20 yrs on, Nellie dares to dream
Two decades after it burnt in communal fires, Nellie's wounds are healing. Today, in the cluster of hamlets on NH 37, they are talking not of natives and foreigners, but of how to finish a sluice gate before monsoon.
Not that they have forgotten February 18, 1983, when 2,191 people — almost all of them Bengali-speaking Muslim settlers — were butchered in a riot sparked by the anti-foreigner Assam Agitation. "Given a choice, I would like to rub out that horrific day from the pages of history," says Musadir Hussain, 35. His father Abdul Quddus was the first victim, shot as he tried to stop assailants from burning a wooden bridge connecting a Muslim village to a tribal village.
Nellie is significant in the electoral mathematics of Assam as it gears up for the Assembly polls — it commands a major share of the 1,72,000 votes in the Jagiroad Assembly constituency that has been the domain of Bubul Das of AGP (Progressive).Though the candidate is the same, there is a change in the constituents: they are not polarised along religious and ethnic lines as they used to be in every election since 1985.
They have identified common enemies: poverty and backwardness. Consequently, they are talking of a different kind of divide, like an embankment to contain the turbulent Kopili and Kiling rivers during monsoon and a sluice gate at their confluence for an agricultural turnaround.
"We have already begun work on the sluice gate," says Congress’s Rina Pator, zilla parishad president and campaign manager of candidate Bibekananda Doloi. Other parties wary of the Congress taking credit, have also latched onto the gate.
The sluice gate is envisaged to benefit about 40,000 people in a dozen villages, almost an equal share for the victims and aggressors of 1983. Says Manik Chandra Barua, a social leader, "We know we cannot remove that blot, but we have learnt to look forward.”