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Assam’s ‘secret killings’ come back to haunt

Press meet for the film shadow assassins

Nirbhay Kalita leaves his home in Guwahati, Assam, with dreams of starting a new chapter in life on a college campus over 2,000 km away in Pune, Maharashtra. But the political turmoil in his home state soon engulfs him and his family, triggering a chain of events that will radically alter the course of his life.

Two-time National Award winner, Nilaanjan R Datta’s debut Hindi film, ‘Shadow Assassins’ puts the spotlight on the ‘secret killings’ of Assam, which marked the darkest period in the history of the North-Eastern state. Masked gunmen would raid the homes of those thought to be sympathisers of the outlawed militant group, ULFA, and pick them up. Their bullet-ridden and mutilated bodies were discovered across the countryside, in fields and forests, streams and rivers. Homes were set on fire, and families were destroyed in a snap. The dreaded night-time knock on the door ended up unleashing a blood bath, with more than 1,100 innocent civilians reported having been killed between 1998-2001. In 2005, the Justice KN Saikia Inquiry Commission was set up to investigate the cases. Two years later, the panel submitted its report. In 2018, based on a writ petition by former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, during whose regime the horrors took place, the Guwahati High Court declared the constitution of the commission invalid. ‘Shadow Assassins’ is based on the Commission’s report on the brutalities.

Over two decades after the ‘secret killings’ ended, the chilling carnage continues to cast long shadows on the survivors and their families.

‘Shadow Assassins’ turns back the pages on a dark chapter of history that has for long remained in the backdrop of our collective conscience. Not anymore, though. The film, comprising an ensemble cast and crew drawn from the Hindi, Bengali and Assamese film industries with Anurag Sinha and Mishti Chakravarty in the lead, and Rakesh Om and Hemant Kher in pivotal roles, releases in theatres on December 9.