Memory as Bad Faith
BOOK : THE NELLIE MASSACRE OF 1983 – AGENCY OF RIOTERS
AUTHOR: Makiko Kimura
PUBLISHER: Sage (Sage Studies on India’s Northeast)
Amit Sengupta Delhi
Makiko Kimura studied at JNU, Delhi, for her PhD degree. She was a post-doctoral research fellow of the Japan Society for Promotion of Science and Research Associate at the International Peace Research Institute, Meiji Gakuin University, Tokyo. She is currently an Associate Professor at Tsuda College, Tokyo. She speaks to Hardnews on the Nellie massacre, riots and State-sponsored killings.
What compelled you to write a book on the Nellie massacre?
I was working on the anti-foreigner movement in Assam and had visited Nellie to know about the tribal participation in the movement. It seemed to me a very peaceful and ordinary village in the first look, but I came to know that one of the largest riots took place in the area. It puzzled me how such a deadly incident could take place in such a peaceful village, and how both the attackers and the survivors could go back and live with their memories.
What were the social and political reasons behind the massacre?
Political, direct reason: the imposition of state legislative assembly by the Congress government and the election boycott by the movement leaders, the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), triggered violence between the supporters of the movement and the Congress.
Social and structural reason: Muslim peasants of West Bengal origin started to settle in the place since the 1920s and marginalized the original inhabitants, the Tiwas (a tribal group), and other Hindus of lower strata in the area. There was discontent among them that their land had been taken away by the Muslims.
Have the wounds healed after the Nellie massacre? Do you think memory keeps repeating itself in a vicious circle?
No, please see pp.135-140 of my book. The survivors still suffer from the memories of the incident. But it has not been politically utilized by any organization so far. What the survivors are still demanding is adequate compensation.
Why do you think riots happen in India? Are they planned and organized, as in Gujarat 2002, or in Delhi 1984?
Some are both planned and organized, as you suggest. However, some cases are not completely manipulated by the politicians or leaders, and the Nellie massacre is one of them. Regarding Nellie, there was some instigation by the movement leaders and politicians, but there were some local initiatives as well. In other words, the Tiwas and other local residents in the area had a stake in attacking the victims.
Can riots or State-sponsored killings be stopped? How?
Riots can be stopped if the government is really willing to do so — in most of the cases, by deploying police or security forces, the government can stop it. The Nellie massacre is an extraordinary case, because the government had the will to stop the killings. So, it’s clear that a riot reflects the failure of the administration, or, more precisely, the politics.
Now, how can riots be stopped? Politicians do not stop riots (they, sometimes, actively engage in them) because they gain some benefits from them. What is necessary is to invent a political system where they are able to gain benefits from preventing violence and building a peaceful society. It might sound too idealistic, but if we can be very imaginative and constructive, I believe that’s
Is there a process of justice after the killings and rapes during riots or organised killings with state patronage? There is a belief that the murderers and rapists are never punished. So how does a society eliminate these dark chapters of their history?
In terms of the Nellie incident, nobody was punished. So far as I understand, it is very rare that the perpetrators are punished in mass killings in contemporary India. In other words, the culprits know that somehow they will not be punished for the attack.
Is ethnic cleansing part of a fascist project in contemporary India, with the rise of fascist forces?
In Assam, you cannot term it a “fascist project”. What happens there is a different kind of politics when compared to that of mainland India.