Context: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison visiting India in January 2020 will bring with him three priceless cultural artefacts.
The sculptures, includes
- A pair ofdwarapalasor door guardians from Tamil Nadu
- Onenagarajaor serpent king from either Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh.
- The National Gallery of Australia (NGA) voluntarily deaccessioned and returned them to India after establishing that they were, in fact, stolen.
- This ‘cultural repatriation’ comes in the wake of a similar, if more extensive return of idols in 2016, when Washington handed over around 200 sculpture pieces valued at $100 million to India during Prime Minister Modi’s U.S. visit.
CAUSE OF CONCERN
- Increasingly, it has become evident that India’s historical artefacts, a treasure-trove of a rich cultural legacy and religious significance, are strewn across far-flung lands, the result of decades of trafficking.
- Even among Indian institutions, the inventory documentation of idols is very poor.
- Southern Tamil Nadu, for instance, has many ancient temples, most situated in small, abandoned premises of a village, where even local residents have no recollection of what idol was originally within the temple
- Further, investigative reports, , have revealed the extent to which certain sections of law enforcement have tacitly abetted the loot.
- There is a need to crack down on the continued operations of idol thieves who are looting ancient temples
- We need to advocate for foreign institutions collecting art to conduct a far greater degree of due diligence before acquiring any Indian idols.
- Major institutional reforms are required to end the operations of smugglers.
- In the global arena, India needs to leverage the power of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.
- Most major western nations are signatories and India needs to demand that they institute stricter vetting protocols for international trade in historical artefacts.
- We need multi-pronged actions by the government, targeting loopholes in domestic legislation and enforcement.
- Or else idol trafficking will continue to erode India’s invaluable cultural heritage.