Assam: 'Miya' Museum Sealed, Three Persons Arrested Under Anti-Terror Law

Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had earlier criticised the Museum, saying cultural artifacts being displayed represented Assamese identity as a whole and not that of the state's Bengali-speaking Muslim community.

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New Delhi: Two days after it was inaugurated, a ‘Miya Museum’ in Assam’s Goalpara district was sealed on Tuesday, October 25, reportedly on the orders of the deputy commissioner, and the owner of the museum was taken into custody.

The museum was set up by Mohor Ali, president of the All Assam Miya Parishad, in a home which had been allotted to him under the Prime Minister Awas Yojna (PMAY). However, soon after it was inaugurated, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders from the state reportedly took objection to it and demanded it be shut down, according to news agency PTI.

By the end of evening of October 26, the police said it had arrested Mohor Ali, Abdul Baten Sheikh, who is general secretary of the Miya Parishad, and former Aam Aadmi Party leader and Ahom Royal Society member Tanu Kumar  Dhadumia (who inaugurated the museum) under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including conspiracy to wage war againt the Indian state


The police told PTI that the cases are not connected with the museum – they claim it is because of their alleged association with the Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and Ansarul Bangla Team – but the timing of the arrests suggests the government’s opposition to the museum was indeed the trigger.

‘Miya’ is a pejorative term used to refer to Bengali-origin Muslims in the northeastern state, who are often juxtaposed with the ‘sons of the soil’ in Assam and targeted. 2019’s National Register of Citizens (NRC), which sets the ‘cut-off’ year for Assamese citizenship at 1971 (the year Bangladesh got independence) is one example of how this community has been targeted.

Miya activists have embraced this term as an act of defiance.

Also read: Detention, Criminalisation, Statelessness: The Aftermath of Assam’s NRC

Abdur Rahim Gibran, a member of the BJP Minority Morcha, reportedly filed a complaint against the museum being set up inside a PMAY house. Thereafter, a team of state government officials sealed Ali’s home and put up a notice saying that the move was taken on orders from the deputy commissioner, Goalpara.

After the home was sealed, Ali and his two sons sat on dharna outside their home, demanding that it be reopened immediately. 

“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,” PTI quoted Ali as saying.

Soon after, however, Ali was taken into custody along with Abdul Baten. According to a report in NDTV, Ali and Baten were arrested in connection with an existing case filed at the Nalbari police station alleging links to the ABT, an Al Qaeda affiliate. Around 40 people from Assam have reportedly been arrested for having links to this outfit since April.

Chief minister agrees with sealing

The museum set by Ali housed a number of items which were claimed to represent the culture of the ‘Miya’ community. These included langols (ploughs), fishing implements, pitha (rice cake), lungi (a type of sarong worn by men), gamsa (a scarf) and so on.

However, before the sealing of the museum and Ali’s arrest on Sunday, Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had made some strong remarks against the museum, saying that the items displayed were not exclusive to the ‘Miya’ community and represented Assamese culture as a whole.

“How can they claim that the plough is their identity? It has been used by all farmers in the state for ages. It is only the lungi that they can claim as their own,” Sarma had said on Sunday. “Those who have set up the museum will have to answer to an expert committee on what basis the claims were made.”

The NDTV report also said that Sarma questioned the funding behind the museum, saying the police will investigate where the funds came from.

“It is time for the Assamese people or people of Indian origin to think. There will be a case in this regard,” NDTV quoted the chief minister as saying.

In his remarks, Sarma is contrasting Assam’s Bengali-speaking Muslim population to ‘Assamese people’ and ‘people of Indian origin’ so as to imply that the ‘Miyas’ are not Indian; a familiar claim of the Hindutva right in the northeastern state. 

According to PTI, Congress MLA Sherman Ali Ahmed was the first to have proposed the setting up of a Miya museum in 2020 at the Srimanta Sankardeva Kalakshetra. This demand, however, had been rejected by Sarma.

(With PTI inputs)

Note: The story was updated and republished at 0100 on October 27 to note the arrests under UAPA.