"if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen
the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu.

Remembering unworthy victims of February 18 Featured

Gurpreet Singh


This Sunday brings back the ugly memories of two separate incidents of terrorism and bloodshed perpetrated against Muslims in India.

The first occurred on February 18, 1983, in Nellie, Assam where over 2,000 Bangladeshi Muslims were slaughtered in 14 villages by mobs; the second happened years later. In 2007, on the same fateful date in Panipat, Haryana, the Samjhauta express train, mainly carrying Pakistani Muslim passengers, was hit by bombings, leaving 70 people dead.


In both instances, Hindu supremacists were involved, while the Indian state either remained complicit or failed to deliver justice.

The Nellie massacre had its roots in the regional chauvinist movement started by those seeking exclusion of so-called outsiders from Assam. It was instigated by the Hindu groups who owe allegiance to the currently ruling right wing BJP government in New Delhi. The 2007 blasts were orchestrated by the same forces, who wanted to stop the rail service between India and Pakistan and terrorise Muslims.


During the years in between, the victims of some other notable tragedies, such as the 1984 Sikh Genocide or the 2002 Gujarat violence against Muslims, have received global attention and a very few convictions, however insignificant and insufficient this closure might be. But in the February 18 tragedies two decades apart, no justice has been served.


In the Samjhauta blast case, several arrests were made following the brave efforts of a handful of police investigators, including the late Hemant Karkare of Mumbai Anti-Terrorist Squad, but the suspects were acquitted under the BJP regime that used every tool in its toolbox to weaken the prosecution. They have openly indicated their intentions ever since they came to power with a brute majority under Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014. Not only had Modi accused the previous government of wrongly blaming Hindus for the Samjhauta blasts, but other ministers in his government had declined to file an appeal when the suspects were exonerated.


What links the two stories is the fact that since the victims were not Indian nationals, there has hardly been any outrage within the broader Indian community, let alone any reaction from the Hindu majority. Narrow nationalism is the only explanation why calls by human rights activists for justice to these victims have remained unheard in the mainstream media. Nor could the governments of Bangladesh and Pakistan do anything to expose the Indian establishment internationally.  


The victims of February 18 fall perfectly into the category of "unworthy victims" defined by Noam Chomsky in his book, Manufacturing Consent. Let’s keep them in our collective memory this Sunday and mark February 18 as another black day inworld history.  

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Gurpreet Singh

Cofounder and Director of Radical Desi


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