Muslims in Assam continue to bear the brunt of being ‘outsiders’. In the latest move the government has sealed a ‘Miya’ museum set up in a house allotted through Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) at Goalpara and took the owner into its custody.
The museum was set up by the president of the Mia Assam Miya Parishad, Mohor Ali at his house in Dapkabhita under Lakhiur police station. The notice mentions that it was done following the instruction of the Deputy Commissioner.
While commenting on the museum and the government’s decision to seal it, leader of the opposition and Congress MLA Debabrata Saikia told Outlook, “I don’t know much about the museum. But yes, BJP in its election manifesto said that they will come up with a museum for the riverine people. And among them 80% are minorities belonging to ‘Miya’ community.”
The museum that was opened for public on October 23 had on display some agricultural implements and fishing equipment, hand towels and checked 'lungis' (sarongs worn by men) that are considered to be the identity markers of the ‘Miya’ community. In the local parlance ‘Miya’ refers to those Muslims who live in Assam but their roots, as per the common believe, lie in Bangladesh.
Saikia however said, “Miya is an honourable term. There are a few people who have made it derogatory.”
Abdur Rashid Mandal, a Congress MLA from Goapalara nevertheless told Outlook, “people of Assam speaking Bengali are termed ‘Miya’ by a section of the people of Assam. I myself belong to that particular community but I don’t claim to be a Miya. I claim myself to be an Assamese.”
Terming the move as separatist, Mandal said, “I do not agree to the establishment of Miya museum. It is a separatist move by a section of people. People who migrated from Bangladesh prior to Independence are fully Assamese, Indian citizens. They had migrated from one part to the other part of greater India. They are talking Assamese.”
“Miya is an insulting word in Assam. Almost 1 crore Bengali speaking Muslims are living in Assam. Almost 99% of them don’t claim to be Miya. There are ‘Brokers’ who create such separate organisations,” he added.
Taking a jibe at Mohor Ali who opened the museum and the BJP he said, “who has authorised Mohor Ali to represent the Bengali speaking Muslims of Assam? This is defamation to the community. This is encouraging the BJP to seclude the Miyas.”
Terming it a BJP ploy to further create divide and separate Miyas from the mainstream community he said, “I think though the government is closing the museum, it was sponsored by some BJP leaders who are trying to make it an issue before the elections to polarise the people.”
As the museum was sealed, Mohor Ali along with two minor sons sat on a dharna outside the house claiming immediate reopening of the museum. Pointing out that they are no different from the other communities, Ali said, “we are displaying objects with which the community identifies itself so that people from other communities can realise that the Miyas are not any different from them.”
BJP triggers salvo at the ‘Miyas’, Congress says CM needs to focus on ‘major issues’
The order from the administration came following the comments of Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma who said that everything on display belongs to Assamese people except the ‘lungi’.
Sarma said, “I don't understand what kind of museum is this. The plough which they have placed in the museum is used by Assamese people, even the items used for catching fish are also from the Assamese community. What's new about it? Everything kept there belongs to Assamese people except for 'lungi'. They must prove that the nangol (plough) is used only by Miya people and not others. Otherwise, a case will be registered.”
He also mentioned that the display items show the culture of the Assamese community as a whole and not of the ‘Miyas’ only. Significantly, Mohor Ali, the owner of the museum who later got detained by police also tried to communicate the same that the Assamese Muslims are as similar as any other people of the region.
In response to the CM’s comment while talking to Outlook, Saikia said, “there are several issues in Assam on which the Chief Minister may comment on. His statement amounts to provoking certain community. This is not right and the CM shouldn’t engage into such petty issues.”
He also added that the people are unnecessarily making an issue out of it. “We are working on different issues like the Assamese language in Public Service Commission, the problems over Lower Subansiri Hydroelectric Power Project and so on. These should be the major things to be concerned of,” he added.
Following Sarma’s statement BJP Minority Morcha member Abdur Rahim Gibran filed a complaint against the museum and subsequently it was sealed.
Earlier Proposal of Establishing ‘Miya’ Museum
The setting of a Miya Museum was first time proposed by former Congress MLA Sherman Ali Ahmed in 2020. Ahmed requested the director of museums to found it at Srimanta Sankardeva Kalakshetra for displaying the cultural attributes of the Assamese Muslim community.
Amidst the NRC controversy and the perception that all the Assamese Muslims are ‘outsider’, this museum was expected to be useful to showcase the culture and heritage of Bengali-speaking Muslims living in the riverine area of the state. Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma however rejected the proposal.