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The Assam Movement (or Assam Agitation) (1979-1985) was a popular movement against illegal immigrants in Assam. The movement, led by All Assam Students Union (AASU) and the 'All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad' (AAGSP), developed a program of protests and demonstration to compel the Indian government to identify and expel illegal, (mostly Bangladeshisi), immigrants and protect and provide constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards to the indigenous Assamese people. The agitation programs were largely non-violent, but the Nellie massacre was a case of extreme violence. The agitation program ended in August 1985 following the Assam Accord, which was signed by leaders of AASU-AAGSP and the Government of India.
The agitation leaders formed a political party, Assam Gana Parishad. It came to power in the state of Assam in the Assembly elections of 1985 and later in 1996.
In 1978 Hiralal Patwari died, requiring a by-election in the Mangaldoi Lok Sabha Constituency to fill his seat. During the process of the election, observers noticed that the number of registered voters had grown dramatically. AASU demanded that the elections be postponed till the names of foreign nationals were deleted from the electoral rolls. The Assam Agitation developed from there.
On 27 November 1979, AASU-AAGSP combine called for the closure of all educational institutes and picketing in state and central government offices. Mass picketing was arranged in front of all polling offices where candidate nominations could be filed, in the first week of December 1979. No candidates were allowed to file nomination papers in the Brahmaputra valley. December 10, the last date for submitting the nomination papers, was declared as a statewide bandh. The government proclaimed a curfew at different parts of the state, including the major city of Guwahati.
At Barpeta, then IGP K.P.S. Gill led the police force in escorting Bagam Abida Ahmed to file nomination papers; they attacked protestors. Khargeswar Talukdar, the 22-year-old general secretary of Barpeta AASU Unit, was beaten to death and thrown into a ditch next to the highway at Bhabanipur. Talukdar has been honoured by the Assam Movement as its first Martyr.
Subsequently, violence spread all over the Brahmaputra valley. In a stunning incident on 18 February, 1983, a mob of indigenous Assamese people killed 2191 suspected immigrants, mostly children and women, brutally with weapons like knives, daggers or simply bamboo sticks in 14 villages in Nagaon district. This is one of the most barbaric massacres of modern India known as the Nellie massacre.
The parliament passed the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act (IM-DT) in October 1983 and began to implement it in Assam. Negotiations took place between the government and AASU-AAGSPO during the later parts of 1984 and first part of the year 1985. In May 1985, formal talks started and Home Secretary led the central government team. Several rounds of talks took place during May, June, and July 1985. Initially the Assam coalition wanted immigrants from the 1961-71 waves to be disfranchised and dispersed to other areas of the country. By August 1985, they had agreed to a new cutoff date of January 1966; immigrants who had entered illegally after that were to be detected and deported, and disfranchised for 10 years. On August 15, the historic Assam Accord was signed in presence of the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. During the years of protest, 855 people had died.
- Baruah, Sanjib (1999). India Against Itself: Assam and the Politics of Nationality. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 115. ISBN 081223491X.