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Who is responsible for Nellie massacre?

By Anjuman Ara Begum and Diganta Sharma for TwoCircles.net

Part IV: Nellie 1983

February 18, 1983 was a Friday, an important day for the people of Islamic faith. Official report says Nellie massacre left 1819 people dead and several thousand others injured. Unofficial sources and people of Nellie believe that death toll could be around 5 thousand. In terms of brutality committed just in few hours, probably this is the highest figure of people killed with crude weapons.

The question arises: could this massacre be avoided? There are several clues that speak that state authorities were alerted on possible attacks on minority community in Nellie. Several literatures on Nellie have established that officials of Home Ministry were alerted three days before the massacre about the possibility of the attack.

Diganta Sharma in his book, ‘Nellie 1983’ wrote that a message from Jiauddin Ahmed, OC of the then Nagaon police station sent an urgent message to Morigaon 5th Battalion Commandant, sub district police officer and OC of Jagiroad police station , Sri Nobo K Chetia. This alert was totally ignored. The message was, ‘INFORMATION RECEIVED THAT L/NIGHT ABOUT ONE THOUSAND ASSAMESE OF SURROUNDING VILLAGES OF NELLIE WITH DEADLY WEAPONS ASSEMBLED AT NELLIE BY BEATING OF DRUMS (,) MINORITY PEOPLES ARE IN PANIC AND APPREHENDING ATTACK AT ANY MOMENT (,) SUBMISSION FOR IMMEDIATE ACTION TO MAINTAIN PEACE (,). This message gave clear indication about the possibility of attack on Nellie, still thousand of innocents lost their lives within a few hours on Friday, the February 18, 1983.

Corroborating this negligence the National Police Commission in a report published on April 3, 1983, wrote, ‘the national police commission has found that there is a tendency among the police officer to shun responsibility for dealing with communal situations. They either avoid going to the spot or when they happened 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… (Sixth Report dealing with Recent Communal Riots and Role of the Police).

Who is the mastermind behind this massacre?

“The nationalist groups got information that on 14 February, 1983 that 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 Nellie 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 genocidal to save the existence of mother Assam. Place of carrying out the plan was Nellie”.

India Today in its report on Nellie in 1983 pointed out that, ‘the All Assam Students Union (AASU) is believed to have played a very active part in the massacre…’ People of Nellie believe that the organized massacre on them was well organized by the agitators of Assam movement. The agitators fulfilled their ambition by inciting the neighboring Tiwa community to carry out the carnage. On April 10, 1983, the then Assam chief minister Hiteshwar Saikia held a press conference and released certain papers of AASU activist. Among these were papers prepared by AASU leaders on the religious minority inhabited areas. This report on the press conference was published at that time in a newspaper called, ‘Janakranti’ on April 17, 1983. This proves how the organized killing was carried out on people belonging to minority community branding them as ‘foreigners’. The report also quoted Heteshwar Saikia as saying,’ activists of AASU, AGSP are involved in violent activities in the state’.

RSS element behind the massacre?

Elements of RSS (Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh) involvement cannot be ruled out in the Nellie massacre. RSS and agitators of Assam movement maintained a cordial relationship. An English magazine, ‘On Lookers’ brought this secret to light. This was reflected in the article written by Partha Benarjee on ‘Assam agitation.’ It is significant to mention here that the Volunteers Force constituted under the leadership of AASU was headed by Joynath Sharma who created controversy about his role in AASU. Not only that, soon after the Nellie massacre several top leaders of AASU took resolution against him claiming his removal from AASU for maintaining relation with RSS. It is worth mentioning here that a conference was held by AASU at the premises of JB Law college, Guwahati on April 11-12, 1983 and a resolution was passed, the third resolution of this meeting was that ‘reports of Joynath Sharma having links with RSS is published in different newspapers like Sunday, India Today and many other newspapers. Joynath Sharma never filed any counter statement on these reports. Hence in this context he should be removed from AASU.’ Muslim members of AASU adopted 15 point resolution and submitted to the leaders of AASU. The resolution is reproduced below.

15 point memorandum of Muslim members of AASU

The massacres of ‘Nellie’ and other places of Assam in February 1983 made a turning point in the agitation when Muslim members of the AASU started to protest against the atrocities done by them. At last Muslim members of the organization met on 11 and 12 April 1983 in the Premises of J.B. College at Guwahati with Md Nurul Islam its Vice President in the chair. In this meeting different activities done by AASU were discussed. A letter was issued addressing to the AASU president duly signed by 11 Muslim student leasers. The main contentions of the letter are given below.

1. “We are constrained to tell you with profound that the latest situation in the context of the four year long movement for expulsion of foreigners had been extremely tragic and heartrending particularly the violent incident which have taken place on a massive scale. Sequels to the Union Governments holding of the forced illiegal election have warned us. We have found indication of danger to Assamese language and Culture and we consider it our responsibility to remind every one of a few things well in time.”
2. No one can dispute the limitless contribution made by the Assamese community as also the Pamuas Charuas and Bhatia Muslims (Who were earlier cordially embraced as new Assamese who form an integral part of the great Assamese society towards the evolution of Assamese society and the development of Assamese culture. We challenge whoever question it.”
3. Referring to the reports published in Sunday, India Today and other national newspapers about the association of Joynath Sarma Sarbadhinayak of the AASU Volunteer Force with RSS, they observed that in his denial ‘issued after heavy pressure” of any such association he had failed to convince any one. They charged him with confusing the public ‘by misrepresenting the facts telling lies” about the death of his younger brother Daya Sarma. They demanded Joynath Sarma’s immediate expulsion from AASU in “Assam’s greater interests” in the connection, Chattanya Kalbag wrote in India Today on 31 March, 1983 “Sporadic clashes between Assamese and the immigrants near Sipahjar (in former Darrang district) peaked on February 15 when Joynath Sarma’s younger brother Daya Sarma led a large and armed attack on immigrants in Chawlkhowa Chhapuri Darraghat and Dhaulapur attacking in three waves from Sipajhar, Rangamati and Kuruwa. At Sipajhar on 17 February (1983) when election was scheduled in the trouble torn constituency, journalists were invited to a cremation ceremony for Daya Sarma and two of his lieutenants Jatin Saharia and Arun Kumar Bora”
AASU members in Sipahjar, however, let slip that Daya Sarma had gone with a stengun to “rescue” some “kidnapped” Assamese from the immigrant’s villages.
“Implicit was the fact that he had been killed but the mourners were anxious to point out that the immigrants had after Daya’s ammunition ran out cast a fishing net over him and hacked him to death with daos (machetes)’.
4. ‘Steps have to be taken for equitable distribution of relief to the people affected by the violent incidents. The discriminatory treatment in this respect is unfortunate.’
5. “There has to be a clear policy regarding declaration of martyrs how have the attackers become martyrs”? This matter has to be immediately reviewed and martyrs should be declared on the basis of a principle”.
6. All secret directives and economic blockades by the volunteer force be stopped immediately in view of the present situation. It is also demanded that suitable action be taken against zonal AASU units which have imposed economic blockades without any directive from the Central Committee”.
7. ‘Students and youths of all communities should be in the volunteer force of each AASU unit and at all levels”
8. ‘Those office-bearers of zonal, sub-divisional and distinct units of AASU as also those members of its executive who have involved in violent activities are to be immediately expelled”.
9. ‘A statement be issued on behalf of the AASU cautioning people against BJP, Lok Dal, Janata Party etc. along with political parties like Indira Congress, Congress (s),CPI, CPI(M), SUCI, RCPI etc and open directives be issued on behalf of the central committee to the local units to see that these parties also cannot hold any meeting anywhere”.
10. ‘We shall not accept any communal organisation whatever. Hence each AASU unit be publicly asked to see orgonisations like RSS, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Jamat-E-Islam, the Jamat-E-Ulema, etc cannot get organised anywhere and sow seeds of communalism.”
11. What was done with the fund collected in the name of self-defence? Why have the materials meant for self-defence been distributed on the basis of religion or community?”
12. ‘Steps be taken to stop forthwith the practice of publicizing any attack as attack by Bangladeshis, Miyas Bhutias through Danik Asom, Assam Tribune, Dainik Janmbhumi, Agradoot, Batori, News Star etc as also the practice of circulating through the papers maps of certain districts as Bangladeshi inhabited areas. Photographs showing burning of mosques be released along with those burning of namghars’.
13. ‘While denouncing the violent incidents, false propaganda has been mounted by hiding facts and giving wrong colours to the incidents at Bargana, Sipajhar etc and those at Nowgong, Goalpara, Kamrup, Darrang, Lakhimpur and Karbi Anglong. Such false propaganda be immediately stopped.
14. AASU has to clarify on what basis it has branded all attacked at Nellie and Chamaria as foreigners… Also declare as banned Agneyyogiri and all such bulletins which are sent to the AASU office from different places.
15. Immediate publication of the following in the local newspapers:
• To stop forthwith the practice of bringing down bearded Muslims with lungis-caps from buses and killing and assaulting them.
• Urging teachers to wean away the students and youth as well as the farmers now involved in violent incidents in the state.
• Dissuading ex-army men and officers from taking to violence
• Publish the basic principles of election and expulsion of foreigners. In case of foreigners, the terms like ‘enemies’, ‘miyas’, ‘Nepalies,’ ‘Bhutias’ and ‘Bangladeshis’ etc should not be used.