‘Miya’ Museum: The controversy around Assam’s ‘Muslim’ museum ( BBC )

A small private museum in Assam has become a political flashpoint

Mohiton Bibi has been waiting for days for her son to return from jail.

Mohar Ali was arrested a month ago after he opened a small museum in his house in a hamlet in Goalpara district in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam. The museum, he said, was dedicated to the culture of ‘Miyas’ – Bengali-speaking Muslims in the state.

Mr Ali, who is the leader of a local political party, spent around 7,000 rupees ($86; £71) to set up the place, which mainly displayed some agricultural tools and garments.

But two days later, local authorities shut the museum down. They also sealed Mr Ali’s home, alleging that he had wrongly used the house – which was allotted to him under a government scheme – for commercial purposes.

The police also arrested Mr Ali and two others who had helped set up the museum.

They have said that the case against them was not connected to the museum and was instead due to their alleged links to two terror groups. The three men, who have been charged under a draconian anti-terrorism law that makes it almost impossible to get bail, have denied the accusation.

The arrests have shocked Assam’s Bengali-speaking Muslim community, who say they are bewildered.

“What exactly is his crime?” Mr Ali’s mother asks, her eyes welling up.

Critics say the arrests are the latest in a long line of attempts to marginalise the community in Assam, a complex and multi-ethnic state where linguistic identity and citizenship are the biggest political fault lines.

The state – residents include Bengali and Assamese-speaking Hindus, a medley of tribespeople and Muslims – has seen an anti-immigration movement against “outsiders” from neighbouring Bangladesh for decades. Bengali-speaking Muslims, in particular, have often been accused of being undocumented immigrants.

Since coming to power in 2016, the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has rallied its vote base of Hindus and tribal communities by announcing policies that critics say are discriminatory towards Muslims. Several politicians, including current chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, have also targeted them in speeches.

After returning to power in 2021, the BJP government forcibly evicted thousands of people in a controversial drive against illegal encroachments – most of those affected were Bengali-speaking Muslims. Earlier this year, the government also approved the classification of five Muslim groups as “indigenous Assamese” communities, raising fears of further marginalisation of others.

“Muslims of Bengali origin have become a soft target of politics,” says Dr Hafiz Ahmed, a scholar who works with the community.

“The idea is to show to the majority [population] that Miya people are not a part of the Assamese society – they are enemies.”

This story was originally published in bbc.com . Read the full story here

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