It’s been 25 years, and Abdul Sattar has perfected a fine art: getting used to living with those who he believes wiped out his family.
Sattar, 48, is a resident of Borbori village, one of 13 villages in the Assam’s Nellie area where 1,819 — unofficially over 3,000 — Bengali-speaking Muslim settlers were massacred on February 18, 1983.
And yet, Sattar said: “I bear no ill-will against (those) who killed 10 members of my family.”
Villager Abdul Karim Aamir, 53, said he can sense the “guilty feeling” whenever he interacts with his assailants. “We know we cannot do without each other, and that they were brainwashed into attacking us that fateful day.”
Aamir, who buried his kin after putting together their dismembered bodies, recalled: “We ran when they started firing. We returned to see almost all the people in our village lying in a pool of blood. Ya Allah.”
The firing convinced them that police had connived with the mob, which also allegedly misled personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force that could have helped.
Most assailants were Tiwa tribals staying in Beltola Tiniali, Amsoi, Mohkholi and Doporibari around Borbori. They attacked other Muslim villages like Bhogdobahabi, Matiparbat, Muladhari and Silbheta.
Researcher Diganta Sarma, who has written a book on the massacre, said: “The officer in charge of Jagiroad police station (which Nellie falls under) simply ignored a message from Nagaon police station regarding a communal build-up.”
Most officers punished for the Nellie massacre were reinstated during the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) government, headed by Prafulla Kumar Mahanta. Former Punjab police chief K.P.S. Gill, who served in Assam, has said in the past that the police goofed up.
Mahanta was the leader of the anti-foreigners’ Assam Agitation from 1979-1985 that ended in the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985 and the birth of the AGP soon after.
Agitation activists played on the fear of a demographic invasion by Bangladeshis. The fear was compounded by the fact that the Assamese comprise only 29 per cent of population.
Villagers lodged an FIR at the Jagiroad police station, identifying 13 assailants. The police registered a case against the accused — three more were named later.
However, chargesheets were submitted only in 310 of the 688 cases recorded. All cases were dropped for lack of evidence.
The report of a commission of inquiry, instituted under Tribhuwan Prasad Tewary, was not made public.
Some of his assailants, Sattar said, have had a change of heart. Like Bharat Hazarika of the nearby Beltola Tiniali village.
“Borbori is flood-prone. In 1986, a deluge displaced us and Hazarika gave us shelter,” recalled Sattar.
Mohammed Suleiman Ahmed Qasimi, president of the Anjuman-e-Kisto Insaaf (Nyan, Samata & Daabi Samity), said: “Victims were paid Rs 5,000 compared to the several lakhs paid to victims of the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi a year later. Is it because we are, as they say, not Indians?”