Odisha state has become a haven for antique idol thieves! Why is the government not taking action?

 If you think the spate of idol thefts is high in Tamil Nadu, you are wrong. Stealing temple objects, artifacts and antique idols have become a forte  for specialized thieves who have close connection with international thieves, smugglers and art gallery owners. The latter use the gallery as front through which they channel the stolen idols to the international market for a hefty sum. 

temple theft, India. vtvgujarati.com

Lately, the state of Odisha tops the list with respect to temple thefts and the administration's total failure to solve them. It appears the organized crime is on the increase in the state and it clearly shows that the government has not done  good enough to improve the security of the temples by posting guards and installing special strong rooms with advanced burglar  alarm system to prevent  idols theft.  

In the past decades idol thefts occurred in almost every district in Odisha. The revelation that a total of 10000  antique idols  from temples of great antiquity is quite mind-boggling. Taking advantage of ineffective security measures in places of worship, the main culprits - antique dealers, gallery operators in this state target the ancient Hindu temples, etc. To make a big bundle, they sell them to the famous museum abroad or to the auction houses in the US or the UK where they are put up for auction. The older they are, the more bucks they fetch. Almost every day idol thefts are reported in the media, but the state government does not seem to put an end to this menace. The antique dealers export the newly made  idols or images along with the smuggled items to wood wink the custom agents.    

temple theft in Odisha,udayindia.in

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, more than 15,000 items were stolen from Indian temples between 2010 and 2012 and many of them were meant for the international market. Since 1950s, every decade, as per government statistics,  between 10,000 and 20,000 idols had been  smuggled out of our country and the outrageous looting of India's heritage treasures has not yet come down and, on the contrary, it continues unabated. 

Unfortunately Odisha has become a haven for idol and artifacts thieves and smugglers for the following  reasons: 

01. Among the Indian states, Odisha has the largest number of ancient idols of fine artistic work dating back to several centuries.

02. Like Tamil Nadu Odisha does not have a powerful idol Theft police department  vested with powers and special budgets to handle the thefts of temple objects. 

03. Unprotected monuments become easy targets. Both the state government and the ASI have to work together and put up  tall  barricades around the heritage sites to prevent the entry of unwanted people and anti-social people. 

04. According to a report on the 'Antiquities of the Prachi Valley' by  non-profit organization INTACH' who renovates and restores lots of heritage  structures every year) more than 300 valuable idols were found missing in different places during their survey. The work was done by INTACH's state project coordinator and historian Anil Dhir,

05. Of the 300  idols, 45 cases were filed with the police stations  in the  Prachi Valley; only one was solved in the last one decade.  InBhadrak district there were 25 idol theft case, none was solved. It is imperative the police force has to be revambed to function effectively.

06. A senior police officer lamented that the loss of rich cultural and historical heritage is primarily due to total  lack of awareness of the intrinsic value of antique idols, further aggravated by official apathy.  

07. Quite disappointing and disgusting fact is  valuable idols that were  photographed, catalogued  and documented by scholars in the last three decades have vanished from the govt. offices. There are officials in the heritage department who lack devotion to duty. Dereliction of duty by the govt. officials is a sin.  

08. The record of  National Mission on Monuments and Antiquities remains incomplete  because more than  95 per cent of the antique idols in the historical  temples of Odisha remain legally unregistered  with the  National Mission. This shows lack of interest among the officials in safeguarding our heritage.. 

09.  The present security scenario plus  laws are ineffective and not good enough to  prevent idol thefts and burglary.

10.  Non-profit organization like INTACH who plays a stellar role in restoring and renovating old heritage sectors across India, already raised their concern over the safety of temple idols, etc. and impressed on them the urgent need  to frame  a holistic policy and stringent  legal measures to deal with the menace. 

Daksha Prajapati temple in Banpur, kalingatv.com

13th CE Shiva temple, Odisha .utkaltoday.com

Daksha Prajapati temple in Banpur, Odisha utkaltoday.com

Above images:  800-year-old Daksha Prajapati temple in Banpur town of Khurda district, Odisha. The idol thief  got into the sanctum-garbagriha  at night and broke open  the locks of three doors and got away with the antique  idols worth crores of rupees on the market. Because they are made of ashtadhatu, an alloy of gold, silver, copper, zinc, lead, tin, iron and mercury they fetch big money for the culprits.. The police said  out of the 31,  22 idols were stolen and this theft happened for he second time. Locals are angry and said that ''Such incidents are frequent due to the negligence of the Committee members of the temple and the Archaeological Survey of India''........

The  prevailing laws intended to prevent idol thefts and burglary of temples  are  ineffective and outdated. No stern action is forth coming from the police force.  ''The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act and the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act, 1904 are ineffective to curb these crimes.

There is a need to keep an eye on the  illegal gallery owners, idol thieves and smugglers who loot the places of worship. To them money is more important than saving our cultural ethos. Severe punishment  is a must and will  act as deterrence to other thugs who target temples. That there is no database of the antiques, both stone and metallic idols in about  22,000 ancient places of worship in Odisha is a  sad commentary.  As mentioned earlier, along with help from the center holistic national heritage protection policy should be introduced soon.