Sunday, 23 December 2007

A Heartrending Account of a Most Horrendous Massacre of Our Time

A Heartrending Account of a Most Horrendous Massacre of Our Time

Neelie, 1983: Asom Andolonor Borborotom Gonohatyar Postmortem Report
(Neelie, 1983: A Postmortem Report into the Most Barbaric Massacre of Assam Movement)
Author: Diganta Sharma
Publisher: Eklabya Prakashan
Akhra Ghar, Molouali, Jorhat-785001,
Published on 30 October, 2007
Price: Rs. 55.00, Pages: 94
Language: Assamese.

Reviewed by Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

'Rabia Begum was feeding breast to her 17 month daughter sitting in a stool in the veranda of her road side house. Her other children were playing in the small courtyard. Her husband Chandeh Ali was busy with some work in the back side of the house. They did not even guess what was to come to them after a few minutes.

Suddenly the playing children rushed towards their mother in panic and grasped her. Already there were hue and cry around their house. Hearing desperate cries of his children when Chandeh Ali just entered the courtyard he saw a group of people around with swords, daggers, knives, tridents and petrol. Attackers got divided into three groups. One group chased running Chandeh Ali. Another group went to set fire on the house. And the other group started striking their weapons on children in their mother's lap. In minutes they were transformed into a heap of human limbs. The house was rendered into an ash-heap. And Chandeh Ali? A trident struck him from behind.

This is not a scene of a horror movie. These are the words from a chapter in the history of the independent secular socialist democratic republic of India which was written in some unknown villages in Nellie in the then district of Nogaon in Assam on Friday, 18 February, 1983, by workers of All Assam Students Union and All Assam Gono Sangram Parishad, the chauvinist groups of Assamese people, with the blood of more than 3000 Bengali speaking Muslims. Diganta Sharma depicted this and many other horrific scenes in his 'Nellie, 1983: A Postmortem Report into the Most Barbaric Massacre of Assam Movement', the book under review".

"Read. And be afraid". I read it and got afraid. Speaking frankly, I would not sleep in three consecutive nights after going through the book. The scenes haunt me like my oewn ghost. I am afraid, it will keep haunt me till I breath my last. I am terrified. Shaken to the core. I got somewhat disenchanted about the greatest animal. About human civilization. Indian civilization. When we show our such face as shown in Nellie and if we call ourselves beasts, it will be an insult to the beasts. Civilization gets sometimes wilder than the wildest. This is one of the situation where human beings are at their worst. It reminds one of Auschwitz. Birkenau. And such other hells in the earth. Nellie 1983 is one of the most horrendous genocide in the earth.

This book which can strike vigorously to the core of your concept of humanity was a result of painstaking investigation and an example of meticulous objectivity and bold journalism. The author Diganta Sharma, a young journalist with Guwahati based Assamese weekly Sadin killed many a myths surrounding the massacre.

He stripped off those who have kept exerting all of their energies to prove that the carnage was a handiwork of tribal groups such as Tiwa and Lalung and the Assamese had nothing to do with it. It was a severe slap on the faces of those who have been trying to get political mileage over each other making Assam a killing ground. The government claimed AASU and its allies are responsible for the blood bath. The president of AASU Nurul Hussain, as he was then, declared soon after the massacre that the violence was created by government agent." Mr. Hiteshwar Saikia, then chief minister of Assam claimed that workers of AASU and Gono Sangaram Parishad were directly involved in violence occurred in the state. Sharma reproduced a news item published in 17 April 1983 issue of Janakranti, which reads 'detailed orders were given in papers bearing names of some regional branches of the students union to attack different minority inhabited areas, the Chief Minister stated in a press meet in last Sunday.'

On the other hand, Sharma has shown how police machinery was involved in facilitating the killers to carry out the program. He reproduced a message sent by Jahiruddin Ahmed, the officer-in charge of Nogaon Police Station to the Commandant of 5 th Assam Police Battalion in Morigaon, Officer-in charge of Jagi Road Police Station and Sub-Divisional Police Officer on 15 February, 1983 the contents of which are:


The police did nothing towards maintaining peace. Rather "the police acted in favour of facilitating the carnage and enjoyed it", Sharma adds. He quoted a few lines from the National Police Commission's Sixth Report Dealing With Recent Communal Riots and Role of the Police which reads "…….The National Police Commission has found that there is a tendency among the police officers to shun responsibility for dealing with communal situations.
"They either avoid to go to the troubled spot or when they happen to be present there, they try not to resort to the use of force when the situation so demands or better still slip away from the scene leaving the force leaderless…"

There is also a chapter in the book which investigates exclusively into the government created myth that no eye witness could identify the attackers. The book unearths the existence of a charge sheet which charges 13 attackers under sections 147, 146, 326, 379, 436, 302 and 307 of the Indian Panel Code. The charge sheet was prepared on the basis of an FIR bearing Jagi Road Police Station Case No. 86/83 filed by one Nur Jamal Bhuiyan. Sharma Claims "Bhuiyan could identify the faces of 13 people who live 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 Bhuiyan's house and killed 12 members of his family."
A total of 688 cases were filed in Jagi Road Police Station in connection with the Nellie massacre from which 318 cases were closed after a final report stating that there was no evidence against the accused and charge sheet were filed in remaining 310 cases. However, the fate of the cases in which charge sheets were filed is not better. All cases were dropped when the Asom Gana Parishad, the political wing of the AASU came to power swimming over the flood of the blood of more than 3000 people of 14 villages in Neelie including Alichinga, Kholapothar, Bosundhari, Dugduba Bil, Borjula, Butoni Indurmari, Mati Parvat, Muladhari, Shielbheta, Borburi etc., other hundreds in other places of the state and 500 of its own workers. Thus in the book of Diganta Sarma the people who played gory games with the lives and sentiments of the people by promoting a myth of Assamese nationalism and transforming it into a blood thirsty chauvinism by presenting a bogey of foreigners assaulting on the culture, identity and livelihood of Assamese got unmarked and naked.

This so called Assamese nationalist movement was in its peak in the last part of seventies when Member of Parliament from Mongaldoi constituency Hiralal Patowari died. The election commission started the renewal of electoral roll in order to hold fresh election in the constituency. The exercise went on to the month of May, 1979 when allegation was hurled that many names of the doubtful citizens were also being included in the electoral roll. After examination of the specific allegations the Election Commission found some of them are to be true. AASU started to propagate that Mangaldoi proved that millions of Bangladeshis had been included in the electoral rolls of all the constituencies of Assam. They started a movement demanding expulsion of the so-called Bangladeshi people which in reality targeted those who speak Bengali and practise Islam. On 27 August in 1979 they formed an outfit named All Assam Gono Sangram Parishad in order to expel those whom they think are Bangladeshis.

The Election Commission declared the general election to be held in two phases in Assam on 14 and 17 February, 1983. This decision was challenged in the Supreme Court of India by a petition which was dismissed on 1 February, 1983. ASSU and its allies called for boycott of the election. They threatened the people who would cast their votes with dire consequences and prepared detailed maps of the areas where people belonging to religious and linguistic minority communities live. On the other hand, workers of the Congress (I) conducted a campaign in minority areas saying that if they did not cast their votes they would be proved foreigners and would be expelled.

In these circumstances "the nationalist groups got information that on 14 February many Bangladeshi people had cast votes in Nogaon (now Morigaon) district. Instantly a plan of attack was made in the villages where Assamese people live surrounding Neelie by the initiative of agitating peoples. Strategies were formed as to how, when and where attacks would be made on the "illegal Bangladeshis". The date was fixed on 18 February. Agenda was genocide to save the existence of mother Assam. Place of carrying out the plan was Nellie".

The result was genocide of the worst kind in the history where more than 3000 people died and 14 villages were burnt and smashed into smithereens in a mere 6/7 hours span of time. After the massacre the victims who survived were so traumatized that they could not think of getting justice, rehabilitation and compensation. No ex-gratia was paid to any body in connection with the massacre. All cases of 688 were dropped. A commission of inquiry was formed known as TD Tiwari commission to enquire into the massacre, the report of which was never made public.

The victims of Neelie are getting awake and thinking to seek justice. They ask now "why the nationalists could not prove us Bangadeshi within the period of 25 years since the massacre which was carried out to free Assam from forigners. Even if they can now prove it we will leave this country on our own".

Diganta Sharma was able to make the genocide to haunt its perpetrators once again. Victims and some other groups are contemplating to go to the Supreme Court and use the book as a piece of evidence. Dr. Debabrata Sharma, on behalf of Ekalabya, the publisher of the book in the introduction compared the Assamese chauvinist mind-set with that of Lady Macbeth when she says "A little water clears us of this deed" before the publication of the book. Now, after the publication they wonder "All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten these little hands" like Lady Macbeth.

'Neelie, 1983' cries for actions to wash the hands. It needs justice. Nothing short of justice would do. Read it. Be ashamed. Be afraid. It was one of our great shames which came first of many such. Delhi, 1984. Mumbai, Gujarat. What is in stock for the next days who knows? So read it. Be haunted. And take actions. Take actions to get justice for the victims.


Hemendra Narayan said...

The Agony of recounting a nightmare
25 years on.. Nellie still haunts by Hemendra Narayan
Title: 25 Years On…Nellie Still Haunts
Author: Hemendra Narayan
Price: Rs. 80
Year: 2008

It is now nearly 26 years that I was reinforcement to cover the
February 1983 elections of Assam for the Indian Express. I flew into
Gauhati as it was spelled at that time, from Patna, in the first week
of February. The Brahmaputra valley was on fire.

Not since the bloodbath at the time of break up of Pakistan leading to
formation of Bangladesh in 1971 that grisly scene of violence were
witnessed. The elections were held at gun point under direct President
Rule from Delhi. There were troops- paramilitary civil and police all
over but the chief focus was the conduct of polls at any cost-everything else including protecting vulnerable population had become a secondary proposition.

When the farcical polls were over I flew back to Patna in the last
week of the month. One of the co-passengers in the hopping Indian
Airlines flight was Special Secretary P P Nayyar. When told that it had been a “very costly elections”, I remember Nayyar telling me,” Yes, we even had to bring men and material from outside”! This was Nayyar’s sense of “cost” who headed the Home Ministry team providing logistics for the polls.

In the turbulence touched off by opposition to Prime Minister Indira
Gandhi's decision to hold state elections Assam had exploded. In the turmoil surrounding the election, the Assam movement leaders over the foreign national issue had virtually shut down the state with the non-cooperation movement. Only the hospital appeared to function and
it witnessed numerous casualties.

Indira Gandhi defended her decision to hold the elections. According
to Lok Sabha records she told the Parliament "The importance of the
country's integrity and independence is higher than any movement, or any of us." After polls were over it was not a victory that anyone could take satisfaction from it as it was a disaster of great magnitude. Its impact can still be felt in Assam.

Those were days without mobile phones and TV channel cameras. The TV screens would have been blinking ‘breaking news’ every next minute as so much was happening all over the state. I have a strong feeling that it would have been extremely difficult for the Prime Minister and the Chief Election Commissioner R K Trivedi to go ahead with the polls had cameras rolled as it does these days from any disaster areas.

Mr B G Verghese, doyen of Indian journalism -- who has a special
interest on the affairs of the North–East, in his foreword remarks in the book – 25 years on Nellie still haunts-says, "India must care and ponder over what happened, and we must all learn our several lessons as distinctive groups, wider communities, the Government..."

Many have told me that recounting the horrors of Nellie could have a
therapeutic impact. Public memory is short. But individual memory --
very persistent! Intrusive recollections that one cannot forget --even when we wish we could. It is something that we just cannot block.

The book could be described as unloading of distressing emotions. But can I ever get over the unnatural sound the woman in green sari made as she ran to safety clutching her baby and two young kids following her. The answer is NO. Yet the good feeling about it is that the shriek she produced also meant she had survived. The woman, who had seen death all around, just ran and had forgotten how to cry.. The image of the four is subject on the cover of the book.

Worst is as I have said in the book’s introduction page: The traumatic events of the day keep coming back. The horrific images are stuck. The volume contains along with the eye witness account of the Nellie massacre on February 18, 1983; documents both government and non-official which put the distressing Assam events in perspective.

Yet recoil of memory recalls of the black Friday afternoon borders on
guilt. The main piece of the booklet - Woman in the Green Sari- is more of personal impression of mine and not a hard news story by a
professional. We, there were two others -- who more by journalistic
instinct than design – became witness to the terrible mayhem. The
traumatic incidents of Nellie still haunt and the horrific images are

The magnitude of death and destruction as they unfolded in the open clear picturesque setting- continues to overwhelm me. It was an eerie setting because of the 'kill-burn-slay' psychology of the hundreds of armed men. We were witness to the part of the massacre which in administrative files describe as “Nellie”. The toll around Nellie villages officially stood at 2,191. Unofficially the figure was much higher. There was a complete slaughter and one stood helpless.

If the image of woman in green sari is imprinted in my mind, so is the
jerky rabbit like movement of a young boy -- may be of six or seven by age. We watched from a distance of 30-40 metres -- the width of
meandering Demal rivulet. He was trying to hide from an impending
danger. A man in a dhoti wielding a dao was closing on. The man was a
member of the killer group, which had moved west chasing their targets. He seemed to be in a hurry to catch up.

The boy, left behind by his folks, had no place to hide. The gap
between the two closed -- and as the man with the weapon came nearer, the boy tried to push himself into the ground. But the freshly harvested field gave him no chance. Suddenly, for us time lost all meaning. Demal separated us. Years have gone by, but the picture is etched clearly, even now. Near striking distance, the man switched the dao from his right to left hand. And as he passed, the boy got nothing more than a hard slap. There was a low pitched scream as he fell on the ground under the impact. The boy -- a lonely tiny target --survived.

The book has my eye witness account of the day, the memorandum of the
Lalung (Tiwas) Durbar to the Prime Minister in which they have tried
to play down their role in the massacre; the Central Government’s
account after the elections that lit the fuse to manifold contrary
fears; the findings of a non-official (citizens’) inquiry commission; interview of Tribhuwan Prasad Tewari who headed the one-man Commission of Inquiry into the violence of Assam appointed by the Government. He did remember to have gone to Nellie. He had no regrets that his findings were yet to see the light of the day; and also the views of the Election Commission that conducted the poll. There is a version of another eye witness- Bedabrata Lahkar.

The main chapter also has accounts of the victims based on my
subsequent visits to the village. One of them was exactly six months
when the memories were ripe and the Muslim victims trying to settle
down to start their life afresh after the devastating tragedy. It was the time when they talked in terms of many “ifs” and blamed government of not doing what they had promised. Six month after the tragedy Hasan Dukani had recalled that he along with three others had met the police and others officers at Nowgong (as it was spelled at that time and was the district headquarters) about possible attack on them and were told , “all arrangements have been made .Nothing will happen”. They
recalled as how the police reached hours late on the fateful day. A
distressed Yusuf had recalled, “What protection it was? Eight of my family members were killed”.

I visited the village much later when the policemen at the chowki- a
grim reminder of the massacre- had said, “We are more bothered about
road accidents nowadays”.

Reporters covering calamity are left shocked. I have been to
earthquake sites and flood areas with numerous deaths all round but
Nellie catastrophe was human butchery. It still overwhelms. I had called on one of the Inspector General Mr M I S Iyer a few days after the tragedy and blurted, “Could we have saved?” Iyer took a round of the table put both his hands on shoulders to say, “We could not –how could you!” His words always come back to me with a sense of ‘doubtful reassurance’. It is also true than till the armed mob crossed the Demal, we had no inkling that they would go in for a killing spree.

The CRPF jawans reached the area hours late. We saw on them on the
other side of Demal while returning. They were asked to help a crying baby. “You are talking of one baby. The whole village has been butchered”, one of the jawan shouted back.

A life time story as a journalist has been a life time agony.

The book is dedicated to the survivors; the woman in green sari, the boy who got only a slap and the crying baby.

Also read:-

25 years on.. Nellie still haunts
ISBN 978-81-7525-942-3
Price Rs 80/-
By Hemendra Narayan
Cover Illustration by Shambhavi

Enlightened said...

How can I buy this book from Bangladesh? Anyone can help?