Assam witnessed its bloodiest, deadliest genocide on 18 February 1983.
Assam witnessed its bloodiest, deadliest genocide on 18 February 1983.(Photo: The Quint)
  • 1. Anti-Foreigner Agitation — How it Began
  • 2. The First Trigger – Death of an MP
  • 3. Weakened Governments
  • 4. Days Leading Up to The Election
  • 5. Security Before the Election
  • 6. 18 February 1983 – The Day of the Massacre
  • 7. Aftermath – The Tewary Commission
  • 8. Lapses in the Tewary Commission Report
  • 9. The Assam Accord, 1985
Nellie Massacre – How Xenophobia, Politics Caused Assam’s Genocide

This detailed account of the Nellie Massacre of 1983 has been published in the backdrop of the release of Bidyut Kotoky’s award-winning Assamese film, ‘Xhoixobote Dhemalite’ ( or ‘Rainbow Fields’).

Assam witnessed its bloodiest, deadliest genocide on 18 February 1983.

At least 1,800 people (unofficial figures run higher) from 14 villages – including Nellie – of Nowgong district in central Assam were left dead in the six-hour-long massacre that began at 8 in the morning. It came to be known as the Nellie Massacre.

  • 1. Anti-Foreigner Agitation — How it Began

    Assam witnessed its bloodiest, deadliest genocide on 18 February 1983.
    Assam Andolan.
    (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia)

    The All Assam Students Union (AASU) and the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), led by Prafulla Mahanta, had been spearheading Axom Andolan, or the Assam Agitation – an anti-foreigner movement in the state since 1979. Their main demand was that the “illegal immigrants” (Bangladeshis) be taken off the voter list as political parties, they claimed, were winning elections on the basis of illegal electoral rolls.

    They also demanded that the “immigrants” be deported from the country.

    And that’s how an agitation began that lasted for six years, which culminated in the formation of a state government led by Mahanta in 1985. The movement tended to categorise all Bengalis as “Bangladeshis” – and the groups that felt the direct threat of the movement were the Hindu and Muslim Bengalis.

    For the indigenous tribes and the Assamese, the agitation was a way to assert their rights over their land, but it was also the fear of losing jobs to “the other”.

    Years later, in an interview to Shekhar Gupta, who was the then Editor of The Indian Express, Mahanta had said:

    We were student leaders then, and you know there was a feeling amongst the people of the northeast region, mainly Assam, that we had become a minority in our own home due to infiltration from Bangladesh.
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