Museum bother for Assam’s BJP authorities

Shubhadeep Choudhury

Tribune News Service

Kolkata, October 31

As if the proposal by Congress MLA Sherman Ali Ahmed for a museum dedicated to the immigrant Muslim community in Sankardev Kalakshetra is not enough, the BJP government in Assam has been saddled with a fresh request by a Bengali Congress MLA to have a museum on the Bengalis in the institution named after the medieval scholar-reformer.

Kamalakhya Dey Purkayastha, Congress MLA from Karimganj (located in Assam’s Bengali-speaking Barak Valley area), has written to Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal for setting up a “Bengali Museum” in Sankardev Kalakshetra.

In his letter dated October 30, Purkayastha wrote that Bengalis were an integral part of the composite culture of Assam. Stating that the Bengalis, the second-largest group in the state and form 30 per cent of its people, Purkayastha urged the Chief Minister to set up a Bengali Museum to preserve their art, culture and heritage.

The state government is yet to respond to Purkayastha’s letter. Conceding to the Bengali MLA’s proposal is certain to make the BJP government in the state terribly unpopular among the Assamese.

Congress MLA Sherman Ali Ahmed’s proposal for a museum dedicated to the “Miyas” (Muslim settlers from eastern Bengal who came to Assam before the partition are called “Miyas” in Assam) at Sankardev Kalakshetrsa was summarily rejected by the state’s high-profile finance, health and education minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. This was despite the fact that the state assembly’s Departmentally Related Standing Committee (DRSC) on Education had made a recommendation for such a museum.

Hafiz Ahmed, founder president of Char Chapori Sahitya Parishad, a cultural body of the “Miya” community, is of the view that dealing with the Bengali museum proposal would require tact from the state government since the Bengali Hindus vote for the BJP in a big way.

In an article published in the popular Assamese daily “Asomiya Pratidin” on October 30, Ahmed reminded the readers about the crucial role played by the immigrant Muslims to ensure that the Assamese speakers emerged as the largest group of people in the state.

Ahmed dug out the story of the 1951 census (first census of independent India) when immigrant Bengali Muslim community got themselves enrolled as Assamese speakers, thus pushing the percentage of Assamese speaking people in the state to 56.7 per cent from 31.4 per cent.

Arijit Choudhury, a Kolkata-based researcher who follows political development in Assam, told the Tribune that if the immigrant Muslims stuck to their Bengali linguistic identity in 1951, it might not have been possible for the Assamese speakers to secure the tag of majority.

“In the 1931 census, Bengalis had outnumbered the Assamese in Assam. There was no census in 1941 due to the war. However, it must also be added that the Bengali-speaking Sylhet district was part of Assam in 1931,” Choudhury said.

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