Genesis of Nellie massacre and Assam agitation

Full report complied and collected by Main Uddin , Focunder CEO , Indilens News Team

Thousands of Muslims were killed in Nellie area of Assam in broad daylight on February 18th, 1983. Their only crime was that they exercised their democratic right to vote. In this series of articles Diganta Sharma and Anju Azad recall the horror of Nellie, events leading up to the massacre, aftermath and current situation.

This series is made possible by the support of: Afzal Usmani, Ashraf Naim, Kaleem Kawaja, Rafat Hussain, Razi Raziuddin,Tariq Farooqi, Shazida Khatun, Dr. Hafiz Ahmed.

How to remove remains of blood stains from the hands that murdered human beings? Let’s search the answer in literature. Lady Macbeth told Macbeth, ‘little water clears us of this deed”. Later on she lamented saying that ‘all perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten these little hands.’ This she said in the context of murder of King Duncan by Macbeth. Those who read Macbeth by Shakespeare know the story. Same lines spoken by Lady Macbeth are true for Nellie massacre as well. Nothing can clean the blood flow of Nellie massacre. It’s a burden for Assam, India and for the humanity as the killings of thousands of people in few hours went totally unaccounted and just forgotten as a matter of shame.

Let’s look back and peep into the history to know why this happened. Why people were butchered to quench the thirst of hungry souls?

In the early months of 1979, Hiralal Patowary, the then Member of Parliament from Mongoldai constituency of Assam expired all of a sudden. Election Commission announced to hold by-election and accordingly started updating the voter list in April and continued till May. Soon allegations against the amendment of the voter list kept pouring that illegal foreigners had been included in the list and demand was made for deletion of the suspected citizens’ names. Significantly the Election Commission reviewed the list and found 68.28 percent of the allegations to be true. After Election Commission’s assessment it came to light that 45 thousand illegal foreigners are listed in the voter’s list.

Will give blood, not oil

This assessment on ‘foreigners’ created mass tension in Assam. All Assam Students Union (AASU), one of the prominent actors of the ‘Assam agitation’ demanded that voter’s list of another 13 districts to be made public and suspected citizen’s names should be deleted. Other organizations joined AASU in the demand. An all party meeting of organizations of Assam was held at Guwahati on August 27, 1979 as a result of the initiative of AASU and All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AGSP) was formed to carry forward the agitation against ‘foreigners’. Resolution was adopted to protect the Assamese identity and remove names of suspected citizens from voter list. It was also decided that until and unless the voter’s lists are amended no election will be held in Assam and the saga of bloodshed started from this day in Assam.

By December 1979, when a caretaker government was in Delhi, Assam agitation against foreigners gained momentum and polling for the General Election was possible only in two out of 14 constituencies. From 1979 until December 1982 just before the Assembly election there were 272 murders, 1404 assaults, 425 cases of arson and 330 cases of explosions and recovery of explosives. (‘25 years on...Nellie still haunts’ by Hemendra Narayan). The Legislative Assembly of Assam was dissolved by the President under article 356 of the Constitution by proclamation dated March 19, 1983 and the period of proclamation which was extended further under that clause would expire on the March 18, 1983. If elections are not held by February 1983, president’s rule would be revoked by the end of February 1983. So it became obligatory to hold election before the due date and accordingly notification by election commission was issued.

Neglecting the demands of these groups, Central Government decided to go ahead with the general election for both state Assembly and Lok Sabha (in 12 constituencies) on February 14 and 17, 1983. Petition was filed before the Supreme Court to cancel elections in Assam. On February 1, 1983 the apex court quashed the plea and nodded for the election. The then Election Commissioner R K Trivedi announced the election dates though the situation was difficult. The Congress Government under the leadership of Indira Gandhi at the centre decided to go on with the election and announced group insurance for the officials taking part in election works. From this day Assam turned into a live volcano.

A rough map of the 'immigrant' inhibited areas was made before the attack on Nellie

AGSP called for total boycott of the election. Election campaigning was also held in Assam. On February 14, 1983 a portion of the population exercised their right to franchise. On that tense day, information came to the nationalist organization that, “lots of ‘foreigners’ or Bangladeshis’ of Naogaon (now Morigaon district of Assam) cast their votes. News spread like wildfire. Maps of ‘foreigner’ dominated areas were made and groups were formed to attack these areas to teach a lesson to these illegal ‘foreigners’. Only 109 votes were polled at the Nellie Government School polling booth on February 14, 1983. Mahmmad Hussain, an independent candidate, won the Morigaon Assembly seat (Nellie was part of this constituency) by getting just 714 votes out of 1514 votes cast (‘25 years on...Nellie still haunts’ by Hemendra Narayan)

People of Nellie were tense and worried over the developments after February 14, 1983. They avoided going out fearing odds. Still no one could imagine that a day of bloodshed is to be witnessed in just four days…even the giant and mighty river Brahmaputra failed to clear blood stains of this massacre.

Diary: February 1983

February 1

• All Assam freedom fighters convention under the leadership of ASSU and AGSP.

• Supreme Court rejected Raj Narayan’s plea for the postponement of election in Assam.

• Central Government announced Group Insurance benefit for the officials and workers from Assam and outside taking part in election.

• Bomb blast in various places in Assam in protest of the election.

• Several foot bridges and bridges torched.

• Market burnt down in Dhekia juli, Sonitpur district

• Group clash in Kamalpur

February 2

• Police firing at Bordoulguri and Jonaram of Mangoldoi sub-division. 5 killed.

• ASSU alleged that CRPF threw three boys while a bridge was torched.

February 3

• Leaders of the movement declared general non-cooperation of the official programs scheduled from February 5- 22.

• Police firing on civilians protesting the election at Bura, Darrang district. Few killed.

February 4

• Police firing at North Lakhimpur. Several wounded.

• Teachers gathering in protest of the election.

• Wooden bridges burnt down in several places of North Lakhimpur, Darrang and Nagaon

• Body of the supporter of CPI (ML) recovered from Ranjali Reserve, Sivsagar

February 5

• Plying of both private vehicles and state vehicles were stopped.

• Police firing on election protester at Tongla. 4 killed

• 36 hour bandh at Karbi Anglong by two student organizations.

• Bomb blast at a few places

• Bandh in Dubrugarh district

• Centre decided to send 30 battalions of CRPF to Assam.

February 7

• Public meeting at Guwahati Judge field by the left parties

• Police SI Bipin Mahanta killed in cross-firing by opposition people in Tezpur

• Jorhat judge Nurul Haq kidnapped by miscreants

• Dead body of Congress worker recovered at Tingkha of Dibrugarh district

• Police –CRPF firing at Titkuri. Several wounded.

• Central government decided to send additional BSF and CRPF teams to Assam.

February 8

• 7 killed in Belsar, Nalbari following police firing in a rally.

• Bomb blast at Lanka- 3 killed and another 23 injured.

• 7000 employees proceeded towards Assam from different parts of India to hold election in Assam.

• BJP leaders like Chodhari Charan Singh, Yashvant Singh under the leadership of A B Vajpayee, conducted rally against the election at Judge filed, Guwahati.

February 9

• Bomb thrown at Cahnd Mohammed, ex-speaker of Assam state Assembly at Athuaguri.

• Police firing at the rallies against election at Kamarkuchi, Samata of Nalbari district – 5 and 2 killed respectively.

• M Rehman was suspended from PWD following a disagreement to build a helipad in Moirabari to be used by the then PM Indira Gandhi for election purpose.

• People killed here and there following protests in various parts of Assam.

• Curfew imposed in many places.

• ASSU announced its programme boycotting the election and arrival of PM in Assam.

February 11

• Police firing at Nalbari, Barpeta etc. 3 killed.

February 12

• Communal violence erupted in Assam in several places in Assam. Several houses belonging to minority communities burnt down in and around Boko of Kamrup district and gave birth to communal clash. 9 killed.

• Indira Gandhi spoke to an election rally at Maligaon under strict security arrangements.

February 13

• Communal clash continued in places like Bokulguri, Jagiroad, Lahorighat, North Lakhimpur etc. several killed in police firing and bomb blasts.

February 14

• Election held. Police firing to control protesting mass in different places. Total 19 killed.

• 30 villages burnt down in Darang district.

• Communal clash in Jamunamukh, Nagaon district and and Kamrup district

February 15

• Congress- I candidate Satya Narayan of Bishwanath chariali killed by people protesting election.

• Communal clash at Goalpara, Nogaon, Darrang etc. Houses torched and several killed in police firing.

February 16

• Dayanath Sharma, brother of Joynath Sharma, head of All Assam Volunteers Force killed at Chawolkhowa Chapori and another 85 killed in that night.

• Communal clash in DoomDooma. 7 killed.

• Police and CRPF clash at Goalpara. 6 killed in the clash.

• Houses burnt down in Dhubri and Nalbari

February 17

• Election held for the second phase in 36 state assembly seats and 11 Lok Sabha constituencies.

• Communal clash continued and several killed. Houses torched.

February 18

• Organised massacre at Nellie of Nagaon district. About 2 thousand killed. 16 villages belonging to minority community burnt down.

• Communal clash at Darrang district. 26 killed and four killed in police firing.

• Several clashes in different parts of Assam. Many killed and injured.

February 19

• Attack on linguistic minority at Gareshwar of Kamrup district. Several injured.

• Communal clash at Abhayapuri.

• Lok Sabha election completed at 24 constituencies.

February 21

• Indira Gandhi visited Nellie and Gohpur.

• About 2 thousand people belonging to linguistic minority fled to West Bengal for safety from Goreshwar, Kamrup.

• 48 dead bodies recovered from different parts of Kamrup.

February 22

• Peres de Queler, UN secretary general expressed shock over the Nellie massacre.

The issue of immigration is totally political. If you perosnally go and visit these localities which the Assamese claim as Banladeshi areas, you will discover how many of them are illegal (?) immigrants. Actually, most of these people have been living in these localities from long time, but because of successive administrative discrimination their names don't get enlisted in the voter's list. Hence, they remain illegal. Otherwise, there is no reason for successive generations to remain illegal.

As far as infiltration is concerned, the bordering areas are highly porous and the passage of people between India and Bangladesh is mutual. People from both the regions cross the border according to their choice. In normal circumtsances, it is not an issue. But whenever the Assamese feel like playing with Bengali's fate and life, they start with calling them Bangladeshi.

However, in southern Assam about 30% of the entire population is Bengali Hindus (they were either refused from Bangladesh, or took shelter voluntarily in India). Since, the administration was friendly with them they got enlisted themselves in the voter list (of 1965, 1966, 1971, 1975, respectively)consequently they become legally Indians. Nobody worries or questions about them.

The helpless Bengali speaking Muslims face the double discrimination from two angles. First, being Bengali speakers, they face discrimination from the Assamese authority and people. Secondly, being Muslims, they experience step motherly attitude from the biased Hindu (not all but majority) officials and the state administration as a whole. So this is the issue.

If you actually know the issue you will never even raise the question. And timeand again the Bengali speaking Muslims in the region have suffered, and been questioned for their legitimacy as Indians, but hardly ever their actual concerns have been addressed.

A thousands names of killed people out of 10000 thousands

Thousands of Muslims were killed in Nellie area of Assam in broad daylight of February 18th, 1983. Their only crime was that they exercised their democratic right to vote. In this series of articles Diganta Sharma and Anju Azad recall the horror of Nellie, events leading up to the massacre, aftermath and current situation.

Today, on the twenty-sixth anniversary of the massacre we honor the victims by publishing their names. Official reports put the death toll to 1819 but villages say that about three thousand Muslims were killed that night. Diganta Sharma has painstakingly collected over nine hundred names and we are presenting it here.


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