Nellie massacre

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Nellie Massacre
Assam is located in India
Assam (India)
LocationAssam, India
Coordinates26°06′41″N 92°19′02″E / 26.111483°N 92.317253°E / 26.111483; 92.317253
Date18 February 1983
TargetBengal-origin Muslims[1][2]
Attack type
Deportation, mass murder
Deaths2,191+ , 10,000+ (unofficial)
PerpetratorA mob of a few hundred Tiwas[3]
MotiveXenophobia, Anti-immigration and Anti-Bangladeshi Sentiments[4]

The Nellie massacre took place in central Assam during a six-hour period on the morning of 18 February 1983.[5][6] The massacre claimed the lives of 1,600–2,000 people[7] from 14 villages—Alisingha, Khulapathar, Basundhari, Bugduba Beel, Bugduba Habi, Borjola, Butuni, Dongabori, Indurmari, Mati Parbat, Muladhari, Mati Parbat no. 8, Silbheta, Borburi and Nellie—of Nagaon district.[8][9] The victims were Muslim of Bengali origin.[10][6][11] Three media personnel—Hemendra Narayan of The Indian Express, Bedabrata Lahkar of The Assam Tribune and Sharma of ABC—were witnesses to the massacre.[12]

The violence that took place in Nellie by natives—mostly rural peasants—was seen as a fallout of the decision to hold the controversial state elections in 1983[13] in the midst of the Assam Agitation, after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's decision to give four million Bengali Muslims the right to vote.[8][14] It has been described as one of the worst pogroms since World War II and one of the deadliest pogroms against a minority community in post partition India.[15][16]


In 1978, Lok Sabha member Hiralal Patwari died, necessitating a by-election in the Mangaldoi Lok Sabha Constituency. During the process of the election it was noticed that the electorate had grown phenomenally. Investigation revealed that there had been mass inclusion of alleged illegal migrants.[17][18] The All Assam Students Union (AASU) demanded that the elections be postponed until the names of 'foreign nationals' were deleted from the electoral rolls. The AASU subsequently launched an agitation to compel the government to identify and expel allegedly illegal immigrants.[19]

The central government attempted to placate the Assamese by agreeing to proscribe any migrants who entered the state after March 1971 from voting, and proceeded with the elections. The Assamese, demanding an earlier cutoff date, were inimical to the government's decision, as were the Lalung tribals who resented the proliferation of Bengali immigrants onto their land. Conversely, the Bengali communities (both Hindu and Muslim) as well as the Plains Tribal Council of Assam, an organization composed exclusively of Boro tribals opposed to Assamese hegemony, supported the elections, and subsequent inter-ethnic violence unfolded.[20]

The ethnic clash that took place in Nellie was seen as a fallout of the decision to hold the controversial Assembly elections in 1983 (boycotted by the AASU) despite stiff opposition from several elements in the state.[8] Police officials had suggested to hold the polls in phases in order to avoid violence. According to then Assam Inspector General of Police, KPS Gill, there were 63 constituencies, where elections could have been held without any trouble. Among the rest, the Assam police had declared there were 23 constituencies where it was "impossible to hold any election." Nellie was cited as one of the "troubled" spots before the elections.[8]

400 companies of Central Paramilitary Force and 11 brigades of the Indian Army were deployed to guard Assam while the polls were scheduled to take place in phases.[8]

Inciting incident[edit]

The immediate cause of the massacre was Bengali immigrants kidnapping five Lalung families and raping two tribal girls. In retaliation, the Tiwa chiefs decided they must kill at least 700 Bengalis for each of their tribesmen killed, and consequently an all-out attack was launched on immigrant areas.[21]

Vajpayee's Controversial Utterance[edit]

In a speech, Atal Bihari Vajpayee expressed concerns about the government's inaction towards foreigners: "Foreigners have arrived, and the government remains inactive. Imagine if they had entered Punjab – people would have dealt with them harshly and would chopped them into pieces and thrown them away" Following the speech, violence erupted in Nellie. Vajpayee, returning to New Delhi from Assam, strongly condemned the Nellie massacre. This quote attributed to Vajpayee was presented by former CPI-M MP Indrajit Gupta during a trust vote debate in May 1996, and it went unchallenged in the Lok Sabha.[22][23]


The massacre itself took place on the morning of 18 February 1983, starting in Borbori village. It was perpetrated by a mob of a few hundred Tiwas, who targeted Nellie and 14 other Muslim-majority villages in the area. In Nellie the mob burnt many houses and also placed itself at all the roads and exits to the village, killing anyone who tried to escape. The massacre lasted until dusk. Anywhere from 1,600 to 3,000 people died, but locals report the number as having been higher.[24]

The massacre ended with the arrival of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in the evening. Many survivors recall that the local police tried convincing the CRPF battalion that there was no violence in the area; the smoke emitted was due to burning of agricultural waste rather than houses. The survivors also recalled that the local police diverted the battalion to patrol the national highway suggesting that no road lead to the area from where the smoke rose. The battalion eventually located the area when a woman from the village stopped the CRPF trucks and led them to the village.[25]


The official Tiwari Commission report on the Nellie massacre is still a closely guarded secret (only three copies exist).[8] The 600-page report was submitted to the Assam Government in 1984 and the Congress Government (headed by Hiteswar Saikia) decided not to make it public, and subsequent Governments followed suit.[26] Assam United Democratic Front and others are making legal efforts to make Tiwari Commission report public, so that reasonable justice is delivered to victims, at least after 25 years after the incident.[27]

Police filed 688 criminal cases, of which 378 cases were closed due to "lack of evidence" and 310 cases were slated to be charged. However, all these cases were dropped by the Government of India as a part of the 1985 Assam Accord; and, as a result, not a single person received punishment.[28]

Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi signed the Assam Accord with the leaders of the AASU to formally end the Assam Agitation in 1985.[19]


A documentary, What the Fields Remember, has been produced by Public Service Broadcasting Trust.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kimura 2013, p. 1.
  2. ^ "There is a sharp difference between Bengal-origin Muslim in Assam and Bengali Muslim. Often I notice people from outside Assam confusing the two, including the national media in articles published outside the state. We identify ourselves as Bengal-origin Assamese Muslims. We are not Bengali. We are not Bengali Muslims. The Muslims in Assam’s Barak Valley often identify themselves as Bengali Muslims, not us. But we have not been able to make people from the outside see the difference." (Pisharoty 2019)
  3. ^ Vijayan, Suchitra (February 2021). Midnight's Borders: A People's History of Modern India. Melville House Publishing. pp. 133, 137. ISBN 978-1-61219-858-3.
  4. ^ "Nellie Massacre: 40 Years Later, a Cautionary Tale for Today's India". The physical violence flowed directly from the emotive violence generated by the agitation, which sought the expulsion of "illegal Bengalis/Bangladeshis" from Assam.
  5. ^ "...the majority of the participants were rural peasants belonging to mainstream communities, or from the lower strata of the caste system categorized as Scheduled Castes or Other Backward Classes." (Kimura 2013, p. 5)
  6. ^ a b Kokrajhar; Dhubri (24 August 2012). "Killing for a homeland". The Economist Banyan blog. Archived from the original on 25 August 2012.
  7. ^ "On February 18, 1983 about 3000 Muslims of East Bengal origin were killed in several villages around Nellie." (Kimura 2013:68)
  8. ^ a b c d e f "83 polls were a mistake: KPS Gill". Assam Tribune. 18 February 2008. Archived from the original on 7 February 2012. Retrieved 2 August 2012.
  9. ^ Rehman, Teresa (30 September 2006), "Nellie Revisited: The Horror's Nagging Shadow", Tehelka, archived from the original on 11 November 2006, retrieved 19 February 2008
  10. ^ Kimura, Makiko (2013b), "The Nellie Massacre", in Meghna Guhathakurta; Willem van Schendel (eds.), The Bangladesh Reader: History, Culture, Politics, Duke University Press, p. 481, ISBN 978-0-8223-5318-8: "In this incident, the local people, including the Assamese and tribes... attacked the Muslim immigrants from East Bengal."
  11. ^ Mander, Harsh (14 December 2008). "Nellie : India's forgotten massacre". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 16 December 2008. Retrieved 9 October 2012.: "A crowd quickly gathered: the older men with checked lungis and beards could easily be distinguished as people of East Bengali Muslim origin."
  12. ^ Main Uddin. "Genesis of Nellie massacre and Assam agitation". Retrieved 5 April 2016.
  13. ^ "The purpose of this study is to assess the verdict, if any, of Assam's controversial elections which were held in February 1983, under conditions of widespread violence and obviously incompetent official arrangements of electoral facilities." (Dasgupta & Guha 1985:843)
  14. ^ Goel, Rekha. "25 years on...Nellie still haunts". The Statesman. Retrieved 8 December 2011.[permanent dead link]
  15. ^ Hussain, Monirul (1 February 2009). Sibaji Pratim Basu (ed.). The Fleeing People of South Asia: Selections from Refugee Watch. Anthem. p. 261. ISBN 978-8190583572.
  16. ^ "Nellie Massacre: 40 Years Later, a Cautionary Tale for Today's India". The Wire. Retrieved 30 April 2023.
  17. ^ Gupta, Kanchan (2019), "Beyond the poll rhetoric of BJP's contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill", Orf, Observer Research Foundation "A close scrutiny of the electoral rolls indicated that there had been mass inclusion of names of illegal immigrants, prompting AASU to demand that the by-election be called off..."
  18. ^ Main Uddin. "Genesis of Nellie massacre and Assam agitation". Retrieved 5 April 2016.: "Significantly the Election Commission reviewed the list and found 68.28 percent of the allegations to be true. After Election Commission's assessment it came to light that 45 thousand illegal foreigners are listed in the voter's list."
  19. ^ a b "Tripartite talks to review the implementation of the Assam Accord held in New Delhi on 31.05.2000". SATP. Retrieved 2 August 2012.
  20. ^ Weiner, Myron (1983). "The Political Demography of Assam's Anti-Immigrant Movement". Population and Development Review. 9 (2): 279–292. doi:10.2307/1973053. ISSN 0098-7921. JSTOR 1973053.
  21. ^ Gupta, Shekhar (1984). Assam, a valley divided. Vikas. p. 8. ISBN 978-0706925371.
  22. ^ "The other side of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, 3 instances".
  23. ^ "Atal Bihari Vajpayee was no liberal. But he could soften or harden his Hindutva to suit his politics". 18 August 2018.
  24. ^ Vijayan, Suchitra (February 2021). Midnight's Borders: A People's History of Modern India. Melville House Publishing. pp. 133, 137. ISBN 978-1-61219-858-3.
  25. ^ Yasmeen, Jabeen (15 June 2023). "Creating an Oral Map: 'Living On' after the Nellie Massacre, 1983". South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies: 1–17. doi:10.1080/00856401.2023.2213531. ISSN 0085-6401.
  26. ^ Rehman, Teresa. "An Untold Shame". Tehelka Magazine. Archived from the original on 11 November 2006. Retrieved 8 December 2011.
  27. ^ Staff Reporter (19 February 2008). "Flashback to Nellie Horror:AUDF to move court for probe report". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 3 February 2013. Retrieved 10 October 2012.
  28. ^ Mander, Harsh (14 December 2008). "Nellie : India's forgotten massacre". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 16 December 2008. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
  29. ^ Rangan, Baradwaj (12 September 2015). "They remember so we don't forget". The Hindu.


Further reading[edit]

News sources[edit]


  • Deka, Lakhi, (2107) Tirakhir Sahid (in Assamese) Shristi Publication.
  • Chadha, Vivek, Low Intensity Conflicts in India. Sage Publications, 2005.
  • Saksena, N.S. "Police and Politicians" in Alexander, P.J. (ed.) Policing India in the New Millennium. Allied Publishers, 2002.

External links[edit]