Jharkhand Has Turned 21, But Many Who Gave it Shape Still Struggle for Recognition

Since the day of its foundation, 'andolankaris' have been struggling to ensure their own political and social participation. But the process seems unending.

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Delivering the Motion of Thanks for the Presidential address in the last budget session, Prime Minister Narendra Modi used the term andolanjivi.

In ostensible reference to the ongoing farmers’ protest, Modi said:

There is a new community in India now, called ‘andolanjivi’. This community will be spotted at any agitation…We should ensure that the nation is protected from them. These andolanjivis are like parasites”.

This statement was subjected to severe criticism but was forgotten soon.

The word appears to have surfaced in the politics of Jharkhand, with a new suffix, as ‘andolankari’.

Today, as the state turns 21, Jharkhand andolankaris have occupied the streets, this time not for a separate state but so that the values they fought for, man, samman, niyojon, pension and pehchan (respect, recognition, recruitment, pension and identity), are granted.

Who are these andolankaris? Do only those who have been in the forefront of the movement and were imprisoned qualify? What about those who left material opportunities to live for a cause? 

“The person who joined a rally and couldn’t come back on time to check whether his children had sat down to study is an andolanakri. The person who left his field untilled for a day to join a meeting in a nearby village is an andolanakri,” said folksinger, poet and Padma Shri recipient Madhu Mansoori Hasmukh.

The concept is loaded with suffering, bravery and hardship. From sacrifices and selfless services for the state comes what Pushkar Mahato, coordinator of the Jharkhand Andolankari Sangharsh Morcha terms the ‘authority of being the father or mother of the state.’

The condition of andolankaris also reflects the situation of Jharkhand itself. Since the day of its foundation, andolankaris have been struggling to ensure their own political and social participation. But they are not even recognised through official notification, and nor are they given the public recognition that they deserve.  

A cursory glance at the development profile of Jharkhand would lay bare the state’s failure to work for the betterment of its people. According to the 2011 Census, the overall literacy rate of Jharkhand is 66% which is lower than the national average. The literacy rate among the Scheduled Tribes in Jharkhand is just 57%, among the lowest in India. According to Niti Aayog’s Sustainable Development Goal India index 2020 -2021, Jharkhand is the second worst performing state and worst in the zero hunger parameter.

In addition, the Economic Survey of India, 2017, revealed that Jharkhand lost more than 5% of its working age population to migration between 2001-2011. People migrate to other states in search of better employment opportunities, education and loss of tradition livelihood. 

The politics of redistribution and recognition that inspired the Jharkhandis to demand statehood has not translated into state policy and governance after the formation of the state. Jharkhand, since November 15, 2000, has witnessed continued disregard for the hopes of the very people who struggled for it.

Miners work at Magadh coal mine in Chatra district in the eastern state of Jharkhand, India, September 30, 2015. Credit: Reuters/Stringer

Miners work at Magadh coal mine in Chatra district in Jharkhand, India, September 30, 2015. Photo: Reuters/Stringer

The struggle

The fight for the recognition of andolankaris started in the very initial days after the formation of state.

A delegation of andolankaris met the then Chief Minister Babulal Marandi in 2002. In their submission, they clearly demanded two things: participation in government and recognition of andolankaris as ‘Jharkhand ki senani‘. 

The first demand, said Mumtaz Khan, coordinator of the Jharkhand Andolankari Morcha, had a reason.

The andolankaris understand Jharkhand better than anybody as they fought for it. They know its people and nature best. If they participate in the government, then the dream of Jharkhand would be successful,” Khan said.

The second demand was related to the question of dignity and pointed to the sub-nationalism that pervaded the statehood movement throughout the century. 

Though the Marandi government didn’t act on the demands, the next government of Arjun Munda appeared to heed them The Jharkhand government came up with a booklet, ‘Jharkhand ki Senani’, where 300 freedom fighters were identified and publicly recognised. The selection process of the 300, Khan said, was politically motivated.

Foreseeing the impending struggle, andolankaris in 2004, made the Jharkhand Andolankari Morcha (JAM) and Vinod Bhagat became the chief coordinator. Mumtaz Khan, Sanjay Kirki, Niral Horo, Vimal Kacchap and Birsa Munda were elected coordinators. 

JAM’s first success was in compelling the government to withdraw political cases against the andolankaris. Among 2,720 cases, the Arjun Munda government withdrew 291 cases and sent the rest for review. From 2004 to 2011, JAM met chief ministers and governors to submit their demands but most of the efforts went in vain. Though three committees were formed under the chairmanship of Dr. Ramdayal Munda, Sudesh Mahato and Suraj Singh Besra respectively, they could not fulfil the given tasks of identifying andolankaris, securing pension and getting cases against them withdrawn.

Representative image. Photo: Reuters/Ahmad Masood/Files

The beginning of official categorisation 

Every year on January 1, since the formation of Jharkhand state, the Kharsawan massacre is remembered by the government and other organisations. In 1948, on the day, at Kharsawan Haat Bazartand, hundreds of Adivasis had been killed for agitating for a separate state of Jharkhand.

Kharsawan represents a solemn site of assertion of Jharkhandi identity for which people sacrificed their lives. 

In December 2011, Jharkhand Andolankari Morcha pledged to not let then CM Arjun Munda enter the site on January 1, 2021 for the official ceremony there. 

In the same winter session of the Jharkhand assembly, JMM MLAs like Nalin Soren, Sita Soren, Haji Hussain Ansari along with others called for recognition and pension for Jharkhand andolankaris. Under continuous political pressure Munda accepted the demands and declared the formation of Jharkhand/Vananchal Andolankari Chinhitkaran Ayog on March 31, 2012.

Justice Vikramaditya Prasad was the chairman of the commission and the following frame of references were made:

  1. Andolankaris who died in police firing during the movement would be given the recognition of ‘martyr’
  2. Her or his dependent will get a government job as per their qualifications along with Rs 2 lakh as compensation.
  3. Those who spent more than six months in jail would get Rs 5,000 per month as pension and those who spent less than six months would get Rs 3,000 per month as pension. 
  4. Other andolankaris would be given medical help of up to Rs 35,000.
  5. They will be given certification and recognition.

JAM immediately opposed the frame of reference and noted that the struggle was for Jharkhand and not for Vananchal. So, the name of the Ayog should not carry the obliqued word that the JAM said was an attempt by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party to take over the movement. JAM also called for removing the categorisation of andolankaris and asked for equal treatment for all. 

The categorisation imposed an Orwellian hierarchy. Some andolankaris became more equal than others.

JAM coordinator Mumtaz Khan said, “Whenever we had any programme in Morabadi or Dumka, around 5-7 lakhs people used to turn up. In these places women used to with their children on their back. Sometimes they had to walk for more than 50 km to reach the protest site. All of them were engaged in the Jharkhand andolan, directly or indirectly.” 

Anybody who has played a bit of role in the creation of the state of Jharkhand is an andolonkari, said Pushkar Mahato, coordinator of Jharkhand Andolonkari Sangharsh Morcha, JASM.

In 2013, JAM met Justice Prasad twice and requested him to include all those andolonkaris who have never been to prison but were part of the movement. 

JAM petition to Raghubar Das government.

In their petition to the Raghubar Das government in 2017, JAM also demanded that andolankaris be given 10 decimil land in urban areas of Jharkhand, similar to those given to MLAs and ministers, along with medical facilities, commemorative naming of streets, universities and hospitals, inclusion in development bodies and boards of the Jharkhand government and the collapsing of categorisation of andolankaris.


JAM’s petition to governor Draupadi Murmu in 2016, however, included a major argument that sought to highlight that this fight was never just for pension but for dignity.

JAM petition to governor Draupadi Murmu in 2016.

In East Singhbhum and Dumka, 297 and 282 identified andolankaris were given a letter of recognition signed by respective district collectors. JAM said that this was an absolute insult to the andolankaris and that it should have been signed by the chief minister.

Despite these continuous protests and petitions, only around 5,000 people had been identified and notified among 63,000 applicants. Though 1,500 among them have been getting pension since November, 2015, it is not regular. For the last seven months they have not even received this meagre pension.

Uncertainty is writ large, especially for those who depend on this pension, bringing to perspective a question posed by Mohammad Faizi, an andolonkari and former member of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha: “Is it the Jharkhand we fought for?” 

The Commission under Justice Vikramaditya Prasad worked for three years and then received yearly extensions up to 2018 when it was reorganised. Sunil Fakira, former member of JMM, and Debsharan Bhagat, former president of AJSU, replaced the earlier members. This new commission also received extensions twice until February 2020, when it was dissolved.

In May, the Soren government issued a new gazette notification through which the commission was reformed, now headed by Durga Oraon, a former IPS officer. Its other members are Narsingh Murmu and Bhubaneswar Mahato. Besides removing the word Vananchal from the Ayog, chief minister Hemant Soren also created a new category of andolankaris – those who have been jailed for less than three months, thus making anybody who has spent even a day behind bars eligible for pension. The Soren government also revised the pension amounts and assured 5% reservation for andolankaris in government jobs as per their qualifications.   

But the new category had its problems. Pushkar Mahato said, “Police used to arrest 4-5 persons from a rally which had thousands of people. Putting somebody behind the bar doesn’t make her a more valued andolonakari.”

This echoes what Zubair Ahmed, former JMM member and an andolonkari, had to say on ‘guerilla-dasta, a technique to flee from a police station to ensure a movement survives outside jails. 

Jharkhand Andolankari identity card issued by Jharkhand Andolonkari Sangharsh Morcha.

Throughout the last two decades what the andolankaris have been demanding is not just financial security but compensation for their lost youth, lost time and lost dreams. Demands for land is coupled with calls for ending the capitalist exploitation of mines, lands and labour. Medical facilities are sought in addition to universal health scheme for all Jharkhandis. Government jobs are sought along with a demand for a domicile policy.

Underneath all these demands lies what Pushkar Mahato calls “values on which Jharkhand was built.”

Mahato said that if the Ayog is given necessary government support, it can identify andolankaris in a short time.

“The government can form a Permanent Special Cell comprising already identified andolankaris and administrative officers. The former would easily identify their comrades and would act as a bridge between the government and freedom fighters. And then the Cell would be able to coordinate pensions and other schemes,” he said.

Jharkhand Andolankari Sangharsh Morcha poster calling for a protest on November 13, 2021 on the eve of Jharkhand’s foundation day.

Mahato and his organisation have made identity cards for several Jharkhandi andolankaris. “When the people themselves understand that they are the fathers and mothers of the state, only then will other people will realise their value,” he said.

A couple of days ago, thousands of Jharkhandis gathered at the Morabadi Maidan, responding to a call of the Jharkhandi Andolankari Sangharsh Morcha, to decide the future of the movementAs the veteran fighters ready themselves for the long struggle, they know that in this battle for recognition, no Ayog is likely to note their names down.

Abhik Bhattacharya is a Doctoral Fellow, Ambedkar University, Delhi. Kunal Shahdeo is a Doctoral Fellow, IIT Bombay. Arshad Raza Khan is the admin of the Facebook page, Muslims of Ranchi.