Many of the children who study at the Nellie Anchalik Secondary school come from families who were directly affected by the massacre yet there is little acknowledgement of their grief in our collective public memory
The four-lane Asian Highway no 1 that connects India with Thailand runs through the districts of Kamrup (Metro), Morigaon, Nagaon, and Golaghat before entering Dimapur in Nagaland. It also crosses through Nellie in Moriagon, a word that is met with deep silence in Assam. On a cold Friday morning in February 1983, when the Assam Andolan or ‘Gondogul’ as it is called in Nellie was at its peak, 3,000 Muslim men, women and children were killed by their neighbours for voting in a hastily held election they had boycotted. The victims belonged to the East Bengal-origin Muslim community; the Assam Andolan which had begun as an Anti-Foreigner Movement to drive out ‘illegal’ Bangladeshi immigrants had soon turned into a violent Anti-Bengali Movement. Till today, no action has been taken by the State to book the perpetrators of the violence although a clause in the Assam Accord clearly mentions perpetrators of ‘heinous’ crimes should be brought to justice. In the mainstream Assamese imagination as well, there is little acknowledgement of this dark chapter of Assam’s history.
Today, the 14 villages in and around Nellie where the violence occurred bear little resemblance to that fateful day when the fields had turned red with the blood of the murdered. It is the month of Bohaag and the fields are lush with Boro Rice. As we arrive at Dharamtul, one of the villages where the violence occurred, we realize that the road ahead is a kutcha one riddled with potholes. There was no way our Maruti van could negotiate the slippery embankment road by the side of the River Kopili to the school in Muladhari we had come to write about. Our local guides offered us a ride on their motorcycles and informed us that money from three different schemes had been diverted to build the stretch from Dharamtul Bazaar to Muladhari ME School. Convergence is one of the key thrust areas of the Government of India (GoI) under MGNREGS and PMJSY but to imagine that a 3 kilometre stretch would be under the MGNREGS, PWD, Chief Minister Gramyo Path and yet resemble a dirt track goes to show the extent of corruption in the implementation of government schemes.
A bordoisila was brewing up in the sky as we entered the Dharamtul ME School and the modest one-room mud house next to it. There are no fans or light bulbs in the room, yet. This was the Nellie Anchalik Secondary School built under the aegis of the Brahmaputra Civil society, an organization that works for the rights of minorities in the State, in February this year. ‘We have started with the class IX batch and we hope to build another classroom by next year to accommodate the same students in the Class X batch. The list of our contributors is available on our Facebook page. This school was started so that students living here get another chance to build their lives,’ says Shahjahan Talukdar, an editor of a local Axomiya newspaper called Gana Adhikar and a member of the civil society group.
School begins at 9.30 am and ends at 3 pm. Meals are provided under the mid-day meal scheme under a special consideration by the Headmaster of the adjacent ME school. The two female cooks who serve the meals also keep the surroundings clean. Uniforms have not been provided yet and many students wear their old uniforms to school. 27 students have registered, we are told, but today 19 eager faces await our arrival and freely share their hopes and aspirations with us. Taslima Khatoon of Muladhari village wants to join the police force as she wants to serve her people. Abdul Jalil walks two kilometers to school every day from Basondori village and wants to become a doctor. Hafshiara Begum from Muladhari also wants to be a doctor. The students inform us that the nearest primary health centre is in Dharamtul and though the doctor is nice, it often runs out of medicines. Since the AH1 connects Dharamtul to Guwahati, many patients prefer to go to GMCH instead. But the distance to the GMCH in Bhangagarh means that a day’s labour is lost, as queues are long and it takes a good hour and a half to get there.
Shamina Firdausi from Muladhari village wants to be a lawyer, her elder sister Rehanna Firdausi is a teacher at the school while another younger sister studies in an LP (Lower Primary) school. One of our local guides Rafiqul Islam, also from the same village informs us, ‘she is a graduate: there are very few graduates who emerge from the area. The English teacher Jehirul Islam had to be specially recruited from Nagaon as there are not enough qualified candidates here. The three TET teachers who teach in the ME school all come from Guwahati. You may find it difficult to believe but the first graduate to come out of the area graduated in 1983, Miya Hussain had graudated from Nagaon College and thereafter settled down in Haibargaon in Nagaon. After 1983, I was the only graduate till around 2003, when the next graduate emerged.’ Morigaon has a literacy rate of 69.37% but the villages around Nellie seem to be in a time warp, with access to education still the privilege of a few. The ones who can afford to send their children to the Sankardev Shishu Niketan in Dharamtul proper, a private Assamese medium school.
The English teacher Jehirul Islam says the Nellie Massacre is a part of our history, whether we acknowledge it or not. Interestingly, the NCERT social studies textbook of class IX has chapters on the Indian Freedom Movement, with no mention of Assam’s role in it. The only mention from Assam is on the Moamoriya Rebellion in the 18th century. There is also no mention of the Assam Andolan, or of the violence that was unleashed afterwards. Many of the children who study at the school come from families who were directly affected by the massacre yet there is little acknowledgement of their grief in our collective public memory.
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