Local authorities in western Goalpara district in Assam sealed a Miya Museum on October 25, two days after it was inaugurated by an organisation representing migrant Muslims.
A team led by Lakhipur circle officer Rajib Gogoi evicted the items displayed at the museum at Dapkarbhita near Lakhipur town before sealing it. The reason cited was that it was a house built under the Prime Minister’s Awas Yojana-Grameen scheme but converted into a museum.
The local authorities swung into action soon after Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma reacted to the museum, which purportedly showcased items intrinsic to the lifestyle and culture of the Bengal or Bengali-origin Muslims.
Often viewed by the indigenous communities as “illegal immigrants” or “Bangladeshis”, this category of Muslims settled down in Assam since the late 1890s when they were brought by the British for commercial farming.
“Those who opened the Miya Museum without intimating the government what would be on display will be made answerable. We will investigate how they received the funds to set up and operate the museum,” Mr. Sarma told journalists.
The police later detained Mohar Ali of Goalpara and Abdul Baten of Dhubri in connection with the setting up of the museum. “Further investigation and interrogation would be carried out about their association with AQIS (Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent)/ABT (Ansarullah Bangla Team, a Bangladesh-based terror group),” Assam’s Special Director-General of Police, G.P. Singh said.
Soon after members of the Miya Parishad unveiled the museum on October 23, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders urged the government to pull it down. They said it was set up to intimidate the indigenous groups.
“A private museum on a sensitive issue will set a bad precedent,” Prasanta Phukan, the BJP’s legislator from eastern Assam’s Dibrugarh said. Former party legislator Shiladitya Dev called for stronger action against the people behind the museum.
Congress MLA from southern Assam’s Karimganj North constituency pegged the Miya Museum to renew his demand for a Bangla Museum for Bengali speakers at a suitable location. “There is a need to preserve the culture and identity of 80-90% of Bengalis who vote in Assam,” he said on October 24.
The idea of an exhibition hall on migrant Muslims stirred an intense debate in 2020 when former Congress MLA, Sherman Ali Ahmed sought a Miya Museum at Srimanta Sankaradeva Kalakshetra in Guwahati.
The Kalakshetra, popular with tourists, showcases the cultural heritage of various ethnic groups of Assam.
Mr. Ahmed had cited the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Art and Culture presented to the 126-member Assembly on March 24, 2020. The committee had proposed a Char-Chapori (sandbar or river island) Museum.
‘Miya’ is a pejorative term used primarily by the indigenous communities to mean Bengal or Bengali-origin Muslims who have settled down in Assam since the late 1890s, initially brought by the British for commercial farming.
Academics, professionals and writers within the community had a few years ago undertaken a project to reclaim the word for what it means in the true sense – ‘sir’ or ‘gentleman’.