Book Review Nellie Massacre

Why I Picked This Book?

The Nellie Massacre of Assam is among the deadliest “riots” post-independence, claiming the lives of around 2191 people (as per official figures). Still, very few people are aware of it and those who know about it, also don’t have complete knowledge. I came across this book while browsing through my kindle. This is a case study by the author as a part of her Ph.D. thesis and tries to find out the causes of the Nellie Killings of 1983. Curious to know more about what exactly happened I decided to read this one.

Who can Read It?

The book is a documentation of one of the largest cases of mass killing post-independence. Anyone who is interested in the contemporary history of India and wants to know more about the incident will find this book informative. The book tries to understand the reasons behind collective violence which happened towards a particular group by people of the surrounding villages.

The book

As the name suggests the book is about the Nellie Massacre of Assam, which happened in the year 1983 in which around 2000 people were killed. The author first went to Nellie to do the fieldwork for her Ph.D. research on the anti-foreigner movement in Assam. To know more about it, what caused the massacre, who were involved and why it happened, she made further visits. This book is a result of her research and fieldwork.

Inside the Book

There are several salient features of collective violence, or so-called communal riots, which increased in numbers from the late 1980s: (1) Almost all the violence took place amongst the urban poor. (2) The violence happened in relation to movements by largescale organizations (most notably religious organizations) and/or political parties. (3) The government was sympathetic to, or collaborated with the party concerned, and did not work effectively to prevent the violence by using law-enforcement actors (police and security forces). As a result, the culprits or attackers of violence were rarely punished, leading to the issue of impunity. It was specifically salient in the case of the Gujarat riot in 2002 and the Delhi riots in 1984. (4) There is a routinization of violence in specific towns and states.

The author points out that the Nellie massacre was substantially different from the general pattern of collective violence. The book tells us about how it was different from the riots that happened in other parts of the country.

Ground Report

The author interviewed the victims of the massacre and the indigenous people who were responsible for the violence. It started with the anti-foreigner movement in Assam led by the All Assam Students’ Movement and garnered significant public support in Assam. However, it was interpreted differently by local people in villages. There were many local reasons which were responsible for the massacre and people in villages interpreted the call for an anti-foreigner movement in their own way with no leadership to guide them.

In course of a by-election in 1978, in the Mangaldoi parliamentary constituency, caused by the death of Hiralal Patwari, it came under observation that the voter list has increased, and many outsiders were listed as voters. A protest started and soon took a shape of a state-wide protest against the foreigners (migrants from Bangladesh). This created a sense of hatred towards the Bangladeshi migrants, especially Muslim Bangladeshi, even if they were staying in Assam for years. This was a trigger point that resulted in violence in Nellie, but the author points out that there were local reasons which contributed to it. The book gives a detailed explanation of that.

The typical feature of revolutionary crowds is that the poor or the powerless challenge the powerful. However, Spencer states, “Communal violence, especially, in the colonial and immediately post-colonial period, most often involves sections of the urban poor attacking each other”.

The author points out that the Nellie massacre was different from the above observation. Here the village poor attacked and killed the village poor. The author goes into detail and tells us about the various local factors, along with the anti-foreigner movement which led to the massive massacre in Nellie.

How Did i find the book?

The book dissects the Nellie killings and tells the readers in detail about the reason why it happened, what caused it, who were responsible, what happened after the killings, what was the role of the state and central government, and provides insight into many such other questions. I like to read about India and Indian contemporary history and found the book informative.

About The Author

Makiko Kimura studied at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi) for her Ph.D. degree. She is an associate professor at Tsuda College (Tokyo) and teaches transnational sociology. She engages herself in activism supporting the indigenous rights movement. She lives in Japan.

Our Verdict

A well-researched book capturing the events that led to the Nellie massacre and various reasons for it to be turning into one of the largest killings in post-independent India. If you are interested in knowing more about India and the contemporary history of India, this one is sure for you.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *