1983 Nagabanda Massacre and the other side of Assamese Intelligentsia

Nagabanda High School is one of the oldest educational institutes of Morigaon district of Assam. The school is situated near the Nagabanda Bazar, about 15 KMs from the district headquarter. The healthy rural market, the nicely planted trees at Nagabanda Junior College, huge playground with pavilion and the green agricultural fields surrounding the area make it scenic and beautiful. But who knows Nagabanda is carrying a huge amount of pain and agony?

On 16th February’1983, 109 helpless people were brutally killed in a relief camp at Nagabanda High School. The villagers of the adjoining villages were instructed by the peace committee of civil administration and police administration to take shelter in the relief camp on 16th Feb’1983 to escape from the violent attacks of the agitators of Assam Movement. A large numbers of people from neighbouring villages  took shelter in the school including women and children. At around 10’o clock morning; a huge mob leaded by police personals attacked the people taking shelter in the school. The police indiscriminately fired fire on the relief camp. The frightened people closed the doors and windows of the school. Then the agitators set school on fire. Some of the people tried to escape through the windows of back side of the school; some of them climbed the trees nearby the school. But they didn’t get escape. The agitators killed them on the bunch of tree by sharp and long weapons. Total one hundred and nine dead bodies were recovered and another few hundred got injured.


Nine dead bodies were found in this newly constructed urinal of the school

The Nagabanda massacre has a great importance of study as it manifests many questions in relation to the infamous Nellie massacre. Nagabanda massacre was carried out two days before the Nellie massacre. In the both cases some of the perpetrators and victims were from common communities.  Bengal origin Muslims (Miya) dominated Nagabanda is surrounded by the villages of Tiwa (lalung), Koch and Nath-Jogi communities. In case of Nellie, Tiwas were the main perpetrators and Muslims were the victims. Here also the Muslims were the victims and the involvements of Tiwas in the violence were apparent. In both cases Muslims were victimized by the agitators as they participated in the election.

The distance between Nagabanda is around 30 kms from Nellie. But strategically, the sub-divisional headquarter (Now district) Morigaon divides the distance into almost equal. The Nagabanda incident was a warning signal for the civil as well as police administration to avert the Nellie massacre which claim 1600 lives officially, the unofficial figure is more than five thousand.


Google map: red dots refer the distance between Nagabanda, Morigaon and Nellie

The police administration was hand in glove with the agitators. One of the victims of police brutality, a school teacher from the Nagabanda one Abdul Mazid described his painful story. He said that, after returning from election duty he found his home deserted, as owing to the incident of Nagabanda High School, people had left their houses. Abdul Mazid decided to return to the police station from where he was sent to election duty. He stopped a vehicle carrying police personals and requested them to take him to police station. On returned, the police brutally beaten him up, snatched the golden bangles of wife and Rs. 800/- from his pocket. He put off his skull cap and shows the wound mark on his head. Along with him two other commuters, the post master of the local branch post office and the peon were also beaten up. The police had broken one leg of the post master.

Thus the police and civil administration broke the law and buried  humanity hand in hand with the agitators. Sanjoy Hazarika wrote “(government officers) defied the official orders and courted arrest, demanding the ouster of the aliens. If it was not xenophobia, then it was patriotism of a very jingoistic quality”. But was the school teacher, post master or the peon a foreigner? Who have their roots in this land for generations? Or why do we try to romanticise the injustice???

Though being a student of social science and having a keen interest in Assam Movement, I had very little information about the gruesome genocide until I reached Nagabanda and interacted with the survivors. Senior journalist Samudhra Gupta Kashyp’s remark on Nellie massacre suddenly reflected in my mind. He was speaking in a conversation titled “Can today’s society change the media?”  organised by Thumb Print Magazine at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Guwahati. He informed the gathering that, Assam Tribune, the leading English Daily from Guwahati had had an editorial meeting and decided not to publish a single photo of Nellie massacre! Though I perceived it in a different perspective, but today, I am seeing the other side of such decision. Hundred and nine lives were brutally hacked to death during broad daylight by the agitators with the active participation of government machinery but the people of the state as well as in outside remain in the dark. No doubt media played a very biased and cruel role during the agitation. The fascist characteristics of the agitation were also responsible for such gross violation of professional ethics of journalism. Sabita Goswami wrote in her autobiography that she was summoned by the then AASU leader Atul Bora. When she visited AASU office, Atul Bora showed a photocopy of her article and said “If an Assamese writes in this manner, it is equivalent to going against Assam’s interests”. Foreign journalists were also not allowed to enter Assam for a certain period of time during the movement.

This biases still continues and has been grounded to other domains as well. If we analyse the news and views on Nellie massacre, it becomes very much clear that the academicians and researchers were not free from the ethnocentric biases. While analysing the Nellie massacre Sanjoy Hazarika writes “They become dependent on the others. Their own shortsightedness is reflected everyday when they contemplate their former tenants as owners of this ancestral land. The rage becomes deeper, blinding those in its grip to their own follies”. Many academicians like Hazarika found land alienation as the primary cause of Nellie massacre. But when Japanese researcher Makiko Kimura asked the cause of the massacre to both attackers from Tiwa (earlier known as Lalung) and victim from Muslims of Bengal Origin (commonly known as Miya), nobody mentioned that land alienation as a reason. When I categorically asked one 78 years old Mafiz Uddin Ahmed, (who lost ten of his family members including his mother in Nellie massacre) about the issue of land alienation or land grabbing, his response was quite thought to provoke. He said “When this land was allotted to us in 1942 by the colonial magistrate against the payment of rupees five, it was a jungle. Our family came to Nellie from Nogaon (Earlier Nowgong) and cleared the land for cultivation.” Ahmed’s narrative is clear enough to understand that the Muslims had not grabbed the land of Tiwas or had not alienated them from their land. But they got a jungle against payment from British government as per the policy of the colonial administration. He holds leaders of Assam Movement responsible for the massacre and says that, the AASU and the subsequent AGP government declared the attackers who died during the massacre as a martyr, the so-called martyr’s families were compensated with Rs. 25000/-, while the victims who lost their lives for participating in the democratic process of the election were not declared as a martyr and provided mere Rs. 5000/- as compensation!

Then, what is the reason for justifying riots, killing innocent human lives or gross violation of civil political and human rights? Or why do we try to cover up injustice committed upon a marginalized community? Why we can’t digest the historical fact that these so-called Miyas were brought to Assam from another province of colonial India under administrative patronage?


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Abdul Kalam Azad Written by:

I am a researcher and development practitioner based in Assam. I am trying to understand the conflict in Bodoland Territorial Area districts for the last few years. I am also managing the development interventions of Jhai Foundation in char areas of Assam.

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