Nellie haunts Assam

It is well recognised that Assam’s socio-political fabric is complex, intricate and layered. Thanks to the active support of B.R. Ambedkar for the idea of Autonomous District Councils, the Constitution enshrined the rights of hill tribes in the Sixth Schedule. As per the 2001 census, tribals constitute 15.64 per cent of the 20.33 million population in Assam. Prominent among them are the Bodo, Mising, Rabha, Sonowal, Lalung (Tiwa), Deori and Thengal (Mech).
Assam has three autonomous councils under the Sixth Schedule and a few more are waiting to be formed. Several other groups are demanding their own autonomous councils under the same status. Assam has had only limited success with their councils. In 2009, a delegation led by a minister went to Tripura to learn from their experience.
The Lalungs (Tiwa) had given a representation to Indira Gandhi that their land is being “stolen”. In 1983, the Tiwas far outnumbered the “foreigners” who were then a mere 3,000. With no council to protect them, the poorest among them sold land for a pittance for the short-term gain it offered. Ironically, long before this, in November 1937, when Jawaharlal Nehru visited Assam for a Provincial election campaign, the Asamiya Sanrakshini Sabha had submitted a memorandum requesting not to remove “the line system”, which was in place aimed at containing immigration. In his letter to the Assam Pradesh Congress president, Nehru’s response was: “Indeed, even from the point of view of developing Assam and making it a wealthier province, immigration is desirable.”
The Congress has always found immigration useful although officially claiming “no influx”. K.P.S. Gill recalled in 2008, that he was perhaps “the first SP (Superintendent of Police) to raise alarm about illegal infiltration from Bangladesh”. He further said that, “way back in 1964, some of the north-eastern states and West Bengal had started deporting Bangladeshis”. But the Congress was not interested in diluting its votebank.
They looked the other way when the Assam agitation was raging in the early 1980s. The agitation demanded that the electoral rolls be cleansed of the “illegal immigrants” before holding the elections in 1983. In fact, over the decades the Congress has attempted to regularise the illegal settlements as it was consistent with their votebank based politics.
So, notwithstanding the Assam agitation which in 1979, in Mangaldoi Assembly byelections alone showed 45,000 illegal immigrants in the voters’ list and the Lalung (Tiwas) desperately trying to protect their lands from being stolen, Indira Gandhi held, “arguably the most violent election anywhere, it climaxed in the Nellie massacre — a macabre saga of inhuman brutality.” (Ved Prakash in Terrorism in India’s North-East: A Gathering Storm, Vol. I) Twenty five years after the Nellie-tainted election of 1983, K.P.S. Gill remarked, “1983 polls were a mistake.”
The polls were a mistake and today, the Lalungs (Tiwa) are hopelessly outnumbered as Nellie’s demography has changed. But was justice done? On Friday February 18, 1983, officially 2,191 people died. They were Bengali-speaking Muslims, mostly women and children, originally from Bangladesh. Sixteen villages were destroyed and 370 children were orphaned. The killings continued for six hours from about 9 am that day. Not until 12.30 noon did the first contingent of police arrive. It is reported that the home ministry was alerted of a possible attack. Six hundred and eighty-eight cases were registered by the police and all cases were dropped during the AGP government. The Congress did not raise an eyebrow. In July 1983, a commission was appointed under the chairmanship of Tribhuvan Prasad Tewary who submitted a 600-page report in January 1984. Hiteshwar Saikia, the then chief minister, did not table the report in the Assam legislative Assembly. Till date it is kept a closely guarded secret. So much for the Congress’ concern for the minorities.
Nellie survivors received `5,000 for each dead and three bundles of tin sheets for roofing their houses. A news magazine reported a survivor in Nellie saying: “When Indira Gandhi came to visit us, we told her that we do not want to come back here. But she assured us that she would provide us with everything, right from a lamp to light our houses. But we have been waiting and are still waiting.” The Sikh survivors the next year in 1984 anti-Sikh riots, received up to `7 lakhs each.
Ten years after Nellie, post the Bodo Accord in 1993, the Congress government just watched a series of clashes. Harsh Mander, in 2008, commented: “The government, therefore, itself laid the foundations for ethnic cleansing. Bengali Muslims were driven out of their settlements by murderous attacks and the torching of their homes in 1993, and this scenario was repeated for Santhal and Munda tribals... Thousands of them continue to languish today in camps, some for 15 years, as they are still terrified to return home. Assam remains a tinder box of ethnic hatred, with recent attacks on Bihari migrant labour, Jharkhand agitators in Guwahati... clashes between Bodos and Bengali Muslims this year, which left many dead and thousands in camps seething with hate.”
A Japanese scholar Makiko Kimura was stopped in November 2004 by the Assam government from delivering a lecture on the Nellie massacre.

The latest in the communal politics of the Congress in Assam is the dark saga of a lady MLA, Dr Rumi Nath, who chose to marry a Muslim friend. While an MLA from her party arranged qazis to perform the nikaah, another MLA from her party again, gave a “hate speech” in public against her conduct. Dr Nath and her new husband were beaten up and the entire communally sensitive Barak Valley was tense. Then a Congress legislator filed an FIR against Dr Nath alleging that she along with her second husband had illegally entered his residence and beat up visitors suspecting them to be involved in the attack on the couple. Private affair? No, this is not one. The Congress government and its MLAs are enacting a live show and the theme is communally sensitive! For the Congress, their communal experiments are coming home to roost.

The writer is spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The views expressed in this column are her own.

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