Heritage enthusiasts seek to crowdsource global search for stolen Indian treasures


CHENNAI: Singapore-based sculpture enthusiast S Vijay Kumar, who has helped identify and bring back many stolen idols to India, believes that crowdsourcing the hunt for stolen idols will help curb illegal sale of Indian antiquities worldwide.

On Friday, Kumar, co-founder of the India Pride Project (IPP), a volunteer-run effort to trace and bring back India’s stolen heritage, discussed IPP’s plans to build a massive “knowledge archive” with students of IIT Madras. The archive will have museum catalogues, photographs of stolen idols, and related information, so more people can participate in the global hunt for stolen idols.

“We are lobbying to create a national art squad on the lines of Italy. Indian art has dropped in public auctions to about 80% compared to that in 2010,” he told TOI. “We don’t see any more open sale of Indian antiquities, because high-ticket buyers are scared. Unless they have a perfect provenance (refers to the chronology of the ownership, custody or location of a historical object) which is clearly proven, nobody is going to buy an Indian object,” he said. This, he added, depreciates its value.

The government must strengthen antiquity laws, ensure harsh penalties, and citizens should report suspicious transactions, he said.

Asked about the impact of recent efforts to recover stolen idols, Kumar said museums in Australia “will not buy an Indian art object with a fake provenance for the next century”.