Memory and Forgetting in Nellie

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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Remembering Nellie


Subasri Krishnan, The Caravan (18th February, 2015)

Thirty-two years ago, on 18 February 1983, Khairuddin, a resident of Borbori—a village located in the Morigaon district of Assam—could not help but notice the eerie calm of the morning as he woke up to go to work in his fields. “I woke up at 7 am that morning and saw no one around. None of my family members were home. Even the children could not be seen. I got worried and wondered where they all went. I assumed that they had all gone to my sister’s house nearby, but when I reached her place, I saw that there was no one there either,” he recounted. By 8 am, he could see teeming crowds of people carrying machetes and marching towards his village, but there was still no sign of his family. A frantic search across the village ensued, and he eventually found his sons, aged four and six.

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That Spot of Shame

Makiko Kimura, author of The Nellie Massacre of 1983 in conversation with Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty, The Hindu (28th October, 2013)

A dot of a town in Assam’s Nagaon district, Nellie, hit the national headlines in 1983 for all the wrong reasons. In just six hours on the morning of February 18, over 2000 Muslim villagers of East Bengal origin were massacred there. With the then ongoing anti-foreigner movement in the State as the backdrop, the incident attracted great attention. Hundreds of cases were filed against the attackers composed of indigenous tribal Tiwa and Koch communities; a commission was set up too to probe the massacre. But nothing came of it. The attackers and the attacked began living side by side yet again.

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Recounting the horror: Narrations of the fateful day


Anjuman Ara Begum, Two (19th February, 2009)

Reporting on the incident Hamendra Narayan wrote in Indian Express on February 19, 1983: “It was absolutely horrible. Though impossible to describe, I will try.” Many described it as a nightmare and unable to describe what happened. Termed as one of the worst genocidal massacres after the independence, the Nellie Massacre took place on February 18, 1983.

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Violent Memories

By Sanjukta Sharma, Live Mint (28th February, 2015)

Assam’s Bangladeshi immigrants, about whom there is irrational paranoia among people of Assamese lineage, were no less brutalized during the Nellie massacre of 1983 than Bosnia’s Muslims or Rwanda’s Tutsis. It was an act of staggering violence; in scale much less than the Rwandan or Bosnian genocides, in intent, different from a genocide, but in the terrifying nature of killing—a group of locals hacking down more than 2,000 (the official estimate is around 1,800) Bangladeshi immigrant labourers with machetes—the Nellie massacre is a shocking transgression of human rights and values in contemporary Indian history.

Rest of the article here