State of inertia


The ongoing ethnic violence in Assam, which has seen killings and destruction of homes on a large scale, is not the first such strife in the state. A shocking precedent was set 29 years ago. On February 18, 1983, 14 villages of Bengali-speaking Muslims in Nellie were surrounded, thousand hacked to death and their homes set on fire in the worst massacre in independent India.

That incident was probed and a report submitted but it was never made public and those responsible never brought to justice. This apparent lack of will to prosecute the perpetrators is seen as one of the main reasons for the recurrence of such violence till today.

On July 14, 1983, the Assam government appointed a commission of inquiry, chaired by Tribhuvan Prasad Tewary. It was mandated to "look into the circumstances leading to the disturbances which took place in Assam during January to April 1983, to examine the measures taken by the concerned authorities to anticipate, prevent and deal with these disturbances, to indicate whether there were any failures by any authority or individual, and to suggest measures to prevent recurrence of such incidents in future".

The commission submitted its report in May 1984, detailing what happened during those four months of mayhem that included the Nellie massacre, in which more then 3,000 Bengali Muslims were estimated to have been killed (the official count is 1,800).

The report was generally favourable to the Assam agitation and stopped short of recommending prosecution of those responsible for the massacre. Yet it provided insights into what led to the massacre; these findings, if addressed, could have helped prevent a recurrence.

The reason why the report was never made public was apparently to stave off the crisis facing the government after a massacre of such a scale. Any subsequent public debate on its findings would have made it difficult for the government to avoid action against the perpetrators.

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