Tehelka Magazine, Vol 4, Issue 46, Dated Dec 01 , 2007
Nellie: Carnage Catches Up
Assam’s apathy to the massacre that killed 3,300 Muslims has lasted through successive governments since 1983. Damning new revelations may finally see justice done
ALMOST 25 YEARS after the barbaric Nellie massacre of February 18, 1983, government failure to ensure justice to the survivors has come back to haunt Assam’s ruling Congress government in the run-up to panchayat polls in the state due to begin from December 31. The Opposition Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF) has started raking up the issue and is set to make it one of their main poll planks. Hafiz Rashid Ahmed Choudhury, the AUDF working president, says, “The publication of the TD Tewari Commission report on the Nellie massacre and the action taken report will be one of our main issues in the coming panchayat polls. We want to expose the hypocrisy of the Congress which plays with the lives of the minorities and uses them as mere votebanks.”
The infamous Nellie Massacre, in which 3,300 people were killed in a six-hour-long attack, took place shortly after a round of state polls, an election opposed by the All-Assam Students’ Union (AASU), the student body leading the movement against so-called illegal migrants from Bangladesh. In the course of the elections, more than 500 AASU volunteers were killed. Polling was held on February 14 and voter turnout was low. Four days later, villages under the jurisdiction of the Nellie police outpost became the scene of a barbaric mass-murder.
The massacre has returned to the public consciousness with the recent publication of a book titled Nellie 1983, written by Diganta Sarma, a journalist with Assamese weekly Saadin. It has been just over a month since its release, but the book has already become a best-seller, evoking much public debate. Among its other revelations, the book also has a chapter exclusively given over to a special investigation into the government-promoted myth that no eyewitness could identify the attackers. Sarma’s book unveils the existence of a police chargesheet according to which one Nurjaman Bhuyan, a resident of Borbari village, had identi-fied 13 of the Nellie attackers.
Claims Sarma, “Bhuyan could identify the faces of 13 people who lived in the vicinity of his village. He had seen them either in the market or in the field. These 13 people were among those who burnt down Bhuyan’s house and killed 12 members of his family.” Bhuyan was also injured in the attack but had a miraculous escape and survived to lodge an FIR in the Jagiroad Police station. A copy of the document is with Sarma — the case number was 86/83, GR No 231/83. The attackers Bhuyan had named in the FIR include: Bidhu Rai, BharatHazarika, Uma Kakati, Bakul Kakati, Hareswar Rabha, Raja Ram Rabha, Barana Das, Loknath Das, Bogiram Das, Nagen Deka, Bimal Deka, Bhumi Senapati, Prafulla Master and others. The police had registered a case against the accused under Indian Penal Code sections 147, 146, 326, 379, 436, 302 and 307. The police had also filed chargesheet (No 70) and submitted it in court in 1985. Three other persons — Gajen Rabha, Tengabor Kro and Golap Bordoloi — were further named as accused in the case.
Sarma, who has reprinted the chargesheet in his book, adds, “The chargesheet stands as a vital document of the massacre. In fact, the residents of Nellie are planning to use this book as evidence and file a case in the Supreme Court to demand an enhanced ex-gratia payment as was granted to the victims of the anti-Sikh riots.” AUDF’S Choudhury points that the book and the chargesheet can be used as evidence and the court may reopen the cases again. THE RECORDS at the Jagiroad police station say that while 688 cases had been filed in connection with the Nellie massacre, the police submitted chargesheets in only 310. The remaining 378 cases were closed after a final report said there was no evidence against those accused. However, even the cases in which chargesheets were filed did not go very far either. All cases were dropped when the Asom Gana Parishad, the political party representing the AASU, came to power under the chief ministership of Prafulla Kumar Mahanta. For government authorities now, the issue is long dead.
After 25 years of waiting for justice, the victims of the Nellie carnage now need to critically introspect on how best to gather their collective strength for a push for justice. At the time of the massacre, the victims were so traumatised they did not even realise that they had been deprived of compensation or, for that matter, of any kind of justice. Assamese society, too, was sharply divided and not sympathetic to the Nellie victims; no outcry was made over the fact that the findings of the Tewari Commision report were never made public.
Says Debabrata Sarma, Secretary, United Revolutionary Movement Council of Assam, “The issue is relevant even today as the political history of Assam since 1983 has revolved around Assamese nationalism and the foreigner’s issue. Around 10,000 people were butchered during the Assam agitation and ULFA has only perpetuated the politics of murder. For peace to return to Assam, we need to undergo a catharsis. It’s the call of history — it’s better late than never.”