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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

How much hatred does it take to kill a stranger?

Next February will be 25 years since the Nellie massacre, when over 3000 Bengali Muslims were slaughtered by a group of Assamese speaking people. Though those riots during 1983 were primarily targeted against Bengali Muslims, Bengali Hindus were also targeted and we could hear several stories of roommates in hostels killing one another. I, though very young at that time, have clear memories of that night when there were shouts on rumors that a gang of Assamese were attacking our small town where Bengalis were a majority. I still remember the war like preparation in our house and our neighbors, the fear and the anxiety.

And now I wonder how much hatred can one store for a stranger so that one feels that urge to kill him just because he belongs to a different race or class and to want to wipe his kind out of existence? We don’t mutilate the slaughtered bodies of chicken or lamb, neither do we torture it before its death; how much hatred does it take to do the pull out the nails of someone from our own species before jugulating him? What allows us to walk around in front of our mothers or wives after having erased for eternity the happiness of the mothers and wives of those we have slaughtered? For how many days are we satiated after we have raped the women from our hated category in front of their bound sons, husbands and fathers before killing them one after one? How meaningful is the time we spend while we supervise our enemies digging their own grave for them? Where do we sell the fingers we have chopped off from the stranger’s fingers, the nails we have pulled from his toes, and the eyes which we have dug out? Does our food taste better the night we have erased the history of a village with its blood? How many days of happiness have we secured for our progenies as we kick around the babies whose parents we have slaughtered? How beautiful is the sight of the houses and shops as they burn from our wrath while their owner’s heads lay around in the mud below? And that sight, of the moment when we have our sickle raised and about to strike the neck of the stranger we hate so much, our eyes burning with hatred, his eyes tearful and large with fear; when does that sight come back to haunt us?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was a witness to the part of the massacre as a journalist working for the Indian Express. Twentyfive years I have brought out a book- 25 years on Nellie still haunts. The traumatic events of the day keep coming back. The horrific images are stuck. The volume contains along with the eye witness account of the Nellie massacre on February 18, 1983; documents both government and non-official which put the distressing Assam events in perspective. The recoil of memory recalls bordering on guilt.
Given below are two reviews of the book:
(1) Review of- 25 years on.. Nellie still haunts.
The main piece of the book is more of 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 in an open clear picturesque setting - they were three media persons - 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 fulfil a 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 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.

Mr B G Verghese, doyen of Indian journalism -- who has a special interest on 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 25 years on -- should be of relevance to the students of contemporary history. Some of the documents used helps in understanding the overall situation in proper perspective. The documents in the publication, which includes that of the Lalung Darbar, the Election Commission and the report of the non-official Justice Mehta Commission, would be of great significance for some one, studying the Assam and India's history of the period.
Review(2) - 25 years on...Nellie still haunts

Some events in history just refuse to fade from public memory. The partition of India and Pakistan, for instance. That bloody event in history continues to inspire several novels, academic studies and even films — even now. 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 — women, infants and men — were killed on that fateful day of 18 February 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 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 it lies somewhere in between. And bringing that to the fore is reporter, Hemendra Narayan, now with The Statesmen but who 25 years ago was with The Indian Express. He was one of three journalists to witness 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 Nellie massacre still remains a deep wound on the collective psyche of Assam! 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 BG Verghese describes it, he says in the Foreword, "Narayan has recalled various versions on offer, including his own of what happened on 18 Februrary, 1983. The narrative reads like the Japanese play, Rashmonon."

Narayan has indeed included an array of material in an attempt to give all 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 should 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 historians and students of contemporary history. The mystery of Nellie will never be completely solved but at least, through Narayan's efforts, each of us can make an attempt to find our own little answers.
(Rekha Goel)( Also published in the Statesman)