The Jharkhand Andolan: Boyhood Memories From The Periphery

We acknowledged South Bihar’s neglect but it came with questions like, ‘How would the new state feed itself?’

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
A representative image of the Jharkhand tribal community.
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Carved out of Bihar on 15 November 2000 in deference to a long-pending demand, Jharkhand is 17-years-old now. I first heard of it much before it came into being, in 1982. I was 10 at that time, and we had moved to Jamshedpur a couple of years ago. Jamshedpur, now in Jharkhand, was in Bihar then.

A young man, a student leader, had been stabbed to death not far from my home at Bhalubasa Chowk. Within hours, shops were attacked and a bus burnt at the same Chowk by those protesting his death.

A school senior, who shared the auto rickshaw back home, told us juniors that the deceased had been part of the Jharkhand Andolan. “Beta, ab toh Jharkhand banega hi banega," he said.

Back home, Papa agreed. The movement had finally reached Jamshedpur. How long could our cozy Tata Steel-run township remain insulated from the world around it? Jharkhand, I learnt that day, was the separate state South Bihar adivasis wanted because they felt hard done by Bihar’s non-adivasi leadership.

A Grudging Acknowledgement of South Bihar’s Neglect

In our largely upper caste Bihari circle, there were concerns about Jharkhand. Relatives in Motihari and Patna worried about Bihar’s mineral wealth, power stations and the best cities (Ranchi and Jamshedpur) going to Jharkhand; Papa’s colleagues in Bihar government’s Public Works Department (PWD) worried about contemporary Mundas, Murmus and Sorens being promoted; and, the more paranoid foresaw hordes of spear-wielding adivasis running wild on the streets of Jamshedpur.

Whereas in a more ‘intellectual’ mood, there was grudging acknowledgment of South Bihar’s neglect, but it came with fundamental questions like, ‘How would the new state feed itself?’

It did not have fertile land, it did not have the Ganga and, above all, adivasis did not know proper agriculture. Even if they fed themselves from the jungles, as they had for generations, were adivasis actually capable of running a government?

Cycle to theek se chalti nahi, Jharkhand kaise chalayenge?’ wondered Uncle T’s driver. That Bihar’s politicians of the time were not exactly setting benchmarks for high quality governance or showing a particularly civilised side to the Bihari people, did not seem to strike anybody.

I got another view on the Jharkhand issue after reading an interview of Ram Dayal Munda (1939-2011) in the now defunct Dharmayug. The piece had much about Munda’s early years, education abroad, and the initial controversies around his vice chancellorship at Ranchi University (including his motorcycling to work), but what stood out was the weighty case Munda made for Jharkhand.

Meanwhile, Papa, from his experiences in the field, brought home stories of abject poverty and exploitation, and how different adivasi food, gods and outlooks were from ours, and slowly veered towards the position that South Bihar’s unique circumstances couldn’t be understood, let alone addressed, from Patna.

Has Jharkhand Achieved What It Was Expected to?

The word on the street was mainly about one man, Shibu Soren. There were stories about how he could be present in more than one place at the same time, literally freeze an opponent with just his gaze, and talk to an audience of thousands with each member of the audience feeling that they were being talked to directly. Soren was the lone South Bihar leader, the legend went, who the clerks at the Patna Secretariat stood up to greet.

Bottomline, if Soren wanted Jharkhand, he would get it sooner or later. If denied too long, he would one day simply mesmerise his followers into claiming Jharkhand. No army or police would be able to stop the inevitable.

By late eighties, many of us at senior school had started using the Jai Jharkhand greeting in public, without eyebrows being raised. It was because we wanted to convey street credibility - not because we had thrown ourselves completely behind the cause. By the time we left Jamshedpur for college in 1990, it was clear that Jharkhand would happen.

It did a decade later. I am often asked if Jharkhand’s creation has achieved what it was expected to achieve. The answer has to be negative. The state lags on most human development indicators, adivasis continue to languish in poverty and hunger, natural resources remain under contest, and locals, whether in villages or towns, hint at unfulfilled promises when prodded.

A large part of the blame must rest with the political class which, across party lines, has made news mainly due to corruption scandals (relating particularly to the plunder of natural resources), and failed to craft a development agenda that responds to the socio-cultural specificities of the state.

Having said that, it is an open question whether the people, especially the adivasis, would have been better placed in Bihar, and for the sake of all those who fought for it and in whose name it was created, one hopes the idea of Jharkhand is not leeched off the possibilities it originally offered.

(Manish Dubey is a policy analyst and political columnist. His second work of fiction, a novella titled 'A Murderous Family' has recently been released by Juggernaut Books. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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