The anti-foreigners movement in Assam in the Eighties attracted the world’s attention to the issue of large-scale population migration from Bangladesh for the first time. But this migration was nothing new. In the early 20th century hordes of people from what was then East Bengal in undivided India migrated to the sparsely populated yet fertile Brahmaputra Valley.
18 February, 2017 marks the 34th anniversary of one of the worst-ever genocides committed in post-1947 India against Muslims in Assam, that is, the Nellie Massacre. Three decades have passed, and not even a single assailant has so far been convicted, yet alone prosecuted, for this heinous atrocity.
The Nellie massacre took place in central Assam during a six-hour period in the morning of 18 February 1983. Although the involvement of members of mainstream Assamese communities and lower castes in carrying out the massacre is commonly evoked, the identities of the rioters are debated by scholars. The massacre claimed the lives of 2,191 people (unofficial figures run at more than 10,000) from 14 villages—Alisingha, Khulapathar, Basundhari, Bugduba Beel, Bugduba Habi, Borjola, Butuni, Indurmari, Mati Parbat, Muladhari, Mati Parbat no. 8, Silbheta, Borburi and Nellie—of Nagaon district. The victims were East Bengal rooted Muslims whose ancestors had relocated in pre-partition British India. The victims were descendants of Muslims who came to Assam on the direct patronage of the then Assam Government of British India in the first decade of the 20th century.
The violence that took place in Nellie was seen as a fallout of the decision to hold the controversial state elections in 1983 in the midst of the Assam Agitation, after Indira Gandhi’s decision to give 4 million immigrants from Bangladesh the right to vote. It has been described as one of the worst pogroms since World War II.
In 1978 the member of the Lok Sabha, Hiralal Patwari, died necessitating a by-election in the Mangaldoi Lok Sabha Constituency. During the process of the election it was noticed that the electorate had grown phenomenally (allegedly due to illegal immigration). The All Assam Students Union (AASU) demanded that the elections be postponed till the names of “foreign nationals” were deleted from the electoral rolls. The AASU subsequently launched an agitation to compel the government to identify and expel immigrants.
The ethnic clash that took place in Nellie was seen as a fallout of the decision to hold the controversial Assembly elections in 1983 (boycotted by the AASU) despite stiff opposition from several elements in the state. Police officials had suggested to hold the polls in phases in order to avoid violence. According to then Assam Inspector General of Police, KPS Gill, there were 63 constituencies, where elections could have been held without any trouble. Among the rest, the Assam police had declared there were 23 constituencies where it was “impossible to hold any election.” Nellie was cited as one of the “troubled” spots before the elections.
400 companies of Central paramilitary force and 11 brigades of the Indian Army were deployed to guard Assam while the polls were scheduled to take place in phases.
The official Tiwari Commission report on the Nellie massacre is still a closely guarded secret (only three copies exist).The 600-page report was submitted to the Assam Government in 1984 and the Congress Government (headed by Hiteswar Saikia) decided not to make it public, and subsequent Governments followed suit. Assam United Democratic Front and others are making legal efforts to make Tiwari Commission report public, so that reasonable justice is delivered to victims, at least after 25 years after the incident.
Police filed 688 criminal cases, of which 378 cases were closed due to “lack of evidence” and 310 cases were slated to be charged. However, all these cases were dropped by the Government of India as a part of the 1985 Assam Accord; and, as a result, not a single person received punishment.Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi signed the Assam Accord with the leaders of the AASU to formally end the Assam Agitation in 1985.
The massacre at Nellie is just another issue to be listed on genocides against muslims. Matters get subdue without any purview. As of now, the sufferers of this violence are still waiting for justice.