January 5, 2017: India Pride Project (IPP) is a group of art enthusiasts who are using social media platforms like Facebook to identify stolen religious artifacts from temples in India and are trying to bring them back home.
Art theft has been a big business in India. The richest pickings are from Tamil Nadu, where ancient artifacts are kept unprotected in rural temples.
The group was founded by two Singapore-based art lovers. Today, it has activists from all around the world who work without any salary. They feel that the work is all worth it when the idol is returned to its temple.
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The IPP had a significant victory two years ago when a $5 million bronze statue of Hindu God Shiva was returned by the National Gallery of Australia. The idol was stolen from a temple in Tamil Nadu, mentions AFP.
The gallery first refused to believe that the idol was stolen from India. So, the IPP organized a social media campaign. They compared the images of the idol on display at the museum with the one that was stolen. Now, the Gallery is suing Manhattan dealership, the one that sold them the statue.
A member told AFP in Chennai, “Initially typically there is a denial. Whether it’s Australia, Europe, Singapore or the US, initially there will be resistance from the museum curators… because they’ve spent a lot of money and they wouldn’t want to let go of an object.”
The idol was supposedly trafficked by a former Manhattan art dealer, Subhash Kapoor. He was also the subject of Operation Hidden Idol, a US Federal investigation. He was arrested in 2012 in Germany. He is now on trial in India. He has been accused of trafficking and sale of religious idols. However, he denies all charges.
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He dealt with antiquities which dated back to 11th and 12th century.
Head of the Tamil Nadu’s Idol Wing, Prateek V Philip said, “This operation went on for many years. He (Kapoor) was himself not on the scene, but he was the mastermind.”
Tamil Nadu’s Idol Wing is the only Police Team of India dedicated to tackling art thefts.
Philip said that Kapoor had been donating millions of dollars’ worth of antiquities to the museum in the United States.
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“Whenever a theft took place in the past, sometimes people were not even aware,” said Philip. “It would be a derelict temple only visited at certain times of the year. So when a theft took place it was discovered long after,” he added.
This made the dealing easy as the stolen art would not even be registered as missing.
After the arrest of Kapoor, Washington returned hundreds of artifacts to India that were recovered under Operation Hidden Idol.
But the trafficking has not stopped. This year, the Tamil Nadu’s Idol Wing arrested an art dealer who had stolen hundreds of metal and stone statues.
The IPP has worked a lot in documenting the case of theft and bringing them to the public attention.
– Prepared by Diksha Arya of NewsGram. Twitter: @diksha_arya53