Jharkhand meaning forest land, is an ancient name given to the forest in the upland of the Chotanagpur Plateau. Although its boundary extends into Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal, a considerable portion of Jharkhand (Jhadkhanda) lies in Bihar. In fact, it is a region comprising a number of plateau, hills and valleys drained by different rivers, namely Barakar, Damodar, Brahmani, Baitarani, Mahanadi and Subarnarekha. The whole area has a special cultural identity being populated by the Mundas, santals, Kols, Bhils, oraon, Ho, Mahato, Suri, Teli, dhopa, Jola, Rajawar and so on. From the anthropological point of view, the people of this region are mostly from Austric, Dravidian and Sadani stocks. But their ethnic identity has been gradually disappearing due to the splitting up of the forest area among four states, making it a centre of political, economic and cultural colonisation.
Although Jharkhand has ever been free from the influence of Hinduism, it has a chequered history of its own. From the time of the mahabharata down to the British period and even after, Jharkhand and its people have drawn the attention of historians.
When Magadha or Pataliputra became a centre of Indian politics in ancient times Jharkhand came to be mentioned occasionally. It was through the Jharkhand forests that Ikhtiyaruddin Muhammad bakhtiyar khalji made his rapid raid into nadia and surprised laksmanasena. In the Sultanate period, Jharkhand had a separate identity and it came under Islamic influence only during akbar. Incidentally, the Mughals used to call the place Kokra and the whole of Jharkhand played an important role throughout the Mughal period.
Jharkhand drew the attention of the British in the beginning of the second half of the 18th century and it was after its annexation to the British territory of Bengal Presidency in 1865 that the people of Jharkhand were victims of exorbitant land taxes imposed by the Government. From this time onward, there was disaffection among the people and till today it is a region of tremendous turmoil and tension. Gradually, the protest of the local people took the form of a 'people's war' on the question of protecting the forest property of Singbhum or in agitation against the planting of teak and commercialisation of forests by outsiders. Incidents like the forcible harvesting of paddy of Dhanbad-Giridih areas were so common that the inhabitants felt it necessary to reassert their rights over the land illegally taken away from the adivasis.
Consequently the people have also risen in protest against the construction of big dams like Koel Karo and Subarnarekha and demanded the creation of a separate Jharkhand state. The main issue behind such turmoil is, however, the process of systematic dispossession of the indigenous people, who have been displaced in the name of development or urbanisation. It is noteworthy that on 25 April 2000 the Bihar Assembly declared Jharkhand a separate state. [Ichhamuddin Sarkar]