Citizenship Bill: Assam Protests and the Irony of BJP’s Attempt to “Protect Minorities”

Politics

Citizenship Bill: Assam Protests and the Irony of BJP’s Attempt to “Protect Minorities”

Illustration: Akshita Monga

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n February 18, 1983, one of modern India’s grisliest massacres occurred in central Assam. An Assamese mob approached a cluster of villages in Nagaon district, armed with knives, sticks, and a few guns, and assaulted the district’s inhabitants, most of them Muslim immigrants. The incident came to be known as the Nellie Massacre, and the indiscriminate killing that day led to the loss of 2,191 lives, according to official reports, though some estimates put the death toll far higher. The cause of the violence was public resentment against the Indira Gandhi government, which had granted approximately four million Bangladeshi immigrants the right to vote in the state elections of ’83.

The Nellie Massacre took place in the shadow of the Assam Agitation, a six-year movement spearheaded by the All Assam Students Movement (AASU) and Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) that demanded the Indian government identify and expel illegal immigrants in the state. They locals feared losing the right to their lands and their jobs to the “outsiders”. And though the agitation was against illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, Bengali Hindus as well as Muslims too became easy targets.

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