In September — the 30-year-old Dhubri District Museum that’s located in the western tip of Assam — acquired 200 objects from members of the region’s Lakhipur Mechpara Zamindar family. Among the objects were a rare sword, an elephant’s tusk, and an assortment of religious artefacts, all part of a donation worth several crores.
For the newly-appointed District Museum Officer, 29-year-old Mrinmoy Das, the immediate reaction was one of concern. “I was worried about the lack of security. And of course, the space,” he says.
Ever since it was first established in 1988 in Dhubri town, the museum — with its collection of 1,000 objects — has been on a quest for a permanent home. In the first 15 years of its existence, the museum went through two rented houses, before finally occupying a small (80X50 feet) hall in the Dhubri District Library building in 2003. It’s still the museum’s home.
“This hall serves as the museum, the office, the storage room …everything,” explains Das, “In fact, I believe, during previous elections, the objects were stacked away, and the room was converted into a polling booth.” Das took over as Museum Officer in May, a post that was vacant for four years before he assumed the role.
In 2010, the District Level Land Advisory Board granted the museum a portion (one katha ten lechas) of L-shaped property in an adjacent khas (government-owned fallow property) land. However, members of a colonial-era ladies’ club that occupied an Assam-type cottage (which is also of interest to many historians, who believe it might actually be an Armenian Church) in the same premises filed a writ petition contesting the allotment.
Eight years of legal battle ensued, and in August 2018, the museum finally received some good news: the designated bit of land was rightfully theirs to claim, “without interfering against the peaceful possession by members of the Ladies Club”, that would continue to function out of the cottage.
However, four months after the judgment, there has been no progress. “We are looking to build a designated building for the museum. We have enough land for it, but while there is an order, we do not have approval to move ahead yet,” says Das.
The historically-significant Dhubri town is the headquarters of the Dhubri district — which borders Bangladesh — and was identified as one of the 16 “sensitive” zones during the ongoing updation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Carved out of the Goalpara district in 1983, Dhubri is steeped in history and known for its religious syncretism.
It has the Gurdwara Sri Guru Teghbahadur Sahibji, which many believe Guru Nanak himself visited in 1505 AD. There’s the 17th century Rangamati Mosque or Panbari mosque, located about 25 km east of Dhubri town, and is the oldest mosque in Assam. And the Ramraikuti Satra, founded by poet saint Srimanta Sankardeva at Satrasal, is also located in the district.
“Being an important port town, Dhubri (situated on the banks of the Brahmaputra and Gadadhar rivers) was also the seat of the colonial administration,” says Das, adding, “A major portion of our collection is from the colonial period — there’s a British-made used radio receiver, British flag and Ansonia Habana Model Wall clock.”
The collection, that has grown manifold over the years thanks to donations and purchases, started out with the personal belongings of the late Nilima Barua, a princess from the erstwhile royal family of Gauripur, that traces its history to the 16th century. The artefacts can be categorised into ethnographic, numismatics, textiles and jewellery, terracotta, arms and armour, wooden toys, and natural history specimens.
“The sole aim of collecting and displaying objects in this museum is to reinstate the pride in the rich and plural culture of Dhubri, which in recent times has been considered a very sensitive area politically,” says Das.
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