Call for a museum stoked controversy in Assam

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Posted in Assam

A proposal made by an MLA in Assam has recently stoked controversy in the state. While the MLA defended his stand in the name of preserving the culture and heritage of a particular community, politicians, intellectuals and common men have ridiculed it as a vested political interest. Northeast Today writes

On October 19, Congress MLA Sherman Ali Ahmed, who represents the Baghbar Assembly constituency in a letter written to the Director of Museums has sought an establishment of a museum reflecting the culture and heritage of the people living in the char-chaporis (river islands or sandbars) at the Srimanta Sankaradeva Kalakshetra, a centre in Guwahati showcasing the State’s cultural heritage.

Speaking to media, Ahmed said, “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.”

Soon enough his idea of establishing a museum for the “people of the Char-Chaporis” was put into the trash when State Health & Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma rejected the idea of setting it up in Kalakshetra.

“In my understanding, there is no separate identity and culture in Char Anchal of Assam as most of the people had migrated from Bangladesh. Obviously, in Srimanta Sankardeva Kalakshetra, which is the epitome of Assamese culture, we will not allow any distortion. Sorry MLA ‘sahab’,” said Sarma.

The cultural centre is named after Sankaradeva, a 15th-16th century saint-reformer who had propagated Vaishnavism across present-day Assam and beyond.

Congress Lok Sabha MP Abdul Khaleque reacted saying- “..ancestors of the people living in Char-Chapori areas had migrated from the erstwhile East Bengal, which was an integral part of undivided India. Kindly don’t distort history more just for the sake of getting power.”

The Char Chapori museum was recommended by the Departmentally Related Standing Committee (DRSC) on Education 2020-21in its 47th report on Art and Culture (Grant No 27) to expedite the museum. The committee in its minutes had stated to the Directorate of Museums that “one museum reflecting the culture and heritage of the people living in the Char-Chaporis of Assam shall be established at Shrimanta Sankardeva Kalakshetra, Guwahati.”

Ahmed also referred to the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Art and Culture presented to the 126-member Assembly on March 24.

Interestingly, Rajya Sabha member Ajit Kumar Bhuyan smelled something fishy in the entire episode of the proposal to establish a museum. Bhuyan disclosed on Twitter that the letter being recommended by DRSC is shocking as most of the members were from the BJP and its ruling coalition.

Bhuyan posted the pages of the Standing Committee’s recommendations on social media. The committee was headed by Asom Gana Parishad MLA Utpal Dutta and included six BJP legislators — Padma Hazarika, Manshing Rongpi, Utpal Borah, Ganesh Kumar Limbu, Binod Hazarika and Rupak Sarmah.

“The Char-Chapori museum was recommended by the committee whose majority members are from the BJP and its ruling coalition. Now, after passing a recommendation with support from majority members, the BJP is politicising the whole issue to garner political mileage,” Bhuyan said.

“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?” he asked.

Apart from a museum on the “people of the Char-Chaporis”, the committee had recommended the establishment of a separate museum on the Gurkha community in Assam.

The proposal stirred the hornet’s nest when Ahmed in his Facebook Post as well as while speaking to media used the word- “Miya Museum”. Henceforth, many alike Sarma has raised objection on MLA Ahmed’s intention of batting for a museum for a community, which has been considered as migrants from the erstwhile Bangladesh.

As Assam goes to polls next year, the row over the museum for the people of Char Chaporis or “Miya museum” has stirred a political debate.

While it has been claimed that MLA Ahmed’s proposal will give the BJP an opportunity to gain political mileage, opposition called it as a strategy of polarization.

Ahmed’s party has, however, expressed dissatisfaction over his raising the issue at this time and said he should have practised “restraint as a responsible politician”. The Assam Congress President in a written note asked the MLA to refrain from further making any statement or reaction. He further stated that “…it has given the BJP and RSS to make serious controversy by dragging the name of Congress Party.”

“Your such statement at this critical juncture on the eve of upcoming Assembly Election is totally unwanted. Therefore, you are hereby restrained not to make any further controversial statement from now onwards,” Bora added.

The word “Miya” (describes a Muslim Gentleman), an honorific term is used throughout the subcontinent, however, it changes its discourse in this part of the region, where it is used as a pejorative term to describe Bengali speaking Muslims. The non- Bengali population in the state generally identify them as Bangladeshi immigrants.

The issue of illegal migrants has been a long drawn one, that gave rise to the Assam Movement, which ultimately resulted in the Assam Accord. Srimanta Sankardeva Kalakshetra, was established under clause 6 of the historic Accord and committed to work for preservation, promotion and upliftment of culture of the people of Assam.

Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal reacting to the proposal of Miya Museum construction at Srimanta Sankardeva Kalakshetra said, “This is obvious that we will continue to work to keep the ideology of Srimanta Sankardeva alive with which Kalakshetra was established.”

The All Assam Students Union which has been the backbone of the Assam Movement, slamming the proposal for the museum accused that MLA Ahmed has raised the issue only to get votes and has rather communalized the issue for the sake of getting votes.





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