Explained: Why Assam’s ‘Miya Museum’ Portends A Dangerous Trend Of Minority Aggression In State

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Oct 26, 2022 02:04 PM +05:30 IST
Explained: Why Assam’s ‘Miya Museum’ Portends A Dangerous Trend Of Minority Aggression In StateAssam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma
Snapshot
  • Miyas have, due to their origins, lifestyle, practise and alien nature, failed to integrate well into Assamese society.

    But with an exponential increase in their numbers there have been sustained efforts to assert themselves as indigenous people of Assam.

People of Assam received another rude wake-up call on Sunday (23 October) with the news that a museum dedicated to miyas—Muslims of Bangladeshi origin—was inaugurated in lower Assam’s Goalpara district. 

The ‘Miya Museum’ ostensibly showcased agricultural implements and other artifacts—including cultural ones—that, claimed its founders, were unique to the migrant Muslim community in the state.

But, as Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma rightly claimed, the miyas do not hold exclusive rights over any of the articles displayed in the museum. “Only the lungi displayed at the museum is unique to the migrant Muslim community,” said Sarma. 

The lungi (a piece of cloth, usually in check patterns) distinguishes migrant Bangladesh-origin Muslims from Assam’s indigenous Muslims who abhor being associated with their co-religionists from across the international border. 

After Chief Minister Sarma’s statement, district authorities moved quickly and sealed the ‘museum’ and slapped cases against Mohar Ali, a suspended government school teacher in whose house the museum had been set up. 

The district authorities have also confiscated all articles that were displayed in the museum.

“We are constituting a team comprising experts to probe the claims that the articles displayed at the museum belong exclusively to the migrant Muslim community. If the claims turn out to be false, cases will be registered against those associated with the museum,” a senior district officer told Swarajya

But all that aside, the setting up of this museum by the migrant Muslim community under the banner of the Asom Miya Parishad (AMP) must be seen as a bold and dangerous attempt by the miyas of the state to inveigle themselves as integral part of the state’s polity. 

The miyas, who now constitute roughly 30 per cent of Assam’s population—the indigenous Muslims form another 11 per cent of the state’s population—are in a majority in 12 of the state’s 35 districts. 

But the miyas have, due to their origins, alien nature and lifestyle, practise of a radical version of Islam and their failure to integrate well into Assamese society, never been accepted as bonafide citizens of the state. 

The miyas have always been considered unwelcome ‘foreigners’ and Assam has witnessed a violent and widespread agitation from late 1970 to mid-1980 against their presence.

The issue of illegal immigration from Bangladesh, and the fear of being swamped by miyas and being reduced to a minority in their own homeland, continues to remain a volatile one in Assam. 

But with an exponential increase in their numbers, the miyas have become politically and socially assertive. There have been sustained efforts by the community to assert themselves as indigenous people of Assam. 

Till now, these attempts have remained largely confined to obtaining citizenship documents on the basis of false claims and fraudulent documents.

But even though nearly all of them have obtained Indian citizenship (mostly by fraud), they still face social and cultural segregation and are not considered to be ‘Assamese’ by mainstream Assamese society. 

Hence—the new project to forcibly proclaim themselves as an integral part of Assam’s cultural and social landscape. And the miya museum is one such major project. 

Much to the chagrin of the Assamese, the AMP displayed even items of everyday use by Assam’s indigenous communities in the miya museum, claiming to be part of miya culture. 

What really outraged the indigenous Assamese was the display of a gamosaa multipurpose hand woven piece of cloth that is a prominent cultural marker of the state—in the miya museum.

The traditional motifs of the gamosa had been mischievously modified a bit with Islamic motifs. 

“That was a blatant, bold but shameless and terrible attempt to appropriate our most prominent cultural symbol. It is highly condemnable and totally unacceptable. The miyas do not have anything even vaguely resembling a gamosa to call their own and this attempt to appropriate something that is not theirs need to be punished very severely,” said Assamese writer Kanok Phukan. 

In 2020, controversial Congress legislator Sherman Ali Ahmed demanded a miya gallery to showcase the culture of the migrant Muslim community at Guwahati’s Srimanta Sankardev Kalakshetra, that is a grand exposition of the life and cultures of the indigenous people of Assam. 

Ahmed’s demand had evoked widespread and intense outcry in the state. And Chief Minister Sarma, apart from a galaxy of prominent personas from literary, cultural, political and professional fields in Assam had condemned the demand. 

But the setting up of the ‘Miya Museum’ in Dapkarbhita village (which is dominated by miyas) at Lakhipur in Goalpara district proves that the Bangladesh-origin Muslims of the state are unfazed by protests and condemnations of their attempts to assert themselves as an indigenous community of the state. 

“This attempt, though reprehensible, is understandable from the point of view of the miyas. They (the miyas) do not want to be considered as the aliens that they really are. Due to confidence emanating from their numbers, they now want to (falsely) claim that they are as much a part of Assam as any other community,” political analyst Dhrubajyoti Talukdar told Swarajya over phone from Guwahati. 

This false assertion about their indigeneity is integral to the larger goal of the miyas to ultimately capture political power in Assam.

And this goal, in turn, is driven by Islamists who dream of turning Assam and Bengal into Muslim-majority provinces as part of their grand Ghazwa-e-Hind project (read this). 

The ‘Miya Museum’ project is, thus, not an innocuous or isolated one. It is part of a sinister plan to Islamise parts of India and needs to be looked at, and countered, as such.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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