India's deafening silence on stolen art

13 Apr 2015 7:04 AM | Anonymous

India’s deafening silence on stolen art

Vishakha N. Desai


If India has little concern for the protection of its ancient heritage, is it better that objects are taken care of in established art museums of the West?

Last week, I was in Delhi discussing the value of a liberal arts education with representatives of higher education establishments, when I heard from a colleague that the Honolulu Museum of Art in Hawaii had agreed to return seven Indian art objects as part of the Operation Hidden Idol (OHI) investigation undertaken against Indian art gallery owner Subhash Kapoor. Since then, 15 museums have been actively researching their Indian art collections with a clear commitment to returning the objects they bought from Mr. Kapoor in good conscience, if they are proven stolen; and another American museum has already returned an artefact.

What is striking in this is that OHI has been jointly undertaken since 2012 by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement department of the U.S, and its Homeland Security Investigations department, without an official request by the Indian government. In other words, no one in India was tracking the activities of Mr. Kapoor, a well-known dealer of Indian art in the U.S. since the 1980s, and no one bothered to begin an investigation into his Indian dealings. Why is it that the U.S. government is attempting to catch a potential thief who may have stolen several hundred million dollars’ worth of ancient objects from Indian temples and archaeological sites, but there is a deafening silence on the part of the Indian officials? Equally importantly, what will happen to these objects once they are returned to India?