32 years after Nellie, a documentary finds sorrow, indifference, and a refusal to forget


Nandini Ramnath, Scroll, Jul 16, 2015

Before Mumbai and Gujarat, there was Nellie. On February 18, 1983, at least 2,000 Muslim residents of villages near Nellie in Assam were killed in one of post-independent India’s worst sectarian attacks. None of the perpetrators were punished. The victims received inadequate compensation, and remarkably continue to live alongside their attackers and till the same land that briefly held the corpses of their family members, points out Makiko Kumira in her 2013 academic study The Nellie Massacre of 1983.

Subasri Krishnan’s documentary on the subject, What The Fields Remember, is concerned less with the back story of Nellie and more with the act of remembering. Through interviews with survivors and observational camerawork of the actual sites of the violence, the 52-minute Public Service Broadcasting Trust production is a reminder of the ways in which memories of past traumas survive despite conscious and unconscious attempts to blank them out. “Why do some things get memorialised and others don’t,” Krishnan asked rhetorically during an interview. “Because of the complex political situation that existed in Assam at the time and continues today in a different way, this incident got buried.”

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