Aware, Awake & Arise: Issues that concern the region

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Nellie revisited: 25 years on

Nitin Gokhale /Senior Editor, Defence and Strategic Affairs
"On February 18, 2008, the Delhi Press Club was the venue for a small function organised by Hemendra Narayan, a veteran reporter, who works with The Statesman in New Delhi. The Occasion: Release of a monograph on one of independent India's darkest chapters: the massacre of over 3,000 people at Nellie in Assam. Exactly 25 years to date, Hemendra Narayan and a couple of other journalists - one from Assam Tribune and the other from ABC news - witnessed the cold blooded murder of migrant Muslims by a rampant mob."
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1 comment:

Hemendra said...

25 years on.. Nellie still haunts

By Hemendra Narayan

Here are two reviews of the book in question.

’25 YEARS on..Nellie still haunts: First review (Prerna)
The main piece of the book is more of a personal impression of the author, than a hard news story by a professional. Hemendra Narayan, the journalist, who - more by instinct than design - became a witness to the terrible mayhem of February 18, 1983, in central Assam. The traumatic incidents at Nellie still haunt him, and it comes out unmistakably in the chapter - Woman in the Green Sari. “The woman, who had seen death all around and escaped, produced a surreal scream,” he says, and adds, “The horrific images are still stuck in my mind.”
The magnitude of death and destruction that unfolded before them - they were three media persons - in an open clear picturesque setting would have overwhelmed anyone. It was an eerie setting because of the ’kill-burn-slay’ psychology of the hundreds of armed men.
The February 1983 Assembly elections were held to fulfill constitutional ’obligation’. The logic was that the polls could not be stopped because the President Rule could not be extended beyond one year, and that deadline was fast approaching. The supporters of the movement against ’foreign’ nationals were not only boycotting, but opposing the elections aggressively as well.
“As the election(s) process got going, it was a strange scenario across the Brahmaputra Valley - right from Dhubri to Dibrugrah; depending on the population profile - the killing lust had surcharged the atmosphere,” the slim publication says in its preface.
The toll around Nellie villages officially stood at 2,191.
BG Verghese, the doyen of Indian journalism, who has a special interest in the affairs of the North -East, says in his foreword remarks, “India must care and ponder over what happened, and we must all learn our several lessons as distinctive groups, wider communities, the government....”
The booklet, apart from being of interest to journalists even after 25 years, should be of relevance to the students of contemporary history. Some of the documents used help in understanding the overall situation in proper perspective. The documents in the publication, which include that of the Lalung Darbar, the Election Commission and the report of the non-official Justice Mehta Commission, would be of great significance for someone, studying Assam and India’s history of the period.
25 years on...Nellie still haunts: Second review (Rekha Goel)
Some events in history just refuse to fade from the public memory. The partition of India and Pakistan, for instance. Even today, that bloody historical event continues to inspire several novels, academic studies and even films. But there are some dark chapters in Independent India’s history that many people - protagonists, by-standers and even those, who had nothing to do with the event per se - want buried in the sands of time. The infamous Nellie massacre in Assam in 1983 is one such gory episode.
There are conflicting figures about exactly how many people were killed on that fateful day of February 18, 1983, but no one disputes the fact that at least 2,000 people lost their lives. For years, the Nellie massacre became a metaphor for everything that has gone wrong with Assam over the past three decades. Those, who worry about the unabated influx of foreigners from across the international border say that Nellie was a manifestation of the pent up anger among the indigenous people.
Others, apologists for the migrants, portray the victims of the Nellie massacre as just that - victims.
But the reality of the violence of that day, and several days preceding, lies somewhere in between.
Bringing that reality to the fore is reporter, Hemendra Narayan, who was with ’The Indian Express’, 25 years ago. Currently he is with ’The Statesman’. He was one of the three journalists, who witnessed the carnage first hand. For a quarter century, he carried the memories of that particular day with him but finally decided to come out with a small booklet detailing the events of that day. It was as if he was liberating himself after such a long gap. A catharsis in a way for Narayan - the human being, if not Narayan - the reporter.
The writer, I am sure, in ’25 Years on... Nellie still haunts’, had no intentions of opening any old wounds or hurting anyone. But it can be said that the massacre still remains a deep wound on the collective psyche of the Assamese people. Narayan has indeed recounted the events of that period with some objectivity and with the benefit of hindsight
In the 52-page “slim publication,” as Verghese describes it and says in the foreword, “Narayan has recalled various versions on offer, including his own of what happened on February 18, 1983. The narrative reads like the Japanese play, Rashmonon.”
The writer has indeed included an array of material in an attempt to give all the possible sides to the real story of Nellie. He has his own dispatch of that day as the starting point.

It includes a memorandum by the Lalung Darbar, presented to Indira Gandhi, who in many ways might be blamed for creating the circumstances that led to the Nellie massacre. The Lalungs, who are often portrayed as aggressors of that day, have stoutly denied their hand in the violence. Then there are documents, both official and non-official, as also the Election Commission’s logic in holding the elections that ultimately resulted in unleashing the violence that culminated in Nellie.
Like a true reporter, Narayan has attempted to raise the real question: What is the real truth of Nellie? “Like many events in Independent India’s history, the correct answer will never be known - not at least in our lifetime,” as Tribuhwan Prasad Tewary, who conducted an official enquiry into the massacre (and whose report has never been made public), told Narayan.
But in writing and publishing an account of Nellie, 25 years after it happened, Narayan has done a signal service to the historians and the students of contemporary history. The mystery of Nellie will never be completely solved but at least, through the author’s efforts, each of us can make an attempt to find our own little answers.