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Antiquity Theft: Police seizes a House full of Treasure Trove in Tamil Nadu

Over 200 artifacts, including 49 bronzes, 71 stone carvings and 96 rare paintings were seized during the raid.

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Antiquity theft (Representational Image). Image source: mosaicrooms.org
  • The raid led to the seizure of over 200 artifacts, including 49 bronzes, 71 stone carvings and 96 rare paintings
  • The raid lasted for three days and resulted in finding a treasure trove of artifacts
  • 101 antiquities were stolen between 2000 and 2016 from 3,650 protected historical monuments around the country

CHENNAI: After the infamous arrest of Subhash Kapoor at Frankfurt airport in 2011, the people of India have become aware of how their ancient treasures and idols are looted and sold abroad. A tip-off from an informant about “some unusual activities” going on at Govindaraj Deenadayalan’s house, led to the seizure of over 200 artifacts, including 49 bronzes, 71 stone carvings and 96 rare paintings.

Deenadayalan’s residence in Alwarpet, Chennai and a rented godown were raided by the sleuths of the Idol Wing CID of the Tamil Nadu Police’s Economic Offences Wing on the basis of information that hoards of antique artifacts were stored there with no valid documents. The raid lasted for three days from May 31 and resulted in finding a treasure trove of artifacts, said the Frontline.in report.

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Two of the idols were 1,000 to 1,200 years old, and belong to the Chola and Hoysala dynasties. According to the Frontline report, Pon. Manickavel, the IG who is personally investigating the case, said that they never expected to find so many antiques from a private dealer.

The 11th-12th century bronze Chola idol of Saint Manikkavachakar that was recovered. Image Source: The Hindu

The police struck at a time when Deenadayalan was desperate as he could not transport his idols to buyers in Mumbai on time. Time is required to collect the documentary evidence to prove that the artifacts belonged to a particular temple or place. When the investigation transcends the country’s borders, it is hard to make the case as the law in India demands a case to be charge-sheeted in 60 days.

Many operators have escaped the law since the prosecutors could not prove complicity in the crime as the stolen goods could not be recovered from abroad. Art lovers also point out that the restitution of statues need evidence that the stolen artifacts belong to a particular temple.

Govindaraj Deenadayalan (left), the antiquities discovered from his house (right). Image Source: Indian Express

“For instance, priceless antique pieces have been stolen from various temples across Tamil Nadu. But, sadly, none of these stolen properties from our temples has any documentary proof of ownership and proof of provenance, though the HR and CE Department claims that it has started collecting and documenting the same now” says Pon. Manickavel to Frontline.

Determined to plug these loopholes, the IG has decided to be the complainant. The Frontline report adds that Pon. Manickavel is confident of breaking the backbone of this well-organised international black market in antique idols from temples in Tamil Nadu.

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With 200 stolen antiquities returning to India, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to the US, it is to be wondered how much more of our heritage lies outside our country, said a DNA report.

According to the ministry of culture records, 101 antiquities were stolen between 2000 and 2016 from 3,650 protected historical monuments around the country, states a dnaIndia report. When the unprotected monuments across the country are considered, there are 4,115 cases of ‘cultural property’ stolen in 2010-2014 with 3,000 of them unsolved. The dnaIndia report also suggests that over 10,000 objects have been stolen in the past 10 years.

-prepared by Ajay Krishna, an intern at NewsGram. Twitter: @ajkrish14

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Activists In Myanmar Push To End Police Brutality

The European Union is spending 30 million euros on a five-year project launched in 2016 to help Myanmar’s police become a “modern” force

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Police officers stand in position to block activists during a rally in Yangon, Myanmar, May 12, 2018. VOA

Aung Soe Htike tried to ask for an explanation when police in Yangon handcuffed him and put him in a car one evening in November of last year.

But instead of answering, the small business owner said the officers told him to shut up.

He told VOA he was taken to a police station, where two or three men waiting for him in a back room locked him in.

It was only when they showed him CCTV footage of a man stealing a phone that he understood why he was there. The thief in the video looked similar to him; he and the thief were wearing shorts.

He said he told the officers they had the wrong man, but it was of no use.

For about four hours, Aung Soe Htike alleged, uniformed and plain-clothed police subjected him to violent interrogation techniques that he described as torture.

Myanmar, Police
Defendants look out from a police truck as they arrive at a district court, in Yangon, Myanmar, Dec. 15, 2017. VOA

Aung Soe Htike’s case is one of dozens in the past year that have revealed the methods Myanmar’s military-controlled police force uses to extract confessions.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a local rights group, said “physical and mental torture” is “systematic” across Myanmar’s interrogation centers.

“They made me sit in a stress position, they accused me of theft, they swore at me, they beat me,” said Aung Soe Htike. At one point, he added, an interrogator held him in a choke hold and told him “you will die tonight” before forcing him to confess.

His wife and some friends came looking for him at the station, and finally managed to secure his release after convincing the township police colonel that he had been wrongfully arrested.

Police at Yangon’s Ahlone township station declined to comment on the incident when contacted by VOA.

Colonel Myo Thu Soe, a spokesperson at Myanmar Police Force headquarters, said he was unaware of Aung Soe Htike’s case but that police interrogations were “transparent” and interrogation rooms were monitored with CCTV cameras.

Myanmar, Police
Daw Aye holds a photo of her son, who died after being taken into police custody last year (J. Carroll/VOA)

“Torturing suspects is not allowed under police regulations,” he said.

The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, a nominally independent body tasked with investigating abuses, handled 29 allegations of torture by police last year, including five where suspects died in custody.

Commissioner Yu Lwin Aung said he has passed Aung Soe Htike’s case to the home affairs ministry, which oversees the police force, with a recommendation that they take action against the officers involved. The ministry’s spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

But Aung Soe Htike said there has been little progress, and is not confident an internal investigation will deliver justice.

Daw Aye is still waiting for answers after her son, Aung Aung, died in police custody in September last year.

When she visited him in prison before his court hearing, she told VOA, he recounted officers kicking him in the chest and back and Tasering him during interrogation.

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Activists gather at a rally, calling for the release of imprisoned Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, one year after they were arrested, in Yangon, Myanmar, Dec.12, 2018. (VOA)

He was arrested on suspicion of stealing a car battery, a crime she says he was innocent of. Then as he emerged from a police van at court two weeks later, he collapsed and was dead within hours.

Yu Lwin Aung said the human rights commission has referred this case to the home affairs ministry but has yet to receive a response.

It’s a similar story for Tin Tin Aye, who said she watched as a group of police beat her son, Khaing Min Wai, when they arrested him in June.

They took him to a police station, and the next morning she saw his dead body at the hospital, with marks and cuts on his face, she told VOA.

Mon Mon Cho, a lawyer who is advising Tin Tin Aye, said accountability is key to preventing more cases like this in the future.

“The government must take action against these violent people,” she said.

Even though a civilian government came to power for the first time in decades following a huge electoral victory in 2015, the country’s military-drafted constitution still puts the generals in charge of three key ministries, including home affairs.

Journalists appeal got rejected
Reuters journalists Wa Lone, left, and Kyaw Soe Oo, who are based in Myanmar, pose for a picture at the Reuters office in Yangon, Myanmar, Dec. 11, 2017. (VOA)

For Aung Soe Htike, ending the military’s grip on the police is key to tackling a culture of violence and impunity. Until that happens, efforts to train officers in human rights will fall flat, he said.

Also Read: 1,700 Child Soldiers Reunite With Their Parents In Myanmar

The European Union is spending 30 million euros on a five-year project launched in 2016 to help Myanmar’s police become a “modern” force that “adheres to international standards, respects human rights and maintains gender awareness.”

But Aung Soe Htike said, “It doesn’t matter how much money the EU spends on them, it won’t make a difference unless the Myanmar Police Force is separated from the military.” (VOA)