The Goalpara district administration in Assam on Tuesday afternoon sealed the house of a suspended schoolteacher for setting up a museum showcasing the culture of the “Miya” community or Bengali Muslims living in the state.
Around 6.30pm, Mahar Ali, the suspended teacher and president of the Asom Miya Asomiya Parishad since 2020, was detained by the police in connection with a terror-links case.
The Goalpara district rural development agency had on Monday issued a showcause notice to Ali. It asked him to “immediately” explain why he had used his Prime Minister Awas Yojana-Gramin house for a purpose other than the one (residential) for which it was allotted to him in 2017, an official told The Telegraph.
“Miya” is a colloquial term for Bengali Muslims, who live mostly on the chars or sandbanks in the Brahmaputra. Many members of the mainstream or indigenous Assamese communities see them as immigrants from erstwhile East Pakistan whose “influx” poses a “threat” to Assamese culture and identity.
Before he was detained, Ali had said he slept at the museum in Dapkarvita village — apparently the first of its kind in the state and inaugurated on October 23 — but worked out of his in-laws’ house, located nearby, during the daytime.
“PMAY houses are allotted to homeless people but he has set up a museum in contravention of government rules,” the official said.
He said a circle officer and an executive magistrate had sealed the house. “We informed him in advance to clear his belongings.”
A couple of hours before the sealing, chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had in Guwahati said that those behind the museum must prove that the exhibits were used exclusively by Miya people. “They will be answerable to the government,” Sarma had said.
Around 9pm, special DGP (law and order) G.P. Singh tweeted that Ali and Abdul Baten (Dhubri district) had been “detained in connection” with a case relating to two terror outfits: the Bangladesh-based Ansarullah Bangla Team and the Al Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent.
Ali, a teacher at a government school, was suspended in September for criticising the state government over the demolition of a madrasa in the district.
Senior BJP leader Rupam Goswami had demanded the museum’s closure, saying the exhibits were used by the “entire” Assamese community.
There was no resistance to the sealing of the house in the Muslim-majority village, about 150km from Guwahati.
Suspended Congress MLA Sherman Ali Ahmed had in 2020 proposed a “Miya museum” at the Srimanta Sankardeva Kalakshetra, a cultural complex in Guwahati. The chief minister had rejected the idea saying the community had “migrated” from Bangladesh and that he would “not allow any distortion” of Assamese culture.
Infiltration, a sensitive issue in the state, had triggered the six-year Assam agitation from 1979.
Muslims make up over 34 per cent of Assam’s 3.2 crore people and play a significant role in about 35 of the state’s 126 Assembly seats.
Mahar Ali had said before his detention: “We too are part of the greater Assamese society. Not all Muslims have come from Bangladesh.”
He had added: “Many people came to the October 23 inauguration (of the museum). We had informed the administration about the museum on October 17.”
Ali had said he would request the chief minister and the administration to allot him a plot to set up the museum.