by Subasri Krishnan, Live Mint, 22nd August 2015
Before Gujarat or Mumbai, there was Nellie. On 18 February 1983, more than 2,000 Bengali-speaking Muslims were killed in Nellie and its 13 surrounding villages in Assam. The attack lasted 6 hours—from 9am-3pm. The attackers hacked in cold blood, using machetes and other weapons. Eighty per cent of those who died were women, children and the elderly.
Since 1979, the All Assam Students Union (Aasu) had been spearheading an anti-foreigner agitation in the state. One of their main demands was that the state should expel “illegal immigrants” (Bangladeshis) and take their names off the voter list. The Indira Gandhi government at the Centre called for assembly elections in February 1983, despite massive resistance from various groups. Aasu asked people to boycott them. Bengali-speaking Muslims in villages decided to go ahead and vote on 14 February 1983. This was the trigger for the Nellie massacre.
Not a single perpetrator has been punished or tried in court. The next of kin of the deceased received Rs.5,000 each and the injured, Rs.3,000, from the state as compensation.
There are many theories on why the massacre took place, and why the survivors are yet to get justice. But that is not the point of this piece. In 2013, I began working on a film about Nellie and its people—those who survived that day, those who have heard of it from their grandfathers and mothers, all those who carry the terrifying burden of the massacre in their collective consciousness.
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