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‘The Miyas of Assam, and their char-chapori culture’

  • Category
    Art and culture
  • Published
    10th Nov, 2020

Months ahead of the Assembly elections, a proposed “Miya museum” reflecting the “culture and heritage of the people living in char-chaporis” has stirred up a controversy in Assam.

Context

Months ahead of the Assembly elections, a proposed “Miya museum” reflecting the “culture and heritage of the people living in char-chaporis” has stirred up a controversy in Assam.

About

Who are the Miyas?

  • The ‘Miya’ community comprises descendants of Muslim migrants from East Bengal (now Bangladesh) to Assam.
  • They came to be referred to as ‘Miyas’, often in a derogatory manner.
  • The community migrated in several waves — starting with the British annexation of Assam in 1826, and continuing into Partition and the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War — and have resulted in changes in demographic composition of the region.
  • Years of discontent among the indigenous people led to the six-year-long (1979-85) anti-foreigner Assam Agitation to weed out the “illegal immigrant”, who was perceived as trying to take over jobs, language and culture of the indigenous population.

The Controversy

  • The proposed museum reflecting the culture of 'Char-Chapori' people in the Srimanta Sankaradeva Kalakshetra premises in Guwahati has led to the controversy.
  • The Srimanta Sankaradeva Kalakshetra - where the 'Char-Charpori' museum is proposed -  is a cultural institution named after the saint scholar, social-religious reformer Srimanta Sankardeva  - a Vaishanavite, adding a religious clash to the controversy.
  • Moreover, the complex was set up under Clause 6 of the Assam Accord, signed in 1985, to 'preserve and promote the cultural heritage of the people of Assam', after the bloody anti-foreigners agitation in Assam.

What are char-chaporis?

  • ‘Char’ in Assamese means sandbar while ‘chapori’ is flood-prone riverbank. These areas are associated with migrant Muslims of Bengali origin who are viewed as ‘Bangladeshis’.
  • The Char-Chapori area denotes the riverine area of lower and central Assam which mainly comprises of Bengali Muslims.
  • They are used interchangeably or with a hyphen. They keep changing shapes — a char can become a chapori, or vice versa, depending on the push and pull of the Brahmaputra.
  • Prone to floods and erosion, these areas are marked by low development indices. 80% of the Char population lives below poverty line.
  • A UNDP Assam Human Development report (2014) describes the char areas as suffering from “communication deficits, lack of adequate schooling facilities beyond primary, girl child marriage, poverty and illiteracy”.
  • While Bengali-origin Muslims primarily occupy these islands, other communities such as Misings, Deoris, Kocharis, Nepalis also live here.
  • In popular imagination, however, chars have become synonymous to the Bengali-speaking Muslims of dubious nationality. 
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