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The concept of Sons of the Soil (SoS) is deeply embedded in the human psyche. Sons of the soil is an elemental concept tying people to their place of birth and confers some benefits, rights, roles and responsibilities on them, which may not apply to others.

Sons of Soil Doctrine underlies the view that a state specifically belongs to the main linguistic group inhabiting it or that the state constitutes the exclusive 'homeland' of its main language speakers who are the 'sons of the soil' or the 'local residents'.

All others who live there or are settled there and whose mother tongue is not the state`s main language are declared 'outsiders'. These outsiders might have lived in the state for a long time, or have migrated there more recently, but they are not regarded as the 'sons of the soil'.

It is a difficult concept to grasp, even though this has been explicitly seen in many countries. The problem with this concept of SoS is that it is beset between two forces, the concept of equality versus the concept of fairness. Quite a lot of insurgencies, terrorist campaigns, riots, internal disturbances, tensions and wars have been driven by this issue.

A sons-of-the-soil (SoS) conflict has the following core features: 

First, it involves conflict between members of a minority ethnic group concentrated in some region of a country, and relatively recent, ethnically distinct migrants to this region from other parts of the same country. 

Second, the members of the minority group think of their group as indigenous, and as rightfully possessing the area as their group's ancestral (or at least very long-standing) home. 

By "conflict" we mean competition and dispute over scarce resources such as land, jobs, educational quotas, government services, or natural resources.  A SoS conflict may be violent, but it need not be. 

Sons of Soil concept in India

At the time of independence, only a few enclaves or areas around Calcutta. Bombay and Madras had undergone modern industrial development, rest were backward.  The central government adopted a whole range of policies to influence the rates of growth in poorer states and regions so as to reduce their economic distance from the richer states and regions. The government adopted the trickle-down effect but it failed to bring result.

Due to low rate of economic growth regional inequality did not dissipiated even after steps taken by the government.

This unequal access to resources and competition for that raises the concept of the sons of the soil' movements.

The friction has been more intense in states and cities where 'outsiders' had greater access to higher education and occupied more middle-class positions in government service, professions and industry and were engaged in small businesses, such as small-scale industry and shop keeping.

The economy's failure to create enough employment opportunities for the recently educated created an acute scarcity of jobs, and led to intense competition for the available jobs during the sixties and seventies. The major middle-class job opportunities that opened up after 1952 were in government service and the public sector enterprises. Popular mobilization and the democratic political process could therefore be used by the majority linguistic group to put pressure on the government to appropriate employment and educational avenues and opportunities. Some groups could then take advantage of 'the sons of the soil' sentiment for gaining political power.

The problem was aggravated in a number of cities or regions because the speakers of the state language were in a minority or had a bare majority. For example, in Bombay, in 1961, the Marathi-speakers constituted 42.8 per cent of the population. In Bangalore, the Kannada speakers were less than 25 per cent. In Calcutta, the Bengalis formed a bare majority. In the urban areas of Assam, barely 33 per cent were Assamese. After 1951 the rate of migration into the cities accelerated.

Some examples are:

  • Shiv Sena and Mumbai

A big campaign was fought by the Shiv Sena, a particularly nationalistic Hindu and mainly Maharashtrian focussed group in the western part of India.

They were chiefly upset because of three other groups of Indians; the first group were the wealthy Gujarati's, the professional South Indian groups (Kannada, Tamil, Kerelaites, etc.) and finally the labourer class of Northern India.

In various shapes and sizes, the demands came up as, preference to the natives, better educational opportunities, funding opportunities, job opportunities, etc to give better livelihoods to native of state rather than outsiders.

  • North East India

This has been an issue both in the plains areas and the hilly regions of Northeast India. In the river plains, the large majority typically depends on agriculture. When competition over cultivable land increases, as a result of a population that increases at an alarming rate, the issue becomes highly contentious. Also, due to such scarcity of land in the plain areas, some migrants have also moved into the hilly regions, which are the traditional tribal areas. As an example of understanding how population pressure due to migration creates competition over resources, consider some of the traditional Bodo-inhabited areas in Northwest Assam (such as the districts of Kokrajhar and Goalpara). These areas have experienced large-scale immigration of Bengali Muslims, from partition and onwards. This has not only changed the demographic profile of the area but also caused many tribals to become landless.

It could also be said that the 'son of the soil' theory offends section 2 of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971. And being disrespectful of or bringing into contempt the Constitution of India is a criminal offence punishable by up to three years imprisonment or fine or both. Not just does the theory disrespect and bring into contempt Article 19 (1) (e) of the Constitution - hence becoming a crime - it is also an offence under section 153A of the IPC as it amounts to inciting enmity between groups of people.

 Examples outside India

  • Sri Lanka:

SOS issue in Sri Lanka because the Tamils were better educated and better qualified than the majority Singhalese. Resentment was brewing there within the Singhalese ranks. There are ironies galore within this situation. Despite positive action as well as positive discrimination, the Singhalese were not able to rise up economically as compared to the Tamils. This led to rise of Civil War.

  • Malaysia:

The other example is in Malaysia where ethnic Malays were and are explicitly given a hand up by the government in all sorts of human activities, whether government funding by state financial institutions, explicit (and for a long period of time, only) usage of Malay as the language of instruction thereby putting the Chinese and Indian populations at a disadvantage, explicit favouring of Malays in government job opportunities, more emphasis on development in the rural areas where more Malays live, etc. So much, that they decided to chuck Singapore away from Malaysia because Singapore was skewing the population too much towards the ethnically Chinese minority.


The unity of India is required for economic development of the nation. Article 301 of the Constitution states that trade and commerce shall be free throughout the territory of India. This provision guarantees the economic unity of India, and political unity depends on economic unity. Thus, a factory in Tamil Nadu is entitled to sell its goods in UP, Bihar, Maharashtra, Punjab, Bengal, etc.

Modern industry requires a large market. And unless modern industry emerges in India, we cannot be a prosperous nation, because agriculture alone cannot generate the wealth required for our people's education, health, employment and so on. Only united India provides such a large market. Any attempt to break up our country will therefore doom our people to poverty.

Social and economic development, spread of education, deepening of democracy and politicization can act as a medium for solving the issue.

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