2002 and 1984 riots were brutal but debate on these two show ignorance and lack of respect for the Nellie Massacre, 1983
Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi has spoken at last. In his interview with Times Now’s phenom journalist Arnab Goswami, Gandhi tried his best answering (or rather not answering) questions on Narendra Modi, on being mocked as the ‘Shehzaada’ (which goes back to questions on the former) and two riots that are possibly the biggest stains on the resumes of the Congress government in 1984 at the centre and the BJP government in 2002 in Gujarat. Unlike other countries where candidates’ responses to questions on the future of the nation are analyzed, experts in India including journalists, politicians and Arnab Goswami spent the best of an hour on prime time television to discuss Rahul Gandhi’s double standard view of the Anti Sikh riots and Godhra. Given the intense and callous remarks made by the two premier parties of India against each other on Times Now’s ‘Newshour’, it gives the impression as if Indian history post 1947 has only witnessed two riots, in 1984 and 2002. But there is a third riot that took place in 1983 in Assam, dubbed as the ‘Nellie Massacre’ that is completely overlooked. Blame the politicians for not bringing it up; but also blame the media for keeping it silent.
‘Nellie Massacre’ took place for six hours killing five thousand (if one goes by unofficial statistics; official figure is 2,091) Muslim men, women and children in fourteen villages in the district of Nagaon. The killings were carried out by members and supporters of the Assam Agitation, a movement started by the All Assam Student’s Union, who were against the presence of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh in the state. The state was under President’s rule when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi announced that fresh elections would be held in 1983. AASU boycotted the elections and inspired local tribesmen to perform the deed of mass murder.
While the incident in terms of deaths exceeds that of Godhra Riots and Sikh Riots, it doesn’t find itself in the scripts of journalists or editorials of newspapers. The report of Tiwari Commission that was setup to document the massacre has never been released and only three copies of the report are known to exist. Apart from the efforts of the regional and insignificant Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF) to have the report declassified, the nation including the government and media have mostly forgotten about this incident. One reason for their negligence is the lack of publicity it would generate in light of the upcoming elections. Although the Congress was in power in the centre during the massacre, the incident is unfortunately dwarfed by the Sikh riots that happened in the next year. The BJP was not involved in these riots. The only political party that was involved in abetment of this massacre was the Asom Gana Parishad, whose members of the eighties were mostly the same members representing AASU during the Assam Agitation.
Bringing up another incident of mass murder, when Godhra and Sikh riots have already put both the political parties on the defensive, is a redundant and unwelcome exercise. The incident in 1983 is deemed insignificant and unworthy by politicians and journalists are because it will have no impact on the outcome of the election. With the Congress stable and likely to win over Assam comfortably and the AGP now a party with no achievable targets and the BJP which has never been a force in the Northeast, the Nellie Massacre can be accessed only through its Wikipedia page. However, what compels me to bring to attention about 1983 is the selective process employed by political parties when it comes to lashing out communal insults. 1984 and 2002 undoubtedly taint the secular agenda in the nation, but bringing to spotlight just these two incidents would do grave injustice to merciless slaughter of the Muslims in Assam. Here the failure should not be attributed to a political party but rather to the administration. Ten commissions have been setup to investigate 1984 in the last thirty years and many inquiries and committees for 2002; these reports have been released for the public to view and comment. It is unclear why this failed to happen for the Tiwari Commission, the only commission that was setup to investigate Nellie. While media reports acknowledge the key figures and suspects in the 84 and 2002 events, the silence of the Tiwari commission report has kept names under the rug. These names once out will need to be prosecuted.
By Sameedh Sharma