On February 18, 1983, the fields surrounding the cluster of villages around Nellie in central Assam became a gory site. Around 14 villages of Bengali-speaking Muslims in Nellie were surrounded, thousand hacked to death and their homes set on fire.
Abdul Khayer still recalls vividly how he managed to save his life by running into the fields while his friends and family members got trapped. In Subasri Krishnan’s documentary, What the Fields Remember, the filmmaker traces the tragic series of events in which over 3,000 people lost their lives (the official count is 1,800) and no one has been held accountable still.
The 50-minute film in Bengali with English subtitles revisits the stories of a handful of survivors like Khayer, who are ageing, and are still searching for answers as to why they were persecuted. “The film largely looks at the incidents leading to the Nellie massacre but it is also a larger question about the circle of violence. Most survivors are still coping with their losses,” says Krishnan, an alumni from Delhi’s Jamia Milia Islamia, who has been making films for a decade. This is her third film and the first where she explores the theme of loss and suffering. Her first one in 2010, Brave New Medium, looked at internet censorship. “I am interested in exploring the idea behind who is a real citizen of our country today. So I looked at the border states where the idea of identity fizzles out easily,” says Krishnan.
In the film, she interviews the survivors (in Bengali) and draws out their stories, and how they are still coping with the tragedy. She also relied on online resources and Makiko Kimura’s book The Nellie Massacre of 1983 as a starting point. The film, commissioned by the PSBT as part of a grant by Doordarshan, will be screened at the Open Frame festival in Delhi in September.