'Our contribution to the artefacts registry is poor'

Published: 18th July 2016 04:04 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th July 2016 04:04 AM   |  A+A-

CHENNAI: When a kumbabishekam happens, it’s time to panic. It’s the first sign that some artefact or the other from the temple is going to be stolen and replaced with a duplicate,” warns Arvind Venkataraman, an IT professional and history enthusiast.

Arvind and a group of other enthusiasts from various fields have come together to raise awareness on the unbridled idol theft in the country. India Pride Project, a group whose mission is to ‘Bring Home our Gods’ estimates that between 15 -50,000 artefacts have been sprited away.

“Often, these artefacts are seen as an investment than a collector’s appreciation of art,” says Arvind. The collectors and donors enjoy a symbiotic relationship where donors enjoy tax benefits and the museum, builds up its collection. “In most cases where an idol has been restored, we don’t know who sold it or who bought it,” he adds.

In 1970, India became a signatory to the UNESCO convention that prohibited the transfer of ownership of cultural property. “The myth that these idol dealers perpetuate is that anything that was acquired before 1970 cannot be reclaimed. Any artefact can be restituted as long as it is proven that it was stolen,” he explained.

Aravind recalls the case of Vaman Ghiya, who along with his associates, is said to have sold over 10,000 artefacts abroad. Ghiya was acquitted in 2014. He said that listing lost artefacts on the art registry website would be a huge step forward.

The India Pride team is facilitating many restitutions by clinching crucial evidence of the artefact being stolen. The team acquires catalogues of various auction houses through libraries and the pictures of artefacts. One of the team’s restitutions was that of Uma Parameswari. “Among the 47,000 objects registered in the Interpol’s stolen works of art database, Asia-Pacific constitutes a mere 3%,” he shares and adds that India’s contribution to the registry is poor.

The Tamil Heritage Trust, which organised this discussion, holds such lecture-series on topics related to heritage every month.


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