Tribune News Service
Jammu, June 21
Although return of stolen temple idols by Germany last year and the United States recently generated hope that Jammu and Kashmir may get its smuggled artefacts back, the extent of loot has never been documented by the government thus jeopardising efforts to recover them.
Since the eruption of insurgency in 1989-90, “cultural vandalism” has robbed the state, especially Kashmir of several priceless articles which now adorn homes of private collectors and museums in Western countries.
Senior officials from the Archaeology Department also admitted that since the eruption of insurgency, Kashmir had turned into a goldmine for art smugglers who exploited the turmoil to further their agenda. It is suspected that several high-ranking government officials and over ground workers of militants aggressively scavenged temples and historical sites to remove priceless idols and other items. These were then sold to national and international collectors.
Despite a relative change in security situation in the past decade, there still is no coordination between the state Archaeology Department and Archaeological Survey of India which adds to despair.
“We will never be able to know the extent of damage which the art smugglers inflicted on Kashmir. The 1990s were an open field for smugglers as law and order collapsed. We were robbed of our past. Even government departments failed to save the heritage sites, temples and other historical sites due to militant threats,” said a senior official from the Archaeology Department.
According to estimates, antiques, revered idols, rare manuscripts and ancient jewellery was smuggled in a well-planned manner and sold to art collectors in India and abroad.
“During the turmoil in the Valley it was difficult to document every theft. But in the last few years we have made efforts to search for our lost heritage. Our attempts paid off when we got a Durga idol back from Germany,” said Mohammad Shafi Zahid, Director, Department of Archives, Archeology and Museums. The 10th century Durga idol, representing ‘Mahishasurmadini’ avatar was stolen from a temple from the Pulwama district in early 1990 and was returned by Germany after years of struggle. However, Zahid, who is also Co-ordinator at National Mission for Manuscripts, said the state was yet to get information about the idol received by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to the United States.
“The loot is still going on and several people are still shifting artefacts outside the state. Many of the temples we visited in Kashmir have been stripped off their idols and other historic items. The government is totally ignoring this,” said Vinod Pandit, chairman,All Party Migrant Coordination Committee.
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