Nellie, Feb 18: Twentyfive years after the ghastly single day mass slaughter in independent India, Nellie wants to forget everything and move on. For the record, 1,891 people were butchered in mayhem lasting more than three hours at Nellie, an hour and a half's hour drive from Guwahati, on this day a quarter century ago when the Assam agitation was at its peak.
The incident remained the pivotal point of Assam's politics since then with minority politics taking centre stage with each political party trying to woo them. The deep division between the majority Assamese and minority Muslim immigrants has continued unabated and there is no sign of healing. Nellie has not changed much since then. The houses had improved slightly, mobile telephony is everywhere and there are some new shops selling basic items. But fear and emptiness persist.
The victims were Muslim immigrants and attackers were nearby tribal people. Tension between the communities had escalated following the former's participation in the Assembly election which was boycotted by majority of Assam's population.
Rahim Faqir, a three-year-old then, survived as the attackers thought he was dead. His mother, sister and elder brother were hacked to death. He was in the arms of his dead mother crying when the police recovered him from a heap of bodies.
Now a struggling young small-time businessman, he does not want to remember those traumatic days. None of the present Nellie villagers in fact remembered the day, till a group of journalists reached there to gave them a reminder.
Arguably it was the most horrific killings of the past decades.
It brought the entire Assam agitation to international limelight which culminated into the signing of the Assam Accord two years later, bringing a group of university students to power.
Recounting the nightmare, one of the two scribes who were accidentally in the killing field, Bedabrata Lahkar, a senior journalist with the 'Assam Tribune' said, ''Speeding down the deserted national highway we suddenly came across a fire at some distance. Asking the driver to stop we decided to investigate.
Without an inkling of what was about to happen, we stepped into the worst communal conflagration in the history of Assam at Nellie, where, I presume, no less than 2,000 men and women besides, children belonging to migrant Muslim community, were butchered.''
The village mosque still bears testimony to that ghastly incident. Children and women who tried to take refuge there were not spared. According to the Tiwari Commission inquiry report, most men of the area were away. They had crossed the Brahmaputra river to attack another village as looting and arson as well as revenge attacks were at their peak.
Bakhtiar Hussain no more remembers the incident. He only knows that like most of his friends he lost his mother and three brothers in that mayhem. His father later married again.
Bedabrata Lahkar said,''Despite our fears, walking through the dry paddy fields we came across five-six youths around a razed house which was still smouldering. The youths, including two girls, had daos(knife) and spears in their hands. 'Some immigrants had torched the house and our people are chasing them,' a dao-wielding youth said while pointing to distant north. Now we could see a row of fires in the distance.'' The other journalist with him, Mr Hemendra Naryaan of 'The Statesman', was working for the Indian Express then. Today, at the Delhi Press Club he released a book on the same subject recounting the ''news of the century''.
Those who survived are either dead or middle-aged. Most preferred not to speak to the visiting scribes.
However, Baskandar Ali said the violence was not directly linked with the Assam agitation. ''Animosity between the Tiwas and the Muslims had been growing for long and Assam Agitation provided the spark,'' he maintained.
''More than 3000 youths and even women took part in that massacre using mostly traditional and sharp weapons,'' he said.
''As we stood beside the Damalbeel, an ox-bow lake, witnessing the macabre event unfold barely 100-120 feet away, we were frozen.
It was only after the mass murder and we had reached Guwahati that it dawned on us that we were eyewitness to something too big too ghastly,'' the journalists said.