The Miya community have been living in the riverine or the char areas (sand bars) of the river Brahmaputra.
Guwahati - Just two days after it opened, a private museum set up by an organisation to showcase the culture and heritage of 'Miyas' — descendants of Muslim migrants from East Bengal (now Bangladesh) in Assam — was sealed by the government.
Soon after, three people were arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). The chief minister of the state has called for a probe into the organisation's funding. Meanwhile, the police is trying to find out if the people who set up the museum had links with terrorist outfits like Ansarullah Bangla Team and Al-Qaeda.
The 'Miya' museum, located in Assam's Goalpara district's Dapkabhita area, about 100 kms away from the capital city of Guwahati, opened to the public on Sunday. It had been in the making for a while.
Set up in a house allotted under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY), the 'Miya' museum was sealed by the Goalpara district administration on Tuesday. And now it has taken the centre stage in Assam politics as it has stroked on a sensitive issue — the infiltration from Bangladesh.
Why Has The Miya Museum Been Sealed?
While the district administration say that by setting up the museum at a house constructed under the PMAY scheme was a violation of law, the state police on Wednesday arrested three persons involved in setting up the museum. They are a part of the Asom-Miyan (Asomiya) Parishad.
The police say they have been arrested for their alleged terror links with Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), the Bangladesh wing of Al Qaeda, module operating in the state.
In the last couple of months, the state police say they have busted multiple modules of ABT and arrested over 45 people for allegedly having "nexus with the Al-Qaeda module and radicalising youths of the state into jihad". The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has also been probing a few of the cases.
Why Was The Miya Museum Set Up?
For the Asom-Miyan (Asomiya) Parishad which had set up the museum, the controversy around the museum is nothing but merely a political one. According to the organisation, the museum was a result of decade-long research and was opened for educational purposes only.
Miya Giyasuddin Hazarika, chief advisor of the Parishad told BOOM, "Since the inception of the Parishad in 1994, we have worked for the upliftment of the 'Miya' people and the museum was proposed to display the communities' identity and cultural heritage which has strong linkage with the greater Assamese community."
Miya, an Urdu syllable, though primarily used for addressing a respected person, is used to refer to minority Bengali Muslim people in the state who had migrated from the Mymensingh region of current Bangladesh and settled in Assam before independence. The word 'Miya' has often been used in a derogatory manner, for Bangladeshi refugees who cross the border into Assam.
Hazarika who is also the founding president of the Parishad added, "It's very unfortunate how the entire thing was politicalised. The Parishad has been against Bangladeshi influx and the people from Miya community were also a part of the historic Assam movement in the 1980s when the entire state stood against illegal infiltrators from Bangladesh."
He said that it is unfortunate that the Miya term has been used to demonise the minority community living in the state and branding them as Bangladeshi migrants.
According to Hazarika, out of Assam's total Muslim population of around 1.3 crore, the Miya community alone has around 80 lakh population. The socially and economically underprivileged community have been living in the riverine or the char areas (sand bars) of the river Brahmaputra.
The Miya museum had a display of various items- most of them were agricultural tools like plough vector, fishing tools, hook knife etc. Many of these items were identical to those being used by farmers from indigenous communities of the state.
What Is Assam's Problem With Miyas?
"Everything kept there belong to Assamese people except for 'lungi'. They must prove that the nangol (tradition vector plough) is used only by Miya people and not others. Otherwise, a case will be registered," said Assam's chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, the day after the museum was sealed.
"Is Miya a community?" the chief minister asked adding that it's just a term used to greet a section of people.
"We have received complaints that the museum also had displayed a traditional 'Desi gamosa' (traditional towel or scarf used by indigenous muslim community of Assam) as a part of Miya culture. There is no objection in opening a museum but how come they (Miya) steal our traditional items and project them as theirs?" he asked.
Sarma said that such activities by some members of the Miya community posed a threat to the "Assamese identity". Those who have set up the museum will have to answer to an expert committee on what basis they have claimed our traditional items as theirs, he added.
Who Are The Miyas Of Assam?
"It needs to be understood that Miya community is not an outsider," Giyasuddin Hazarika, chief advisor of the organisation that had set up the museum.
"A large number of students from our community study in Assamese medium schools. All these agricultural tools belong to the farming community and Miya is also a farming community like the Assamese. We are not a threat but an integral part of the greater Assamese community," he said.
The community has migrated to Assam in several waves — starting with the British annexation of Assam in 1826, and continuing into Partition and the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. The Miyas, often been stereotyped as "Bangladeshi", have been accused of changing the demography of Assam.
Who Floated The Idea of Miya Museum?
The controversy isn't new.
The idea of setting up Miya museum or a museum displaying the culture and tradition of people living in the char areas got its first political push when the then Congress leader and Baghbar MLA Sherman Ali Ahmed made an official demand for its establishment in 2020 during an Assembly session.
He was later suspended by the Congress for allegedly hurting the sentiments of Assamese people.
In October 2020, in a letter to the state government, Ahmed had requested for opening a 'Miya' museum in the premises of Srimanta Sankardeva Kalakshetra, a cultural centre located in Guwahati.
Himanta Biswa Sarma who was the finance minister in the Sarbananda Sonowal led BJP government in the state then had rejected the proposal saying that it would distort the epitome of Assamese culture.
Who Have Been Arrested?
The Assam police say they have arrested people- but it's got nothing to do with the musem. However, they are probing if the museum has connections with terror outfits.
The police have arrested the president of Asom-Miyan (Asomiya) Parishad, Mahar Ali; vice president Abdul Baten and advisor Tanu Kumar Dhadumiya from Goalpara, Dhubri and Dibrugarh respectively in connection to a previous case registered with Nalbari police related to "Jihadi modules in the state".
Nalbari police said that the trio was being investigated for having close link with Bangladesh terror outfit ABT. They suspect that the trio received funds from the terror group to radicalise youths in the state.
In Ghograpar PS Case No.163/22, U/S- 120B/121/121A/122 IPC, R/W Sec-10/13 UA(P) Act, following have been arrested and taken on 2 days Police remand.— GP Singh (@gpsinghips) October 26, 2022
3.Tanu Kumar Dhadumiya,@assampolice @CMOfficeAssam pic.twitter.com/C84v1ZgSsI
Mahar Ali and Abdul Baten are teachers; Dhadumiya was a leader of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Assam. Following the arrest, Dhadumiya who was the coordinator of the party in Namrup of Dibrugarh was removed from his post. AAP, however, said that he was removed for his inactiveness in the party.
"All of them were arrested in connection to a previous case registered with Ghograpar police in the district and were slapped with charges of criminal conspiracy, waging or attempting to wage war against the state, collecting arms under IPC and various sections under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The trio was sent for a two day long police remand," said Assam police in a statement.
Police have also arrested two others identified as Sadeq Ali and Jekibul Ali in the same case.
However, their involvement in the case is yet to be disclosed by the police.
Perfume baron Badruddin Ajmal led All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) party has criticised the chief minister for paying too much heed to the controversy. The party's general secretary and MLA Rafiqul Islam said, "The CM should discuss economy and health issues rather than Miya museum."
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