A museum showcasing the culture of ‘Miya Muslims’ in Assam’s Goalpara district was sealed on October 25 by local authorities, two days after it was inaugurated by the Asom-Miyan (Asomiya) Parishad.
This came shortly after Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma reacted sharply to the museum and its contents. Local BJP leaders objected to the museum and demanded that it be shut down. The biggest objection to the museum was that it was set up in a home alloted to Mohar Ali, president of the Parishad, under the Prime Minister Awas Yojna.
Ali, along with the parishad’s general secretary Abdul Baten and an erstwhile Aam Aadmi party convenor Tanu Dhadhumia were arrested by the police under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
Special Director General of Assam Police G P Singh took to Twitter to say the three were charged with waging or attempting to wage war against India under Sections 120 (B), 121, 121(A), 122 of the IPC, read together with Sections 10/13 of the UAPA. According to senior police officials the trio are being investigated and interrogated for their alleged association with the militant outfits Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and Ansarul Bangla Team (ABT).
Who Are Mohar Ali, Abdul Baten and Tanu Dhadhumia?
The house where the museum was set up was allocated to Ali in 2018. A Master of Arts degree holder, Ali was a high school teacher at Dhumerghat Higher Secondary School until he was suspended in September this year for being involved in activism.
Ali along with his two minor sons had sat on dharna to protest the shutting down of the museum when he was arrested. It has been reported that he spent Rs 7000 to set up the museum.
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.Mohar Ali to PTI
Baten is the general secretary of the Parishad and a retired teacher who taught at Dhubri’s BN college. A source close to the trio, on the condition of anonymity said that Baten has been a floating politician who has always associated himself with the cause of Miya Muslims and parties that aligned with it. In simpler terms, he has associated himself with non-BJP parties from time to time.
The source mentioned that both Ali and Baten have shared a professional relationship with CM Sarma. According to the source, the duo had supported Sarma during his Congress days, but have now distanced themselves from him since he joined the BJP.
Meanwhile erstwhile AAP convenor Dhadhumia inaugurated the museum. He is a professor at Naharkatia Junior College who was removed from AAP because he allegedly failed to fulfill the duties assigned to him. He is also Ahom Royal Society member.
Miya Muslims – A Political Issue
Muslims in Assam account for 34 percent of the state’s population. And a significant number of them originate from Bengal and speak Bengali.
These Bengali-speaking Muslims, or ‘Miya Muslims’ were brought to Assam from both East and West Bengal during the British era for labour work. With time, they settled along the banks of the Brahmaputra and its tributaries.
An important point to note here is that ‘Miya Muslims’ and Assam’s indigenous Muslims have never shared a very friendly relationship as the former have tended to see them as ‘outsiders’.
After having consolidated a dominant chunk of the Hindu votes in the state, the BJP, particularly CM Sarma has been trying to exploit the difference between Miya Muslims and indigenous Muslims. The BJP and its allies are said to consider Miya Muslims a ‘threat’ to the culture and identity of indigenous Muslims. The BJP has always termed them as ‘Bangladeshis’.
Recent examples of the same can be seen in CM Sarma’s comments where he said that the items displayed in the museum are not exclusive to ‘Miyas’. He further added, “It is time for the Assamese people or people of Indian origin to think.”
He further questioned the funding behind the museum and implored that it be investigated.
Previously when Congress MLA Sherman Ali had proposed the idea of a Miya Museum at Srimanta Sankaradeva Kalakshetra, Sarma had opposed it saying that people living in the
‘charlands’ of the state could not claim a distinct culture as they were migrants from Bangladesh.
In 2019, Sarma even attacked Miya poetry claiming that such poetry can cause communal distrubance. An FIR was filed against 10 poets of the community. He further claimed that the poetry called Assamese people ‘xenophobic’.