A proposal for a museum showcasing the culture and heritage of Miya Muslims in Assam's Guwahati has caused political ripples across the state.
The "Miya Museum" was proposed by a Congress MLA from the state on 18 October, which was later passed by a 16-member government panel, including six BJP MLAs. However, it was readily rejected by Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.
Congress MLA from the Baghbar Assembly constituency, Sherman Ali Ahmed, wrote to the Director of Museums, on 18 October, seeking to establish a museum at the Srimanta Sankaradeva Kalakshetra in Guwahati, a centre that showcases the state's cultural heritage.
Ahmed sought that the museum represent the culture and heritage of the people in the char chapori (the river islands or sandbars) region.
"As the people living in char areas are mostly referred to as Miya, I have proposed to the government to establish a museum that would highlight and reflect the culture and heritage of the Miya people,” Ahmed said in the letter, reports The Hindu.
He also referred to the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Art and Culture presented to the 126-member Assam Assembly on 24 March.
"I would like to inform you that one museum reflecting the culture and heritage of the people living in char-chaporis of Assam, in the premises of Srimanta Sankar Dev Kalaksthera in Guwahati, was recommended by DRSC (departmentally-related standing committee) on Education... " he wrote.
Assam's Health Minister and BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma was quick to reject the idea, stating that there was no separate culture for the people of char chapori.
“In my understanding, there is no separate identity and culture in the char areas of Assam as most of the people there had migrated from Bangladesh. In the Kalakshetra, which is the epitome of Assamese culture, we will not allow any distortion", Sarma said.
The char chapori region has a population of approximately 25 lakh people. The riverine islands dot the Brahmaputra river and its tributaries along lower and western Assam.
In large parts of this region, Bengali Muslims form the majority community.
Proposal Cleared By Committee, Including Six BJP MLAs
Responding to Sarma, independent Rajya Sabha member Ajit Kumar Bhuyan pointed out, in a Twitter post, that a 16-member panel, which included six MLAs of the BJP, had already approved the proposal.
"The Char-Chapori museum was recommended by DRSC whose majority members are from the BJP and its ruling coalition. Now, after passing a recommendation with support from majority members, BJP is politicising the whole issue to garner political mileage. What a shame!", said Bhuyan.
The DRSC is by Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) MLA Utpal Dutta and includes six BJP legislators — Padma Hazarika, Manshing Rongpi, Utpal Borah, Ganesh Kumar Limbu, Binod Hazarika and Rupak Sarmah.
AGP is a member of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
“Will the members of the committee disclose on what basis was a museum on Char-Chapori proposed in the Kalakshetra premises? Will the MLAs from the ruling coalition answer why they supported the recommendation in the first place?", Bhuyan futher asked.
Apart from the Char Chapori Museum, the DRSC had also proposed the establishment of a Gurkha Museum.
Assam goes to polls next year with Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal's BJP government looking to return to power.
(With inputs from The Hindu and NDTV)
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