Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has hit out at a Congress MLA's proposal to have a museum in Guwahati to highlight the culture and heritage of the people who live in the "char-chaporis" - the northeastern state's riverine islands.
The population on these islands is dominated by people from "Miya" community - the name given to Bengali-speaking Muslims in the state, who are often tagged as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
"In my understanding there is no separate identity or culture in char anchal of Assam as most people had migrated from Bangladesh. Obviously in Srimanta Sankaradeva Kalakshetra (a cultural institution that documents the culture of communities in the state) we cannot allow any distortion. Sorry, MLA saheb," Mr Sarma tweeted.
Earlier, Sherman Ali Ahmed - a Congress MLA from the Baghbar constituency - had written to Assam's Director of Museums to suggest a museum to preserve the culture of the "char-chaporis".
"I would like to inform you that one museum reflecting the culture and heritage of the people living in char-chaporis of Assam, in the premises of Srimanta Sankar Dev Kalaksthera in Guwahati, was recommended by DRSC (departmentally-related standing committee) on Education... " he wrote.
"As the people in char areas are mostly referred to as 'Miya' I have proposed to the government to establish a museum (for) them. The museum should be established at Sankardev Kalakshetra and will highlight and reflect the culture and heritage of the Miya people," Mr Ahmed later told reporters.
Assam has an estimated 64 lakh Bengali Muslim population. The total Muslim population in the state is around 1 crore.
The "char" referred to by both Mr Ahmed and Mr Sarma are riverine islands that dot the Brahmaputra river and its tributaries. These islands and islets are found mostly in Lower and Western Assam, where Bengali-speaking Muslims are often the "majority" community in terms of population.
Sorry Sir @himantabiswa . Ancestors of these people were migrated from erstwhile Bengal, which was integral part of undivided India. Kindly don't distort history more just sake of getting power. https://t.co/vFSlmDON8G— Abdul Khaleque (@MPAbdulKhaleque) October 24, 2020
Overall, an estimated 25 lakh people live in chars.
In the 2016 Assembly polls the BJP rode to power on an aggressive campaign that promised to protect the land, community an heritage of Assam's "indigenous" people from what the party called "expansion of illegal migrants from Bangladesh".
Assam returns to polling booths next year, with Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal's BJP government looking to retain power.
Following Mr Sarma shooting down the "Miya" museum proposal, Congress MP Abdul Khaleque hit out at the BJP's go-to man in the northeast.
Sorry sir (Himanta Biswa Sarma)… Ancestors of these people were migrated from erstwhile Bengal, which was integral part of undivided India. Kindly don't distort history more just (for the) sake of getting power," Mr Khaleque said.