jharkhand cannot run here.)” However, Dungdung pointed out, the protesters do not have a problem with Bengali or Odia being made regional languages, nor do they oppose other districts having Bhojpuri and Magahi as regional languages. According to Dungdung, while political parties will take some mileage, the protests will ultimately “fizzle out”.